Why you should hear, “Oh Sh**!” in church
Imagine the perfect worship. The presence of peace rolls through the congregation. The pastor pauses and pauses yet again, slowing each breath to allow for more healing and holy silence to seep into you and into the souls of those around you. You close your eyes and almost whisper to yourself, “God is here,” and then two rows back you hear a sudden burst, a pop to your perfect moment. So-and-so with such-and-such a disability shatters the sacred. Far, far worse than the crying baby two Sundays ago is the expletive that comes from someone you know can’t control themselves.
Maybe you can roll that comment off. I mean, after all, you are a Christian in church. But then the language and/or the volume escalates. This babbly rant, though intermittent, now becomes a hammer banging away at your forehead. You can’t ignore this. You can’t move your pew. And you can no longer concentrate on the experience around you even though the pastor, not missing a single beat, continues on by the sheer saving grace of God.
Here is what we need to ask ourselves. When churches post on their front lawn signs, “Welcome All” or “All are welcome here!” this begs the question, “Do they really mean it?” That’s too easy, actually. The real zinger is, “Do we really mean it?”
Part of my studies this week has me engaged in a book by a self-professed “feminist, race-conscious, progressive wannabe” named Mary McClintock Fulkerson. In Places of Redemption, Fulkerson, an ethnographer, studies a delightful little church in Durham County, North Carolina, called Good Samaritan UMC. What makes this church remarkable is its profound diversity. Worshippers of every shade, color, socio-economic and political location attend this converted house and detached garage now called church. Inclusive, Good Samaritan UMC also has some of its pews filled with people from not one but two group homes where, you guessed it, someone living at that address might say something a little controversial.
Fulkerson sees in this church what we should all see of ours. And what we should see are people. Different people. Broken people. Messy people. People who smell. People with bourbon on their breath. People who call out “Oh Sh**!” and don’t even realize they’ve said a thing.
Touching on tension, Fulkerson says, “Since the majority of Christians in the United Sates are “traditioned’ or habituated into the faith in racially homogeneous communities and are isolated from those with physical and mental disabilities, the argument for a complete framing of Good Samaritan is, in effect, a recognition of a woundedness much larger than this faith community (17).” This woundedness is humanity. This woundedness is our united, broken lot and “transformation of obliviousness and its social harms is best imaged as the creation of its opposite: ‘a shared space of appearance’ (21).”
Fulkerson is right. We should see each other. We should hear each other. And here’s a big one—we should embrace each other.
The answer, “Oh, I’m just fine,” when your life is currently a five-alarm fire is absolutely bogus and should stop. Now. If we cannot be real in church, if we cannot be authentic in front of house full of God groupies who, according to 99.9% of all theologians, have said at some point that “God knows it all,” then what’s the point of going?
We should see each other. Really see each other. And we should be interrupted by people like the outspoken one with the language issue two pews back. Yeah. “They” should be there, messing you up because, when you’re honest with yourself, sometimes you, too, are a mess up.
Here’s the truth to this church thing. Sometimes you need to see God in the works, in the grind, and in the imperfect places you try to escape from when you sit in your wannabe pristine worship place with a “don’t bother me, neighbor” sign on your face or in your demeanor.
On the subject of US churches, I agree with Emmanuel when he says, “You go sit on a bench and nobody else sits on that bench. I’d say that’s a very good clue.”
We meet God in “the other.” We are like God when we see busted and broken people. We become the children of God when we acknowledge busted and broken smiles that need our eyes, our hands, and our hearts to listen and to care.
Oh, yes, it is time to hear, “Oh Sh**!” in church. It is time to welcome all, and mean it.