When I was little, a local grocery store had a horse-racing game that was tied in with some televised horse races. They gave you a game card at the check-out, and on it were the names and numbers of horses. On Tuesday evening you’d sit down with your game card and watch the horse races, and if the horse on your card won, you could take your card back to the grocery store to get a prize of some sort. When my dad explained that the races were pre-recorded (so that’s why it’s broad daylight at the race track and dark here!), I was heart-broken. They knew who would win before they printed the cards?! It’s my earliest memory of feeling that I’d been set up.
The topic for this Audience Participation Friday is disillusionment. When was a time when you realized that things were not as they seemed?
For me it was the public water supply that opened my eyes. I remember walking out of a public bathroom somewhere and noticing a drinking fountain right by the door. I pushed the button to make the water arch into the fountain. Just as I leaned in for a drink I heard the sound of a flushing toilet from inside the bathroom. The arch dipped in height momentarily, and then pressure returned to the fountain and everything went back to normal. Could this be possible?? Could the water fountains really be connected to the toilets??? I haven’t had a drink of water since. I only drink refreshing Coca-Cola products. (Ok, that last part isn’t true, but I am legally obligated to say it as part of my blog comment sponsorship contract I have with Coke.)
My bestfriend Steve and I loved our church deeply. Our gang of friends and the whole congregation were like family. My friend Laura began hanging with us most weekends. Eventually Steve and Laura got sweet on each other and started hanging out more on their own. I show up one Sunday morning for small group before church- where’s Steve? Laura is here. Something is off. I ask some friends, “What’s going on?” All I get is shrugs and glances toward Laura. She’s weeping and surrounded by a gaggle of comforting friends. I knew they knew… but what? A secret was spreading- a disease afflicting their faces with a thinly veiled blend of hatred and dolor. No one speaks to me at first. The youth pastor strolls toward me downcast, and I’m asked to join a private meeting with Pastor and a quorum of my closest friends. The tension in the cramped classroom is suffocating. Then, it’s announced: my bestfriend raped Laura last night! I’m stunned and confused. “He wouldn’t do that!” reverberates through my head… but I didn’t speak it. More talking went on, but I wasn’t able to focus. I think we prayed. Or they did… but that’s not where my mind was. The next words that register with me: “Steve isn’t a Christian. Never has been. Can’t be! Real Christians are a new creation no-longer capable of sin, and Steve is clearly a sinner”. Now I’m angry and confused. “I know Steve is a Christian!”, and the indictments rip like sharp spikes down my spine; I remain speechless. Laura is also a friend of mine. I can’t imagine she’d make this up. I went to comfort her. She is definitely torn-up about something, but this all just doesn’t feel right! I remain physically present for the service, with my mind racing all over the universe, and my heart is aching with grief and anger. The disease was taking hold of me as well. Steve’s the one not here. An entire church wouldn’t act on a story that wasn’t true! I spent that day with Laura. After church she seemed fine and we didn’t speak of any of this. I had successfully pushed the horrors of the morning out of my mind. This was the first time just the two of us had spent time together, and we had a peaceful afternoon. That night we were at her place watching TV. As the evening progressed she moved closer and closer to me. She began to smile broader, giggle more freely, and gaze at me adoringly. I politely found an exit from this awkward situation, and went home to get some rest. But I did not sleep. The sun rose anyway, and I drug myself through the worn trenches of daily routine; no energy for more than minimum effort. But I felt drawn to meet with Steve. After work I went directly to his place. I’m greeted with a warm embrace, and “I love you, man!”, and I squirm with the sense that my heart had betrayed my bestfriend and… and even myself yesterday. He confides in me of a romantic evening with Laura that went too far. With the sincerity in his eyes, and the detail of his story, I know it was not rape. I begged for his forgiveness for not coming to him sooner. “There’s nothing to forgive, Bro. It’s all water under the bridge”.
The next Sunday, trying out a new church, we are warmly greeted- sign the guest book- and soak in this new setting. It’s not the family feel of the old place. There is clearly a higher dress code, yet also a more reverent and peaceful atmosphere. We like it, and come back the next week, early enough for a small group we were invited to. During the Bible study, we hear men lingering in the foyer. One skimmed the guest book and says, “Look at this! Steve Smith was here last week!” The next joins “The nerve of that punk, stepping foot in a house of God after what he did to that girl at Solid Rock Baptist! did you see him?” “I don’t think so, isn’t that the Satanist creep everyone’s been talking about? Surely we would have noticed him.” the first responds. Steve got up, politely introduced himself, and I followed him out the door.
