A Snigger and a Sword

I’ve gotten a lot of mileage out of satirizing my experiences in various church denominations. I chronicled them in a memoir. Many people contacted me who had experienced the same frustration or trauma. There was a kind of camaraderie: comparing our wounds, knowing we are not alone, hoping that there was (and there is, by the way) a way out and forward into a real experience of God, your warts and all.

But occasionally I wonder if I’ve enjoyed it just a bit too much: my social commentary, the confirmation of my own ideas, all at the expense of other people or groups. Of course, I always frame it around an exposé of my own bullshit. But still…

I’m at The Glen Workshop this week. (An amazing place for artists. No time to explain; just go.)  I was sitting at dinner, talking with a new acquaintance. He too is a veteran of the church wars. We lamented our common wounds, laughed at our common observations of bullshit.  My friend Sam, whom I’ve known for many years, was sitting across from us, quiet.

I looked at Sam. “You’ve heard my diatribe one too many times. I apologize.”

Sam laughed and replied, “I enjoy it every time. It never gets old.”

Even if he meant it, I doubted it. Nothing will bring contrition faster than the silence of a non-gossiper.

A half our later we sat in a worship service.  Father Richard Rohr named the very thing I was feeling uneasy about. He noted that people form groups more quickly around what they’re against, than what they’re for. He called it “Victim Chic:” finding superiority in your hurt. “I’m better than you because you hurt me.” He then talked about Saint Francis, who brought reform to the Catholic church. Francis didn’t waste time in an argument of words against the church as it was. He went out and practiced humility, poverty, and serving the poor. “He just went out and did it better,” Rohr said.

Maybe there’s a place for social commentary and calling something for what it is… But how little time i’ve spent just going out and doing it better.

The poet Scott Cairns came up and shared. Scott is a cunning jokester, getting you to laugh at the beginning  (like the intro to his Idiot Psalm 1. “A psalm of Isaak, accompanied by Jew’s harp) , then slaying you with truth. Scott read this, and I haven’t recovered.

By Scott Cairns

Your petitions—though they continue to bear
just the one signature—have been duly recorded.
Your anxieties—despite their constant,

relatively narrow scope and inadvertent
entertainment value—nonetheless serve
to bring your person vividly to mind.

Your repentance—all but obscured beneath
a burgeoning, yellow fog of frankly more
conspicuous resentment—is sufficient.

Your intermittent concern for the sick,
the suffering, the needy poor is sometimes
recognizable to me, if not to them.

Your angers, your zeal, your lipsmackingly
righteous indignation toward the many
whose habits and sympathies offend you—

these must burn away before you’ll apprehend
how near I am, with what fervor I adore
precisely these, the several who rouse your passions.

Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy.


  1. You’re really good at repenting. That may be one of the best indicators of a genuine Christ-follower I can think of.

  2. Interesting your thoughts here. What truly is at stake in this: what is The Problem and The Solution. The only answer given by the Bible is: The Problem=each of us, a sinner; The Solution=Jesus crucified and resurrected for our sins. So just saying something like: He went out and practiced humility, poverty, and serving the poor” is not what Jesus told us to do to save the world.

    • Yes, that is true. In the issue of Saint Francis of Assisi, Christ’s supremacy was a given; they wouldn’t have argued that (nor would I). But are we guilty of the sins Jesus enumerates in Matthew 7? Do we say, “lord lord” and then do not do what he says? What is the ‘fruit’ of our intellectual agreement?

  3. More than Matthew 7’s list, the problem is stated in passages throughtout the Bible e.g. Leviticus 19:2 “You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy.” Holy is huge biblical word meaning primarily “pure, without sin.” So unless one is pure, holy, without sin, one cannot and will not get into heaven. And doing good works is not a possible solution, e.g. Galatians 3:11 “Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for ‘The righteous shall live by faith.'” Thus, Solution to the Problem is only possible through faith, trusting that Jesus took the curse of our sin upon Himself, paying the price for our full redemption, the forgiveness of all our sins. Thus, we truly “can only” do good works after we are “saved,” not as a part of required salvation. This is a major confusion and disagreement among Christian bodies. Faith in Jesus only by grace vs. Faith in Jesus + something. Only those who have saving faith in Jesus crucified and resurrected for ALL their sins have Jesus as their LORD and will enter the kingdom of heaven. As He declares, He knows that they have this trust and certain faith and assurance. Blessings! I am dir. of one of oldest Christian radio stations in the world, would love to explore possibility of having you on some of our programs if you’re up for it. Check it out at Worldwide KFUO.org. rod

  4. I heard Fr. Rohr’s message too and didn’t think about past church experiences, but yes, that’s a good point. I have at times felt angry (and sometimes hurt) over church doctrines or cultures that rubbed me the wrong way, and sometimes I saw some real flaws in them. But now I’m thinking it’s like the forgiveness process–there’s a time for hurt and anger, and then there’s a time to let it go. As long as I’m not forced to be somewhere I don’t want to be, I probably have enough space and energy to muster graciousness rather than judgement. And yes, now to ponder how to go “do it better.”

    • You’re so right about the forgiveness process. It does take time. I don’t think we have to lose discernment by losing judgment. (I did that for a while). I was wounded through a lot of church experiences. It took me a good while to forgive. Eventually I came to see that there was a gift in every bad experience. (sometimes the ONLY gift was recognizing, “Now I know what bad theology/behavior looks like). But you’re right about the energy it takes to be gracious vs judgmental. Every Lent I try to give up Driving While Righteous. Still haven’t gotten it quite right. 🙂

  5. Pingback: Challenged by a poem, “Possible Answers to Prayer” | Walking out 2 Cor 1.4

  6. Convicted by Scott Cairns’ poem (which I shared, and linked to this post). Thanks for sharing, I think.

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