Thursday, April 18 2024 - 3:48 AM
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Interrupting Rituals

Sometimes it feels like we Christians are intellectual giants and, at the same time, emotional idiots. More than once, I have been inspired by the profound teachings of a gifted pastor or theologian only to bump into their son or daughter at a youth event and find a deep sense of confusion or pain in their heart and home that is driving them to abandon ship. I know we are not perfect. Yet it seems that we have to start somehow holding each other more accountable to matters of love and marriage, or we come off like smart mean people.


Think about it. What is the scariest kind of person out there? I am no trained psychologist, but in my simple understanding of human behavior, someone who is really mentally sharp, and at the same time emotionally inept, yes, they’ve got to be the scariest kind. Sociopaths, we call some of them. And aren’t they people who are disconnected from their hearts, their emotions, and yet really smart with a huge dose of head knowledge (that they apply in bazaar, destructive patterns)?

Ted Bundy was smart. He had a head full of knowledge and a keen mind. Yes, and Ted could tell you how he murdered people while forking potatoes into his mouth. There’s an extreme case of being emotionally shut down. And as dramatic as this may sound, I believe this is the enemy’s dream for us. People who have all this amazing knowledge about God but remain emotionally frozen. i.e., people whose heads are Bible packed and who’s hearts are shut off, hard as a rock. What could be worse? What would someone like that do with all their knowledge? Make a painful mess based on Bible verses? It’s not hard to imagine.

Emotional Authority?

I have sat in meetings where leaders have effortlessly unpacked these profound truths we hold dear, yes, and we hum along in the comfort of our rituals. But then, someone gets steamed up and launches into an emotional attack, and suddenly there is silence. Dead silence. This is the heart level. Someone has been treated wrong, verbally harpooned, and nobody seems to want to touch it with a ten-foot pole. We walk in authority with so many crucial doctrines. Yet it seems that when it comes to the doctrine of love or right relatedness, you know, the doctrine Jesus said was most important, we don’t seem to walk in the same authority or act with the same clarity.

It’s like we know how to counsel and do so without confusion when it comes to someone expounding on Heaven, how Jesus will come, or even what baby Moses was doing floating down the Nile in a basket. Yes, we’re there, and bam, we can clarify. But what about when we notice a couple limping along in a dysfunctional marriage week after week? What about when a parent is emotionally lambasting their six-year old in the foyer of the church for acting like a six-year old? And what about when a spiritual leader goes on for five minutes about the faults of so and so, and all under the guise of “let’s pray for them, and here’s why?” Who jumps in then? Who can deal with that situation from the teachings of Jesus with clarity and authority?

Attempting Rituals

It’s like a friend of mine asked once after watching a father elbow strangle his seven-or-so-year-old and drag him from the worship service. (I think we were all singing something about the joy of the Lord at the time.) Who’s going to teach that man how to love his son? Who’s going to tell him that’s the point of us all being here in this room and singing? And at that moment, I felt frustration all over me. Here we were attempting rituals while a relationship was being demolished before our very eyes. Wasn’t this whole thing about relationships in the first place? Wasn’t that the point?

It’s sobering to me how clueless we are to the center of God’s heart. God is love. And as John said, we can’t love God any more than we love each other, so where does that put loving each other? Pretty high up there, if you ask me. And that’s why I find it so distressing that we find all this meaning in rituals where the leaders write out their scripts like a play and we all watch—our emotions heightened by the theatrics of it, and nobody knows what’s really going on inside each of us. In fact, get that little seven-year-old out of the meeting hall fast; he’s interrupting our rituals.


Unfortunately, it’s no secret that you can experience more mean rejection inside a church than you probably will inside a bar in today’s world. Think about it logically. Would you rather have people that don’t give a rip about your eternal destination but see, accept, and relate to you just how you are, no questions asked? Or people who care about where you’ll end up in 70 years, but will only relate to you, love you, and accept you on several arbitrary conditions they’ve listed in their creed books? Are you kidding me? It’s a no-brainer.

If you liked this, you might also enjoy Not Religious Enough 

Clarissa Worley Sproul writes from the Pacific Northwest.

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About Claire Worley

Claire Worley

writes from the Pacific Northwest.

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