DEAR CHURCH: A Letter from an Outsider Looking In

DEAR CHURCH: A Letter from an Outsider Looking In

Author’s note: I grew up in the Southeast; specifically, Alabama, which I believe qualifies as the buckle of the Bible Belt. Church is an integral part of the social fabric there, along with baby-clothing trunk shows (I NEED MORE MONOGRAMMED JOHN-JOHNS!) and Junior League membership (mine lasted one week. Oops). As my friend Juliet likes to say when she quotes Dorothy Day, “The church is a whore, but she is my mother.” And I don’t let anyone make jokes about my mamaBECAUSE I’M AFRAID THEY’LL STEAL MY MATERIAL! So forgive me if I take this personally, but I spent nearly two decades faithfully attending church every Sunday and Wednesday without hearing a substantial sermon on grace until I moved to New York City. So what follows is my satirical estimation of how the organized churchespecially its branches here in the Southis managing the delivery of Good News these days.

Dear Church,

I passed by your five-acre campus today and just want to say, “Wow!” That is some lovely landscaping you have going on. The crews of men who were digging and planting and mowing and weeding are creating quite a pretty picture. I haven’t seen that many flowers since my cousin Sue’s second wedding last March (unfortunately she could not hold said wedding at your beautiful facility because, you know, divorce. Awkward!). And the multiple marquees you have facing the street with double-sided, pithy messages are so helpful for anyone wanting to know your vision. For example, I didn’t realize Jesus follows me into the voting booth. And the invitation to the general public to “Let go, Let God, and Attend One of [Your] Ten Sunday Services”? Now that is some serious outreach!

I have watched other churches on TV to get acquainted with what you Christians believe, and it appears that one Joel Osteen is your high commanderdo I have that right? That guy never stops grinning, and he wears the snazziest suitsso does that mean that being a Christian means that you’re always happy and well-dressed? He talks about how Jesus wants me to live victoriously and prosperously, so I guess I better brush up my resume! The people I see leaving your church are always dressed to the nines. Is there a guide to proper attire posted anywhere? Never mindI’ll check your website.

Speaking of the crowds on SundaysI had always heard that was a day of rest, but it appears to be your busiest! The cops directing traffic going into and out of your parking lot on Sunday morning have their work cut out for them. And then the crowd is almost as big later that evening for your nighttime services. Do Christians ever get a day off, or was that just God? Your list of Sunday activities (on one of the other marquees) looks chock-full, and I just wonder if there’s any down time for someone who doesn’t thrive from such a stuffed schedule. But maybe I’m just not being a team player. Is extroversion a required Christian virtue? I thought I remembered something about how Jesus liked to sneak away from crowds, but I probably have that wrong.

I did peruse one of your weekly bulletins online recently, and I enjoyed how the pastor made the sermon fit into four Ps. Alliteration is always so helpfulI would say that it’s even more effective than true substance when it comes to impact. And the way the sermon was presented as a to-do list was genius. That way I can be in control of my behavior rather than having to rely on a deep faith, which I’m still not comfortable with. I prefer an approach like yours, which when you think of it is more self-help philosophy than really confronting those pesky heart issues like fear, failure, andoh, what am I going on about? I don’t have to face any of that stuff if I get as involved as your calendar of activities says I can! “Look busy, Jesus is coming”amirite?! If Christianity basically means following a code of behavior, then sign me upI can manage that!

I also applaud your sole focus on international missions. I do think it’s important to reach the farthest corners of the world with a message you believe in and rescue those natives from themselves. To be honest, I’m much more comfortable with that than with getting involved in some of the less-fortunate communities surrounding us. Half of them don’t even speak English! Some groups of people were just not meant to coexist, know what I mean? I’m sure that heaven has separate sections, if you will, so that people can be comfortable with their own kind. Besides, those people probably drive by your marquees often and how many of them have taken the time to stop in on Sunday? RUDE!

Finally, thank you for all the options you provide in the way of worship. I like that you get it”it” being the fact that people really just want to be entertained and made to feel comfortable, and that these goals should be catered to by a social organization such as yourself. I like that, whatever my mood, there is a service for it: contemporary, traditional, rock, country, classical, high-concept mediait’s like being in the middle of Times Square with all the options! The choices are endless, which is great because commitment is so overrated. Hey, as long as I don’t have to sit next to any gay people (wink, wink)!

So I guess what I’m saying is, sign me upthis whole Christian thing sounds pretty easy!

See you Sunday!

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