Yes, he had been a Satanist just a couple years ago. He had a dark history and a dramatic testimony, and by the time I met him I had never seen anyone more on fire for God. Lately? Not so much. We did our usual guy-time for the rest of the day. That evening, on returning home, I was welcomed by the blinking light of my answering machine. It would be great to talk with someone tonight! Beep… “Patrick, Laura just told me what you said about my hubby and I being weird, and you just pretend to like us. The nerve of you to talk behind our backs like that!” click! Beep… “Hey there, this is Bob… missed you at church the past couple weeks. Heard you’ve been doing things with Steve. That’s too bad. Hope you’ll join us again next Sunday” click. That’s at least 3 more friends lost. All because of one lying, jealous, girl who’s too ashamed of herself to take any responsibly for what she’s doing. I’m feeling very disillusioned with The Church as a whole.
We found a nicer church the next week, the fraud was eventually exposed and apologized to all, friendships were mended, and everyone lived happily ever after. Please forgive the length of this tale. The End.
Aaron can try to hide it, but he has a potty mouth.
I was disillusioned once. I had this job as a snackbar attendant at a pool for the summer. I anxiously received my first paycheck and was stunned. Who’s this FICA guy and why does he get so much money from me?
wow! Two such different stories for Audience Participation Friday. Hmmm. It’s hard for me to figure out which way I want to go.
Since I already told everyone how hurt I was to learn that dogs can’t really understand good intentions, and since Aaron has triggered childhood bathroom memories…I guess I’ll have to go with the time I fell into the toilet when I was seven.
I had to go so badly that by the time I ran into the bathroom I was already yanking my pants down and turning around to back up to the toilet. I didn’t notice that one of my darling brothers had neglected to put the seat down after using the toilet last.
I hit that thing going fifty miles an hour and…splash down!
I was so embarrassed and upset.
When I went to my mother looking for sympathy, she laughed. And laughed. And laughed. I got a little worried and figured I probably shouldn’t have confided in her. I begged Mom to keep the embarrassing incident to herself and she promised me that she wouldn’t tell a soul.
Alas, the temptation was too great.
Later that night, when we were all gathered for dinner, Mother proceeded to tell the whole family about how I had fallen into the toilet. I was crushed. I had been under the impression that adults didn’t sin. It was a reasonable assumption—they never got scolded or spanked like the rest of us. And they never apologized for anything. Surely my mother was not an ordinary sinner. But there she sat, telling a story she had promised not to tell.
I was really traumatized. I was shocked and hurt. My parents had let me believe, for all those years, that they were perfect. I never forgot that feeling of betrayal. So I was glad, years later, that my own children never had to go through that disillusionment. Their mother sinned against them early and often.
Just now seeing today’s comments after a long day away from the Internet. Wow…heavy stuff. Thanks, Patrick. That was a hard story to write, I imagine. I’m wondering, are you still disillusioned with the Church? Or are people living happily ever after? Could you have meant both remarks to be true? If so, how do you reconcile them?
Aaron, I worked for a plumber a summer or two. If your experience at the water fountain was troubling, I don’t advise working for a plumber. But you talk about anecdotes! Speaking of plumbing, can I point out one thing? The water coming into the tank on a toilet is as clean as the water coming out of the faucet. Which is to say, you needn’t be grossed out by the tank water…something I have a hard time convincing my wife of. She is adamant that I wash my hands after splashing around in the tank.
Sally A, we can always count on wisdom from you–even in potty stories.
I think washing your hands after “splashing around in the tank” is just good common sense! And if I didn’t already know the answer, this would beg the question-what is Jonathan doing splashing in the turlet.
This story actually happened about 14 years ago, and was not that hard for me to tell. I’ve healed and grown a lot since then. My hope is that this story, instead of turning people off from the Church, would cause “church people” to take a look at themselves and how un-Christ-like they may be treating others. I can see that it has the potential to do both.
Both remarks are true for me (and for some of the characters in my story). I reconcile it this way: People are just people no matter what they call themselves. Due to situations like this story (and “Christians” who protest soldier funerals, burn Korans, bomb abortion clinics, rant on street corners, etc…) I have an aversion to the label “Christian”. The idea of the church always good and right is what was lost for me in that disillusionment. I now realize Church is full of people at various places in their faith journey- and it’s good that they are there- but few who claim the title have an active daily personal relationship with the One True God. At the time of the disillusionment that was a tragic realization, but now I just accept it as true, and hope I’m doing my part in being Jesus to the world.
I’m in another church that feels like family and I Love It! This one is different though. Anyone who walks through the door is automatically part of the family. We don’t care what you look like or where you came from. Another difference: I no longer expect people to have it all together, and always know or do the right things. Don’t let a handful of humans destroy your faith. God is the only one who is Good all the time. Look to God, not men. But if you are listening to God’s calling in your life you will likely be involved in the positive transformation of the lives of others. Not hiding in a cave somewhere from all the bad people in the world.
Another long one. What can I say? I like to write.