sawdust, planks and doctors

I would like to share a story that was one of the most influential in shaping my faith.  This is a true story that talks of someone else’s failure, but also of my own.  It was my personal wake-up call from God, but I didn’t realize it until much later.  It happened a few years ago, at the end of my sophomore year in High School. 

I was on a school trip to Washington D.C. at an International Convention for Christian youth.  It was a very prestigious event, packed with thousands upon thousands of students and adults from all over the world.  I won’t name the organization because this isn’t about picking on them, but suffice it to say they are a very strict sect of people and follow their religious doctrine to the hilt.  One of their many rules was a highly conservative dress-code.  There were “inspectors” to check the student’s clothes and a couple of “check-points” you had to go through constantly to be approved.   One of my chaperones, in an attempt to lighten the mood while he was being “checked out” (Okay, maybe that phrase wasn’t necessary…but there really is something uncomfortable and perverted about strangers examining and, at times touching, the clothing on your chest and waste.  I’m just sayin’….) Anyway, my chaperone jokingly kidded about hearing that it was “harder to get through here than it is the Pearly Gates!”  to the gentleman inspecting him.  LOL.  He was brave! He got a very polite and professional reply about how it may seem that way to some people. 

Well, one of these checkpoints was the cafeteria.  If you were not in full appropriate attire (including ties for the guys!) you were not allowed to eat.  This is a very important rule to understand in relation to my story.

Some of the things that took place at this rally were outdoor athletic competitions.  Now, proper attire for women at this place meant long skirts.  Obviously, that is a hazard when playing sports, so the rules were bent a little.  There was a specific kind of athletic attire for women, horrendous outfits such as you’d never see anywhere else, but at least they were safe.  One catch to this blessed leniency was that the kids (both girls and boys, as boys had to wear athletic clothes as well) must change before being accepted back inside through any of those dress-code “checkpoints.”

It was the beginning of summer, hotter than a pistol, and a group of girls were doing track relays.  The organizers of the event tried to pump as much water into the girls as they could, but there were A LOT of people and its a difficult feat to keep them all hydrated.  Understandably, people got sick.  I don’t know how many, but this one girl’s story broke my heart.  I don’t know her name, as I never met her, but for the sake of confusion I’ll just call her Kate.

When Kate grew sick, a nearby nurse rushed to her side.  They took her out of the hot sun, and she sat on a bench inside the entryway of the school.  Water was brought to her, but it was quickly diagnosed that Kate hadn’t eaten anything lately and she needed food to get her energy up.  However, Kate was refused entry to the cafeteria, despite her emergency circumstances, due to the fact that she was still in her athletic clothes.

Kate was not able to change clothes.  I don’t remember exactly why.  Her “appropriate” clothing could have been on their bus that had been taken away to fill up on gas or repairs, she could have forgotten her garment bag back at her hotel room, or any number of circumstances that I can only speculate about.  What I do know is that Kate remained sick and was forced to stay in the perimeter of the building, not able to make it through the checkpoints.  Not only was she not allowed to go inside to eat, but no one brought food out to her, either.

That evening there was a rally, which happens every night.  All the people attending gather into a huge gymnasium to worship God and hear sermons from several different preachers.  My group had found seats and was waiting to start.  One of my teachers came in a few minutes behind us with a few students whom she had escorted to the bathroom.  As my teacher sat near me, she told my friends and I that she had seen the same sick girl from earlier in the day–Kate. (Coincidence?  Did I mention this place was flooded with thousands of people from all over the world?)  What my teacher said broke my heart: Kate was still sick, and she was in the bathrooms sitting next to a toilet throwing up.  I’m not sure just how or what she was upheaving, as she hadn’t eaten…probably breakfast.

So here’s the ugly picture:  world-reknown pianist leads leagues of young people in worshipping God, animated preacher yells and jumps and warns these future generations of the world how they “ought” to act and, as one, the crowd bows heads–some kneel– as they confess their sins and invite the Holy Spirit’s presence into their big room of Faith and Righteousness while just down the hall, a child of God is shunned and left weakened and alone in her time of need.  When it comes to the Spirit of God, I don’t believe he was in that big auditorium…I think He was the only One willing to go into that bathroom.

My failure comes in to play in a big way here.  Why did I listen to this story and get angry with the organization running this event but not help Kate out myself?  Why did I not search out this “sick girl” I was hearing about, use my own meal ticket to buy food, and bring it out to her?  Why did I not immediately leave the rally, rush to the bathroom and ask if I could help her?  Get her a cool cloth for her forehead, search the halls until I located a vending machine with something in it (the cafeteria had long-since closed) or even visit with her to keep her company?  I have thought of this often throughout the years and mourned the fact that in high school I was apparently living a type of puffed-up, self-righteous religion.  I was beyond angry with the organization for allowing something like this, but was ignoring the fact that I was responsible, too.

Religion has always struggled when it has been given limits and become “organized.”  Organized Religion is now a term that frightens me.  The people running this conference may have had pure hearts that were in the right place, but once they tried to practice their dream of a religious event, people became hurt.  That was inevitable, really.  You can’t have that many people together without rules to keep order and you can’t have enough employees to make sure sad stories such as the one I’ve just told are prevented.  That would be superhuman. 

But as a Christian, I believe my faith to be something personal.  No matter where I am, the one-on-one connection that I have with my Savior changes how I act.  So where I can rationalize excuses for the organization, I cannot for myself.  I was just so busy hating the people running this event and angrily pointing out their errors in this story, that at the time, I failed to recognize mine.

Matthew 7:3: “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?

I temporarily forgot that my job in this world is to be the hands and feet of Jesus, who specifically stated that He came to heal the sick

I now understand why people hate religion or fear it.  I realize that many people experience stories like these.  They’ve been ostracized, shunned, hurt.  They’ve seen Christianity be cruel.   I wish to God that I could stop stuff like this from happening!  But then I remember the very lesson this taught me: personal responsibility.  I counter the negative images of faith by living out positive ones for my friends to see, instead. 

To those of you who are not Christians and have nodded your head, relating to this story very well: I’m sorry.
To those of you who are followers of Christ:  I challenge you to stop worrying about others and simply LIVE like Christ.  Let’s go heal the sick together…

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3 Responses

  1. Great post. this is what I looking for, thanks

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