Heresy or Pharisee?

By Mollie Talbot

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Crop Tops and Curse Words

I stopped listening to worship a couple months ago. I also stopped censoring curse words and started wearing crop tops. This happened when I felt safe enough to begin thinking thoughts that "aren't allowed" in church. I started deconstructing the very things I'd previously clung to for strength. 

Just before this, in the depths of my depression, my husband and I got a babysitter and spent a day walking and talking in the woods. I came out that day holding a message from the Divine. It was: "We are doing good." This simple statement was more profound than any church message I'd tried to force into reality for the last year. I'd been serving, attending church, studying, and trying to will my behavior into transformation by checking boxes. I believed if I could just chip away at the theological hierarchy before me by having quiet times, memorizing verses (out of context), wearing modest clothing, and censoring my language, I'd get into heaven. But then everything crumbled in the form of a functional health crisis, and there stood God in the rubble saying, "You are good, and you are doing good." Now because God and I are rebuilding together, I find myself constantly asking, "Heresy or Pharisee, Lord? Show me Your way."

Some of the church messages I'm pulling apart are: 

  • Use your gifts (but not too much because someone will say you're self-promoting).

  • Be yourself because God loves you just as you are (even if people in the church won't).

  • Help the widowed and fatherless (but only during Christmas fundraisers).

  • Dress modestly (because women are responsible for keeping men from temptation).

  • And my favorite, "hate the sin, love the sinner." 

What the hell is that last one about? You're a sinner just like me and everyone else; do you routinely hate parts of yourself with some sideways hope of feeling more loved? No. So what about that ideology makes you think your 'neighbor' will somehow feel loved while you hate their sin? But, before I forget, don't say "what the hell" or other curse words because vowels and consonants arranged in that order keep you out of heaven, too. 

These confusing Christian messages sterilize us sexually, mentally, emotionally, and worst of all, spiritually. Crop tops and curse words become a greater transgression than your inability to sit with a member of the LGBTQ population or a woman who's had an abortion. It's this kind of knee-jerk assignment of right and wrong and the speed in which we see people as separate from their stories that slowly and painfully pull the wool over our eyes. In the meantime, this wool blurs the heart of the gospel. 

Love Your Neighbor

What do you honestly think when you see a Christian sister whose faith doesn't look like yours? What do you think of my crop tops and curse words? Is our connection to one another severed? Have you elevated yourself? Be honest, I won't mind because this is the kind of stuff I participated in for the first leg of my belief. But it doesn't feel right anymore, and I hope you're waking up, too.  

These muscle-memory judgments make it easy to forget the scriptures entirely when we see someone whose life experience separates them from us. Considering a homeless person, quickly their need and your commission to love them becomes less important than your self-protective judgment that says, "he's dirty, smoking a joint, just said the F word, and I have my kids with me." 

Maybe you're unable to consider the systemic racism the person holding the BLACK LIVES MATTER sign has seen in their lifetime, rolling your eyes and thinking, "white lives matter, too." 

So now let me ask, is my crop-top philosophy Heresy? Or are you a Pharisee? And what of that homeless man's drug addiction? Is it heresy to sit with him, in my crop-top, and say, "yeah man, some of us humans are shitty and I'm really sorry for that—but here's some money because even if you choose to shoot it in your arm I want you to know you're valued and worth me stopping to tell you so." 

Or, do you think Jesus called us to stand firmly on a moral high-ground that fuels the separation with thoughts of, "he's an addict and I'm not going to give him money if he's just going to buy booze," or "they're coming into our country illegally; who cares how they're being treated," or "she shouldn't be having sex if she didn't want to get pregnant." These are judgments, my Pharisee friends. Or are we reading different scriptures? 

Now while I came out of the woods holding an otherworldly profundity in the simple message of "we are doing good," there are new books and ideologies out that cheapen Grace. I won't go so far as to say they're heretical, but something about them makes me cringe. I don't believe I have everything within me, as it is, that is best for the world or kingdom. I can't just "wash my face" and "keep doin' me" because I'm really vibin' myself and God will understand. 

But, you know what I can do? Wear crop tops, say curse words, sing Metallica's 'No leaf Clover' at the top of my lungs, and ask Jesus what He thinks of all of it. Because writing in this crop-top while my two boys who eat too much sugar and watch too much tv sleep, I've never felt more mystified by God's movement in my life, or more compelled to continue my journey of "Heresy or Pharisee." By admitting that I often don't know the answer to that question, I place myself right where I belong, at the feet of God asking, What do YOU say of this? Not the pulpit, political party, podcast, or pinterest board. What did YOU create me to do? And how, today, can I champion for Your cause that said: 

Whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore, love is the fulfillment of the law.
— Romans 13:9b-10