I honestly hadn’t anticipated that kind of reaction. Quite frankly, I hadn’t anticipated any reaction at all.
Perhaps I wouldn’t have been so astounded had the emotional outburst come from just one person. However, the unexpected reaction came from the entire choir singing in unison.
At that time, I was absolutely clueless about the crime I had committed. Nevertheless, the choir director’s contorted face resounded of disappointment…. With nowhere to run, I braced myself for the inevitable. I was in for the lecture of a lifetime.
It was the first time I had ever stepped into the doors of that particular church, and to be frank, I hadn’t expected my visit to include a public flogging. In fact, the purpose of my visit was simply to observe the choir rehearsal. The choir, that I was a member of, had recently lost their pianist and choir director. Our newly appointed interim director was left in a complete frenzy trying to figure out what to do about music. Once she caught wind that I played piano, she instantly appointed me as the new organist, without my consent. After several attempts trying to explain that the piano and the organ were two different instruments, she mindlessly arranged for me to visit her home church to see if their choir’s organist could give me some tips. Although I knew this was a difficult task, the thought of learning another musical instrument excited me. Without thinking twice about it, I drove to rehearsal, introduced myself to the organist, and sat down on the beautiful oak chair beside him……. Unbeknownst to me, the congregation frowned upon anyone, other than a presbyter, touching that chair.
“Get off that chair!”, the director yelled in my direction, “that chair has been consecrated before the Lord, and only the Bishop-Elect is permitted to sit on it.”
I stood speechless. Nothing in my 19 years of existence in a fundamental Christian culture had prepared me for a moment like the one at hand. As waves of verbal disappointment began to wash over my fading smile, I tried to recall any biblical passages regarding chair consecration. Nevertheless, the card-catalog in my memory affirmed what I believed at that moment: none existed. As far as I understood, the purpose of chairs was to provide a place to sit… and that’s exactly what I did… It was never my intention to cause a disruption of any sort. However, the moment I realized that my ignorance of their church culture was perceived as a cardinal sin, I quickly got up, stood beside the organist, and remained silent until the end of practice.
I wish I could say that was my one and only experience where I unknowingly disrupted a cultural norm of a congregation. Sadly, I’ve disappointed many clergy and lay people along the way. Since that moment, I’ve learned that chewing gum can be viewed as church desecration, kneeling to pray on only one knee can be viewed as spirit of pride and rebellion, and admitting a childhood experience of glossolalia can guarantee your expulsion from certain faith circles. My journey has taught me that cultural norms are just as existent in congregations as they are in cultural regions. Depending on where you are, and who you are with, what is considered as “holy,” varies significantly.
This is what my journey has taught me.
- I remain holy, in Jesus’ sight, regardless of what others think of me.
For years, I struggled to meet up to the expectations of others. No matter how hard I tried to win the approval of those I looked up too, they seemed never to be satisfied with my efforts. Instead of finding joy in my calling, I found sorrow.
In my early twenties, I ran across a gem of truth found in the Apostle Paul’s letter to the church of Ephesians. In the first chapter, I am told that before God created the world, He chose me to be holy in his sight. The moment that I encountered this truth, I felt like a weight had been taken off me. As I read the verse, I came face-to-face with the fact that God chose me to be holy in his sight. And if God chose me, then it doesn’t matter who else rejects me. In fact, it doesn’t matter what opinion another may have of me. The truth remains that I am holy in His sight….. and at the end of the day, that’s all that matters.
- I can’t please everyone (and that’s completely fine).
It seemed that every time that I was introduced with a new pastor, I was also introduced with a new list of expectations. In my fundamental upbringing, some denounced television, others said sports, some denounced Disney products, and the list could go on for days. Much to their disappointment, I questioned everything. I had no problem following Jesus, but I did have a difficult time understanding why I had to follow the opinion of man.
As I’ve progressed in life, I’ve learned to make a list of the people whose opinions of me matter. As you might have already guessed, the list is small…. and truthfully, there are some people on that list that I’ve chosen to love despite their disapproval of me. Their opinion of me is a reminder that God has created me to be much greater than the box that they choose to place me in. It is also a reminder that despite my shortcomings, there is someone that will love and accept me regardless. His name is Jesus Christ.
- Every time I am judged, there is an opportunity to demonstrate grace.
As someone who follows Jesus, I strive to live a life that follows in his footsteps. With this in mind, I am continuously aware that I must often take a stance that says, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Is this easy? You bet your boots it isn’t. Nevertheless, I am always reminded to show mercy in the same manner that I’ve been shown mercy.
Featured Image By Jeshoots
This is an updated edition of a post originally published on https://john-eli.com/2019/05/06/how-i-learned-to-deal-with-judgmental-people/