This is my conversation with a "saint," the name church folks affectionately call other believers. No one is named here. The irony sad. The story true.
We greet with a hug. I prefer a handshake. I'd rather see the knife coming.
"So-o-o," the saint says, touching my black leather jacket at the end of Sunday service. I sense some disappointment with my cool-guy look: black turtleneck, jeans and suede black-and-white Chuck Taylors. Not exactly "church" attire.
"Is something wrong?" I ask.
The saint hesitates. "You normally dress different--in a suit--when you come..."
I sense there's more to it.
In some ways, far too many churches--and even some saints--
seem to have lost that loving feeling.
"It's just a leather jacket," I respond, thinking, "doesn't the Bible say, 'come as you are?'" Besides, I wasn't there for church anyway, just happened to be in the neighborhood. I sense the saint's issue runs deeper.
"...Do you go to church?" she asks.
"No," I say without hesitation.
"Because I don't believe I have to go to church to get to heaven. I know the bible says, "not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together," I say, quoting the rest of Hebrews 10:25. "...When the Samaritan woman asked Jesus where we should worship, he answered her, not by saying where, but how: 'in spirit and in truth.'"
OK, so now she seemed about ready to ship me to hell--one-way, non-stop express.
"Uh huh... Does your wife ask you to go to church?" she asks, quickly almost before I could answer, "No."
"Probably because she knows you won't come," she says sassily.
Her interrogation continues. I stand unfazed.
"Do your kids go to church? Do your kids ask you to go to church? Do you believe in going to church?"
The questions pour fast and furious. But I don't break a sweat--my faith on trial.
I explain that going to church is fine, just not for me. That "yes," my kids do go to church with their mom and that "no," they don't ask me to go.
"...Probably because they know you won't come," she interjects. Then she gets to the sugar in the bottom of the Kool Aid.
"I read you sometimes, in the newspaper on Thursdays, and sometimes, when I get done, I say, 'I'm gonna pray for him,'" she says. "I'm praying for you..."
Pardon me if I didn't feel all warm and fuzzy inside.
Once upon a time, whenever my grandmother and the saints of old reassured me that I was in their thoughts and prayers, it filled me with solace. Like all those times they fasted for me, loved me without judgment, and prayed that the Lord would have his "perfect" work in my life. In some ways, far too many churches--and even some saints--seem to have lost that loving feeling.
I explained to the saint that today's church too often fails to minister beyond its walls, that, in fact, many of the neighbors surrounding their edifice likely didn't even know they existed. She assured me that the neighbors do indeed know the church is there.
"They called the police on us one time and complained that we were making too much noise," she says.
She stood proudly, failing to see the irony of it all and also insinuating that my grandmother would be less than proud of me these days. As angry as I was, I felt sad for her--and the church. I tried to explain: "And that's all they hear--noise." Just a clanging cymbal.
We talked a little more--the saint and the sinner. She went her way and I went mine. Enough said.