Monday, December 17, 2007

God loves each of us as if there were only one of us. ~St. Augustine

People have an innate instinct to protect themselves. When someone is trying to attack them physically, emotionally, or financially, people don’t like to get hurt and will try their hardest to protect their bodies, hearts, and bank accounts. That’s why I am not at all surprised that people who have had bad experiences at church refuse to go back. I come across people who say that their parents or grandparents were bombarded by reverends, pastors, bishops, etc.; saying that they say what they were giving to the church was not enough, especially considering their abundant income. Who wants to go to church if that is going to happen? Tithing is supposed to be between you and God, right? People say I’m not going to church with a bunch of hypocrites. They all pretend to be goodie-goodies and they judge those who are not good, but they really aren’t that great themselves. That’s not right, either. God is our judge and we are all sinners, even those who go to church. Who wants to hang out with a bunch of “holier-than-thou” people?

Why purposely choose to subject yourself to this when you could sleep in, have a late breakfast, catch a movie, or take a day trip? I asked myself this very question yesterday as I sat through a Sunday School class fighting back tears because I had been hurt. I still don’t have an answer.

Rewind about 18 months. The Man and I are in a small group with our very good friends, Caden* and Ada, and another couple. We have known Caden and Ada for years, we accept their quirks and they accept ours, our kids love each other and play well together. The third couple is an extremely non-confrontational couple, as is Ada. So here we are in our small group going through the parables and the group leader, Caden, brings up Arminianism vs. Calvinism. Caden is a Calvinist, pretty die hard about his beliefs. I did not see how this related to the parables, but okay we get into a discussion about it. I end up feeling trampled on. Calvinism is not presented by Caden as an opinion but as truth. I don’t think that’s right for a leader to do. A leader should say here are the two views, let’s discuss.

I think that if two views are believed so strongly by so many people that there may be merit to both sides. Also, God is not someone that I pretend to understand fully. All I know for sure is that if I want to go to heaven that I must believe that I have sinned so God sent His Son, Jesus, to die on a cross for my sins. I must ask God to forgive me for my sins, tell Him that I believe He died for me, and ask Him to reside in my heart. That’s it. So I don’t think that having Arminianistic beliefs or Calvinistic beliefs will change my salvation and therefore feel that it is a gray area that we as humans, who I might add, have the tendency to lean toward error and sin, have created to try to wrap our heads around God. Instead of just saying there is no way that I can understand this God who created the universe and my complex human body and who is perfect.

Well, having my Arminianistic responses slammed down by Caden so many times (at one point he pointed his finger and said you’re wrong), I finally just shut down. Why bother? I’m not stupid. Pushing on a brick wall with my pinky finger will never knock it over. So I give up. But I am still upset because I do not feel respected, and I no longer respect the leader of our small group. So I go to a trusted friend who also happens to be the worship pastor at our church and present the situation to him. He says that he will speak with the discipleship pastor. We all sit down, our small group and the two pastors, and discuss what happened. Caden apologizes for not considering my feelings. He says that does not think with feelings and sometimes does not consider that others do think with feelings. I forget some of the other nonsense he said. The two pastors were very positive with me, encouraging us to continue with this small group, and supporting me in challenging Caden in the future.

But the damage to the friendship was done. We tried to spend time with them outside of small group as we had done many times before, but conversations were stiff. We tried to stay in the small group, but the tension was even worse. We say good-bye to Caden and Ada and the other couple in the group. We say that we would like to remain friends.

What happened? Of course we don’t remain friends. They couldn’t get anyone else to join their small group (a sign from God?), so they stopped meeting all together. We are cordial to each other as we see each other at church functions; we go to the same Sunday School, and our kids are in church programs together. Some of the tension has faded, but the wall around my heart stands strong.

And then others get involved and I feel like I’m in high school. A mutual friend notices that we aren’t hanging out anymore and she asks me if I’m still friends with Ada. I simply say that we haven’t been hanging out as much lately but that is it. I don’t go into any detail about the small group or anything about my feelings. The woman and her family have dinner at Caden and Ada’s house and Ada mentions something to her about having spent some time together with me and our friend immediately says, “Oh, I thought you guys weren’t friends anymore.” So Ada thinks I’m talking trash on her. And being her non-confrontational self, she of course does not come to me to get the full story; she goes to her husband and tells him that I’ve been telling everyone about our feud. Caden very obviously pulls The Man aside one Sunday morning and whispers to him. After church I ask him what’s up and he rolls his eyes and tells me what happened. It’s like that game “telephone” from when I was in second grade. Like seriously, tell me if you have a problem with me. I can take it, I’m a grown up. So the friendship is effectively terminated.

