The title sounds like the start to a bad joke doesn’t it? Here I was checking out at Walmart, trying to be polite by making small talk with the cashier. Just to give you a visual, this particular gal had some pretty rotten teeth, long, wavy dishwater grey hair, long and curled yellow nails…need I go on? (I’m not judging here….there would be plenty of that going on later. Just painting you a picture before I go on with my story.) I couldn’t believe how my tattoo had, once again, stirred up the following conversation:
Black tooth had just rang my coffee through when I made a comment about having ran out of coffee and was in desperation this morning. She proceeded to tell me she couldn’t drink that “half-caff” stuff but had just been to the doctor after she drank a full pot of full-caff. Her blood pressure was high and she was already on high blood pressure medicine, high cholesterol medicine and a couple other things. I said something to the effect of taking better care of herself blah, blah, blah.
Black tooth: Well, as long as you know the Lord, it don’t matter what we do down here. You know where you’ll be spending eternity.
Me: It is important to know the Lord and to know where you’re going. (My first thought was hmmm…interesting…but let’s not go there…)
Black tooth: Yeah. My son’s best friend is dying from cancer. Real young guy too. My boy went over to go fishing with him and his dad the other day. The boys were getting all the stuff together and when they went in to get the dad, there he was laid back in the recliner with a picture of his family on his lap, a cigarette in his hand and a smile on his face. I figured he went to heaven ‘cause nobody going to hell would die with a smile on their face. ‘Sides that, he talked to God every day.
Now there’s some sound theology.
Black tooth continued: That’s how I wanna go, ya know? With a smile on my face and a cigarette in my hand, talking to the Father.
What does one say here people? Get me the heck out of here!
Me: It’s good that he talked to God every day. I love having conversations with my Father.
Black tooth: Oh. You’re a Christian? You have the mark of a pagan. (As she looks down at my tattoo.) My Mom used to beat us kids for making any marks on our skin. It’s a pagan practice. Not Christian.
Then a voice from behind me says: I’m a pagan and I love my tattoo!
Me: Well, I’m a Christian and I love mine as well.
Pagan lady: I’ll never be one of those!
Me: Really? May I ask why?
Pagan lady: Because all Christians are fake.
Me: Oh, I hate that you think that! Can I challenge you to come to church with me and I can introduce you to some real people with real issues who don’t pretend to be more than they are?
Pagan lady: Where do you go to church?
Me: Christ’s Church at Mason just down the road.
Pagan lady: Oh my mother-in-law goes there and she’s part of the reason I want nothing to do with you people.
Me: I’m sorry to hear that. You could still come. And sit with me.
Meanwhile, a little old white haired lady pops her head up over pagan lady’s shoulder and says to me: Excuse me miss. What church did you say you go to?
Me (wishing I hadn’t bought so many groceries): Christ’s Church at Mason.
Disgruntled church lady: I went there for 47 years. I quit when they fired all the administration.
Oh. My. Word! You are not helping me out here, disgruntled church lady!!
Me to Pagan lady: I don’t know all the ends and outs of all that but I do know several people retired last fall.
Pagan lady shakes her head and gives me that, “and you wonder why I don’t want to go to church” look.
Oh but that’s not all….Black Tooth has a question for me…
Black tooth: So did you get that pagan mark before or after becoming a Christian? Because if it was before He can forgive you.
Me: Oh no. I got it last fall. I’ve been a Christian since I was 16.
Black tooth (with a look of pity and a slight tsk tsk in her voice): Well, I sure am sorry to say it, but I’m afraid you may have stepped over the line. You knew what you was doin’ and went and did it anyways. Not sure God can forgive that.
(More sound theology…)
Pagan lady (with a thumb pointing over her shoulder and a head nod in Black Tooth’s direction): These people are exactly why I will never be a Christian.
Me: Please don’t judge us by a hand full of people you know. God is so much more than this. If you come to church, ask for me and we’ll sit together, tattoos and all.
I can’t even.
The sad fact is I have been all three of these ladies (minus the black teeth and yellowed nails…)
I have been Black Tooth, judging people based more on how I was raised or what I thought I knew, with a skewed theology in one hand and a beating stick in the other. Not just beating others with it but myself as well. Knowing I will do something to step so far off the path that I cannot be forgiven. What I’ve come to discover is the more I know Christ, the more I recognize Grace. The more I recognize Grace for me, the more I extend it to others. (Like in a Walmart line. Smile.)
Then there’s Disgruntled Church Lady….been there and been her. Boy oh boy can we do some damage. I have spoken my mind and shared my opinion more than one time without any thought to who was listening or whose eternal future I may be influencing. Father forgive me. I now know there will never be a perfect church. We are all a hot mess in some way or another. We will never agree on every single thing. But be careful when and where you express yourself. There is a time and a place for that…not in a line at Walmart to total strangers and one who just said she would never be a Christian.
Here’s my likeness to Pagan Lady: I equated getting hurt by a few people in the church to God. If that’s what being a Christian and going to church was all about then I really didn’t see the need to go to church. I could still believe in God but I really didn’t want anything to do with the likes of “those” people. What I’ve learned is I can’t base my understanding of who God or Jesus is based on the actions of a handful of messed up people. I have to be in His word learning who He is, getting to know Him on a personal level without any outside influences. And He has shown me and will continue to show me. He has grown me and will continue to grow me. He has loved me and will continue to love me. Tattoo and all.
From the trenches!