Friday, March 20, 2009

Sunday School Answers

"Poverty, pain, struggle, anguish, agony, and even inner darkness may continue to be part of our experience...But life is no longer boring, resentful, depressing, or lonely because we have come to know that everything that happens is part of our way to the house of the Father." (page 100)

This sounds like a Sunday School answer to me.

A Sunday School answer is an answer that, on the surface, is correct, but completely fails to connect with the human experience.

Sure, "Everything happens for a reason."

Sure, "It'll all work out in the end."

But I have a hard time thinking that the Stephen Curtis Chapman family doesn't continue to experience depression, anger and loneliness with every little reminder of the loss of their daughter.  Sure they love and trust God.  But there's still anger and hurt and unanswerable questions.

Why has a movement (and book) like Anne Jackson's Mad Church Disease struck such a chord with so many ministers and church workers who are admitting they are burned out, ill and depressed?  Sure they love and trust God.  But there's still loneliness.

As Christians, we face a dilemma.  

We have faith in God.  We know "that everything that happens is part of our way to the house of the Father."  But we still feel lonely.  We still get depressed.  We still harbor resentment.  And, as "good Christians," we're led to believe we're not supposed to feel these things.  Sentences like Nouwen's can feed this belief.

So we have to take a big risk in sharing our struggles.  And are typically met with Sunday School answers.  Or, we must hide what we really feel and pretend everything is okay.  Which means we offer Sunday School answers to those taking a risk with us.

As I understand it, a key freedom in a functional family is the ability to feel whatever you feel and honestly express it.  No "supposed to."  No "should."  Let whatever it is be what it is.

Why is this so hard to do within the Church (i.e. Christian body, not MFUMC)?  Are we a dysfunctional family whose members continue to play out assigned roles?

How did today's piece resonate with you?  Do you sense this struggle within the Church or did I completely miss the point?

No Sunday School answers, please.


  1. Who says the words matter more than the words themselves.

    The simple answer from the stranger apparently parroting advice heard from others (including those who quote scripture) offers no comfort or help. Clanging symbols.

    But let me hear that you have wrestled with an issue. Tell me your story of pain or joy, your story of tedious persistence. Tell me about how you once thought God worked a certain way, but now see so much more. Tell me about how you finally told God thank you for a day you did not want. Tell me about how you lost a treasure tightly held, and then realized that the granules slipping through your fingers were nothing but sand.

    Because if I hear this first, then I can hear the truth in the same phrase, the same Sunday School answer, that I once dismissed as trite.

  2. Clanging cymbals. I like that. Lots of clanging cymbals in the world. Don't want to be one of them...unless it's in a parade.

    Wrestling with issues. Like that too. It's about engaging and caring.

    Storytelling. Also great stuff. Especially compassionate storytelling. Love compassion as "suffering with" others. That's a beautiful and authentic and deep definition. It puts me in my place, but shows me where to go.

    I think what upsets me with Sunday School answers is not the superficial words. It's the lack of compassion behind them.

    Shouldn't we suffer more with our neighbors? Shouldn't we want to connect with others in meaningful and deep ways?

    In a reframing of your point above, I think the same words said by two different Christians (one with compassion and one without) makes all the difference.

    As a matter of fact, the best words are never spoken. They're lived out through compassion. Then retold by the receivers of our compassion. And that's when the words can move beyond the cliches.

  3. From the Velveteen Rabbit:

    "What is REAL?" asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. "Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?"

    "Real isn't how you are made," said the Skin Horse. "It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real."

    "It doesn't happen all at once," said the Skin Horse. "You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand."