The Audacious Giftedness of the IrreligiousFeatured — By Willow Feller on September 7, 2012 at 5:56 am
Why is it always in grocery stores that children decide to unhinge their mothers? What primal, evil instinct drives kids to become flying monkeys the minute they skip through the glass doors? And do they enjoy then forcing their mother into the inevitable role of the Wicked Witch of the West?
Tell me, why do they get their jollies out of watching Mom’s face constrict and turn purple as she suppresses the scream that is begging to be spewed out all over the frozen meat case? That deep freezer display piled high with huge hams that have to be dug through to retrieve the precious toy that had been forbidden to be brought into the store in the first place? Do children wish frostbite upon their mother’s fingers? The very fingers that changed their disgusting diapers and painstakingly picked wads of bubble gum out of their baby-fine hair?
And once you’ve answered that, could you please tell me why it’s always in grocery stores that childless onlookers with trendy haircuts and unstained clothing make hasty judgments about said mother’s parenting abilities? Or why they decide that the mother’s difficult moment must certainly stem from her own laziness in teaching her children manners?
Why must they click their tongues and glare at one just because one’s busy-fingered children inadvertently trigger an apple avalanche in the produce aisle? And why must these well-rested gawkers base their negative conclusions only on what they see in a tiny, frazzled moment of our family’s life? Oh sure, they can see that the apple-picker has wet his big-boy pants and his brother is pulling paper shreds out of the gourmet pear bin and putting them in his whining sisters’ hair. And they can see that the avalanche happens to result in a large-scale bruising of the most expensive organic apple variety in the store. But, those momentary lapses in decorum are certainly no true indicator of children’s real selves.
Even the punk produce manager, utilizing public relations skills more suited to those of a strip club bouncer or vehicle repo man, cannot see beyond his obvious anti-child bias when he threatens to run me and my “lemmings” out of the store.
They just don’t know enough about us to judge us so harshly.
The Pharisees in New Testament times were like those childless grocery shoppers who dash unhindered through the store, buying the things that harried mothers don’t–things like fresh cilantro, truffle oil, and kalamata olives. They sneered at the ordinary food Jesus and his disciples put in their grocery carts –whatever the ancient equivalents of macaroni and cheese and frozen chicken nuggets would be–and censured Jesus when he didn’t wash his hands or reprimand the unruly people with whom he chose to dine. They even threatened to run Jesus and his buddies out of town when the Savior’s healing touch set off an avalanche of miracles.
Those Jewish religious leaders judged Jesus on the basis of their limited presumptions about who he was and where he came from. They wore those presumptions like pairs of heavy, mirrored sunglasses—70’s-style aviators that blurred, dimmed, filtered the light of Jesus’ miracles and dulled their brilliance. These presumptions were polarizing, to say the least.
The Pharisees’ resulting nearsightedness robbed them of the ability to rejoice when Jesus healed the sick and disabled. They couldn’t see the loving power of God in the restorative touch of Jesus. Nor did they care. They only cared about the threat to their authority over the people Jesus posed. They preferred that people stay oppressed by illness rather than set free by someone who wasn’t nearly as righteous as them.
When they watched Jesus heal a blind and mute man, their glasses darkened the miracle of the moment and they proclaimed that Jesus was merely utilizing power from Satan. In a bizarre twist, they called his good deeds evil and planned to execute him for the crime of blasphemy.
Tell that to the ones who were healed.
I call myself a recovering Pharisee. After going through an epiphanous period of time years ago, I realized that even though I was a Christian, I had been locked into some cult-like thinking that was hindering a real relationship with God. This experience showed me that I had been figuratively diseased. Like many other Christians throughout the centuries, I now call my sickness Pharisasim. Getting free from this has been humbling, but liberating, and I now center much of my writing around this journey.
I see presumptive judgmentalism as a chief symptom of Pharisaism. When this pervasive religious disorder raged through my spirit like a burning fever, I squinted through my blindness at the gifted people in my community and judged their actions against whether or not they were “saved.” I looked at the teachers, grocery store clerks, doctors and receptionists in my town and completely missed the supernatural power behind the way they served me and my family. Like the Pharisees of old, I couldn’t see the work of Jesus right in front of me.
