Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Smoke Break



I don't remember much about our search to find the first "official" church home of our marriage. I don't remember exactly how many churches we visited or how many Sundays it took for us to realize the one we had found was "it".

All I know is, someone roped us into getting up an hour earlier in order to sit in the cold metal folding chairs of a Sunday school classroom.

Everyone was wonderful, so kind, quite funny.

But I didn't know we were home until the guy across from me cleared his throat and said out loud to the rest of the circle that he had trouble with his mouth. He cussed when he things didn't go well at his factory job. He cussed like a sailor.

I couldn't believe he was admitting this to the rest of us. I had never seen anything like it. It wasn't the discovery that I was circled up among cussers that almost knocked me out of my seat, it was the fact that he admitted to it. Without any unnecessary emotional fanfare. This was one of his struggles. He didn't feel super great about it. He needed help. And he seemed to profoundly, yet simply, understand this is why he had Jesus, and this is why he had the rest of us.

Last week, ten years and two towns away from that old Sunday School circle, I dashed out of church to run home and grab my side-dish for the post-service carry-in.

When I pulled back into the lot ten minutes later, I noticed an intriguing congregation of fellas on the North side of the building. There was the youngish guy who often wears a Cubs t-shirt under his choir robe, a couple of guys who have become like kin to us, the worship leader, and a quiet guy I don't know well at all. Loyal servants and leaders of our church. All of them were smoking.

This phenomenon wasn't a revelation to me. But I'd never received the gift of this sheepish collective.

From my van, I raised my eyebrows and grinned so hard.

"What's going on over there?"

"Oh, nothing good," he grinned back, snuffing out his cigarette and walking my way. "Need a hand?"

I loaded him up with pickles and beans.

And I knew for the hundredth time that I was home.

Not because this church is perfect, not because it's everything I always dreamed a church home should be, not because everyone gets along and behaves graciously, or because it meets every one of my piddly needs.

It's home because there are people - at least some - who straight-up wear their humanity, even on Sundays. The men I saw love Jesus and recognize their need for him. They have habits they'd probably rather break, and I'm guessing they also sin, every day.

They could wait until they got home.
They could take pains to relocate to a more obscure location.

All that would accomplish among the rest of us is the mounting dread that everyone is better at this holiness gig and the looming despair that what's required of us is either to get our crap together or to pull up our pantyhose and at least act the part.

I'm so exhausted by our filters. I'm worn bare by our refusal to live authentically, as actual humans.

As believers called into community, we are set apart, tasked with wearing the shine of a love we could never manufacture. Our job is to relent daily to Christ's molding, to wear our plasticity like a badge - "I'm In Need of Changing". Our job is not to be plastic, wearing our mask of perfection like a smug iron gate - "Come Back When You're Better".

Call me crazy, it's okay. But only in a place marked by visible imperfection and authenticity can I fully own my personal brokenness. And only in fully owning my brokenness am I compelled to chase heart-pounding after my Redeemer.

Let's honor the honest.
Let's be them, too.


39 comments:

  1. Absolutely! Why have some churches become so fake, and why have I let that be in my life? Excellent, excellent Shannan!

    ReplyDelete
  2. I knew I had found my church home when I pulled in to a parking spot one Sunday morning and spied my pastor sneaking a smoke outside the back door of the church. My first reaction was to be mildly shocked and then all I could do was smile. He's a sinner and in need of Jesus, just like the rest of us. He shrugged at me sheepishly and waved. I knew I was home.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Absolutely beautiful. I am glad you are a part of such a church body. And I am ever so grateful that our great loves each and every one of is with all of ou

    ReplyDelete
  4. Amen and amen. For a long time I wondered why I felt more at home with honest, struggling nonbelievers than in church, where most conversations tended to all eventually veer off into "what's wrong with the world...". Then I figured out, alert! I'm still human, still struggling, still in need, etc, etc, etc, and my insides often match what the honest people are wearing on the outside. We go to a different church now, where honesty seems to be valued over churchy-sty. I can breathe again.
    Beautiful writing, thank you.

    ReplyDelete
  5. That is a hard one. When are you being judgmental and when are you just standing up for what the Bible says we are suppose to be doing? I wouldn't go to a church though where the pastor smoked- that much I know. : - ) You can be non judgmental and still be setting an example. I have a feeling Shannan you do it "almost" perfectly.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You know, there was a time when I would have agreed with you, but I don't think I would see a smoking pastor as a deal-breaker anymore. And just for the record - I don't come close to perfect, in any area of my life! :)

      Delete
    2. 'Standing up for what the Bible says we are supposed to be doing' type churches are the ones I avoid...

      Delete
    3. I think it's interesting that you see smoking as a sin, especially one that would be a deal-breaker. I'm curious how you would feel about a chubby pastor who eats more than is healthy at the potluck :)

      Delete
  6. Love! Lack of authenticity in the church is rampant and frustrating and disgusting. I hate the fake face that you get in church, the 'I've got this' vibe that people try their hardest to give off. Genuine humanness is so attractive to people, believers and non. We're not helping anyone by faking it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I seriously just tried to "like" your comment. Oops. :)

      Delete
  7. Have felt such a tugging toward this kind of community and intimacy. Blessed by your words today, and the confirmation it places on my heart that God is working on me in this area. ALL. THE. TIME. Realizing my own need to "straight-up wear my humanity" so that I may welcome people, as Jesus did, as they are. the same way He welcomed me.

    ReplyDelete
  8. I knew I found the right place when I felt like I was home. Just an overwhelming feeling I was home.

