Thursday, April 19, 2007

Church signs

Every day I pass a few dozen church signs on my way to and from work. Most of the time, I can blithely let them slide into my subconscious with their announcements of service times and sermon titles. There are some that routinely make me giggle or grimace. Every now and then, like today, I just get ticked off.

In large letters this week confronting me from a Church of Christ is "Laziness and Poverty are cousins." Now I know where they're coming from. I'm well aware that the Bible says if a man will not work, he will not eat. I can think of about ten different verses that admonish us to work diligently and that laziness leads to poverty. There are probably that many in Proverbs alone. Please don't ask me to quote them. They're coming to me in bits and pieces, and I'd have to look them up. Beyond scripture, hard work is part of my background and part of who I am. I was raised to appreciate work as a virtue. As a middle aged woman with curmudgeonly moments, I've complained about the entitlement attitudes I've seen in some young people. As a former employment recruiter, I've ranted about the poor work ethic and gimme attitudes I've seen in some job hunters. I know that laziness has serious consequences. I know that I also have my sluggard's moments.

So why did this sign tick me off so? It's simple. By saying that laziness and poverty are cousins, they're saying that they're related. Since attributes are related by either coincidence or cause and effect, not bloodlines, they're implying that laziness is either the cause of poverty or will automatically co-exist with it. Balls! That's a sweeping, judgmental condemnation painted with big, broad strokes, and it's not the sort of thing that the Christ I know would say to a crowd. I'm specifying a crowd because that's what drives by that sign every day, a big mass of people. Some of them are poor, and some are quite wealthy. Some are lazy, and some are among the hardest working people on the planet, and their personal wealth doesn't necessarily correspond with their personal industry.

The Jesus I know wouldn't look at one condition in a person's life and assume that another is automatically there. There's that whole divine thing. He wouldn't have to assume or guess. He knew people in an individual way that only their Creator could and loved them in a way only divinely possible. When speaking to the woman at the well, Jesus didn't call her a slut or a home wrecker. I can't see Him saying, "Well, she's slept with a lot of men, so she's a disease ridden whore." I can't see Jesus looking at someone who's poor and saying, "You're poor. You must be a lazy bum." He had the ability to look inside someone and show that person themselves with such love, strength and tenderness, that no judgment, no big bold strokes of condemnation were necessary. Faced with the beauty, purity and true holiness of Jesus, and the divinely revealed recognition and knowledge of self, people were convicted by their own actions and drawn to love what is pure, good and holy, and to change themselves to be more like Him.

I know that sign that's bothered me so is probably just a warning about a sermon on the need to be industrious and use all areas of our wealth, including the non-material, for our Lord. However, the desire for pithiness makes that message sound like justification for judging others and congratulating self. I want to give the church some slack. Reducing a sermon topic to just three or four words can't be an easy accomplishment. I'm also reminded of how many times I've said that the hardest thing about being a Christian is other Christians. (Yes, I'm aware of the pride, judgment and hypocrisy, among other sins, in that statement, but honesty compels me to admit my feelings.)

I admit that I'm leery. So many churches teach a form of abundance or prosperity theology that treats God like a vending machine. Put in the right prayers in the right way, and get what you want. That just offends me. It sets one up to assume that a person who isn't wealthy is morally inferior and less deserving. If they're not "living abundantly," it's just proof that they lack faith. I hate seeing people try to use God as a tool of division to claim who is worthy and who isn't, regardless the reason for the division. The last time I checked, it was for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of the Lord.

In short, we're all in this together. Each of us is messing up horribly in our own way. Each of is trying in our own way. Each of us has problems we created and problems we just got stuck with. And God loves all of us, even those who irritate me so, in that incredible, holy, divine way. I just want our churches to reflect that and to act as Jesus did, not condemning us of our sins, but revealing them to us and showing a much better way. It's a lot to ask. Churches are human institutions and flawed because of that. We can't expect a Church to always act divinely, but I feel that churches must be aware that their actions are seen as a mirror of our God, even when their actions and statements are more heavily motivated by man.

Christianity, religion, churches


Blogger Gannet Girl said...

I think I'll just steal this entire piece sometime. Are you sure you aren'tthe one who should be thinking about a life in ministry?

April 20, 2007 6:47 AM  
Blogger more cows than people said...