Obviously, this Arminianism vs. Calvinism argument is now a touchy subject for me as it has ruined several friendships.

Back to the present. I go to Sunday School yesterday morning, completely forgetting the warning our teacher gave us last week that we would be discussing Arminianism vs. Calvinism. The Man said he thought it was odd that I still wanted to go; he said that he almost mentioned it before class but then he was distracted and forgot. He was playing drums in both worship services and was not able to attend Sunday School with me. So I am alone, normally not a problem. I walk in and take note of the room; Caden and Ada are sitting on a couch, the other couple from our small group sits on the couch next to them. I smile and grab some coffee and a donut. I sit down in an armchair next to the other couple, and we all start talking about Christmas. Caden is sure to mention that telling your kids that Santa exists is a lie. Isn’t that a great way to start the morning? Both the other couple and our family incorporate Santa into our Christmas and Caden knows it. In addition, I am sure he has lied to his kids at some point. Even if it is a little white lie to protect them from some harm in the world; a lie is a lie. So I’m already on edge.

Then the teacher quiets us down and we begin our lesson. We have been studying Genesis and we are currently in Chapter 3. I, of course, see no relation to this and the Arminianism vs. Calvinism argument, and I have still not remembered that this was promised to be discussed this week. I am giving my answers to the teacher’s questions and I am very pleased that he is accepting my answers as good. He is a very smart man and sometimes I do not follow what he is after; but today I’m on a roll.

Then he hands out this form that has two columns on it: the first lists Arminianism beliefs and the second lists Calvinism beliefs. Then it hits me and all I want to do is run out of there. But I can’t. I feel like I’m stuck in my chair. I decide instead that 75% of the class has heard what I have to say on the subject so I’m just not going to say anything. The discipleship pastor who was there during our small group discussions is in this class, along with his wife, who I am sure heard about what happened in our small group. That leaves the teacher and the other person in the class (who I don’t know) who does not know where I stand on this issue. And that’s fine with me. I’ll just listen to everyone else talk about it. I really don’t want to get into an argument with anyone, especially not about this, which I have already expressed does not define life and death.

Then it happens. The teacher says, “You can believe (insert Arminianism belief here, I don’t recall exactly what he said), but you’d be wrong.” Are all Calvinists SO arrogant?!? I am shocked! How can anyone profess such definitive knowledge about something that is so obviously not so plain?!? And how can you even think that you could persuade someone to consider what you believe if you constantly make such judgmental statements and bold claims?

I stay silent as I had initially decided, but now trying my hardest to hold back tears. This person who I very dearly trusted and respected has now, however unintentional it was, hurt me more than I ever thought possible. He has lost my respect and my trust. I patiently wait until the end of the class, hardly hearing anything else that was said, and then politely excuse myself. I pick up The Boy from his class, find The Man, and melt in his protective arms. I tell him what happened and he is shocked. He couldn’t believe that this man would say that. He calms me down and we go on with our day. As we get into bed at night, I have finally decided what I am going to do. I don’t feel like I should run tattling to our pastor friend every time someone upsets me with their Calvinistic viewpoints. So we will continue to go to the Sunday School class. Another wall has been built around my heart, and class will never be the same again.

But because of my experience, I can relate to those who do not go to church as a protection against their bodies, hearts, and finances. And hopefully as a result, I can witness to them in a way that nobody else can. And they can make the free choice to accept God’s plan of salvation for their lives.

"The challenge of leadership is to be strong, but not rude; be kind, but not weak; be bold, but not bully; be thoughtful, but not lazy; be humble, but not timid; be proud, but not arrogant; have humor, but without folly." -Jim Rohn

"Nobody can be so amusingly arrogant as a young man who has just discovered an old idea and thinks it is his own." -Sydney Harris

*Names have been changed.