Saturday mornings are perhaps my favourite mornings. I say perhaps, because they vie with Sunday mornings for first place. Saturday mornings go like this.
1)Wake up, feel the dribble on my chin, look embarrassedly around, remember I am in a bedroom by myself.
2) Panic for a split second – there’s a tutorial at 9? Didn’t that ward round start at 8? Huh? I have no clean underwear!
3) Calm down 30 milliseconds later after realising it is Saturday, not Friday morning.
4) Smile and thank God it’s Saturday.
5) Call Mum and chatter on the phone while lying in bed.
6) Tell myself I should read my Bible and go to Church for Bible study.
7) See no 6.
8) See no.7
9) and so forth…
I have a confession to make. For those of you who may not know what Sabbath School is, it’s basically a big group discussion/ study of a specific topic in the Bible that the church has agreed to read together. I have Sabbath School avoidance disease. When did I develop this ailment? Around 5 years ago when I moved away to university and started attending a new church.
Let me put it frankly. The outlandish, ridiculous, and downright implausible statements I hear on Saturday mornings are giving the Daily Mail comment section a run for their money.
Today I was late. I had every intention of making it to church by 10 o’ clock. Well, perhaps I had half-baked intentions. Either way, at 10.45 I scurried in to a very warm Jamaican greeting, too late to hear the wacky statements made that morning, but not late enough to not hear about them from someone who was early enough to hear them. (Did you follow that? I almost didn’t.)
This morning’s gem, was a mini speech on the evils of stem cells. No, not what you might think – not because embryonic stem cells involve destroying embryos, which is perhaps killing a life. I could understand the ethical dilemma surrounding that. No, it was because…wait for it…if they implant animal stem cells into humans, they are creating half animal half human hybrids, and if these unfortunate creatures are part animal and part human… can they receive salvation?
I couldn’t make this up. This is 100% real, certified Saturday morning live feed, from an anonymous church somewhere in the South West of England.
And so the service went on. To add to the stem cell unsettlement, there was the small matter of the hymns. Now, I’ll admit to being a bit of a music snob (by church standards). I don’t ask for much really, just that songs be sung in tune, and at a reasonable volume. Enthusiasm, originality and flair are optional added extras. I just live in hope that my first two requirements will be attempted, if not achieved. This morning there was possibly an attempt, definitely not an achievement. Directly behind me was a pleasant man intent on making a joyful but tuneless noise, no doubt to support the joyful and tuneless praises of the praise team.
And so the service went on. I found myself becoming increasingly critical and increasingly disgruntled. Why were 60% of the people photographed in the Messenger (church magazine) white? This was an inaccurate representation. “Institutionally racist..” I muttered. Why is that woman letting her child run amok, up and down the aisles? Had she not read the Proverb about sparing rods and so forth? Why is the pianist so out of time? “They really should audition church musicians”..I thought. Why do West Indians always slide the second to last note of every song? “So unnecessary”, I sulked.
And then it hit me. It is easy to love the church from a distance. It is easy to sit at home and have nostalgic ideas about the body of Christ. It is entirely different to be part of that body. I was sitting in my chair, criticising and complaining, when maybe God was trying to teach me about my own pride and arrogance. Sure, the stem cell thing was ridiculous, but so was my smug intellectual pride. Yes, the pianist was a bit out of time, but she was clearly trying, and at least she had kept up with her piano lessons, unlike an unnamed blogger who wasted a few hundred pounds and only has a poor rendition of Fur Elise to show for it. Maybe the woman with the unruly child had had a rough week, and simply lacked the energy to run around after him.
In the Screwtape letters by C.S Lewis, a demon writes to one of his understudies about his new Christian charge.
“When he gets to his pew and looks round him he sees just that selection of his neighbours whom he has hitherto avoided. You want to lean pretty heavily on those neighbours. Make his mind flit to and fro between an expression like ‘the body of Christ’ and the actual faces in the next pew.….. Provided that any of those neighbours sing out of tune, or have boots that squeak, or double chins, or odd clothes, the patient will quite easily believe that their religion must therefore be somehow ridiculous.”
“The search for a “suitable” church makes the man a critic where God wants him to be a pupil. What he wants from the layman in church is an attitude which may, indeed, be critical in the sense of rejecting what is false or unhelpful but which is wholly uncritical in the sense that it does not appraise- does not waste time in thinking about what it rejects, but lays itself open in uncommenting, humble receptivity to any nourishment that is going.”
Do you sometimes find yourself being irritated or unnecessarily critical at church? How do you deal with it?