    ReplyDelete
  9. good thoughts. i don't think any of my pastors smoke, but we all have sinned, and continue to sin, so let's get on with things, shall we ? it is painful to show our true selves, I'm guilty of doing all manner of ridiculosity to keep the sins hidden. who do i think I'm kidding?
    we do have some table-dancers in toddler church who are rumored to have been hollering "I'm disco groovin', I'm shakin my booty!" and by rumored, i spread the news! i couldn't stop laughing long enough to coherently scold the munchkins.

    ReplyDelete
  10. "Oh nothing good" made me laugh out loud. It is always my response when asked what I am doing. I also like a person who admits to having a potty mouth.

    ReplyDelete
  11. yes! this is one of the main reasons i left sunday morning church a few years ago. i couldn't seem to get it together enough to walk in those doors every sunday. and then i thought wow, if i cant do it then what about those feeling even more ashamed or broken than me - they certainly wouldn't feel welcome here. too many churches have made christian ideals more important than love.
    i totally get why you are in love with your church - i will take visible imperfection and authenticity any day over lets all act like we have it all together! shannan i love this post!

    ReplyDelete
  12. That settles it. I'm moving to Indiana. I'm desperate for a church like you describe. I'm tired of feeling like I don't belong or being told either with looks or judgemental mutters under their breath. I feel like yelling at them, don't you see THIS is why the churches are drying up and people stop going. People (I) want real fellowship, truth and love, Not plastic smiles and the perfect Sunday service. Fact is I belong in the smoking section and at church, I just haven't found one that has both.

    ReplyDelete
  13. well.
    you are dang sure crazy. and don't ever stop.
    PREACH.

    ReplyDelete
  14. http://www.crpc.org/media/sermon/no-strings-attached---part-3- :)

    ReplyDelete
  15. ^^ I know that's like 45 minutes of listening, but it's worth it! Thanks for being honest :)

    ReplyDelete
  16. I absolutely crave authenticity in relationships--I sometimes forget that the best way to get it is to live it. Mask living is such a default and at times I don't even realize I do it too.

    ReplyDelete
  17. This made me smile to remember the "old men" who stood on the front steps of our church when I was a little girl. Back then smoking wasn't a sin to me, just a smelly habit I was glad they took outdoors. Now, I see so well what you've seen, and that it's an honest, open way to show ourselves true.

    All "sins" aren't so easily seen ;).....

    ReplyDelete
  18. I am standing on my cold metal chair hootin' and hollarin' and saying - somebody hand Shannan the mic! She needs to preach! Oh wait....she already is! Well done!! Well said!! Thank you for blowing away the religious facade and owning authenticity! LOVE THIS! ~Kati

    ReplyDelete
  19. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  20. True, true. I love this post! Lord, help us all. :)

    ReplyDelete
  21. I've got to say something here...Authenticity. I get it. I TOTALLY get it. There are few things more nauseating than a religious spirit...However (hear me out), as with all things, there needs to be balance and wisdom. Yes, we are human and yes! we need to be willing to be honest about our struggles, BUT always strive for holiness. Every single one of us is a work in progress. Not only do we need to press forward in our walk with God, but we are also being the example to a newer believer. Someone has to step up and try to be the example. I'm looking at scriptures like I Corinthians 11:1& I John 2:6, where we are to be imitators of Christ. Adults are responsible to set good examples for their children, mature Christians are also responsible to set good examples for disciples new in the faith and in their walk...We don't have to proclaim to be perfect and wear masks, but we do need be willing to strive to live like Christ and we need to be sensitive to the weaker believers. Everything doesn't need to be aired out. There is a time and place to admit our struggles and the Holy Spirit will reveal those times. I agree a pastor isn't going to hell for smoking or whatever, but that struggle doesn't need to be practiced in the back of his church. We are not our own, but we were bought at a price. Philippians 2:3-8, tells us to put others ahead of ourselves. Someone must be willing to be the example. As much as I'm tired of masks, I am also tired of hearing people say, "Don't look at me, look at Him". The world can't see "Him" yet. We have to be imitators of Christ and authentic and genuine..."Take up your cross and follow Me"

    ReplyDelete
  22. The Bible does say your body is a temple. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 And, smoking "by the leaders" is setting a bad example. Eating too much is a sin also, but unlike smoking you have to eat every day. The poster asks how I feel about "chubby" preachers. I think there is a difference between a chubby preacher and a 350 pound preacher. Of course, we all sin. "SBlair" said it much better than me. The Bible says: "She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more. John 8:11 He doesn't say we are sinners so don't worry about it.

    ReplyDelete
  23. One more thing, I know half the people that go to church are fake. Half the people you work with are fake, half the people in my neighborhood are fake and half the people in the schools are fake, but you go/stay because it is good for you. : - ) I go for Jesus not to see the hypocrites.

    ReplyDelete
  24. We are looking for a church. The search isn't going well. I needed this today.

    ReplyDelete
  25. I never comment on here... I am a horrible lurker and honestly I always feel silly commenting on blogs when the person doesn't even know me. But having Christ in common makes me feel like I do know you! (Plus I have that lurker advantage...) :)
    As I read your last two posts, I was so challenged and encouraged and my mind was throw to thoughts of my Redeemer and my constant need of all that He is! The work He is doing through you and your transparency blesses the heck out of me and you should know that! It is a privilege to be able to encourage one another and shame on me for being silent for so long! I am SO thankful for how He has used your words to break and change my heart. Don't stop! You are a gift!!!

    ReplyDelete
  26. I love this post!! I wish I could find this type of authenticity at my workplace... but I am dealing with people wearing such false identities attached to their "place" within the hierarchy of our company..... it's just crazy. Struggling. Why can't we all just get along?

    ReplyDelete
  27. i am SO TIRED of the faking it. worn thin. i hope i can find my way back to a place to feel this way again... the way you are seeing it. and i will say it again... DANG IT you say it so well. you should be a writer. ;)

    ReplyDelete