We can all find problems.

On Sunday, we were talking about church. At church.

In our discussion, I was going to ask, “How many of you have bad experiences with church.” My guess is that most of the 20 or so people in the room would have raised their hands. And then I was going to say, “Me too.” And then I was going to ask us to list specific examples of good experiences with church.

I should clarify my language. I don’t mean good experiences in church: great concerts, wonderful sermons, fabulous potluck suppers. I mean moments when church, defined as people who are committed to loving God and loving each other, actually lived that.

It is easy to identify the problems with institutions, with organizations, with ourselves as members of organizations. When one of my friends says, “Love God, hate his fans,” I completely understand. I hate me too, sometimes.

But in a letter to a church, Paul says,

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”

Paul doesn’t indicate whether he means general concepts or specific actions. And often, we can take these words to mean vague feelings of truth and nobility. But what if we started to look for specific examples of people acting in admirable ways?

What if we looked for those moments where someone would not have had to act in a caring way, or could have stuck to their own agenda, or might have had reason to not forgive an action. And then, in that moment, that person said, “following Jesus means forgiving.”

What if we looked everywhere to collect those moments in the scrapbook of our heart?

Then, what if we did everything we could to cause them?

I’m curious. How would you have answered my question about specific examples of good?

8 thoughts on “We can all find problems.

  1. Laurie

    I think I would have answered your question both ways – that is, yes, I have been in many church services that have been “good” – good music, preaching, presence of God. But I am also fortunate to be in a church that exemplifies those speciic actions Paul mentions- where people have loved me unconditionally, met my physical needs, forgiven me, and so on. It doesn’t always happen, and I’ve been hurt in church before too, but more often than not, my church family does GOOD to me and others, and that’s a beautiful thing.


  2. Rich Dixon

    A woman I didn’t know walked over, introduced herself, and thanked me for bringing my service dog to church. “He makes this place more peaceful, and he reminds me of Jesus’ gentle, accepting heart.”

    Sometimes I’m self-conscious about the wheelchair, and having a dog with me amplifies that feeling. Her kind comment made it a little easier.

    Made me think that if we’d quit trying to save the world (already done) and just make one small piece a little brighter, we’d be living out Paul’s direction.


  3. Caryn

    Jon, my favorite commercials out recently are the ones that show people helping others in those small moments of life. As they’re helping someone, another person notices. Then you see the person who noticed then helping someone else. And on it goes. Those everyday opportunities where, if we pay attention, we can see that opportunity and act on it. You know, like when a child in a stroller drops something, and someone picks it up and hands it back to the child or parent. More on-the-surface than I read in your meaning, but I always think it would make such a difference, if we even start noticing those opportunities and acting in those moments. And then think on those things during the day, rather than the things that went wrong. That would be encouraging, I think. Maybe even contagious?


  4. Mimi Meredith

    I delivered a sermon on this scripture (as a lay preacher–I’m not ordained and unpaid, so I get to say things that challenge without as much concern.) In it, I included “good things” like supporting each other in taking risks, providing the perfect support for those who risk and fail, learning to do things in a new right way in church kitchens. All good things to think about in community.

    I’m curious. You said you were “going to ask…” Why didn’t you?

    By the way, as much as I enjoy your post, I always have great takeaways from the comments and today is no exception! Thank you to the three above for words to lace up my day!


    1. Jon Swanson

      Mimi, I love it. I love the concreteness in your example.

      What happened in class is that the conversation took another turn. When I’m teaching, particularly with the groups I’m with now, the conversation flows pretty freely. This thought formed, and then someone else said something and I went with that. But it seemed worth revisiting here.

      And the fun thing?

      At least a couple people from class will read this. (My worlds intersect.)


Comments are closed