Play The Game… Or Else

“They are playing a game. They are playing at not playing a game. If I show them I see they are, I shall break the rules and they will punish me. I must play their game, of not seeing I see the game”

R. D. Laing

Fact of the Matter Is… I Been Kicked Out of Church All My Life

I was getting kicked out of church before I was old enough to remember.

Sound odd?

Yeah.  I guess it does.

And if you are still reading, I would like you to imagine for a moment just how many people in this old world couldn’t give a rip.  I mean, just as a category of issues to write about – church, Jesus, life in the Spirit (or not).  Who cares?

Yeah.  If you are still reading this, and if you care about these things in the slightest, then you are already in a minority.  If you are still reading here and care that I was kicked out of church since before I can even remember, you are in a truly small minority.  Glad to have you still with me.  Let’s get into it…

My dad wasn’t a preacher when I was born, and he is not one today either, but for a long stretch of my formative years, he was.  And he was a preacher among the ranks of the “churches of Christ” – a graduate of the esteemed Sunset School of Preaching.  And for those unfamiliar with the “churches of Christ” (or those who only see us as the group that does not use instrumental music), one of the key factors you may have missed is that preachers in this denomination* are not (necessarily) pastors.  In fact, they rarely are.

This difference is subtle, at first glance, but deep.  And in a very real sense, the preacher is a hired hand – his primary role an employee of the church (a “brother” only secondarily (if that)), and he is not the boss at all.  In most churches of other denominations, the pastor may well answer to a governing body of various types, but he also acts somewhat like an entrepreneur – a man who starts a business and runs it himself.  However, in the “churches of Christ”, there is what we call “a plurality of pastors”, but they normally go by the title “elder” instead of pastor.  (To be fair, congregational autonomy dictates that there may be subtle differences even between “churches of Christ”, but the uniformity is quite remarkable, actually).

Anyway, my reason for laying all that out is to show that the preacher in this denomination answers to the pastors/elders (or committees if no elders are currently appointed).  Typically the congregation enters into a contract with a preacher which may or may not be renewed in one, two, or three years (typically).  And this gives a church an employer’s leverage over a preacher who must then perform to their liking in order to keep his job.

Ironic, don’t you think?  The preacher, like a politician, is faced with whether to serve his altruist ideals or the voters whims.  But in this case, the model is more business oriented, and as so it’s more like a board of directors’ whims.  And if you don’t perform to the expectations the boss wants, then you are out on your ear soon enough.  And somehow that surely is not “biblical” – the very thing “churches of Christ” historically pride themselves on being.

What can I say?  Apparently my old man chose to honor his altruist ideals (serve God at all costs) rather than bend the knee to lesser forces.  I am not arguing that he was always in the right, though to my way of thinking he was and I will claim it.  But the dynamic that I am talking about here does not require me to argue his virtue.  It is the system I am putting on trial here, not the individual decisions.  Point being, when my dad, the preacher, chose to stand up for a woman effectively caught in the act and defend her expression of repentance, some of the men in charge (who likely had conflicted feelings of lust themselves) felt she should be shunned instead in order to discipline her thoroughly, and in the end Dad was canned.  (That’s just one example among many – MANY!)

In and of itself, that is pretty much an untold story, as are all the others that make up the “many” I describe.  But there is another story beneath them that also goes untold (until now).  And that story is of the son (and the rest of the family) of the employee (brother) pushed out.

I was raised in church.  Being the son of a preacher means I was there at every event, every week, of every year.  Sunday morning, Sunday evening, Wednesday night.  Weddings, funerals, VBS’s, Gospel Meetings (known in other quarters as “revivals”), summer camp and every other little function great or small.  I might not personally have been at the center of it all, but I certainly inhabited the inner circle of church life.

I learned early how important church is, how important Jesus is, and how it all plays into eternal purposes.  Even more, I witnessed groups of people numbering 200 – 500 gathering around to listen to my dad on a regular basis.  This stuff makes a certain kind of impression on young formative minds.  Jesus/church was the center of the universe and the meaning of life.  And it was all about LOVE – a community loving God and each other with uncommon, self-sacrificial LOVE.

And it made perfect sense to me too, except when my dad came home and announced that we would have to move – that he had been fired.

This meant we would pack up all our belongings, load them on a truck, and leave town.  All our family and friends from church, from school, from town would be left behind as we set out on the road looking for another town, another school, another church with other family and friends with whom we would do this all over again in a few years.

I have memory of living in eleven different houses in nine different municipalities involving seven different churches before I graduated high school, and most of that moving due to dad being fired.  Most, not all, but most of it due to being kicked out of church in one place or another – AND NOT because I drank, cussed, stole, lied, fornicated, or gossiped.  No.  Because of “religious differences” – which is the best term I can call it, but which in no way really describes the reasons at all.

Point being, I got kicked out of the center of the universe – the Jesus community of uncommon, self-sacrificial LOVE time and time again through no fault of my own from as far back as I can remember – all in service to Jesus.  All in service to the church. And like they say in The Godfather, “It’s not personal; it’s business”.  (A great way to describe “church” when you endure it this way.)

Don’t get me wrong.  The New Testament definitely authorizes a church to kick people out.  That is biblical.  I make no claim to the contrary at all.  But treating church like a business – a mafia business at that – and kicking out children as a matter of routine business makes for a strong indicator that this LOVE organization needs to do some sober reassessments about the carnage it is leaving in its wake.

It also gives me cause to reassess it.

