The Point of the Entire Exercise

The Point of the Entire Exercise September 13, 2020

I’m over at Stand Firm today.

Yesterday we commended to God the body and soul of a woman who began going to Good Shepherd in 1936. The number of her years is astonishing in itself—103 (brings a certain relevance to “teach us to number our days” because just counting that high takes serious concentration, especially when you try to remember how old you turned last year)—but when we sat around after the funeral, the most shocking realization was that she went to this church all that time without picking up and going elsewhere, ever.

Imagine how many tepid if not actually bad sermons she must have endured in 84 years. Imagine the sheer number of irritations, interpersonal conflicts, slights both given and received. Imagine all the misunderstandings—especially as she was involved in every single ministry in the church. Thinking over it all, her faithful life in this church illumines an almost alien conception of the world, an outlandish (to most of us) set of expectations required to endure anything for that long.

It’s curious to see how, in her own lifetime, the American church has suffered such a seismic shift of belief, on the part of ordinary church-goers, about what church is even for. Why go? For a sense of belonging? For the uplifting messages? Because the church is great at social action? Out of habit? Because you’ve always gone?

It can’t be the last one–habit. Especially anymore. No one will congratulate you for going to church. If you wake up early and get dressed up and pop into the Weiss on the way to Sunday School, rushing down the long, brightly lit aisle looking for a bottle of ibuprofen to beat back that sick headache before you face all the little children, your high heels resounding through the quiet, mostly empty store, the few people who are there will gape at you. Why are you dressed like that on a Sunday? Nothing is going on today. At least have the decency to put on a quieter pair of shoes.

Of the many millions of people who have gone to church through this past century, even for the social affirmation that we now acquire on Facebook and Twitter rather than appearing in person in a pew, it is extraordinary to stay, to never wander off somewhere else. There are a lot of reasons for this. I’ve read whole books about it. But I think one of the underrated reasons that people don’t stay in churches is because it is no longer any great virtue to forgive. Forgiveness is hard enough all by itself, but when everyone around you is calling to you to take offense, to put yourself first, to examine your feelings, to take care of yourself, the chief reason for going at all is lost, both intellectually and emotionally, in the souls of Christians.

Why go to church? Because you have to learn how to forgive. You have to learn the heartbreaking way of the cross, which is to be forgiven, and to forgive.

There are three people/groups that you have to always be forgiving if you’re going to make it through 8 decades in a church. You have to forgive the other people in the pews, sometimes just for even existing. You have to forgive the pastor. And you have to forgive God, ultimately, for not organizing things the way you would. If the Christian does not take this to be the chief reason he is there—if it is something else, like “belonging” or “bringing about the kingdom of God on earth” or anything like that—then he will never relearn the lost lesson of staying put, which is an astonishing and a merciful lesson…read the rest here!

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