My husband, Tom, is not a churchy kind of guy. He loves the Lord and has organized our lives around obedience to the Word; he has committed himself to sometimes difficult Biblical principles even when it took a good amount of faith to do so. But a churchy kind of guy he is not. Consequently, we are not a churchy type of family.
Never has this dichotomy been more apparent than since our daughter began dating one of our pastor's sons. I am tempted to feel even a little embarrassed about who we are as she gradually comes to integrate more and more with the church crowd and learns more of the culture of these families. The issue has caused me to do a little soul searching of late.
Actually, I have done soul searching over this issue for most of our married life, because Tom is not your run-of-the-mill, Bible-toting Baptist sort. More than once he has been accused (erroneously) of being drunk, but never Baptist.
To the point, Tom is fun. (Oops, was that a dig? Maybe it was…) He is boisterous, creative, and funny; he likes to laugh, and he likes to make other people laugh. He likes to hang with people who are engaged enough with him that they are not minding the clock, not worried about their wives, not tallying the bill, not counting the beers. And not getting constipated if a curse word slips out or if someone tells an off-color joke.
Is it my imagination, or is that sort of camaraderie hard to find in among Christian men?
Well, it is. But maybe I'm not being entirely fair in my indictment of Christian fellowship either. Loving Tom and being married to him for 24 years means that I am deeply invested in seeing the good in whoever his is; I am well practiced in whatever mental/spiritual contortions are required to construe his approach as a good one. So, you be the judge here.
On the one hand, I can see Jesus hanging with Tom and his friends at the bar or at a party, laughing and enjoying them. There is there a sort of joy in "fellowship," if you will allow that the word has meaning even outside the Christian context. And there is also an atmosphere of non-judgment, a ready acceptance.
Is that ready acceptance lacking among Christians? Maybe. On the other hand, is there really judgment in Christian circles, or is there only a perception of judgment because we all know the standards to which we aspire, and no one knows better than we ourselves how we fall short. We all imagine that others are doing much better in attaining those righteous standards than we are.
Indeed, we are helped along in our imaginings when others subtly (or not so subtly) parade their righteousness for all to see. I have watched Christians make intentional efforts to put their piety on display out of the noble conviction that they are lights in this dark world, out of an earnest desire to show us the path of life. They insult us in their assumption that everyone must needs benefit from their munificent wisdom and virtue.
I have watched others parade their rectitude in what seems a mad scramble to keep up, to not be thought inferior or inadequate, to make a covering over their shame.
And I have, with deep sadness, witnessed God being entirely forgotten in the whirlwind of Christian fellowship. Within these groups certain righteous standards are worn like a coat of arms, badges of honor, symbols of belonging. But God Himself is conveniently absent. It is uncomfortable to talk about prayer or the Word in those circles. What passes for fellowship is actually commiserating and complaining, while talk of obedience and trusting in God is an uncomfortable conversation stopper.
But many, many, many - dare I say, most - honest believers fall into none of these camps. They love the Lord and they live out their lives in obedience to His commands as best they know how. Their hearts' desire is to learn to be more obedient, to grow in their enlightenment, to please Him and walk with Him daily.
This means that these honest believers want the joy of fellowship with their King more than they want the joy of fellowship with men. It means that the restraint of their fleshly appetites truly holds appeal if it means a closer walk with their God.
Do these believers actually dominate the landscape of Christendom, or is it only that the aroma of Christ that wafts about them prevails wherever they are?
So where does this leave Tom? Why is Tom, an honest believer, not attracted to the circle of Christian men? He does not seem to even notice hypocrisy like I do, lucky for him, so it's not that. It could be that feeling of inadequacy, that perception that he is simply not righteous enough. It could be that, although generally a moral and upright guy himself, he does not want to uphold certain standards of righteousness in the particulars in order to be accepted. It could be that he perceives the upholding of those standards as…boring. It's hard to laugh when you're busy constipating over whether you should be laughing or not. It's hard to enjoy a beer when you're busy worrying about whether your head is beginning to swim or not, and how many beers you can have before you’re setting a bad example for any potential alcoholic lurking about.
And now I've come full circle. While Tom is an honest believer and our family has been blessed by his choices in the name of Christ, he is apparently not ready to be too fussy about some of his choices in the everyday. In the end, that is between him and God, and I, even after 24 years of marriage, am not sufficiently knowledgeable about the condition of his heart or motivations to pass judgment. Let's just say that Tom definitely has a full understanding of grace. Perhaps full to the point of being faulty -- but that is between him and God.
As it happens, however, Tom is the social force in our family. That means that over the years we, as a family, have "done life" and come to love dearly three or four families who do not know the Lord. These are our best friends. These are the people who I would trust first to love our kids if Tom and I were to die unexpectedly. Added to that is a plethora of other friends and acquaintances, none of whom know the Lord.
Mind you, I go kicking and screaming into any new social venue. If the word "plethora" can be used to describe our circle of friends, it is because Tom loves people, not me. Yet I am the one who is a little closer to being, in a Christian sense, "fussy about my choices in the everyday." Barely, but still. I am the one tending toward constipation if the kids are around while he's watching Family Guy, I get downright stuck up at the idea of going to a bar, and my moral indignation is in full fervor at the mere mention of stepping foot into a casino.
But Tom loves people. And all these friends know he is a Christian. I wouldn't be surprised if some of them wonder how he integrates the two worlds, but they know he bears the name of Christ. At least one family that used to openly sneer at the notion of being "born again," is now regularly attending a good, Bible-teaching church. And I can't help but believe that others are closer to Christ, more open and softer in heart toward Him than they would have been without Tom's friendship. Who knows what the future holds for them spiritually?
So as our daughter comes to be more engaged with the Christian culture in our church, should I be embarrassed about who we are? Well, I don't think so. It's a tough call, a nuanced situation to be sure. Even I am not sure how much I am simply rationalizing because I love my husband. But I do know that we are neck deep in opportunity to love on those who do not know Jesus, and we would not have these opportunities if we were safely ensconced in the Christian community.
In the end, she will have to untangle this mess of truths on her own, but for now there is a certain security in her surrounding herself with church folk. She has a good radar for what is false, and I trust she will discern hypocrisy when it presents itself. Along the way I am sure she will also meet up with some of the majestic ones who exude the aroma of Christ, and I pray that she will follow their example. But I also pray that from her dad she takes with her the lesson of purely loving on people, especially those who do not yet know the truth.