There were 3 women sitting at the table next to me at lunch the other day. I am not one to eavesdrop and I am pretty deaf in restaurants even were I to be so inclined. But it was hard not to catch snippets of their animated discussion about one woman's husband who had, so I gather, become disenchanted with the particular Big Box church out in West Little Rock they had been attending.
The first sign of trouble began when the husband in question, "Jerry," had lost interest in and quit going to, a marriage enrichment class offered by this particular church. Without knowing all of the particulars, I would have to say that I tend to side with Jerry. Most of my buddies who have had to endure such classes and/or couples counseling found them to be, shall we say, productive. But now it appears that Jerry won't go to church at all. This was where one of the women encouraged her sister in arms to put her foot down.
"Unfortunately, and I hate to say it, but you are going to have to take responsibility for your family's spiritual growth, "she said. " Now this is going to threaten Jerry. You know how you handle this?"
"No. How?" Mrs. Jerry asked.
"You tell him 'Jerry this isn't about you. It's about God.' "
"That's right." said the third rail.
It's not about Jerry. It's about God. That was it? Really?
For some reason I instantly recalled the story about Voltaire on his deathbed. It is said that the Church had sent a priest to try one last time to convert the unabashed atheist philosopher and polemicist. Voltaire's eyes were failing him late in life so he could not fully make out the shadowy being hovering over his bed.
"Who is there?" Voltaire asked.
" I was sent by God," replied the cleric.
" Your credentials, Sir," Voltaire is said to have famously replied.
Religious discourse, like many other areas of modern discourse, has been reduced to coded language and sound bites. This should not be surprising. As Dr. Christie told generations of future Methodist preachers, "Religion always adapts to the social milieu of the time." And American society, in the age of instant information, wants instant certitude.
Which brings me back to the ladies and Jerry. "It's not about you it's about God" has got a nice ring to it, but it rings about as true as its equally unbelievable cousin that is typically trotted out when people are extricating themselves from relationships: "It's not about you it's about me."
Of couuuuuurrrrrrrrse it's about you. You want out. This is self-evident.
But why is Mrs. Jerry's insistence that he attend church "about God?" Sure, it's about God in the sense that this is why people go to church. I don't know these folks from the Man in the Moon, but I think an equally plausible explanation is that is not just about Jerry or God. It's about her. And them as much as it is "about God."
It's just a sound bite. And it is as authoritarian as it is completely unprovable. Which makes it such a 2010 kind of thing to say.
This women all seemed very earnest and determined. I'm sure they believe they have Mr. and Mrs. Jerry's best interests at heart. But any solution that sounds like it would be at home on a bumper sticker probably isn't much of a solution.
But I know this. I'm glad I ain't Jerry. Because he is fixin' to catch Unshirted Hell come Sunday morning. And unlike Voltaire, it would behoove him to keep sarcasm to a minimum.