Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Saloon or Church

There is no subsitute for my own bed. Last night we came into town after time away from home. Rest, in whatever bed, should be appreciated. While there is no replacing the familiarity of home, the journey away from home awakens adventure and creates new insight.

Recently my family attended a small church. The adult class was on John 4, which is the story about Jesus meeting a Samaritan woman. In that time period, men did not talk publicly to women. Jews did not talk with what they called the “half-breed” race Samaritans. Jesus, however, did both. He talked to a "half-breed" woman in public. The church Bible class was a history lesson. There was no application to life, despite one-hour of lecture. The class only made sense to those Christians of many years. The study interested only those with thorough knowledge of the Bible (and who wanted more knowledge).

I almost laughed out loud at the irony of my setting. There I was in church with the pious, listening to a story about Jesus talking with an outcast woman at a well. Jesus had no business talking with her. It was beyond shocking and was more like ‘scandalous.’ Jesus was outrageous in his action and all I could do on a Wednesday night was sit and listen a history lesson. I sat there thinking how irrelevant church is to the average person. A history lesson. Old. Out-of-date. Out-of-touch. The question shuffling through my mind was “who is the Samaritan woman in this town?” I almost interrupted the history lesson to ask this question:

Who is the Samaritan woman in this town and why aren’t we talking to her tonight?

One hour earlier, my family walked into a “restaurant.” The quotes indicate I could use a better term like “small town Saloon.” To give you an idea, the non-smoking section consisted of three booths at the back of the room separated by a three-foot wall.

Our waitress, looking at our two young children, immediately said, “I guess you want the non-smoking section.” The smoke was thick. A fireplace burning tar might have served as an air-freshener. We ended up leaving and taking our food 'to-go." Our waitress was apologetic. She was sensitive and kind, unlike anyone else we encountered in the saloon. Earlier, we overheard her conversing with a regular. She had just moved to this small town two weeks ago. Maybe this was why she stood out as unusually kind - she was new.

Later that night, after we ate, after we went to church, I was thinking about the waitress. I felt sorry we left so abruptly. I wonderedwhy she moved. Divorce? An affair? A cheating husband? Death? Lost her job? Filed bankruptcy? There is no way to know. Then it hit me. She was the Samaritan woman!

My question came back and punched me in the face. Which is more comfortable for you: risking a scandalous, smokey talk with a Samaritan woman or listening to a history lesson with your friends?

Church is not a bad place, it is a good place. Church is not the problem. Learning about the Bible is not a bad thing, it is an important thing. If only church could become a place where people are encouraged to open their eyes to see the Samaritan woman and moved to speak with her. The business of followers of Jesus is scandalous speech and not secure learning.

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