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Being Right 2 – Where Everybody Knows Your Name

Being loved is more attractive than being right and people respond better to it.

I discovered this by accident at our first church home. I was a teenager and, like most teens, a self-exalted authority on life. I tolerated others’ views like the college professor I would one day have, who stated, “I can afford to be narrow — I’m right.” The church reflected this same attitude in many respects. Like most dogmatic groups, they could give chapter and verse for each of their beliefs and could argue them into the night. Of course, others would use the same verses to “prove” other things, but that’s beside the point.

My nature is to challenge dogmatic ideas, so, naturally, I contested every pet doctrine, and found myself on the opposing side of just about everything my little church stood for.

My first thought, after determining that they were wrong about everything, was to change them. Mind you, I could barely drive myself to church by this time, but I had already pronounced judgment and developed an action plan for fixing them. It didn’t work. People would just smile and pat me on the head. My second tactic was to leave and attend a more enlightened church.

Guess what I found? The next church was just as screwed up as the first one, only in different areas. I felt like running into a phone booth and emerging in spandex and a red cape. I had found my calling—I needed to fix the church—Que Rocky Theme Song…

Over the years I began to realize that the organized church’s biggest obstacle is the very thing that it thinks is its greatest strength. While its true strength is something that it overlooks as a given.

This began to dawn on me in the late eighties. In those days I met with a group of people on Thursday nights that were regular, dysfunctional people, without excuse or pretense. I’m sure they wouldn’t mind if I mention their names. There was Sam Malone, a former pitcher for the Boston Red Sox; Diane Chambers, Rebecca Howe, Carla Tortelli, Woody Boyd, Norm Peterson, and Cliff Clavin, who worked as a mail carrier. There was a psychiatrist named Frasier Crane; an old timer, Ernie Pantusso, who everybody just called Coach, and Lilith Sternin-Crane.

This band of misfits gathered at a bar in Boston, and I joined them faithfully every Thursday evening after dinner even though I lived on the West coast. They even had a song. It was called, “Where Everybody Knows Your Name.” The sentiment in the song was simple: life is hard and times are tough and it would be nice to have a group of people among whom you could just be yourself in all your quirky, dysfunctional splendor – a place where everybody knows you and they are glad you came. Nice, huh?

What was it that made the Cheers gang so embraceable? Part of their magic was that they were like Patrick and John—they loved each other and accepted each others’ oddly imperfect condition.

Another reason they resonated with America was because life is hard. The world exerts an unseen pressure on every person, regardless of age or vocation that is exhausting. It is a continual weight that is always pushing you down like a playground bully and you need a few people among whom you can just be yourself and know you’ll be safe and loved no matter what.

This is the crux of the problem of the organized church.

Our greatest asset is the fact that we love the way Jesus loved. We love, we accept, we forgive, we embrace and build up the weary. But if you look at what we actually do, it seems that we view love as a not-so-remarkable given. So we seek to separate ourselves from the other churches by means of unique programming and doctrine. We structure our churches using business models that trade relationship, and honest conversation for entertaining programs, persuasive preaching, and unspoken competition with other churches. We seem to think that’s what people want, or what God wants, but it isn’t. Not by miles.

I want to go to church at “Cheers.” I want to go where people want to know me, the real me, not the victorious me, but the broken me. The one I am when nobody’s looking. The one we all are before God at night when we confess for having forgotten Him again. I want to be embraced and to embrace others with the greatest miracle in the world, God’s agape love.

“Cheers” reminded me that this is exactly the kind of church that I had left. The one I felt the need to fix. It was hard to see, but beyond the big banner of minor things that they held forth as major things, lay their greatest asset, the very thing that drew me to Christ and to them. Just past the haughty dogma and what I viewed as shallow, narrow-mindedness, was hidden their true power and life—the love of Jesus.

Beneath all the unsavory churchiness they were like the “Cheers” gang without the booze. They knew me, loved me, and wanted the best for me. If I could tell pastors and leaders one thing it would be that people are still looking for that.

If all people see of the church of Jesus Christ are mega-campuses and light shows with slick, professional bands and polished, type-A leaders that insulate themselves like they are running a country instead of a community of faith, then we will continue to effectively hide that which is our greatest strength, and people will continue to seek relief elsewhere.

All that other stuff is crap, it really is. We don’t need to be the best, and we don’t need to be slick. We don’t need to be right all the time. We have so much more to offer. What people need, what people really want, is to be loved, appreciated, valued, and listened to. Sometimes you want to go, where everybody knows your name, and they're always glad you came.

"Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light." Matthew 11:28-30