Monday, April 28, 2014

I'll be wishy-washy, thank you very much

Recently I read a comment on facebook about how wishy-washy pastors use the story of Thomas and the way he doubted of the story of Jesus' resurrection to condone our doubt. Even though Jesus offered Thomas the opportunity to touch his wounded hands and pierced side, he wasn't saying that doubt was okay.

Wishy-washy? Really? Do adults still use that term these days?
Do we really humiliate one another because we have doubts?
Still? Really?

The story of Thomas and Jesus is one of my favorites in Scripture, precisely because Jesus doesn't condemn or insult Thomas. Jesus doesn't wag his finger and accuse Thomas of being wishy-washy. Yes, he tells him to stop doubting and believe - after he offers Thomas the chance to touch his wounds as Thomas had requested.

And let's not forget that the disciples didn't believe the story of Jesus' resurrection until they too saw his wounds. It wasn't enough that Mary Magdalene and the other Mary and other women had seen Jesus and spoken to him. It wasn't enough that they had seen the angels and spoken to the angels. The disciples waited until they had seen Jesus with their own eyes before they believed he had risen from the dead.

Who are we kidding? We ask for proof all the time, don't we?
You want me to buy this house, show me the inspection reports.
You want me to take this job, show me what this company is about.
You expect me to believe that you love me, show me through your faithfulness and loyalty.
You want to work for me, show me your resume.
You want me to send my child to your school, show me test results.

And we do it with God too.
You want me to trust you? Then say "yes" to my prayers.
You want me to attend this church, then they had better play music I like.
You want me to obey you, then show me what the rewards will be.
You want me to tell others about you, then promise me that you will protect me.
Give me what I want. Let me do what I want.
God, you need to love the people I love and hate the people I hate.

One of the reasons I have struggled with the institutional church in the past few years is because many of the churches I used to attend seemed hell-bent on squashing questions, deriding doubters, and making us all feel dreadfully inadequate. No matter what we said or did, it wasn't good enough. We weren't spiritual enough. We didn't read the right translation of the Bible, unless of course it was the one "they" decided was most accurate. We couldn't trust ourselves to read and understand Scripture; we had to listen to what men had to say... unless children under the age of 12 were being taught. Then women could teach. To question the powers that be, to challenge their rules, to speak up in disagreement was seen as rebellious, as questioning the authority of God. It was exhausting and humiliating and painful most of the time.

I am glad I don't go to a church like that anymore. So very glad.

I taught a Sunday School class yesterday morning on this very topic. I hope you're sitting down - there were adult men in the room. Some of them even spoke up and asked questions! And no lightning hit the building. Imagine that! Gasp!!!

According to what the aforementioned person expressed so arrogantly, to honor doubt, to allow for the expression of doubt, to ask questions, to ask for proof, and to speak of the need to express our needs and questions from the lectern or the pulpit is equivalent to being wishy-washy. If that is the case, then I will be wishy-washy, thank you very much. I will gladly bear the title of wishy-washy if by doing so, I am able to help even one person be honest about their questions and fears, their needs and desires, their longing for an intimate and meaningful exchange with Jesus. If my wishy-washy teaching encourages one single person to look at the story of Thomas, the story of Mary Magdalene, the accounts of the men on the road to Emmaus, the woman at the well, the woman with the issue of blood, the prodigal son and his equally lost brother with an understanding that we all want proof sometimes, that we all need a healing touch, that we all have demons that plague and discourage us, that we all want explanations, that we have all had our hopes dashed and our faith shaken, that we all want to run away from our responsibilities and party sometimes - if anyone comes away from one of my classes or discussions or blog posts with an smidgen more hope and expectation, then my wishy-washiness will have been worthwhile.

I spent a lot of time writing about about that accusatory comment in my journal last night and today. I was angry. I was hurt. I was insulted. To be honest, I got rattled by it. And then I figured out why - it was the fact that his comment resurrected some voices I hadn't heard in a long time. It was an old tape of the condemning sound of the old voices. The ones that used to keep me silent. I recalled the time that someone I used to respect asked me some questions about my faith life and then looked at my husband and said, "You've got your hands full with her." I remembered the times I was excluded from leadership and teaching opportunities at church because of my gender. I remembered all the times that the only sermon examples I heard had to do with sports and war. I recalled the dozens of times that pastors spoke disrespectfully about their wives and daughters and sisters and daughters from the pulpit. I remembered the agony I felt every time I sat under that teaching - and I remember how often I felt like it was my fault that I wasn't submissive enough and I wasn't enough of a godly woman to let those feelings go and I wasn't steeped in The Word enough to handle the truth of what they were saying.

Two years ago, I met an amazing woman named Pat who is now my spiritual director. Soon after we met, she planted a thought in me that came back to me last night. She challenged me to ask myself a question when I feel my blood pressure rising over things I hear and read. When I find myself shrinking and shriveling in the face or the memory of some insulting, degrading, authoritative, heavy-handed commentary that gets stuck in my mind. She said, "Gail, you need to ask yourself - is that the voice of God I hear or someone else's voice? Would Jesus look at me and say that?"

Would Jesus look at me and say, "You're wishy-washy"?
Would Jesus look at me and say, "Be silent. You have nothing worthwhile to say"?

There are a lot of things Jesus did say to those who followed him. Difficult things.
Stop doubting and believe.
Go and sin no more.
You have so little faith.
Oh unbelieving and perverse generation. How long shall I put up with you?
Could you not watch and pray for one hour?

But more often than that, he said things like -
Bring the child to me.
Your faith has made you well.
Your faith has saved you.
Peace be with you.
Do not be afraid. It is I.
Follow me.
I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace.
In this world, you will have trouble,
but take heart; I have overcome the world.

And at the very end of Matthew, just before the passage that is often referred to as The Great Commission, which Jesus gave to ALL of his disciples, we read this statement - Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountan where Jesus had told them to go. When they say him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.

Even after seeing Jesus, after having spent time with him after his resurrection, after eating with him, after all of that, some still doubted. And once again, Jesus doesn't condemn them or insult them or call them demeaning names. He gave them all the responsibility and challenge to go into all the world and share the good news of who he is and why he came to earth. He doesn't command them to wait until their doubts cease and their questions are all answered. He doesn't tell them to wait until they understand the right doctrines and subscribe to the right belief system and get a seminary degree. He tells them to go and teach and make disciples  and baptize people and most important of all, he promises to be with them, with all of us, to the end of the age, to the end of all ages.

Nothing wishy-washy about that.

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