Funny that you should have been writing this at the very moment the man with whom I was visiting wandered in his sharings to his opinions about the new church signs that we should have- we have VERY inadequate signage- folks don't know where our offices are... and don't necessarily know from some sides of the building who we are. I certainly don't want a sign like those of which you speak, but I want clear signs that let people know who we are. This man, a retired art teacher, feels very strongly that the signs should be small, discreet, and in keeping with the architecture. I'm cool with point three, but... too small and too discrete and we have a problem.

But... I hear you... I see some doozy signs in my neck of the woods. Once I saw a sign that said "Stop, Drop, and Roll won't work in hell" and I turned to my husband and said "Oh Lord, sometimes this job is like climbing a mountain covered in butter."

The sign you saw would have made that statement all the more emphatic.

Thanks for another thoughtful post.

April 20, 2007 8:09 AM  
Blogger Charlene said...


April 20, 2007 9:46 AM  
Blogger Lisa :-] said...

I think you summed it up perfectly in your last paragraph--churches are full of people, and people are, for the most part, full of s**t. It is often difficult to connect church teaching with the Christ they profess to teach...

Wonderful post!

April 20, 2007 10:04 AM  
Blogger ZigZagMan said...

Rather than go off on a rant about many churches being ..more finacial institutions..than places of worship...I'll simply say.."Well written". :)

As far as in your face signs...I really did like the large black and white billboards that were up for a while some years back. Just simple messages like "Lets get together this can bring the kids" signed "God"

April 20, 2007 1:05 PM  
Blogger Dave said...

This is the first "religious" post I've ever read all the way through. Perhaps because it isn't really "religious" as I define the word; rather, it's thoughtful and reasoned.

Love your writing.

April 20, 2007 6:06 PM  
Anonymous new illuminati said...

aye dave - unusual to find someone who knows what joshua was on about

April 21, 2007 12:35 AM  
Blogger Nelle said...

I really enjoyed this post. Most women suffer so much financially post divorce and while a man's financial outlook improves her life is never the same. I went from an upper middle class lifestyle to a lower middle class at best. I often feel I am being judged on my material possessions, the neighborhood I live in,etc. Often people are ignorant of one's circumstances. As usual your point is well taken.

April 21, 2007 4:07 PM  
Blogger Gannet Girl said... painful to read Dave's comment alleging that "religious" is the antithesis of "thoughtful and reasoned."

Thankfully, not in my world.

April 21, 2007 5:14 PM  
Blogger Dave said...

gannet girl,

I didn't mean to offend you or Cynthia.

I do not think that religious is antithetical to reasoned and thoughful thinking. If I did, I wouldn't say it.

I should have prefaced my comment by mentioning that the "religious" posts I was referring to were found by surfing "Next Blog" on Blogspot. They, to my mind, are mostly mindless. They quote a verse or two of scripture and use a lot of exclamation points. They say little or nothing.

They are either directed to those of like mind or are misdirected attempts to witness.

By way of contrast, Cynthia's post used real live words. Facts, reasoning.

Maybe it's a matter of taste. Or a matter of my not being "religious" as I define the word on the Internet; but, were someone to proselitize on the Internet, which I don't think Cynthia was doing, the way to do it is by taking her as an example of the right way.

April 21, 2007 7:31 PM  
Blogger Dave said...

Another piece of defense of my comment: I actually read, regularly, a "religious" blog:

The title is "10 Years Running Blind." The guy that writes it is going a lot of good things for a lot of people. For the most part he lets his acts speak for his beliefs.

April 21, 2007 7:42 PM  
Blogger Cynthia said...

Dave, thanks for the clarification, even though I wasn't offended. When I started blogging, the corner of the blogosphere I saw was dominated by writers, artists, humorists and thinkers, and those are the blogs that still draw me. It's not until I go just surfing to see what I can find that I realize that the level of conversation in many blogs is not what I'm used to. I personally can't separate thought and reason from my faith, and all would be lesser without the others. As for the proselytization, I don't. Experiences, thoughts and ideas I'll share, but my blog isn't a good place for the other.

April 21, 2007 8:11 PM  
Blogger emmapeelDallas said...

I agree with Lisa; wonderful post.


April 22, 2007 1:34 AM  
Blogger Gannet Girl said...

I wasn't offended, Dave, just saddened. I know there are people out there whose expression of religion is as you describe. But when I know so many thoughtful, intelligent, and articulate people of faith, I despair at the broad brush with which religious belief is painted.

April 22, 2007 6:40 AM  
Blogger Jimmy said...

So well said. I know for a fact that not everyone who struggles is lazy.

April 23, 2007 12:07 AM  

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