Beside myself

I forget sometimes that I don’t have a monopoly on being socially clueless. Saying the worst possible thing at the worst possible moment.

For months I have been tagging along with a Sunday school at a Baptist church. I don’t really know why. That is, I know several reasons why, but none of them alone and even all of them together do not compel me to keep at it. I suppose more than anything else I can quantify, there are people there I am curious about; I want to see where they are coming from and going to, spiritually. But again, that doesn’t adequately account for it.

Anyway, I lost my patience with it two weeks ago. I asked why, if we were all familiar with Ephesians, we were using such a lame study guide that was so out of touch with the part of Ephesians we were supposedly studying. I said all we were doing was nailing preconcieved notions onto whatever part of Ephesisans we happened to be at.

What frustrates me most, really, is my inability to adequately describe what is wrong. A great lot of Baptist doctrine is not necessarily wrong–the old “broken clock” metaphor. A lot of what is said could be right, depending on how exactly you meant it; or sufficiently right, in some context. But it is just repeated and belabored and repeated and, did I mention, repeated, until it lacks all possiblity of being an awkward reference to the truth and becomes defined by what is done with it–how they who say it live.

And again, if you took a quick look you still might not see it, as it has a semblance of rightness–or then again, if you were ever really acquainted with living truth, you would know it instantly even if you couldn’t define it. Legalism is dead. It resembles faith like a dead man resembles his living self. No flattering mortuary can hide death, and no talking of grace can hide the dullness of people doing righteousness.

Perhaps I’ve overdone my metaphor, since one could take me to consigning the whole lot of them to spiritual deadness. Forgive my excesses and my love of words and follow me this far: I know without a doubt that something is wrong, but I cannot find a way to express it on the fly, talking to the ones who are wrong.

But I have no wish to make it seem a personal grudge, and I am afraid it may have sounded that way. If you were trying to teach a class and one of the students said the material was juvenile and misleading, if slightly less directly, you might have a hard time not taking it personally.

So I have been wondering if I should leave it least said, soonest mended, or if I should find some more gracious words to at least try to relieve any personal anatagonism I might have inadvertantly portrayed. There was a substitute this week and I went along to at least not snub the substitute (it is an extremely small class and my absence could be as much as 25%).

We were all given gifts. I got two books, dedicated to me by our regular teacher. Item first: “Fear Not! Meditations to overcome fear, worry, and discouragement,” by Rand Hummel. It’s a devotional book, a genre I have never deliberately bought of. This bald-faced liar says “If you give God, say, one-half hour every morning before you get pulled into your fast and furious daily routine, you will actually wake up in the morning looking forward to spending time with God.” And then he goes on to say, “(By the way, if you think you are too busy, consider that this kind of meditation in God’s Word will simply replace the wasted time it takes to sin.)”

This is a fire set by hell itself. I have so violent a reaction against this type of thing that I am sure many will say I have a demon. But if you will listen to that one insinuating aside, you will drive yourself straight to hell. Never, never, never in your life will you escape that you could have been doing something more righteous, every living minute of your life, and so you will damn yourself for your guilt; and if not, if you think somehow you have found a righteous use for your time, you will be happily damning yourself twice as worse as otherwise.

It is not that we do not waste time when we sin. But to correct it with that kind of precept is to dig out a splinter with a poisoned needle. And that is exactly the kind of splinters they go needling after all the time.

I about threw the book away right when I read that, but remembered I was sorry for my rudeness and I had gotten it as a gift and skimmed on a bit more, so I immediately hit this: “You’ll also be pleasing God and not self.” Oh yes, I can just see me sitting there in my parlor-chapel gleefully pleasing God and not self as I wallow in piety.

And the other book! Item two: “Grace For the Moment: Inspiration for each day of the year,” by Max Lucado. In a perverse way, totally different and yet utterly the same as the first book.

Yes, I am out of my mind. I want to have a book-burning, and maybe a hanging and a stoning, too, for good measure, even thought I don’t believe in any of those things. But it is not really the books that have put me over the edge. You see, although I have been going to this Sunday school, I have not been going to the real Sunday “service.” And my Sunday school teacher has tried to invite me back, ask me why I don’t come. And I told him that the church was fundamentally flawed, as seen in the way that people did not really know each other. And he assured me I was wrong.

It’s been over a year now that I’ve been in that church regularly. A year and a half I think it has been. And for months I have been going to this man’s house also on Monday in a “informal” setting so that he can show us an insipid indoctrination video and ask us what we think about that, too. And I have gamely spoken up and tried to point out the more obvious fallacies, contraditions, and shortsighted inadequacies–but only those that I thought I could describe sensibly and calmly, and without provoking an entirely emotional reaction that precludes thought (on their part or mine).

In other words, I spoke my mind enough that if you were there, too, and you were at all curious what I thought, you would have had ample opportunity to find out enough of what I think to know at least there was a very good chance I would not appreciate those books. You might not have guessed the depths of my disgust, but you might have known enough to have a sense of trepidation about giving me any books, since I have so tirelessly protested every book you have ever discussed with me.

I am, as you can see, utterly at a loss for words.