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LOEWEN: Too many churches, not enough love

Image Credit: Contributed/Jeffrey Loewen
May 21, 2014 - 7:06 AM

I don't believe in an interventionist God
But I know, darling, that you do
But if I did I would kneel down and ask Him
Not to intervene when it came to you
Not to touch a hair on your head
To leave you as you are
And if He felt He had to direct you
Then direct you into my arms

— Nick Cave, “Into My Arms”

Religion, so goes the old adage, along with politics, money and sex, are topics not to be discussed in polite company.

No doubt this is the reason why so much chit-chat tends to be mind-numbingly BORING.

I can see you now, gentle reader, at that Victoria Day barbeque: The new deck at your hostess’s pad festooned with locavore foodstuffs, and more varietals of Okanagan wine than you can possibly sample responsibly.

And it’s a damn shame that you can’t drink that much these days (the cash-grabbing new regulations governing BC’s laws concerning drinking and driving will be reserved for another day). Because only alcohol will leaven the brain with enough forbearance to accommodate the dullest of party-circuit chatter.

I nodded in sage remembrance of the situation as described by fellow-columnist The Grumpy Old Git in recent weeks. I too have often ached with false smiles and even falser sincerity whilst gamely enduring the latest round of stories about Brandon’s braces, or young Willow’s wandering attention and prescription drug regimen. The only thing worse is hearing stories about your friends’ savings with Groupon, or their latest thoughts on their own body-enhancements and their plans for future tattoos and piercings.

So where is the meat, friend? I’ll tell you. Religion, politics, money and sex. Best topics in the World, brother. And today I will start the ball rolling with a little bit about our pious, nominally Christian community.

You got it, daddio. Religion here we come!

If you live in or visit the central Okanagan, you’ll discover our jewel of a city: Kelowna. Once you get past the snarl of traffic at the foot of our new bridge, and get off our main drag, you’ll start to notice them popping up like gargantuan dandelions on steroids. Churches! And LOTS of them – maybe more per capita than almost anywhere in the Dominion.

And inside the churches are, you guessed it: Christians. It’s where they worship their God; and, just as importantly, it’s where they gather for a sense of community, and for at least an hour each week not say anything but to listen to the Word and reflect on their World and their place in it under God’s Heaven. There is nothing wrong with this, of course. Personal conscience and world-views dictate this kind of phenomenon, and that’s how it should be, I figure.

But sometimes the Christian can act a little weird, let’s face it. And I’m not just talking about the usual public displays of fast-food prayer at your local McDicks. I’m talking about the (for me at least) head-scratchingly weird Christian cats who tend to think that God is somehow minding their personal affairs, like an awful micro-manager, on a minute-by-minute basis. A couple of examples will suffice.

Most of you know that I am a proud career salesman. For a time I even sold home electronics and appliances at a local big box retailer. Most of the clients I came to know were pleasant locals, eager to get their paws on the latest and greatest gear available, while others would come in of necessity when their appliances broke down.

On one memorable occasion, a vivacious young lady had just chosen a fridge and was ready to pay for it when I suggested the dreaded extended warranty that we were compelled to offer each and every time with a quick run through a T-Bar list comparing manufacturer and big-box retailer warranties. “Oh... I won’t be needing one of those,” the gal beamed at me while fluttering her eyelashes. “God’s got it covered already.” “Really?” I countered. “Didn’t your last fridge break down?” “It sure did,” our gal rejoiced. “He knew that we’ve been needing something new for years. And He’ll be the one to let me know when I’ll need the next one too.” And with that, I rang in her sale and bid her a pleasant Sunday.

Now just so you don’t think this is anomalous, allow me another example.

I had recently begun my career in instrument sales ten years ago when I encountered another client with special perks from Above. The gentleman had been testing out some new guitar amplifiers. As the acoustic guitarist in his church’s Praise Team he was looking for something not too heavy, but with enough guts to do the weekly gig. Once we’d zoned in on a great Traynor amplifier, I asked him how he would like to pay for the purchase. “Oh, let’s do it on the financing options you’ve got available.” “No probs. Just fill out this credit application and we’ll get you on your way.”

Approaching from the office after running the credit check, I noticed something strange.

Clustered in a group of three were my client and his two friends, holding hands and encircling the amplifier. With heads bowed they were praying. Not wanting to disturb I receded into the shadows cast by Marshall stacks and simply observed. When they were done, they seemed to collectively exhale and mouth their Amens and with (again) beaming faces approached the counter to complete the business at hand.

“Well, we’ve been praying to know that this amp is God’s will for me, Jeffrey. What do we do next?” It was heart-breaking for me to tell him that we could not approve the financing of their purchase because the gentleman had declared bankruptcy the year before and had a perennial history of delinquent debt payments. But somehow he felt entitled, through the grace of God, to the amplifier in question.

Now, like Nick Cave, I am not a believer in the kind of interventionist God that will facilitate personal pleas. But I am a strong believer in religious faith to lead to good works in this sad and beautiful World of ours. After all, The Bible enjoins us to be our brothers’ keepers and to not harm the innocent ones. Which is why I am so sorry to have to tell you about a more recent experience from the retail front lines.

The Okanagan seemed to welcome many Jamaicans last year. We wanted them to work in our orchards and farm fields. Others worked in local factories or as domestics in the homes of the well-to-do. Towards the end of the autumn, a group of about eight Jamaican men came into our shop; and, presto, I was happy to see more colour than I have seen since leaving Vancouver so many years ago. All of a sudden our town didn’t seem so antiseptically white. And in my estimation, that’s a very good thing. Diversity in the gene pool and the culture is always good, wouldn’t you agree?

Like many visitors of colour to our Okkkanagan Valley, these black cats didn’t want to make a scene or draw too much attention to themselves. They coolly demo’d a little micro bass amplifier head and settled on buying it to return to Jamaica with, now that their work for the season was done. They sounded great. The cat on bass thumped out a chest-pounding reggae bass line that augured fun for the whole family, while another cat accompanied on a djembe he’d snagged from the hand percussion department. I was in Heaven.

As we discussed their time in the Okkkanagan, I asked. “So, guys. How has your time been here?” They all smiled and nodded their heads (their English was not that great and they seemed a little shy) suggesting that everything had been a-okay. But when I pressed them with, “No seriously, man. We’re not used to seeing too many black folks in these parts. Did the people welcome you here?” Again, smiles, but an uncomfortable silence was building. “Let me guess,” I averred… “Too many churches and not enough Love?”

And with that, my new client said, “Ya Mon!!! That ees eet! Too many churches. Not enuff Love, mon!” ALL of his friends nodded as they repeated the phrase; and out came the stories of fearful locals, quailing at their approach on the street; orchardists short-changing them and not showing them the respect afforded even the dwindling number of orchard workers from Quebec; random racial epithets hurled their way on weekends while out on the town. It was a sad commentary for a place so filled to overflowing with flocks of the Faithful.

Now, dear reader, I don’t want to bring you down. But, for the love of God, why are we so niggardly with our welcomes to those from without? If we want to walk the walk and talk the talk of Jesus’s marvelous message, it means more than praying for our own enrichment through consumption. Indeed, if we can’t look our brother in the eye and meet him in the middle-space where I and a Thou can exist, well, you can build another fifty megachurches and we won’t be an inch closer to our Heavenly final reward. Heaven starts right here, my friend, and it’s not limited to your weekly dose from the Preacher Man.

And finally, if this is something you can’t discuss in polite company, you may as well cut out your tongue, man; because you’ve got nothing to say.

From the Son of a Preacher Man.
Amen.

News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2014
InfoTel News Ltd

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