Well, Good Friday seems like a good time to think about crosses, doesn't it? I'm working on a theory that the best way to learn how to deal with our big crosses is to practice by dealing with our small crosses. Right now I'm practicing on Max.
Max is a young man in Our Fine Church, and Max is not his real name, in case you're wondering. He's married, with two young children. He is clearly bright, which I suspect he is well aware of, and likes to perform. He has a nice alto voice, rather soulful. In fact, he seems to think he's Aretha Franklin, or at least Aretha Franklin's back-up singer.
At Our Fine Church, we sing a mix of traditional hymns and contemporary praise songs. It doesn't matter which kind of song we're singing, however; Max does his thing in either case. It goes like this: first verse, the congregation (or church family, as we like to say) sings as one. Then the second verse begins. The emotion starts to build, and Max can no longer hold in the love he feels for God. He starts with a bit of echoing ("Yeah, t'was Grace that taught, yeah, my heart to fear, yeah" and by the third verse moves on to moaning ("Whoah, ohhh, many dangers, yeah, toils, whoa, snares, I said, snares, whoaaaa ") and by the chorus has begun caterwauling (which I can in no way duplicate).
Here's the funny thing. If he weren't a good singer, this would be charming. There is a woman in our congregation (church family) who sings so loudly and off-key, it's glorious. She just seems really happy to be hanging out with the church family (congregation) praising the Lord.
Max, on the other hand, has a strong, clear voice. His moanings and caterwaulings are on key and really quite good. But, uncharitable as it is to think, sometimes one wonders, "Is Max praising God or just showing off?"
And, the fact is, when Max starts wailing, I find myself more focused on Max than the words I'm singing. I'm pretty sure I'm not alone, as there are always folks glancing back at Max with a kind of perplexed expression on their faces.
I think Max may be a cross for many of us at Our Fine Church. I have found myself wanting to corner him after the service and say, "Max, chill out on the singing, man. You're showing off. You're taking the glory away from God and putting it on yourself." But I don't have that kind of chutzpah, and besides, I'm not sure it would be appropriate. I have no idea what's in Max's heart, after all.
Instead, I've decided that Max's singing is a good opportunity for me to practice charity. It's easy to find the humor in the situation, and it's not like I've never been a show-off or determined to let others know what a wonderfully talented individual I am. And, in fact, when I'm singing well in church, I'm sort of hoping the people around me notice. We all have an inner five-year-old screaming for attention. I suspect that when Max gets a little older, he may even feel a bit chagrined about his earlier performances. He's a man, so we can't depend on that sort of personal growth, but you never know.
Being charitable is something I need to practice, particularly in light of larger crosses I see looming on the horizon, crosses I'll be lugging across the years to come. Max, he's a twig. I pick him up, throw him over my shoulder. Now and then, I hum along.