The Christians of my acquaintance break down into two broad categories: the joyful and the contractual. The joyful ones express themselves through Hallelujah-themed Facebook posts and are giddy with excitement about the power of the Spirit at work in their lives. The contractual ones simply work to meet their quota of Christian behavior: going to church, singing in the choir, and faithfully accompanying any particularly uncharitable statements with a “God bless her!” One the quota is met, they consider themselves free to live their lives as they see fit.
We have a lot of contractual Christians among our family friends, and they have a refreshingly irreverent perspective. For example, my aunt’s friend Jane is a member of her church’s Worship Committee, a sisterhood of like-minded ladies whose main function is to scold the pastor for taking his job too seriously. They tried to talk him into cutting the Passing of the Peace out of the service, but he would have none of it. (For the uninitiated, the Passing of the Peace is when everyone stands up and shakes hands with everyone around them and says either “Peace be with you” or “Hi, how’s it going?” depending on the denomination. I think it’s supposed to make newcomers feel welcome, but since everyone always sits in the same place, you just end up shaking hands with the same people every week. It’s awkward, and somewhat unsanitary.)
Anyway, the pastor won the battle over the Passing of the Peace, and the subsequent battle over Holy Communion (having to kneel to receive bread and blessings was hard on everyone’s knees) but the ladies of the Worship Committee drew the line when he began lengthening his sermons. Nobody, they told him firmly, was willing to tolerate services that lasted more than an hour. The moment their sixty minutes was up they wanted out; otherwise the Methodists would beat them to Sunday lunch and take up all the good tables at the restaurants. Realizing that it would be unwise to push his flock beyond their quota, the pastor reluctantly backed down.
My favorite story about contractual Christianity, though, concerns Lisa, whom you met in my last post. Lisa considers herself a pious woman, but she firmly believes that God does not expect her to put up with people’s crap. This attitude comes through loud and clear every time she talks about her church.
Lisa stopped by for a visit last Christmas, and as soon as she walked in she began complaining about the friction in their church choir. It was a shameful thing, she told us, that Christian folks couldn’t get along and love each other as children of God.
As Lisa filled us in on the details, it emerged that the main source of conflict was a feud between her and an octogenarian named George, who she claimed is a warped, bitter old man who makes nasty comments about her with no provocation whatsoever. (Given Lisa’s utter lack of a filter, I felt it best to take this statement with a grain of salt.) She also said he was an ex-monk that got kicked out of the order, which I doubt.
Whatever George’s murky past, he managed to antagonize Lisa to the point that one day after church, she grabbed him by the lapels of his coat (he’s almost ninety years old and about 4’10’’), shoved him against the wall, and snarled, “I don’t know what kind of God YOU serve, but MY God is a God of JOY and of LOVE!”
I don’t know whether the sermon that Sunday was about turning the other cheek, but I like to think that is was.