Pink Elephant Dreams

… And I don’t mean that I’m dreaming while I’m drunk.

I had the strangest dream this morning.  I dreamed that I was in my local church, going about my normal routine, when one of the ladies in our congregation walked in the front door wearing no clothes.  Naked as the day she was born.  And she wasn’t one of the fit, slender ladies in our congregation, either.  She’s a big girl.

In my dream, she had been doing this for many weeks – just walking into church on Sunday morning as naked as a jaybird.  The problem was, no one was saying anything about it.  Not the pastor, not the elders, not any of the laymen.  Everyone either turned away in disgust, or they acted like it wasn’t happening.  The air in the church was positively thick with tension and anxiety, yet no one was willing to state the obvious – we had a woman walking around our church naked on Sunday morning.

Since this had been going on for weeks and no one had the courage to speak up, I finally got irritated, walked up to her, and said “For the love of God, would you put some clothes on?”

Gasps all around.  Looks of consternation from the rest of the laymen.  Hushed whispers about “How dare he speak to her like that” and “Who does he think he is, anyway?”  The pastor took me by the arm and led me to another room, where he admonished me for not “speaking the truth in love”, for not being more patient with her, and for saying something so offensive to her.

I responded with, “Why is it that a fat woman can walk into church naked for weeks on end, but the second I ask her to put some clothes on, it’s ME who gets in trouble?  Why aren’t you dealing with the person who’s actually causing the problem?”

And then I woke up.

The problem is, this dream mirrors my real life too closely.

I don’t mean the “naked people in church” part, though.  I mean the part about pink elephants.

The “pink elephant” I’m referring to is the issues that are affecting my church, that are clearly visible (to me at least), that are having a detrimental impact on our church’s ability to move forward, are affecting the ability to have healthy relationships within the body, and are leading to actual spiritual breakdowns in our leadership, and yet it seems like no one wants to talk about it. It’s like having an enormous pink elephant in the room, and then watching everyone try to act like it’s not there.

I’ll tell you, it has me tied up in knots.  It really does.

Somewhere in our culture, I think we lost track of how to gauge whether or not you’re dealing with problems effectively.  There’s a pervasive mindset in the church nowadays (at least the churches I’ve attended in my life) which says that the way to tell if you handled a situation effectively is by how the person you dealt with responds to it.  If that person seems okay with what you said or did, then you did the right thing.  If that person gets their shorts in a twist, then you did the wrong thing.

Unfortunately, I don’t think that mindset has any basis in reality whatsoever.

We deal with lawbreakers by putting them in jail.  We deal with tax cheats by levying steep fines.  We deal with petulant children by  administering some sort of parental punishment.  We deal with ineffective lawmakers by voting them out of office.  At no point in any of these do we let “how they felt about it” become the metric for whether or not we did the right thing.

Yet within the scope of the church, we treat hurt feelings as the Ultimate Sin.  We allow sin (or even just socially unacceptable behavior) to go on unabated, and we tell ourselves that we’re “being patient”, or that we’re “dealing with them in love”, or we make the bogusly magnanimous statement that “I’ve been guilty of that same thing, so I can’t speak out against that person”.  We tiptoe around issues that should be dealt with decisively, because God forbid that anyone get offended by anything.  May the good Lord have mercy on our souls if we cause even one of these children to feel self-conscious.

Obviously, then, Jesus was in the wrong in John chapter 2 when he fashioned a bullwhip and cleared all the money changers out of the tabernacle.  Obviously the Son of God was in error in Matthew chapter 16 when he told Peter “Get thee behind me, Satan”.  Jesus was clearly out of line in Matthew chapter 12 when he called the Pharisees a “brood of vipers”.  Directly addressing people in such a manner may have been permissible in Biblical times when people were much less evolved, but the is the 21st century, we’re much more enlightened, and that kind of disregard for peoples’ feelings won’t be tolerated anymore.

Is that really how we look at it?  God help us if we do.

From my seat in the bleachers, my church is falling apart at the seams.  I can see it as clearly as if you were showing me a movie on a 72″ 1080p screen.

My problem is, I’ve tried to speak to the people that I think are responsible, but I think it’s all gone in one ear and out the other.  I don’t think any of my words have been heard.  I’ve tried the “speaking the truth in love” routine as we practice it in the modern church, and I think all it’s done is lull people into complacency because there’s insufficient motivation for people to change if you tiptoe around their feelings.

When I was a young boy, I got caught stealing toys from a local store.  My mother didn’t worry about my feelings, she worried about my future.  She didn’t sit down with me and make an impassioned plea to my feelings about stealing.  She took me downtown to the police station and turned me in to the cops. I got interrogated, fingerprinted, mugshot, handcuffed, and taken to a cell.  It scared the crap out of me, and I’ve never stolen since.

If Mom had been concerned with my feelings more than with doing what was needed to break the cycle, I could very well have become an adult criminal.

I love my church, and I love the people who are in it.  Unfortunately, my fear is that God is about to put a limit to His patience with regards to our pink elephant issues.

It won’t be fun when that happens.