I didn’t rejoice over the benefits I received daily, over the way my life was enhanced by people carrying out the tasks God had gifted them for and assigned them to do, but merely clicked my tongue that certain ones didn’t go to an Evangelical, bible-believing church. Or, tsk, tsk, to any church at all. If they didn’t believe the way I insisted they should, I refused to acknowledge that God had gifted them.
Yet, where else but from God does an atheist physicist’s intelligence ultimately come from? What about a Hindustani neurosurgeon’s skill? If he was the finest brain surgeon available, would I refuse to believe he was qualified to remove my brain tumor because he wasn’t a Christian? I had to ask myself these types of questions when I began to seek treatment for my Pharisaism.
And what about non-Christian writers and musicians? Did they just force their own talent to happen, or did God give it to them, whether they know it or not? What’s wrong with rejoicing over the way God delights in displaying Himself through liberal, public-schooled, church-shunners?
Worse yet, before I went into recovery, I really thought I could predict the outcomes of peoples’ circumstances, not only in this life, but in their undoubtedly toasty life to come.
I’m sure the critical grocery store shoppers predicted my children’s outcomes on our apple avalanche day. They probably saw gang involvement and prison sentences in the future for me and my group of monkey vandals. What they couldn’t know, however, was that their view was limited and they had no idea how God had uniquely gifted my children. They wouldn’t realize that twenty years later the chaotic group of miscreants would become respectable, contributing members of society. Talented individuals whose skills might possibly better the lives of those who had previously misjudged them.
Early on in his life, the apostle Paul was a mega-righteous Pharisee. He lived and breathed the Old Covenant practices and reported that he was faultless in his legalistic righteousness. This extreme legalism also blinded him. Similar to the other strict Pharisees, he had no vision beyond what he presumed God to be. This presumption then morphed into the deadly practice of cleansing the Jewish religion from the rising Christian influence.
However, like an Olympian whose promising athletic future is brought to a screeching halt by a serious injury, Paul’s career was derailed on the road to Damascus. In a curious twist, his Pharisaical, spiritual blindness would be zapped with a dose of physical blindness. He would be struck blind by a LASIK beam so powerful it would knock him out and beyond the perfect hedges of his religion clubhouse. When he would finally regain his sight, he would find himself among the clumsy pagans he had previously punished. And he would surprise himself by enjoying their company.
Even more astonishing would be his face-to-face with Jesus. Once his blindness was cured, Paul would see that Jesus was the Messiah. He would see that Jesus had been right in front of him all the time, especially in the hearts and faces of the people that he persecuted. And, most notably, that Jesus had chosen to live outside the immaculate religion clubhouse. Outside the revered, centuries-old presumptions that had been blindly adopted as truths.
Outside the rules.
Outside the traditions.
Outside the box.
Sort of like Paul, I think I’ve come full circle since my blind judging days. As a young woman, I started out incensed that people would judge me or my kids on the basis of scant information. Yet, even though I always kept a soft spot in my heart for harried mothers in stores, my Pharisaism made me presumptively critical in many other ways. I had to face the reality that I had become judgmental toward those I judged as being judgmental to me. Phew.
Now, as a liberated Christian, I’m walking away from some of the revered, but misguided traditions that still define certain parts of Evangelical Christianity, learning instead to be more open, more respectful of where people are coming from. I’m learning to enjoy the way God gifts some of the most unlikely people to transmit some of the most unexpected blessings. I’m no longer predicting a future of doom for those who don’t embrace the gospel message like I think they should.
I’ve taken off my polarizing glasses.
In fact, I’m now free enough to even become somewhat of a pain myself in public. I don’t have to behave perfectly anymore, and if my kids were still little, I think I’d worry less what people thought of me and my family.
In a funny turn of events, my grown kids are now often embarrassed by my behavior in stores.
“Mom, the sign says not to climb on the shelves. We need to ask for help to reach that…”
“Mom, why do you have to talk to everybody everywhere? The lady in the dairy aisle was just trying to get her milk and get out of there…”
“Mom, could you stop that? I don’t think that man likes you laughing at his kid’s tantrum…”
So, who’s judging who now? I don’t think it really matters anymore.
I think we all just need to give each other a break and be open to seeing Jesus in out-of-the-box behavior, and especially in out-of-the-box people.
Even in little monkey vandals.
One of them could be operating on your brain someday.