Society, Church, and the Alone

At church this morning, there were two things that stood out to me:

1.  Every month, someone from a charity speaks to us.  Today, the person speaking to us was a lady from Your Neighbors, Inc.  Your Neighbors, Inc. is a group that reaches out to homebound elderly people who have no social support network, or a social support network that isn’t always adequate.  It shops for groceries for them, or takes them to the doctor.  I think that this kind of service is very important.  The reason that this lady’s speech hit home for me is that I worry about the times when my social support network—people in my family—will die, and I’ll be left alone—without a social support network, in a world that couldn’t care less about me because it does not know me, and thus feels no obligation towards me.  Yesterday, I went to a memorial service at my church for someone who recently passed away, and the pastor said that heaven will be unlike earth: on earth, our friends and loved ones die around us, but, in heaven, there will be immortality.  I’d miss people in my family were they to pass away—not only because they support me, but also because I enjoy their company.

So the past few days at church made me think about an issue that makes me feel insecure: that life as it is for me right now will not last forever.

2.  The sermon was about the people at the church being living stones who are built on the cornerstone—Jesus Christ.  The pastor said that stones have rough edges that need to be smoothed over so that a stone can rest against another stone and thus create a building.  Similarly, we have rough edges—selfishness, unforgiveness, etc.—that need to be smoothed over so that there can be a harmonious body that is a dwelling-place for God and that can reach out to the world in love and service.

You may or may not like how the pastor phrased that, but I’m not in the mood to debate it, to tell you the truth.  But I do identify with this, in a sense, since I myself have rough edges.  Not all of my rough edges are sinful—but they can include social insecurity, or not knowing what to say in a situation.  Some people can join into a social situation and gel with others, whereas it’s much more difficult for others.  But those for whom it is difficult are not necessarily sinful.  Some Christians talk as if we grow by being thrown into a group of Christian jerks—among whom we have to sink or swim.  I agree that adversity can result in growth.  But I don’t think that the “sink or swim” approach really works.  “People aren’t coming over to talk with you at coffee hour?  Then you’re doing something wrong, and you need to change”, I’ve heard evangelicals say.  Sure, it’s hard for a person to grow in an atmosphere that has no adversity.  And, yes, I’m sure that how people react to me is my fault, in some sense.  But, in my opinion, it’s also hard to grow in an atmosphere that does not care for you and expects you to pull yourself up by your own spiritual boot-straps—an atmosphere that demands that you “grow” in order to please (or appease) God, but which does not care for you as a person.

The reason I like the church that I currently attend is that it makes an effort to value everyone—and I’m not saying that everyone feels accepted all of the time, for that sort of community does not exist.  But the pastor stands at the door at the end of the service, shakes my hand, and knows my name, and so I realize that I’m not merely a warm body there, but that I’m known by name.  I don’t see that sort of thing in many churches nowadays.  Some of them may be too big for that.  But I don’t understand why some of the smaller ones can’t require the pastor to stand at the door and shake people’s hands.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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