I overheard part of a conversation between two Christians. “How are you?” “Better than I deserve.” It got a bit awkward because the answer wasn’t understood and needed to be explained that being forgiven is better than is deserved. While I believe this is true, it made me angry. I had to figure out why.
I thought of Edgar Allan Poe’s, The Cask of Amontillado. In this story of revenge, Montresor lures Fortunado to his cellar in search of an elusive wine. At one point Fortunado, drunk and feeling pretty happy with himself, thinks he is in the company of a fellow Mason, and essentially does the secret sign. Montresor gives a look that says he does not know what Fortunado is doing. Asked if he is a Mason, Montresor says yes; pulling a trowel from beneath his cloak. Unfortunately for Fortunado, Montresor is about to entomb him in the cellar. It’s twisted, it’s so approPoe, and it’s an image I have never been able to forget. However God can redeem even the twisted mind of Poe.
In breaking down my “better than I deserve” anger, I realized it stemmed from the response being lazy and dishonest. The dysfunction of asking how someone is doing and not really caring aside, the answer bypassed the obligatory “Good”, but still managed to say nothing real. It was a throw away/standby answer that bought time and gave the speaker a safe distance under the guise of spiritual camaraderie.
Especially when overheard, we can go into oration mode and speak to the invisible masses instead of individuals. We take the greatest Truths and truncate them to bumper sticker cliche’s outside the application of our own lives and the things we are experiencing in an effort to remain the wizards of our own Oz. We must answer, but only in a way to keep the attention off of our true selves. I have two main issues with this.
- When we use club phrases with believers who make up the rest of the body of Christ, we take away the requirement to elaborate on our individual needs at the present. We think we are not allowed to let the inner thoughts be known and distance ourselves under the guise of connection and belonging. Only we feel disconnected, and are frightened of not truly belonging should we speak honestly.
- Too often the body of Christ communicates within a club mentality using snippets of Truth. We’ll say things unbelievers do not understand in a way to bait the conversation and wait for them to ask questions. We think saying “Better than I deserve”, and things like it, are our secret signs of belonging and an invitation for the curious to join our club. By saying weird and awkward things Jesus is lifted high because we are in the world but not of it? There is no theology of different. When the Truth of the salvation Jesus offers through his death, burial, and resurrection is known, we will be different because we cannot hold back the work of the Spirit of the living God.
These phrases have the opposite of the desired effect and become stones that we pile up to protect us from others. We wall ourselves alive from those who know Jesus and from those who don’t. The result however, is the same. We are isolated, ineffectual, and frightened. The only way out from being walled alive is to start removing the stones of verbal distance and replace them with the foundational building blocks of realness.