The religious organization that I was raised in, is known by many, for its fundamental and legalistic standards. From the moment that I chose to follow-Jesus, until the day that I chose to leave the organization, I was presented with a list of expectations that I was required to observe without fail. The “to-do (and to-‘not’-do) list” covered many areas of life. Included on the list were topics like entertainment, friendships, dating, conversation, and the most scrutinized of all, Christian attire. To make it brief, women were required to wear long dress, no make-up, no jewelry, and could never cut their hair. Men were never allowed to wear shorts, and they were expected to attend church wearing their Sunday best. As a church musician, I knew better than to show up at church in anything less than slacks, a collared shirt, and a tie. If I failed to meet this expectation, it was probable that I would not be allowed to be part of the worship team for an extended period of time. On one occasion, after receiving a crew-cut that my pastor disapproved of, I was told that I was not allowed behind the piano until my hair grew back. Needless to say, I eventually grew tired of this oppression, and at the age of twenty-one I elected to walk away. Instead I chose to pursue a relationship with Jesus and find a spiritual community outside of this unnecessary yoke.
Although I left the church, I did not hold on to grudges or hard feelings. On the contrary, I am grateful for the discipline and spiritual fortitude that it instilled in me. I am also appreciative for the friendships that were created within the four walls of this institution. I still consider many, of the people that I met there, to be some of my best friends. Nevertheless, I am beyond grateful for the spiritual and emotional freedom that I have experienced since leaving.
As the years have passed, I’ve noticed some progressive changes in that organization. The list of rules, once deemed to have come straight from the voice of God, are no longer as exhaustive as they once were. Although I have no desire to return, I have celebrated their movement towards grace and love. However, not all who have been part of this religious atmosphere, carry the same sentiment.
A few years back, as I scrolled through my Facebook feed, I ran across a picture of a young youth pastor, from this organization. The picture showed a very energetic, and enthusiastic young man, preaching his heart out to a group of teens. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary. In fact, the picture caused me to smile…. so I did what I usually do with all pictures that make me smile. I gave it a like, closed my computer, and called it a night.
The following day, I kept noticing this picture, showing up in my news feed. At first, I assumed that the picture was getting flooded with “likes.” However, after taking another glance I realized that this gentleman’s entire comment section had been hijacked by two ladies that did not approve of his choice to wear an “Angry Birds” t-shirt. One of them was an elderly lady, whose father at one time had been a pastor of that church. Her reaction was no surprise to me. Unfortunately, it is common for someone with her legalistic heritage to have that type of reaction. However, the other lady didn’t fit the stereo type of someone who would have such a meltdown. This person was not someone who embraced the traditions of her upbringing. On the contrary, she was a person who had rebelled against the teaching of the church years earlier. In fact, during that specific time in her life, she made several choices that would have made any priest in a confessional booth blush from the content being shared. The choices that she made, caused me cringe to in disbelief. What seemed like a brief mid-life crisis became a rapid downward spiral. Sadly, in spite of her own pile of painful choices, she went on to tear this young preacher apart, publicly, over his choice of attire.
The young preacher eventually caught on to what was happening and blocked the ladies from commenting any further. Nevertheless, the second lady managed to get a hold of his picture and posted it on her own wall. In her post she proclaimed her perceived godlessness of preachers that wear such attire behind the pulpit.
My initial reaction was nausea… then the nausea was followed by deep sorrow…. My heart hurt for this young man. I’m almost sure that he was completely blind-sighted by the backlash caused by his shirt. I’m positive that all he wanted to do was share the gospel. Instead, he was tar and feathered by two bitter crows.
….. I hadn’t thought about this situation, or the second lady, for quite some time. In fact, she gave me the social media ax shortly after the “Angry Birds” fiasco. I tend to be quite passionate about racial reconciliation, she didn’t approve of my stance, she flipped me the bird, and went on her merry way. I was quite surprised when I ran into a comment that she made on a mutual friend’s post last week. It’s almost as if Lazarus had come back from the dead…. Except, I’m sure that those with Lazarus celebrated his resurrection.
Not surprisingly, she was back, bickering with others about their political stances. As usual, she was trying to leverage the bible to defend the stance which she believes to be correct. I scrolled down, reading in horror, as she pronounced eternal judgement over anyone who disagreed with President Trump. The post, which did not regard any particular policy, simply pointed out the current POTUS overuse of Twitter. However, she must have equated the sharing of this post, to blasphemy. Because she went completely primal as she angrily used her keyboard as a weapon of mass destruction.
Her dialogue denounced all Christians who spoke evil of the POTUS. She went on to condemn the existence of anyone who is not committed to pray for him or that chose to speak evil of him. She argued that anyone who dares to share an opposing view is under demonic influence… Although I’m familiar with her tactics, what followed shocked me. Half-way through the comment feed, I saw her tearing into her younger sister, who holds an opposing political view, with judgmental and aggressive vocabulary. She did all in her power to belittle her all for “the glory of God” (insert sarcasm here)…… Knowing her history, I couldn’t help but chuckle when I saw her share her childish behavior. Truthfully, I burst at the seams in laughter…. because after all, I never act like her, “do I?”
Sadly, my initial judgement seat caused me to turn around and take a good look at myself in the mirror….. Perhaps I don’t judge people for wearing Angry Bird t-shirts when they preach… However, if I am being honest, there are many times I have judged people for lesser things. Perhaps I don’t voice them publicly… But in the corner of my heart, I’m guilty of passing judgement on others, placing a red letter “A” on them, and keeping my distance. Truthfully, I’m just as guilty of being a jerk as this lady is…. Truthfully, I know that it isn’t right. Truthfully, I know that I need to change.
With all that said…. Here’s what I’m doing about it.
- I’m making a commitment to take ownership of my convictions.
I’ve come to recognize that my beliefs are mine. I also recognize that it is ridiculous to try to force anyone to embrace my beliefs…. In fact, it’s not my responsibility. Jesus told his disciples that they would be his witnesses when his spirit came upon them, and “a witness” is exactly what I’m choosing to be. Any attempt to try and be God’s attorney is pointless. “Why?”, you might ask. Simply because he never asked that of me (or anyone else to be exact).
Recently I made a decision to put an end to the political comments that I was making on social media. As I reflected on my previous attempts to influence others, I realized that nothing I said ever impacted anyone. On the contrary, they caused the wrath of Satan to arise in many. Come to think of it, my political views are way to progressive for the left or the right. There really isn’t a place for me to fit in. So, instead of trying to force my beliefs on others. I’m choosing to live out the Kingdom of God as best as I know how to.
- I’m making a commitment to make a difference.
I am a person who values life… every life…. I am a someone who value life from the womb to the tomb. I am also a person that fights to make sure that others are able to live a life of dignity. As a person who follow’s Jesus. It is my greatest joy to introduce others into His Kingdom. His kingdom is a place where there is love, hope, joy, kindness, patience, goodness, mercy, and much more… I choose to wave the banner of His kingdom before any attempt to raise the banner of another.
So, instead of complaining about abortion laws (which do sadden me), My wife and are in the process of being licensed for foster care. We are also open to adoption . Instead of complaining about the cost of health care, I am volunteering with hospice to make sure that people don’t have to die alone. I am also walking out my faith alongside a community of people that come from many different Latin American countries. I may not be able to resolve their problems. However, I can invite them into my home, share a meal with them, and pray with them. I refuse to abandon others when they need help navigating through life on this beautiful planet that God made for us.
John Eli Garay
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