Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Jesus in Flip Flops

This is the post in which I write about things that make me happy and sad and frustrated and hopeful all at once. It is a bit about Jesus and a bit about spirituality and even a bit about Organized Religion and Church. So I'm warning you about all of that right now, and if you'd rather not read any further, I completely understand. You can click that little x at the top right of the screen, or just surf the net, find something a little lighter and more fun to read. I won't be offended.

I understand how these kind of things can stir up some crazy emotions, make you feel, well, like I said- sad and frustrated and {maybe} happy and hopeful. But nothing about it is really easy.

We have started going back to a church here in town. And it hasn't taken long for us to run into some Issues right away.

Trever and I have given a lot of thought to the whole idea of age segregated church. Youth group is a prime example. It can be an okay thing, but it isn't without its problems. Still, we've decided over-sheltering our children probably isn't the best way to ensure their safety, whether spiritually or physically.

So, we let our fourteen year old son join the church youth group. He loves it. There are other kids {around} his age. There are some age-appropriate devotional talks. There are fun activities. And I guess I've just decided to let him enjoy it.

I continue to develop my own relationship with my son, which means we talk a lot about all the things he hears and is exposed to.

I'll tell you right up front: there have already been a lot of things he has been taught in this church youth group that I do not personally agree with. And while I want to use the influence I have on my son for good, to guide him into making honest, gentle decisions about life and relationships, what I have decided, more than any other thing, is that I want to teach him how to discern, how to make decisions for himself. How to not be blown about by every thing he learns, reads, hears...

And how to not be offended by ignorance, even when it puts on a religious face and is dressed up in its Sunday Best.

My son is one of those kids who is just, well, nice. He gets along with just about every one, he's respectful to adults, and he pretty darn likeable. Yeah, he occasionally finds it hilarious to tease his younger brothers and sometimes he does a crappy job on his chores. But really, I can't complain. He's a genuinely good kid.

Anyway, he wanted to go to this youth weekend thing the church was having. He spent the night Friday and Saturday at a host's house where all the youth boys were staying. They had food, devotions, fellowship, tra la la. Saturday during the day they basically did community service {I think they technically helped someone pack and move from one house to another- lots of packing, cleaning, lifting, moving, etc.}. And then Sunday morning the parents were supposed to pick their teens up at church, after the service, which was all run by the youth. Like, the youth did the music, the prayers, the offering, the sermon, etc.

Sunday morning we pulled into the church parking lot and my son trotted up to give me a kiss on the cheek and let me know that he had been appointed the one to pray over the morning offering in the service. Great.

We went in, found a seat, and sat through the service. And when it was time to take up the offering, another kid said the prayer. Strange.

Afterward, when we were in the car getting ready to head home, I asked my son about this. He explained that at the last minute, the leader told him he could not say the prayer, because- get this- he was not wearing slacks or khakis.

My son was denied an opportunity to pray in church because he was wearing jeans.

And here's where I've gotta be honest with you, friends. My son doesn't even *own* a pair of slacks or khakis. My idea of *Sunday best* consists of clothes without holes, rips or stains. I myself wear jeans to church. Why? Because I believe that it is important to be real. I wear to church what I wear every day because I believe God is a lot more interested in the state of my heart than the clothes on my back.

But before I go any further, I will say this: These are not *bad* people. I choose to believe that they are just trying to do the Right Thing. I've been to churches where the people are taught that you wear your best to church in order to give your best to God. It's a matter of respect, maybe even an act of devotion or love.

But I believe it is shortsighted. The Bible tells us that man looks at the outward appearance, but God looks at our hearts.

My kid just wanted to pray in church. He wasn't trying to be some kind of disrespectful rebel. And actually, he wasn't all that offended. He was just disappointed to be excluded.

It was me who was fired up.

I was ready to go in there and raise holy hell. Because, after all, no one messes with *my* kid and who do they think they are anyway? This wasn't of God. This was a stupid tradition of men, one of the things that rejects real live people with feelings and emotions in order to look pretty on the outside while the inside rots away...

