I was a big fan of Anne Jackson’s first book, Mad Church Disease. It was a gift to anyone who works in the ministry. That’s why I’m excited about her second book, Permission to Speak Freely – Essays and Art on Fear, Confession and Grace which releases today.
Where her first book was for pastors, this book is for everyone. Anne was kind enough to share one of the essays from the book. Anne decided to share seven essays on seven different blogs, this being the second. To read the rest of the essays, check out the links at the end. Anne is also giving away a copy of her book to two commenters, chosen at random, on Friday. So check out the question at the end and leave a comment to be entered to win.
You can pick up a copy of the book here.
The free essay is after the jump.
Essay #2 – The Final Brick
As I got older, the disconnect between what I’d read in the Bible and what people in the church would actually say or do became more apparent and more confusing. If there was anything being a Very Traditional Southern Baptist taught me, it was that I needed to know my Bible.
I think that if those really mean, really political people in the church really knew the power the words of the Bible held, they wouldn’t want us reading it and memorizing it so much in Sunday school. Themes of grace, forgiveness, and love are woven in and out of the tissue-thin pages. But proof of the opposite is more than often what so many of us experienced if we’ve spent any amount of time in church or around church people.
When I was sixteen, my family was at the last church my dad would ever pastor. It was in the booming town of Abilene, Texas. We had lived there around three—maybe four—years, and the inevitable mess of real life began to take its toll. People began to show who they really were, complaining about this or demanding that, and justifying their actions with “for the Bible tells me so,” or “My daddy laid the foundation of this church,” the latter statement carrying more weight than the former.
My dad, who was the senior pastor at this church, was passionate about caring for people who are far from faith. Because he believed everyone in the church should participate in helping others, he taught classes coaching people on why we should be concerned for our community and how to love people when they are going through a difficult time.
However, most people at this particular church had been members for life. Nobody had ever asked them to step out of their pews before. To them, you went to church three times a week, and that was how you found Jesus and built your mansion up in heaven. My dad was the one getting paid to care for people. Why in the world would he ask them to do the same without getting paid for it?
His challenging the status quo did not sit well with some of the congregation. After a few months of tension and secret meetings, my dad was asked to resign his position at one of the church’s monthly business meetings.
And they didn’t ask kindly either. An avalanche of insults and lies tumbled down on my family and on another pastor in the church who supported my dad.
Things got ugly.
My mom started to cry.
People started yelling.
Filled with teenage impulsivity, I stood up.
I was done not saying things in church.
Flipping my Bible to Ephesians, I started reading about the unity of the church and how we needed to do everything to preserve it. How dare these people call themselves followers of Christ when all they did was fight and hate and lie? Still out to prove my point, I quickly thumbed to John 13 (see, all those Bible studies did come in handy) and said that the world is supposed to know we’re followers of Christ by the love we have for each other. What if someone who wasn’t a Christian had been sitting in the meeting? How would that person see Christ?
I could feel my heart pounding in my chest. And in my ears. And in my throat. And feet. I realized what I had just done and felt a little dizzy.
Being a teenage girl and trying to preach (sorry, teach) unity to a Very Traditional Southern Baptist Church as they’re in the middle of splitting isn’t the best way to have a message received. The rage the church members were projecting on me floated across the sanctuary to the second row and burned up my face. I turned a Bloody-Mary mix red, a combination of anger and embarrassment.
Nobody said a word, but it was crystal clear I needed to leave. After regaining the feeling in my legs, I stormed out, slamming the heavy wooden door behind me. That night, I felt like not only had people abandoned us, but we had been abandoned by God. I wrote a letter to Him, addressing Him as “Nobody,” about the faith I was about to leave behind.
Another brick had been placed in the wall I had been building around my heart in an attempt to protect it from the damaging battles that raged in the church.
And this brick was the final one.
My dad resigned as pastor of that church at that meeting, and both he and my mom began searching for jobs. Whoever got the best job first would determine our family’s future. More than likely, we’d be moving.
Have you ever had an experience where how people in the church acted and what the Bible says didn’t' line up?
For the first essay, visit Don Miller’s blog here.
For the next essay, visit Carlos Whittaker’s blog here.