One of the ways I update my Facebook status is by relating funny little anecdotes about experiences I have in the church. I title them “Tales from the church” or “More Tales from the church” or “Tales from the church Part IV.” People tend to enjoy the humorous situations in which I often find myself, and I now find that I go to church looking and waiting for hysterical experiences to happen so I can relate it later on Facebook.
Here’s some examples:
“Tales from the church: During coffee hour, I grab a cup of coffee and pour two packs of sugar and a package of cream in it. The 82 year-old sitting beside me grumbles, “Do you like coffee, or warm ice cream?”
“More Tales from the church: During youth group, a kid says to me, “John, do you own like 50 gray T-shirts?” Me: “Uh, yeah, I guess.” Kid: “Ok, good, ‘cause I was worried you just wear the same shirt every day.” Me: Hmmm, maybe it’s time to update my wardrobe.
“Tales from the church Part III: A family invites us to watch the Patriots game. While there, I start working on my laptop. One of the kids there asks me “How long do you use a computer each day?” I say, “Um, about 12-13 hours.” Kid: “What’s wrong with you!?!?!?”
One comment I received from one of these updates said, “Man, you’re just taking it from all sides! Old and young, they all want to take it out on John Pryor!”
Well, sorta. I seem to have a reflexive tendency to make self-deprecating jokes about myself, and I’m so afraid of coming off like a pompous jerk in Facebook cyber-land that I only highlight those stories that make fun of myself.
Whatever the case, one of the reasons I love highlighting different stories from the church like this is that it portrays what the Christian life is like “on the inside.” Sometimes, when the leaders of the church are theologizing on the glories of life with Jesus in the church, the grandiosity of the language used to describe it often doesn’t match up with reality (I’m preaching to myself here….I mean, really, what does “we were made to be united in love as God is united in love” mean in real life, anyway?). So I think it’s important to remind each other about the various ways in which life in the church reflects the actual glory and goodness of God as often as we can.
One of the things these funny Facebook updates has taught me is how much the church actually resembles a large family. While the church and families can be grumps to each other or make fun of each other or hurt each other in ways greater than the hurt caused by friends or acquaintances, it seems people still possess an intuitive but also experiential understanding of the importance of the church and the family to provide, among other things, stability, support, and glimpses into the wonders of life.
For example, the 82 year-old who disapproved of my coffee drinking habits is not always grumpy. He kindly offered his time to the youth group to give his testimony and answer the question, “Why have I made church a vital part of my life?” He told a bunch of 12-18 year olds about his experiences in the U.S. military, his struggles to be a good husband and father, and how the church provided the structure and order he needed to become a better man. But most interestingly, he told the story of his wife’s death soon after his retirement and the loneliness and confusion that seeped in despite his best efforts. He said no matter how difficult life got, he always knew the people in the church were there for him, no matter what, just like a family.
Later, he told me how much he enjoyed being given the opportunity to share some of his learned wisdom with those much younger than him–it was as if the time spent with all the youth group kids reminded him of his time raising his own children. The church was his “other” family, where he could interact with the young, the middle aged, and the not-so-young. I suppose he was blessed by the energy, the hope, and the expectations of youth, and (I desperately hope) the youth were blessed by his wisdom, his experience, and the acknowledgement of his emotional scars.
Outside the church, and outside the family, I’ve found there’s very little opportunity to interact with those older, younger, or just simply different from me. While I certainly have friends around my age I enjoy immensely, there’s very few communities to which I can belong that offer their unconditional support like a healthy family or healthy church. As trite as this may sound, I find the familial aspects of church to be a very significant reason for why I love being Christian. The Church provides a community of people who strive to love each other unconditionally. Like families, people in the church often frustrate and hurt each other, but nevertheless there is a spirit in the church to make sure people are loved no matter the circumstances.
Which, in the end, is no small thing.
Originally published November 10, 2009 on the blog For Love of the Faith, which will be shutting down in January.