The Padre’s Ponderings: A Blogpost for Lent 1

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Anonymous Letters: A Christian Approach to Our Gripes?

We clergy get them on occasion. We recognize them when they arrive in the mail. They may be hand addressed in what simulates a kid’s writing or they may be typed. Before we run the letter opener through the envelope we are fairly certain that we’ve just received an anonymous note complaining about something. I’ve actually come to be amused by them…until a member of our faith community showed me one he had received this week.

It was, well, just plain nasty. The complaint: take off your hat in church. It began: “When a Jewish man enters a synagogue (misspelled in the letter) he covers his head with a skull cap. When a Christian enters a church he removes his hat or cap….Grow up – Remove your cap in church or go to a synagogue (again misspelled in the letter).”

My amusement was not triggered this time. I first felt sorry for this faithful individual who has not missed a Sunday Eucharist in the past five years—cap or hat or not. However, I feel sorrier for the person who lives such a rigid, mean-spirited hybrid kind of Christianity that he or she felt entitled to belittle, attack, and embarrass a brother in Christ for such a superficial, petty reason.

If the author of the note really studies the Scripture, he or she will find that the only ones Jesus is tough on, the ones who elicit powerful language and negative criticism are the rigorously religious people. Those who strain out gnats and nitpick are the ones who get the sternest castigation. Jesus fumes at them.

If you are familiar with the congregation I serve as rector—St. Paul’s on the Green in Norwalk, Connecticut—you know our “doctrine” of Radical Welcome. A sign greets you as you enter our church that assures you that “you will be free to be the person God created you to be.” We mean it. Every bit of it. What God cares about is just that you show up!

Lent is a good time for some self-examination. One way or another, some folk who claim to follow Christ are capable of communicating to others that they don’t quite measure up. Some even have a knack for assaulting others with words and attitudes that sting and cause great pain. Before any of us casts that “first stone,” we would do well to consider the commandment that Jesus left with us: “Love one another as I have loved you,” as the law of love he preached in the synagogue and committed to his church.

The way I see it, if we admit to ourselves that others have loved us and that God does so unconditionally, we ought to be able to concede that others need not be flawless or canonized in order to gain our love and our respect as one of God’s own beloved.

If the author of the letter — or anyone else — would like to come into the light and talk with me directly about this or anything else that troubles you, my door is open and I’m happy to make an appointment to talk candidly and honestly.