Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Religious Bullies, or, April in Wackoland

My little guy has been watching Mickey Mouse for the past two years. Who can blame him? Mickey is cute and non-threatening. The plots are pointless and the colors are garishly bright. It's got just the right amount of preschool-stuff to appease his attention span.

Somewhere between the fifth and thirty-fifth episodes we've watched together, something started




Pete the Cat is a bully.

And Mickey totally enables him.

With a chuckle and a gosh-gee and a let's-find-a-mousketool, Mickey Mouse cowers to Pete's ridiculous demands every. single. time. Recently, Carter’s attentions have turned to another Disney character, Jake, who actually stands up to his bullies every single time. Thank God for progress in the world of cartoons.

I had an encounter with a bully last week. 

A religious bully.

I was perusing the aisles of Whole Foods, soaking up every ounce of silence while the kids played at Grandma's house. As I pushed my cart towards the baking aisle, a man headed the opposite direction passed by me and would have been totally anonymous but for the fact that he muttered loud enough to be heard:

Read the Bible.  

No eye contact. No pausing. No breaking stride.

Excuse me? I whirled my cart around.

Did you just tell me to read the Bible? 

His whole demeanor softened, changed. He smiled but shrunk into his shoulders a bit as if he'd never been caught before in his game of drive-by-evangelism.

Yes, I did. He walked toward me.

Well, I'm a Christian, I do read the Bible. In fact, my husband is a pastor here in town. And I just want to tell you that your method isn't working. If you truly felt compelled to talk with me, you should have stopped and made the time for conversation, you know, find something you have in common with me and then share what you have to say…

You didn't even make eye contact with me.

He stammered, Well, you know, sometimes you don't have time for that. I figured it couldn't hurt.  

I totally disagree. I said. It does hurt. The way you just did that comes across as judgmental and condemning. It will only push people further away. Jesus gave people a sense of dignity when he interacted with them.

Well, he continued to deflect, I just do what the Holy Spirit tells me to. You know, maybe you were supposed to hear that you should read your Bible. 

I do read my Bible. I did this morning. And the Bible says we are to worship God with our minds, so I want you to consider the fact that your method isn't working. Pray about it, if you have to.

And with that, I was off to find my coconut oil. 

I had a whole 'nother hour to myself, a vacuum of mind-space immediately saturated with wittier, more sarcastic versions of the conversation. I was freaking awesome in my If-Only-I'd-Said-This-Instead conversation. You should have seen me.

But even then, I knew I responded the way I did, restrained, and sprinkled with Christianese to buy myself the street cred, because I thought there may have been a time,

a long time ago

when Bob the Religious Bully really cared about people reading the Bible. The Holy Spirit may have legitimately prompted him to talk with people he didn't know and he may have been entirely moved and motivated by a love for others and a love for God.

Maybe, I considered, he's just gotten pigeon-holed into some hyper-spiritual Christian community that's so out of touch with what's normal that he needed a girl shopping Whole Foods to help him towards a reality check.


It made me wonder about the others to which Bob the Religious Bully has dropped a condescending line or two.

It made me wonder how many of you have been religious-bullied, in one form or another.

And it made me wonder about the times I’ve thrown my spiritual weight around, carelessly knocking people over with my immature and untempered zeal.

I think the reason I gave Bob the time of day is that I was reminded of a younger and more immature version of myself in the [failed] attempt to do something good. Ya’ll, I did some weird stuff in the name of Jesus back in the day.

And while I'm not stuck condemning myself, wisdom teaches me to lean into the regret long enough to learn from it. And I am sorry.

I’d like it if I could apologize on the behalf of all the other religious bullies out there. I’d like it if this post could help heal those of you who have been wounded.

And I’d like it if one less Bob could drop one less line while walking through the grocery store.

May Jesus change our hearts, bullies and bullied alike. The aisle that separates us isn’t as wide as we think it is.

And ten minutes after my conversation with Bob, a John-Wayne-ish older guy walked by me, leaned in and said with a drawl, "You look like Liz Lemon." Not kidding. I promptly headed for the check out. 

And then a wasp bit me as I was getting in my car.

What about you? Have you been religious-bullied? 
How did you work through it in your relationship with God?


  1. Good for you – that’s not love at all. Drive by evangelism. God gets the black eye.

    and amen, “And it made me wonder about the times I’ve thrown my spiritual weight around, carelessly” – me too. We all mess up.

    Thank you for this. God bless and keep you and all of yours

  2. p.s. the end stuff is funny - hope I'm not considered a BLAMMO :)