The very organization that instilled in me from my youth the importance of Jesus, love, and church did not share any of that with me.  Who wants to be in that club?

Well, look around at all the church buildings boarded up, at all the empty seats in those still active.  And you tell me.

At any rate, I am an old hand at getting kicked out of church.  I have been there, done that.  You might say I was born and bred for it.

 

 

* (Churches of Christ historically eschew the term “denomination” and claim to be “non-denominational”.  There are so many problems with that kind of terminology that I will not attempt to sort it out, but merely acknowledge I am using it in a more mainstream sense.)

 

Milestones

Anniversary time has rolled around again. Here is a nice stroll down amnesia lane for today….

Fat Beggars School of Prophets

April Fool’s Day

It’s not an exact anniversary, but it’s close enough.  I will claim it.  And I have become more than an April Fool for God.

IMG_0585

We formed the Fat Beggars School of Prophets around my family’s kitchen table following Sunday worship at Carpenter’s Church three years ago this week.    In addition to my wife and kids, four street-homeless men joined this foundational worship service.  In attendance were Agent T, Agent M, Agent J and the other Agent J.  These men answered a call from God to come to my house after church, grill steaks, sing songs, pray, and examine the text of II Kings 6 & 7.  In fact, one of the leadership members at Carpenter’s inadvertently directed one of the four men to join us that day.  (He still has no idea what role he played in placing God’s call on that man’s life!)  Therein God inaugurated the…

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Giving Up Your Baby

Who gives up their baby?  What kind of person walks away from their child?  How dark does your heart, your life, have to be to give up a child?

It is easy, as long as we keep this all sterile, philosophical, and academic, to look for the nobility in it when a young mother finds herself unprepared to raise a child.  Giving the baby up for adoption rather than aborting the pregnancy is so noble.  But if you actually do it, you aren’t likely to feel very noble.

The Fat Beggars Home for Widows, Orphans, and Sojourners is focused heavily on foster children, and most of them have been very young.  By far, most of the cases that come to our attention involve child abuse – and most of that accompanied with drug abuse too.  Parental behaviors involving child and drug abuse lead to consequences of giving up a child.  In fact that is what happens, though sometimes only temporarily and with a program designed to return the child home eventually.

The pain of giving up the child has a way of getting derelict parents attention, of wising them up to the realities of life.  Not always, but often.  And wising up happens because of how painful giving up a child is.

But then there is the role of the foster parent who reaches the end of this process.  And that too is a matter of giving up a child.  It also is painful, sometimes beyond measure.

A small child (sometimes a baby) comes into this home utterly innocent and full of fear and bewilderment.  The younger, the more innocent; the older the more bewildered and fearful – unless they are old enough to have become jaded from the process (a whole other pain yet again).

So the child comes into this home, the Fat Beggars Home for Widows, Orphans, and Sojourners, fearful and bewildered, and I set out to win his trust.  We establish routines; we give lots of affection; we feed every bite of food, we get up in the night to tend to cries, we change diapers, give baths, and meet every little tender need; we never leave a child unattended; they are constantly at our knees 24/7 for months or years on end.

Attachment?

You better believe it.

So, when word comes down that a child will be leaving us, it might even be great news of a family restored, but it is heartbreaking all the same.

We give them back to God.

It doesn’t make it any easier.  But he gives and takes away.  They belong to him, and always did.

I think about some of these little ones who I likely will never see again.  They were too young to remember me, to even say my name.  Where will they go?  Do their parents smoke?  Will they be loved for a day or two and then relegated to neglect?  Will their diaper get changed?  They almost certainly will not sing the numa numa song again.  She won’t ever enjoy Agent Momma X’s home style chicken and dumplings again, a dish that since has become a favorite.  Some of these little slices of heaven are now forever lost to us.  And we can only hope that heaven’s joy finds this reunited family beyond the limits of where we can see.

At any rate, the pain is real.  So much uncertainty.  It is hard on a soul to give up a baby – even to God.

It all has me thinking of Hannah (read her story in I Samuel 1), and has me praying her prayer (see I Samuel 2), a lot of which does not seem to have anything to do with her and the child she gives up – except that it surely understands that God is working on a far bigger picture than she is.

Here is what Hannah said to God when she gave up her baby:

Hannah’s Prayer
2 And Hannah prayed and said,
“My heart exults in the Lord;
my horn is exalted in the Lord.
My mouth derides my enemies,
because I rejoice in your salvation.
2
“There is none holy like the Lord:
for there is none besides you;
there is no rock like our God.
3
Talk no more so very proudly,
let not arrogance come from your mouth;
for the Lord is a God of knowledge,
and by him actions are weighed.
4
The bows of the mighty are broken,
but the feeble bind on strength.
5
Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread,
but those who were hungry have ceased to hunger.
The barren has borne seven,
but she who has many children is forlorn.
6
The Lord kills and brings to life;
he brings down to Sheol and raises up.
7
The Lord makes poor and makes rich;
he brings low and he exalts.
8
He raises up the poor from the dust;
he lifts the needy from the ash heap
to make them sit with princes
and inherit a seat of honor.
For the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s,
and on them he has set the world.
9
“He will guard the feet of his faithful ones,
but the wicked shall be cut off in darkness,
for not by might shall a man prevail.
10
The adversaries of the Lord shall be broken to pieces;
against them he will thunder in heaven.
The Lord will judge the ends of the earth;
he will give strength to his king
and exalt the horn of his anointed.”