Monday, November 22, 2010

Should We Nail These On Protestant Churches?

Ben Myers at Faith and Theology put out 12 theses on smiling. My favorite is #7:

I know a little boy whose mother had to go away for a few days. When she came home, he cried and told her he had missed her. Touched by his infant sadness, the mother said, ‘It’s nice to be missed’ – and he replied, ‘It’s not nice to miss.’ It is nice to be missed because we learn what love means in the sadness of another. The face that always smiles is the face of a stranger. Love is written on the face of sadness.

The church can glean some good advice from this in following our commission to comfort those who are distressed.

Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. -Romans 12:15

"Then the King will say to those on His right, 'Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 'For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.' -Matthew 25:34-36

As said in thesis #7 stoic smiling signals distance in a relationship. This kind of demeanor to one who is suffering pushes him away. In a modern Good Samaritan retelling the priest would have been a prosperity gospel pastor smiling at the victim and saying, "God has an amazing plan for you! Don't be discouraged! Here's a list of Bible verses for comfort" before walking away. The danger of the Protestant smile culture is that it puts up an impenetrable wall between the distressed and the comforter. When those we truly care about are suffering we experience sympathetic suffering little. That's called empathy, it's the cause behind the shortest verse in the Bible (at least in English).

When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in spirit and was troubled, and said, "Where have you laid him?" They said to Him, "Lord, come and see." Jesus wept. So the Jews were saying, "See how He loved him!" But some of them said, "Could not this man, who opened the eyes of the blind man, have kept this man also from dying?" So Jesus, again being deeply moved within, came to the tomb. Now it was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. -John 11:33-38

Jesus knew the end of the story. He had in mind what he was going to do the moment he approached the crowd. Yet their suffering moved him to tears. He did not put up a smile wall and offer a friendly rebuke of how God would make everything alright even though God was going to make everything alright right then and right there. At this moment Jesus was familiar to these people. He was one of them, weeping with those who were weeping. As a church worker it one thing I have been trying to do is resist the temptation to pretend that I have all the answers to everyones' problems. Sometimes I just need to feel sad or angry or outraged with a victim. Not being a very emotional person that is extremely hard for me. I'd much rather fix a problem than empathize with someone, but if I truly want a Kingdom with strong personal relationships to start developing here on earth I have learn to drop the smile and proactive attitude sometimes.

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