But I kept it to myself. Mainly because I knew my poor kid would be mortified if I made a big deal out of it and also because, like I said, I was choosing to believe that even though it was stupid, they mean no harm and were just doing what they thought was right, even though it was stupid. {Yes, I know I said it was stupid twice. I couldn't help it.}

Fast forward to the next week, where my son volunteered to be a youth helper at Vacation Bible School. {Like I said, he's a nice kid.}

He came up to me in the kitchen one night during VBS week and asked me whether I thought it would be okay for him to wear a specific shirt to church.

Now I confess right up front: I have a bit of that firey-rebel-stickittotheman personality. I try to beat it down from time to time but it just won't die. I believe in fighting for what's right- come hell or high water. And sometimes that means rocking the boat. I knew this when I told my son the following:

If you own any item of clothing that you would be ashamed to wear in church, that you believe is wrong or evil, you shouldn't have it or wear it. Ever. Period. But if you have no conviction about it, if it is something you can wear without regret or shame anywhere else, you can wear it to church. God cares about out hearts, not our shirts.

And I let him know that if anyone told him anything otherwise, they could come straight to me.

I think I knew it wouldn't come to that. And I think I was secretly disappointed. Because maybe, just maybe, the leaders in this church need to hear another perspective.

Still, while I might have worn one of my favorite long skirts, I've made it a point to wear jeans and flip flops to church the last few weeks. And while this might sound a little bit like Rebel Amy taking over, it really wasn't my intention. I mean, okay, yes, I welcome a confrontation. But not in a yes-i'm-breastfeeding-in-public-and-it's-perfectly-legal-so-i'll-just-expose-myself-completely-and-don't-care-if-you're-uncomfortable kind of way. More like, no, I may not wear the clothes you find *acceptable* for church on Sunday, but see how I contribute in Sunday school class? See how I hand you my cute baby to snuggle and smile at you across the sanctuary? See how I bring in toothbrushes and toothpaste and other goodies for the homeless? See Jesus in me?

Jesus is wearing jeans and flip flops.

In. Church. On. Sunday. Morning.

I pray and I sing and I lift my hands in church and I know it makes some people uncomfortable because it's a very conservative church and I don't really care because I used to lift my hands and sway and dance at Pat Benatar and Steve Miller Band concerts and really? God is a whole lot more worthy.

And Love is a Battlefield, after all. :)

Really though, we all worship something, friends.

And I share all this not to add fuel to the fire, and not to give yet another reason to hate organized religion. I share this because it's real, the struggle to be part of the Bride but still be frustrated with the Church.

And because I want to make this clear: if you've ever been rejected in church, if Religion has left you with a bad taste in your mouth, if you have a whole string of stories about things religious people, maybe even Christians, have done to hurt you or others- things that are just Wrong- things that lack compassion or decency or Love- well, I'm sorry.

I'm sorry that happened to you and I want you to know, that wasn't Jesus.

Sometimes, we're all a bit moronic. The human race is full of frailties, mistakes, sometimes even cruelty and hate. And there's a whole lot of ignorance.

But I have to believe the answer is not bitterness or hatred or the tendency to treat ignorant people the same way they have treated others- with a lack of grace.

I will stand up for what is right by not compromising my ideals, and I will fight ignorance with love.

We destroy our enemies when we make them our friends.

And we become Christ-bearers when we love one another, as He has loved us.

Unconditionally.

Isn't it a bit ironic, how God tends to plant us all in places where we are most challenged? This jeans-and-flip-flop-wearing California girl who'd prefer fresh fruit smoothies to Boston Butt and cole slaw never thought she'd be living in the deep South, surrounded by a congregation made up of almost all white folks. My husband helped host a youth event where he overheard one of the teen boys talking about how he wished he could change school districts because his school was primarily made up of blacks, and he couldn't bear to bring a black girl home to his mama.

Really? What the what?!?

Like I said, it makes me mad and frustrated and I sometimes wonder how this is even still possible in this day and age.

The world is great at making divisions- black and white, male or female, Republican or Democrat...
and the church is not much better.

This is why I love Jesus- he obliterates the divisions. He said we were all One in Him. In Him there is complete equality, complete liberty, complete justice. Complete Love.

I struggle as a female in the church, to be honest. I feel like my gifts will be wasted simply because I was born a girl, because the church is so largely patriarchal, perhaps because men {and maybe even many women} are afraid to see a woman lead in any capacity.

