Jesus and the Creep Show

It always happens. I enter a church’s front doorway, glance at bulletin board photos from missionary outposts and inhale scents of aging pew cushions. My face forms a rigid smile, my right-hand fingers extend, poised for gentle, grasping introductions. I’m not so much upset as overrehearsed. Accustomed times ten to the similitude. Unsurprised by sanctuary banners proclaiming glory, growth, reverence.

I used to attend church on Sundays to experience God’s blessings. I followed familiar paths and was often comforted in the process. Music, lighting, the sharing of Scripture. My heart’s shift from ultra-anxio-panic mode to a certain calmness, a settling down. A receptiveness to teaching awakened as I straightened my freshly-ironed skirt across stockinged knees. I paid attention to the preacher as I’d learned to do back when the guy up front was always my dad.

Reminded to be good and emotionally restrained, then, I met with people after the service ended. I made small talk. I noticed hair styles and lip color. I gathered children from classrooms and laughed at my husband’s witticisms. I exited the church, high heel-weary and hungry for lunch.

I felt satisfied I’d connected with God, with others. Nagged, perhaps, by the way Sue seemed to snub me and confused by Martha’s smirky attitude. Anxiety gnawed when I remembered Linda’s shy stare, barely containing her sorrow. The bulletin prayer list included her husband’s poor health, and I didn’t know her well, and I failed to find words of comfort.

Maybe by next Sunday things would be better. Perhaps the emotional, well-ordered peace we sought singing praise songs would find us then.

This morning I step from my shower and hug my towel dripping fresh, enlightened tears. I think I’ve made connections between what dodged me those years ago in regular church, some awful crap I experienced as a kid and a passage in the New Testament.

Jesus told people who practiced their religion faithfully, seeking God’s blessings, that they were “like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness.” He said it in a talk (in Matthew 23) chastising church leaders, Pharisees, for piling burdens onto fellow religious folk while being unwilling themselves to attempt to move such loads. I think the problem was, somewhere along the line it became standard to feel fully satisfied after traversing familiar spiritual paths. Outsides looked all right, Sabbath services were rendered; dismiss nagging doubts and expect an even better emotion next week.

Jesus said, No! Stop it. Instead of absorbing his culture, he saw through it. When people focused on the surface, the face of things, they ignored their ugliness, until they no longer wanted or yearned to clean things up inside. As in a horror picture graveyard, evil substances festered unchecked. Worse, when people came along aware of their ugly bits and wanting heart-commitments to change, those set in the way of creep shows barred their entrance into Life.

It became habit for adult me to make outward changes and think I’d arrived. But as a child I glimpsed, foolish and immature as I was, the underbelly of Phariseeistic church culture.

First time, I was six. I caught only fragments of my parents’ conversations, but enough to sense them reeling from a blow. We moved cross-country, and things were better in the next church, but after that came a new congregation where, at 13, I couldn’t be shielded from knowing who said what hurtful thing about my father. Those people wore fancy clothes and smiled as they shook my hand Sunday mornings. Wednesday nights they revved bloody chainsaws, ripping, tearing at my father, my brothers, my mom. Our church community shattered, we endured Dad’s new night job separation and stifled sobs the early morning an ambulance arrived. Physically, Dad and the rest of us recovered.

I never heard church members say they weren’t worthy. I thought it was about how we were all progressing, evolving into beings who would meet God one day in the clouds, wink at him and get a free pass.

Needless to say, I knew nothing of the gospel.

That essence of undeserved kindness to creatures masterfully made yet centrally flawed, Jesus came to tell folks, his eyes twinkling joy as his heart ached recognition. He wanted them to see, to understand--although they were not worthy of it, God would bless them with Life in the final age.

Just be real, he told them, be honest. You screwed up. You will again. Your problem is as real as life on earth, and you can’t reduce its awfulness. But believe in me. I’ll make you able to rest, admit the truth and begin longing for inner goodness to come.

I have no doubt some people in the churches of my past knew this true longing. I apologize to those wiser souls who loved my parents and quietly served God and helped me grow as a young adult. Your believing ways were often obscured in my hostile heart. You’ve shown me grace, accepting when I exited your doors for the lovely pasture God provided in the form of an unchurchy church group. You overlook my discomfort when I stand beneath your missionary bulletin board ready to shake hands and visit briefly before I flee, gasping.

Comments

Angela said…
i like this deanna. thanks for sharing it.
Laura K. said…
Hi Deanna,
I've finally witnessed what you're doing here. This one wins a "Wow!" from me.