Many months ago, a group of people who are somewhat on the Evangelical fringe put together an event that certainly had the promise of redemptive value for some underprivileged people in our community. The event took place on a Sunday morning, and because of the time, trouble and expense that had gone into putting it together, I included it in our local “Christian Events Calendar;” though given its 11 AM Sunday start time, I was fairly confident that nobody was going to skip church to attend this.
One of the people involved in the thing went ballistic. The fear was that a bunch of “church people” would show up and ruin everything. The actual words used were, “Church people in suits.” I gotta admit, that would be catastrophic; having the “religious” set show up to a Christian outreach event. Can’t have that sort of thing happening. As it turned out, no “church people” showed up, just as I suspected; but instead, the ones that did read the calendar that week at least knew that other people were trying to do something different in a difficult place for ministry. Perhaps they even prayed for the event.
Because I stuck by my decision to offer some unwanted publicity to their event; I am now completely estranged from a couple of these people; a situation that is impacting a decision I have to make whether or not to attend a meeting in Toronto on Friday which I feel is critical to the future of my wife’s ministry.
In the meantime, my wife was asked to do some performing in a secular (for lack of a better word) venue on Friday night. When I got there it was fairly crowded, and realizing that the people doing this event are the same people who have forsaken the whole Christian scene; I realized that I was one of the “church people” that they really don’t want showing up at things they organize. (Instead, I went for a walk downtown on a cold night; and ended up in a gift shop having a delightful, informative and profitable discussion with the store owner for the better part of an hour.) I dropped by again about 90 minutes later just to let Mrs. W. know I cared, and then headed home. Story, no doubt, to be continued.
She, on the other hand, is dealing with a situation where a bunch of “church people” are in fact expected to show up. They’re expected to show up because, out of the blue, her ministry was mentioned in a Sunday service at a very conservative house of worship as an opportunity for them to put their faith into action. (This ministry project is, in fact, the closest anyone in this small town will get to third world ministry conditions without driving more than a few miles.) This leaves her and her team with the possibility of a different set of challenges.
As she puts it in her blog:
If you can’t sit down for dinner with 30 people, without having someone say the blessing,
If you can’t share a meal with someone who may or not be drunk,
Someone who may or may not be mentally ill,
Someone who may or may not be lying to you,
If you can’t have a conversation with someone who is smoking without making faces and waving the smoke away,
If you can’t hear someone use the F word as a verb and an adjective and a noun and an adverb, possibly all in the same sentence, without cringing,
If you can’t laugh at a genuinely funny crude joke, and good naturedly rebuff a truly offensive one,
If you can’t hug someone who may or may not have Hepatitis C or AIDS,
This may not be the place for you.
You can read this in context here.
But the bigger problem here is religious pride. Not on the part of the “church people,” but on the part of those who think that “their ministry” is beyond the cultural or intellectual grasp of those who are still running the religious treadmill. And religious ultraconservatisim on the part of those who don’t yet “get it.” Thus my wife is forced to spend much of her time in the DMZ between the two; trying to make those on the one side better understand those on the other; or perhaps let both know that right now, each group really does need the other to make life change possible for people on the margins.
Film at eleven.