The great weakness of the North American church…

The great weakness in the North American church at large, and certainly in my life, is our refusal to accept our brokenness. We hide it, evade it, gloss over it. We grab for the cosmetic kit and put on our virtuous face to make ourselves admirable to the public. Thus, we present to others a self that is spiritually together, superficially happy, and lacquered with a sense of self-deprecating humor that passes for humility. The irony is that while I do not want anyone to know that I am judgmental, lazy, vulnerable, screwed up, and afraid, for fear of losing face, the face that I fear losing is the mask of the impostor, not my own!

The above quote is from Ruthless Trust by Brennan Manning. I’ve read this book before, but it’s been awhile. I hit a wall one day a few weeks ago, and went to a bookstore in a nearby town. I like Manning, and started to read it while there, and my thirsty soul took it in. It has been speaking to me, partially because it is so easy to get wrapped up in being successful, both in business and as a Christian. When I fail to live up to it, then I may get self-absorbed and get down on myself. Never a good thing. I’ve been reminded that I am a ragamuffin, that I need to trust Jesus, and be thankful. The way I wrote those words, it sounds like activities. No, it’s about the little child looking up at his daddy with arms open.

The quote at the top stood out to me as it make me think of the quote from Donald Grey Barnhouse in my last post. Sometimes Christianity is like that. The ironic thing is, not only do I find superficial Christianity distasteful, so does the world. I had sent the Barnhouse quote to someone, who responded that it reminded him of some local Christians who were supporting the notion of Character, and also of the movie Pleasantville. My response, with minor editing is as follows. This is my own brokenness on display.

I agree with conservative types that character is important, and the Bible does talk about character in leaders, but part of character, Biblically, is being in the light. And pleasantness doesn’t encourage this. When I am struggling with life and God and confidence and stuff, and I have a lot of late, being in a social gathering of pleasant Christians is the last place I want to be. It feels like work, feeling like it’s almost not okay to express that life isn’t always wonderful, like it, in theory, should be. Granted, I should perhaps have more joy than I do, but a lot of than depends on how much I trust God (or don’t) at a given time. Time for me to find a smaller group again, but even then, finding a place where everyone else in the group isn’t pleasant, or maybe I just have to make things unpleasant.

I liked Pleasantville. While movies like Pleasantville and American Beauty are selfish and skewed, what I like about them is the idea of people breaking out of the routine of simply going through the motions and finding life. Being hurt. Taking risks. Doing new things. The sister in Pleasantville found life by learning, by becoming something more substantive. When people started to have emotions, to feel, rather than just exist, they became alive. I don’t think people in Pleasantville had perfect character. Character on the outside doesn’t mean there is character on the inside, or in our private moments. A façade isn’t character. It seems that when people started expressing what they felt on the inside, what they really thought and felt, then they found color.

While the book Wild at Heart has flaws, in my opinion, it also has a bit of that notion of not just playing it safe and going through the motions. As in, what is life? Are we alive or just existing. It’s hard to grow into each other if we are always wondering what we might do wrong that would make people cease to love us. I sometimes wonder that. But when lines get crossed, and we stay in relationship, then there is a freedom there. Yet, so often I don’t get to that point, because it’s easier to be pleasant, even if I don’t like being pleasant. I think character misses the point completely and I also don’t think it’s a Biblical focus. “All have sinned” puts us all at the foot of the cross at the same level, in need of Christ, in need of each other. While that doesn’t mean sin is okay, it isn’t, or that it isn’t possible to overcome it to a degree (and people can argue about what degree it is possible in this life), the pursuit of being sinless seems to often be at odds with being in relationship to each other, and having it be okay for us to be there for each other, not in an “you’re broken so I’ll try to fix you” way, but in a “I’m here for you and will love you through it all as we press on together” way.

I don’t feel that right now. Part of that is just working on my own trust of God. Am re-reading Ruthless Trust by Brennan Manning. Reminds me how hard the message of grace is. Trust and gratitude, so basic, and so very hard to live out. Sigh. It’s what I’m thinking about right now, that and needing Christ, and needing people.

2 thoughts on “The great weakness of the North American church…”

  1. Renee says:

    Very good stuff, Seth…this quote in particular…

    “I agree with conservative types that character is important, and the Bible does talk about character in leaders, but part of character, Biblically, is being in the light. And pleasantness doesn’t encourage this. When I am struggling with life and God and confidence and stuff, and I have a lot of late, being in a social gathering of pleasant Christians is the last place I want to be. It feels like work, feeling like it’s almost not okay to express that life isn’t always wonderful, like it, in theory, should be. Granted, I should perhaps have more joy than I do, but a lot of than depends on how much I trust God (or don’t) at a given time. Time for me to find a smaller group again, but even then, finding a place where everyone else in the group isn’t pleasant, or maybe I just have to make things unpleasant. “

  2. stephy says:

    This is great. I haven’t read Brennan Manning but I’ve heard a lot about him and I love that quote you used.

Comments are closed.