Constructing, Bad Oil Paintings, and a Kid I am (Accidentally) Learning to Love

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It’s really hard to visualize what I want, when all I really know for sure is what I don’t want. But, if I can be honest, I’m sick of whining. I realize it is necessary to deconstruct, in the sense that one must discover “what went wrong” in order to avoid repeating history in the future. But with all the deconstruction, I’m equally aware that a root of bitterness (aroused whenever I get to mulling over how lame the church world can be sometimes) is ever eager to gain a foothold, and I’m sometimes not too diligent when it comes to weed-eating my garden.

But what, oh what, do I want? I know I could wax eloquent on my vision of church or community or whatever, but I’m asking the question in a more personal way. What do I want to be—to become? And I don’t want to wind up old and bitter and quick to spread my spewing poison on anyone who will listen. For a while, especially in my initial stages of questioning, that’s probably where I was headed, and that frightened me. I wanted to ask the hard probing questions—I still want to ask those questions and think them necessary—yet I don’t want to always be picking, pulling, tearing down. It can get addictive, precicely because it is so easy.

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I do want to become one of those wild-haired grandma types that we’ve all met once or twice in our life, the kind who do oil landscape paintings with WAY too much emerald green, funny polyester pants suits and the lively twinkling eyes—the kind of people that make you wish you were six again so you could climb up into their lap for a story, who make you feel like you just met with God. You forget about the clothes and the paintings and you just eat up being with them, because there is something about them that makes you feel wanted, like you are somebody precious, and you find yourself with your head resting on your chin and grinning stupidly and hanging on their words because there is life in them.

And I think about missional living and I don’t get the feel that it means whining and pointing fingers about all the people who are doing it all wrong and sitting around looking cool, even though that’s way more fun than getting off my rear and loving the unlovely. There’s something so “spiritual-feeling” about discussing the ways that others miss the heart of God, and yet it’s probably one of the most UNspiritual things I could practice. But it feels so good and it demands so little of me—just a critical eye and a ready tongue. Easy, since I have both.

There’s this kid in my Jr. High Sunday School class at the church in the woods where my husband works. His name is Brad, and it’s fair to say that he drives pretty much everybody nuts. He either has mental problems or demonic ones or something like that, major, no joke—-the kind of kid that you wonder about, like, in a school-shooting sort of way. So, last year, I was frustrated with him. Here I have this great class going and in he comes, with his constant interuptions and his defiant practices, and what do you do with a guy like that?

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But this year, I had a new thought, and it probably sounds weird that I’ve been a “Christian” for 27 years and just had this thought, but it’s sadly true. This was my thought: everyone deserves to be respected. Yeah, okay, so it’s sad that this was such new revelation to me, but up until this past year, I pretty much viewed the world through my particular spin of a fundamentalist Christian lens, which, in broad general terms, involved a heirarchal world with most everything having something to do with authority and submission and cooperation and order and “rightness.” I mean, like, in a class, you sit down and submit to the teacher. It’s not that hard, and besides, it’s God’s way.

So when Brad comes in and grabs his chair out of our circle and slams it down on the other side of the room and sits down with a huff (way over there) and then starts making multiple interrupting comments (which consist of arguing with literally everything I am saying, trying to sound extremely intellectual yet drastically failing), it really bothers me. I mean, "Hello, I’m trying to talk about the love of God and you’re screwing it all up by doing something outside of the box!"

Plus, all the other kids in my class are thoroughly socialized in proper Sunday-School etiquette and classroom behaviour, not to mention how to treat social misfits, and are rolling their eyes, muttering put-downs and making their annoying feelings heard in various other Junior-Highish ways. And I, if I have to admit it, pretty much let them be like that and only got after them when it got loud, while personally trying to politely shut Brad down every chance I got, convinced he was simply the enemy trying to steal our time away from talking about the valuable stuff in Scripture.

That was then, this is now. Because this year, that’s all changed. I spent this summer re-evaluating what I had formerly considered Christianity, and it’s made for some uncomfortable questions, soul-searching moments face down on the floor, and some revolutionary bombs blowing up in the pages of my Bible. Seems like the bombs were usually aimed right at ME, not at all the things I've enjoyed pointing fingers at. And, in some strange accidental way, one of the many fall-outs has been that I don’t cringe when I see Brad anymore.

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For one thing, I can think outside of the box now. God not only allows it, but He does it (often). So I'm following in His footsteps and learning how to walk around out here in the open. So, if I can ask annoying questions of God, why not allow Brad the same liberty?

And another thing (something I’m learning while moving beyond my fundamentalist roots, which isn’t the same thing as leaving them behind, but more of a building out from them): the world actually isn’t all about heirarchy and order. It might be there, sure, but in the family of God, we don’t operate by rank and status, but we operate by a different code—the Law of Love. Which means we honor everyone because they are loved by God and because He tells us to love them…even the annoying people...maybe even especially the annoying people.

Anyways, to make a long story short, this year I really enjoy Brad. It's weird to think how much he bugged me then, because I sure miss him when he’s not in class now (as compared to last year when he “ruined” every class he was in and when I breathed a sigh of relief when he didn’t show up). I’m not sure the other kids in the class would all say the same about Brad yet, but they’re learning, at least—learning that as Jesus-lovers, we don’t value “proper classroom behaviour” more than we value people.

Instead of shutting his barrage of criticisms down, I entertain them and draw out whatever is of value in them, discussing it and being obviously impressed with his arguments—letting him know I am hearing him, that I consider his thoughts as valid as mine. We’ve ended up all over the Scriptures in ways we’d have never been before, thanks to some of his comments—-which are causing the other members of the class to chime in with their own thoughts, and leading us on even more rabbit trails (which are never actually off-topic, since the "topic" is God and knowing God and that’s applicable to all of life).

Last week, the whole hour was one loud mix of voices and pages flipping through Bibles and laughing and fighting and moments of stunned silence as we pondered this God of ours. One girl looked at me with a puzzled but pleased expression and said, ”I can honestly say this is the weirdest Sunday School class I’ve ever been to.” And it probably was.

If all they learn is that searching after God can sometimes be complicated and messy, that it’s not always black-and-white and that there is no promise of “easy,” and that there are some things higher than other things (that learning the doctrine of justification for the ten thousandth time is not as important as honoring other human beings as we would want to be honored), then I’m happy.

When class was over and I was walking to the main building to go rescue the nursury attendant from my 18 month old, Brad followed me, right at my side, talking animatedly the whole time. He was so excited that he forgot that he’s supposed to be sullenly hating everyone. I listened to him, I complimented him, I laughed with him…and I wasn’t faking it.

God did that.

God is breaking my little nice-and-neat world apart, and it does sometimes make for the weirdest days (and the weirdest Sunday School classes). I think about before, how I “knew” all about Jesus but so missed Him, not realizing that I might catch shades of Him in my liberal democrat aunt, that He is found in the Chinese laborer who makes my Wal-mart clothes for barely nothing, that He was the annoying kid in class who kept interrupting with his many arguments. And I guess maybe I'm on my way to becoming that twinkly-eyed grandmother in the ugly teal pants-suit that radiates a Jesus that the world can't get enough of.

Molly Aley