When I read books, I rarely finish one. I’m known for gleaning what’s good in a book and leaving the rest for those with more time or fewer children. I’m rarely a cover to cover girl.
One book broke the streak this past year, however. Though I now sit January shivering, the summer sun and a beach chair helped me consume Donald Miller’s Blue Like Jazz last June. It still calls my name and may even be one I read…I can’t believe I’m saying this…twice.
Honestly, Blue isn’t the ticket if you’re looking for plot twists or hair-raising suspense. A non-fiction, stream-of-consciousness collection of Non-Religious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality as its subtitle proclaims, the book simply intrigued me.
One particular chapter, Confessions, was brilliant. In short, Miller attends an intensely liberal college, smartly challenging the concept that Christians and progressives shouldn’t mix. In a stroke of genius, Miller’s buddies decide to plant a confession booth in the midst of a blush-worthy, druggy campus festival of sorts.
“Here’s the catch…We’re not actually going to accept confessions,” says Tony, the group’s self-appointed leader. “We are going to confess to them. We are going to confess that, as followers of Jesus, we have not been very loving; we have been bitter, and for that we are sorry. We will apologize for televangelists, we will apologize for neglecting the poor and the lonely, we will ask them to forgive us, and we will tell them that in our selfishness, we have misrepresented Jesus on this campus.”
Miller’s words capture the moment that follows, “We all thought it was a great idea…It would feel so good to apologize, to apologize for the Crusades, for Columbus and the genocide he committed in the Bahamas in the name of God, apologize for the missionaries who landed in Mexico and came up through the West slaughtering Indians in the name of Christ. I wanted so desperately to say that none of this was Jesus, and I wanted so desperately to apologize for the many ways I had (also) misrepresented the Lord.”
In short, the stunt was a gutsy success on campus, and the small Christian group, representing humility and truth, not smoke and mirrors, soon grew.
For six months, I’ve wanted to write this blog entry. Emerging 14 years ago from a non-Christian background, I’ve seen why and how a church can repel. Sadly, many of the reasons are true. Hypocrisy is at the top of the list. Intolerance is a close second. Miller and his friends were right. Jesus was neither intolerant nor a hypocrite. Since reading Blue Like Jazz, I’ve also wanted to experience the freedom to say to the world, “I’m sorry, too!”
So, here goes…
I’m sorry for my friend who left church as a teenager after being ridiculed, her values questioned, for wearing…dress pants.
I’m so sorry for a man I talked with recently who has just returned to church after a bitter, angry 50 years! His reason for leaving? His mother was kicked out of church for not tithing.
I’m sorry to my brother-in-law’s friend, who upon finding out I am deeply religious, assumed I would treat him differently for living with his girlfriend.
I’m sorry to others who may have been told, as I was, “Honey, you just need to pray more. Christians don’t get depressed.”
My apologies to my parents who, as I recall the stories, were strategically placed on front pews as children and screamed at with threats of damnation at the slightest misstep. (I never questioned why they didn’t take us to church.)
I’m sorry for a woman I know who was shown a horrible film as a child with her youth group, a film depicting the consequences of sin…a corpse with worms crawling from it.
I’m sorry for the recipients of those fear-based tracts…the ones strategically placed in bathrooms and at the top of staircases. I picked one up once as a college student looking for some truth. What I found instead was a dark cartoon that gave me nightmares instead of drawing me closer to God. I can still see the image of Satan laughing, throwing my “soul” over his shoulder while descending into hell.
My apologies to the other children in my vacation Bible school class I ventured to on a summer trip to grandma’s house. It took me years to get over the teacher’s statement that if we even uttered the words, “I hate” and “God” in the same sentence, we would never be forgiven. Little did he know, my eight-year-old mind would spend hours repeating, “I hate the Devil, I love God,” a million times obsessively. Guess what? When one repeats such a phrase over and over, he/she is bound to screw it up…at least once. I did- more than once, sending me into an electric panic.
I’m sorry to those who have witnessed Christians praying one moment and spewing filth, engaging in questionable business practices, cheating, or running down others in the next.
We should be absolutely ashamed! We have a lot of mending to do, and it feels great to begin here, now. My personal prayer is that in the end, the line of people who have been helped by my words or actions is longer than the trail of carnage any ignorant talk, haughty judgment, or weak example I may have left behind. None of that is who Jesus really is.
I wish others could take a second look at Jesus, as I did. I wish others could hear the real truth about Christianity instead of lumping us all together with breathy televangelists, screaming preachers, or snobby hypocrites. I wish others could find a truth-bearing church, as I have, who spews grace instead of intolerance from the pulpit. One that contributes at least double the expected funds to the needy. One that reaches out (and physically walks out) into the community and the world by the hundreds. One that employs a full counseling department, investing in and welcoming those with troubles as Jesus did. One that reveals the absolute relevance of the Bible. One that has its share of hypocrites (notice I didn’t say, “sinners”- that’s all of us) in the rows on Saturday and Sunday and loves them anyway. One that asks people to stretch themselves for others instead of hoarding their -monetary OR situational- good fortune. What good is having true, deeply satisfying peace if you can't share it?
While today I wanted to take the rare opportunity to beg forgiveness for and from others, as Miller and his courageous friends did in Blue Like Jazz, I am simultaneously praising God. I could (and sometimes do) jump up and down in gratitude that those He placed before me who mirrored His true, merciful image finally outnumbered those reflecting falsehood.
It would be a privilege to be the same humble example for others. Will you pray that I will?