I used to wish I had a more passive personality, that I could be one of those sweet girls that didn't get so darned worked up about everything, that I didn't feel like I needed to speak out so badly. Now I believe God made me this way, with this personality and this passion, for Him. I believe that when I speak out, in love, about something that is wrong, that He is using my voice.

And His voice needs to be heard, because everyone should be welcomed into church, everyone should be invited to pray to the God who hears and loves them. Our churches should not reject people based on their politics, their gender, their sexual orientation, or even their clothes, for heaven's sake. Jesus hung out with sinners and He loved them and it was through this love that He changed the world.

I know at this point I am sounding like a reject hippy.

But that's okay. :)

And, for the record, I think Jesus loved them too. No matter what they wore to church or whether they went to church at all.

We are the Church.

So the next time you see a thirty-something mama in jeans and flip flops, will you remember that? Please?

Because you could be seeing Jesus in the grocery store with a baby on His hip. :)


~amy danielle




linking up with sweet emily and the imperfect prose community




13 comments:

  1. You go girl! Wish I had time to say more but just wanted to cheer you on. Maybe I can come back later :-)

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  2. Dearest,

    I have been struggling, too. Thank you for being you. Thank you for sharing your heart. Thank you for not giving up. xx.

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  3. You don't sound one bit like a reject hippy. Maybe you sound like a prophet. I'm glad your son has you as his mother.

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    1. Thank you, truly.
      And you should know, I am reading Remember Me. So far, I love it. Not that I am one teeny bit surprised.

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  4. Well said, Amy. I admire your self-control, and your son's humility. Not allowing someone to pray because they're wearing jeans--what insanity. Come, Lord Jesus.

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  5. Oh goodness. I left a comment on this post ages ago. I hate it when comments disappear! Sorry about that.

    This reminded me of the dust-up a few months back over whether women should be allowed to read Scripture out loud in church. *ahem* I'll just say that I don't think gender OR jeans should disqualify people from participating in worship and service. You showed remarkable self-control! :) I think I would get a wee bit upset. Just a wee. bit.

    I got your letter - will return it as soon as possible!

    Much love.

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  6. A LOT of truth in what you say here. If a teenage boy, struggling for identity {as all of us have done as teens}, cannot pray in church because he's wearing jeans, how in the world is the church going to be Jesus and love on the prostitutes, the ones with addictions and demons plaguing them, the wayward, lost souls? How are we going to love them to God? We can't--not like this. My heart is sad over this. Blessings to you. Dropping by from IP.

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  7. Amy,

    Nice to meet you. I'm popping over from Imperfect Prose. I'm sorry your son had that experience with clothing issues. That's not right. I am a flip flop girl, myself, and Jesus probably wore sandals non-stop in Israel. :)

    Thanks for this glimpse into your thoughts today. Have a great Wednesday.

    Jennifer Dougan
    www.jenniferdougan.com

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  8. Oh yes. Yes. Amen and amen and amen and amen and amen some more. We worked at a children's home for a time, had a home full of teenage boys, in a conservative Texas town, and the clothing issue was a hot topic for us who thought it was a downright absurd thing to drive kids away from Christ over. And this week? I'm tumbled up in hurt from the kind of complacent hate that occasionally comes from the mouth of Christians to those who don't know the Lord's love, and it broke me, flipped me upside down and made me think I don't know the church at all.

    But you're right. We're all broken. We're all ignorant about something. We're all sinful and in need of grace, and oh, though that inner rebel flares up within me something hot and awful when it comes to the way the church treats outsiders and insiders alike... I know deep down that I have a tainted soul, that I am no better, and oh, how I revel in grace and pray that I can extend it when all I can see is red.

    Thanks for sharing this story. You have no idea how I needed to hear it today, to be reminded that I'm not the only one disillusioned from time to time about a church or the church and all that it represents, but trying the best I can anyway to be the change I wish to see...

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    1. thanks Cara. your post was stunning. you must be a kindred spirit, friend. xo

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  9. well, i am definitely posting this on facebook. i love this.

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  10. I've been hurt over this same, exact issue...and many others, besides. God is good; people are crazy; right? (Never mind the beer part of the song.)

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    1. i smiled at this comment. :) i have no idea what song you are referring to, but yes, God is good, people are crazy and never mind the beer. {wink}

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