I had two grandmothers – one was “good” and the other was “bad.”
My “bad” grandmother didn’t go to church. She smoked—a lot. She drank, she swore, and she gambled.
My “good” grandmother was a member of her church. And she wasn’t a smoker, drinker, or gambler.
But here’s where it gets interesting…
My “good” Christian grandmother became angry at my family when I was a young child. She kicked us out of her home and life. We were disowned, rejected, blacklisted, and ignored for over 30 years.
My “bad” swearing-smoking-drinking-gambling grandmother was a constant, loving, generous, steady, faithful, and gracious presence in my life – until she died of lung cancer when I was 19 years old.
Of course, I’m using “good” and “bad” in quotes because I don’t believe people are binary.
We’re never 100% all good or 100% all bad. And things are rarely as black and white as we make them out to be. There’s more grey in life than we’re comfortable with. We struggle with nuance and we’re regularly tempted to cram things into “this or that” boxes.
The truth is, we learn bad lessons from “good” sources and we learn good lessons from “bad” sources.
My wife told me this story from her high school days – where she asked a custodian at the school if he was a Christian (she assumed he was because he was such a nice person). He said no. Then he asked her why. She said something about how he’s so nice and a good person. Later, he told her that she had offended him – because she assumed only Christians can be nice or good.
This was a new thought for Shari – that “bad” people can actually do good things.
I learned a lot of good things from my “bad” grandmother—but I’ll talk more about that tomorrow.
I also learned some pretty bad thing from my “good” grandmother. Things like…
- When you don’t like what someone has done, simply cut them out of your life. Make them “dead” to you.
- Use people to get your revenge on those who have crossed you – even if the people you’re using are innocent children.
- Forgiveness is optional. It’s definitely not required to be a Christian. You can follow Jesus and hold lots of grudges.
- Don’t own your own mistakes. Blame others.
As someone who has served and worked in the church for over 20 years of my life, I’ve learned plenty of bad things from “good” people. Here are a few that come to mind:
- Image is everything.
- Questions are bad.
- The end justifies the means.
- Our politics shape and inform our “Jesus.”
- When the Bible talks about the church, it means THE CHURCH I LEAD. All the others don’t matter because they’re doing it wrong.
- Never be honest about your problems and failures. Be careful to cover your tracks and hide what is really going on. And if you slip up and get caught, you’re done (fired, abandoned, removed from the family, excommunicated, blacklisted).
- Care passionately about a particular cause – and expect everyone else in your life to care about it the same way you do – as long as you’re getting paid by the organization to care. Then, when you’re done with that job, you don’t have to care about that cause anymore.
- There is a sin scale – kind of like the Richter scale. The sins I struggle with are not the really bad ones; they cause little or no damage. However, the sins “those people” struggle with make it impossible for them to be Christians. The magnitude of their particular sins is off the charts and they will have hell to pay.
I’m curious – what bad lessons have you learned from “good” sources?