I remember the last time I got into a physical fight. His name was Tim. Under normal circumstances, I probably would have liked the kid. But he talked a lot. And he knew how to get under my skin.
A club we both belonged to took a road trip to EWU for a technology conference. It was our senior year and this was going to be the last district sponsored trip of high school. From the moment our bus left campus on Thursday, he started poking me. Not a literal poking or that silly attention seeking poke on facebook. Just subtle insults or an “accidental” bump in passing. He was about my height, but chunkier. His bulk outsized me. His mouth out witted me. He carried it on through the rest of Thursday and all day Friday. The drive home on Saturday was more of the same.
It ended while taking a pit stop at a rest area near Snoqualmie Pass.
Our school’s choir and band also had road trips that weekend and were due back in town the same time as our CAD club. The highway rest area was populated with busses from our school district. It was like a pre-grad party with kids from three different clubs all converging in one place.
Then it happened.
As I was walking out of the bathrooms, Tim was hiding around the corner with a squirt gun. In hindsight, I should commend his aim; he shot a stream of water directly into my ear. But then, in that moment, it was the last straw. I gave him a shove and he pushed back. Then, in one implausible surge of adrenaline, I grabbed the edges of his jacket, picked him up off the ground, carried him a few steps to our transportation, and slammed him into the side of the bus.
I was ready to punch him. His expression acknowledged the same.
But then I looked around. The dozen kids from CAD club were all watching us. The choir and band kids were milling around the parking lot – some were aware of the situation but some were not.
All those eyes on me – all curiously anticipating violence. I released my hold on Tim, stepped onto the bus, sat down in the back seat, put on my headphones, and pushed play on my Walkman.
Tim left me alone for the rest of the way home, and he was nicer to me for the remainder of the school year. But that’s not the point. That fiasco at the rest stop somewhere along I-90 wasn’t my attempt at some hard earned respect. It was my tipping point.
Nearly 10 years ago, Malcolm Gladwell wrote a book called, The Tipping Point. In it, he proposed the idea that little changes can have drastic effects. The thought is that small things add up to a critical mass at which point there is no turning back.
Years of being bullied and teased, of picking fights, of being angry. It had reached a critical mass with Tim pinned up against the bus. I was at my tipping point.
I could swing my fist and remain mad at the world, or I could grow up and walk away. When I surveyed the crowd around the two of us, I realized something: I was better than that. I was better than a scrawny kid lashing out at any provocation. I was better than a pissed off teenager.
I made my choice. I told myself, “I’m better than this.” I let Tim go. That was my last fight.
Where is the church’s tipping point? When will we reach critical mass? How long will it take for us to get to the point where we say enough?
We’re better than this.
We are better than an unwelcoming society.
We are better than inconsequential issues.
We are better than unrealistic expectations.
We are better than scare tactics.
We are better than our baggage.
We are better than pushing away those who need hope.
We need to change our approach.
That is a scary thing to say in a church. If we truly believe that we are worshiping the Creator of all things - the Savior of the universe – it isn’t easy to admit that we are doing something wrong.
Because if our style of evangelism is out of whack, what does that say about our God?
Too often, we as Christians fight to maintain our status quo because a confession of error opens a door that we don’t want to enter. If the actions made in the name of God are deemed wrong, then we begin to question what we really believe. And if we begin to doubt, we might think that we’re falling into temptation.
That is a demented way of thinking. It proposes that our behavior defines or controls God. It assumes that God’s Grace has limits or conditions.
I suggest something different.
God hasn’t changed. He is everything that is good. He is great and terrible and awesome. It’s not God that is wrong. We are.
The way we approach Him. The way we present Him. These methods may have worked in my parents’ generation or the generation before them. But, as Bob Dylan once said, the “times they are a changin’.”
The church cannot remain stagnant. What we are doing doesn’t work. It is ineffective. We are better than this.
This presents a peculiar challenge. How do we portray an unchanging God in an everchanging world?
I don’t have a good answer for that question. But there are a few things that I do know.
We cannot continue treating people in a way that makes them feel like outsiders. If we want our churches to be a place where everyone feels welcome, we need to treat them in a way that matches our intentions.
We cannot continue to make big deals out of things that don’t matter. Let’s look at the big picture. God can handle the details.
We cannot continue demanding unobtainable perfection now. Everyone makes mistakes. It is through our weaknesses that God’s power is shown true.
We cannot continue manipulating people with fear or coercion. Love always wins.
We cannot continue burdening people with baggage and obstacles. The rules are simple: love God and love others.
We cannot continue our selfishness.
We can do better. Actually, we must do better.
I started writing this series as a way to answer a question I wrote in another post a couple of months ago. Why can’t we (American Christians) experience and worship God like Christians in Uganda.
But the more I write, the more I realize that I’m only scratching the surface.
We don’t experience God with wild devotion because we’re fixated on rules, on fitting in. We want to know what is in it for us. We are consumed by American ideals where the purpose in life is to get ahead. We’re focused on our needs instead of the needs of others.
But the true answer is so much more than that. It is so much deeper. I don’t have all the answers, but I do have these six barriers in the modern church; six things that we’re getting wrong. These are my small things that hopefully add up to bigger things. I hope this is a little change with drastic effects.
Part 1: Out of Place
Part 2: Believing the Right Things
Part 3: Imperfect Understanding
Part 4: The Theology of Fear
Part 5: The Theology of Extra Baggage
Part 6: Pushing and Pulling