By Tom Ehrich
If I wanted, I could name 101 things my church does wrong.
From the way long-timers congregate at the front door and block visitors, to lack of diversity at the altar (all females), to uninspired this and ineffective that – I see it, I could name it.
But what would be the point? I prefer to see the things they do right. They operate an active food pantry, they fill backpacks with food for school kids to take home each weekend, they offer charity concerts, their pastor has been kind to me, and I see her being kind to others. That’s the point. I can help them improve membership techniques. But a heart for mission and for kindness comes from God.
In the same way, I could find fault with my brother’s blog from a 95-day motorcycling trip across Europe and Asia. Some entries could have been written better. But that isn’t the point. He rode 17,000 miles, engaged the world in ways I am too shy to do, and shared his discoveries with other people. I personally found his trip awe-inspiring. That’s the point. I hope to publish a book of his writings. We can fix the awkward sentences. But grace lies in his open eyes and open heart.
I could fault one neighbor for mowing his lawn at 6:30am and another for allowing abandoned cars onto her property. But that isn’t the point. He’s a widower doing the best he can to make solitude work. She’s working hard with limited means and is a generous soul.
Finding fault is a way to express disappointment, anger, or feelings of self-loathing. It comes naturally as a defense. But the point is what we do next.
My father could find fault with anyone or anything, thanks to an upbringing where his family degraded him constantly. But he rose above it. He would complain about something at church and then give his life to teaching Sunday School, serving on the vestry, taking communion to shut-ins, and learning to accept all. The neighbor whose noisy air conditioner riled him became a friend. He found his fellow volunteers at a local not-for-profit to be irritating, but he loved them deeply. When my mother died, these people turned out in force to love him back.
What we do next after finding fault, you see, is what we hope will happen to us. Our inadequacies will be overlooked, our occasional rudeness understood, our odd ways tolerated, and our failings forgiven. We hope to be remembered for the times we cared, not for the times we were too busy to extend care or too broken.
I couldn’t protect my sons from the stress of my church work. But I hope they remember the loving home my wife and I tried to provide, the hours I spent attending their games and concerts, the walks and long drives we took, and the times we sang together. That is what I remember about my father. Not his complaining, but his corny jokes and unfailing interest in my life.
Yes, these are brutish and evil times. Some people are behaving terribly, corroding our culture and endangering our democracy. We will pay a steep price for their greed and self-serving. But at the level where we live, I see kindness and caring, generosity and goodness, forgiveness and mercy.
While bigots rage, conspiracy theorists quake in fear, and the wealthy manipulate systems for their benefit, a woman works quietly in a church kitchen stuffing food into backpacks, so that children can eat.