I had an experience a few weeks ago that has had me thinking about this very question. It was not the first time in my life someone told me I was a hypocrite of a Christian, and I bet it certainly won’t be the last time, despite my best efforts.
In order to prepare for the civil ceremony that coincided with the religious ceremony for my wedding last month, I had to jump through a lot of hoops and obtain a lot of paperwork for the municipality of Chorrillos, outside of Peru’s capital of Lima where Lili and I live. It was never easy and I’d just as soon forget about all the hassle if there was a way to wipe my mind clean of it, but I feel like something came out of it I want to mention in today’s post.
Lili had gone back and forth to their office bringing back the correct paperwork required of us since our marriage was an intercultural one. It was made very obvious that these people had no clue what they were doing and clearly never deal with international marriages. We’ve got a folder that’s easily an inch think with all the documents that were required of us, never mind the hundreds of dollars spent on things; getting my long-form birth certificate from Canada stamped and sealed by the Peruvian consulate in Toronto, then having it translated and apostilled here, and then also get another document from the Canadian embassy that confirms I’m not already married in Canada. But that’s but scratching the surface of the documents we needed.
Not only that, we weren’t allowed to begin the process of arranging our civil ceremony until we had EVERY document required. This frustrated Lili more than I since she tasked herself with dealing with the visits to downtown Chorrillos to sort this paperwork out on occasions I was not able to, only to be turned away repeatedly when something new was told her. Every employee she dealt contradicted the previous employees and so forth, as I’ve learned to expect third world bureaucracy: nothing is consistent nor does it make any sense.
“Incompetence On Your Part Doesn’t Constitute Emergency on My Part!”
So imagine our relief in mid-April when, after countless trips back and forth, hours upon hours of our time wasted, they finally told us we met all the requirements and could now open our docket and proceed with planning for our May 9th civil ceremony.
And then take that and multiply it exponentially with frustration and anger when they called us the morning of May 8th to tell us we lacked something that they never noticed in the entire last month during which they could have contacted us. I’m not going to go into the
stupidity detail of how they screwed up and now I was missing out on my bachelor party due to running around getting different documents notarized again. We came very close to not being able to have our civil ceremony through no fault or lack of planning of our own.
My Peruvian friend and one of my groomsmen named Gabriel accompanied me while best man Shaun Wissmann took my brother and other groomsman and future brother-in-law to get their suits. It was a good thing Gabriel went with me since I could have someone who was more fluent than me in the language to make sure I didn’t misunderstand anything else. The woman he talked with would not make eye contact me the whole time nor admit it was a mistake on their part and not mine. While waiting in lines related to getting the missing paper sorted out, I found myself trying to arrange for people to meet my dad and cousin in the location we were all going to meet since they would now have been waiting over an hour with no idea why nobody had shown up since we had no way of communicating with them, what with them not having a local cell phone or anything to reach them at.
The afternoon really sucked.
“Que?! EL es cristiano?!”
We were leaving the offices when the municipality employee told us to enjoy our bachelor party and not to get too drunk since we needed to be there the next day for the civil ceremony. Gabriel told her we wouldn’t be getting drunk since we were Christians.
“Que?” the employee yelled loud enough that others within earshot looked to see what was going on.
“Que?! EL es cristiano?!” (What? HE’s a Christian?!)
She apparently couldn’t believe I was a Christian and repeated to him “I can’t believe it!” in Spanish.
At that, she motioned for me to come closer to the window and indicated she wanted to tell me something. I really didn’t want to hear whatever it was going to be, since I was just so tired of being there over and over again getting this stupid paperwork done and I wanted to get to my dad and cousin before they returned to their hotel after tiring of waiting for us.
A very faint possibility entered my mind that this lady who wouldn’t even talk directly to me or make eye contact with me the whole time might have calmed down and now be deciding to give me an apology for royally screwing up my paperwork and waiting until the last minute to notify me of the mistake.
Boy was I wrong.
The lady said to me “Dominio Propio” which is Spanish for self-control, or more literally, “control yourself”. She proceeded to lecture me about how I was a bad witness for Jesus and needed to have better self-control!
I was not about to show her just how much I could truly lack self-control! I was even more stunned that she was a Christian or at least religious enough to be able to rebuke me, considering it was her negligence that caused me to need to come in waste more money of mine that I’d need to spend getting it sorted out and couldn’t even humble herself and admit fault.
Shaun and Lili’s brother Ronald, who had now come over to see what was taking so long and if it was all sorted, were within earshot and all of us seemed to be surprised to see this turn of events given how much of a headache the whole thing was.
The amazing thing was, I didn’t even get really angry, at least in my estimation of what could be expected of me under the circumstances and knowing how I can truly be with my “anger problem”. I was quite sedated compared to how I’ve been known to get when I truly flip out. If anything, I was obnoxious and passive-aggressive and it’s possible that was what she was referring to. I’ve spent four years living in this culture and have come to have an appreciation for my hatred of unnecessary paperwork and bureaucracy.
And THIS lady who knew nothing about me was going to lecture me about my terrible witness for Christ?
“Is This Really My Problem?”
I was stunned.
Now I was a bit angry and voiced my concern to the other guys in the taxi ride to Parque Kennedy where some kind of bachelor humiliation would await me. But deep down I asked the Lord, “Is this true? Are you truly trying to speak to me through this woman even though I don’t want to hear it from her of all people?”
I tried forgetting about it until the next day when to my utter shock and horror, she was the one officiating the ceremony, and prior to starting the ceremony, she spoke to Lili and I and our two witnesses for minutes and minutes telling us we were lacking something else completely new that she totally failed to mention the day before! Seriously. And of course, as Shaun told me later, he knew it was not a good sign when the same lady from the day before came in to officiate my marriage ceremony. She even paused and asked twice if anybody had any objections for why we should be married. I guess she wanted to give more than enough opportunity for any objectors.
At any rate, I’ve been thinking about this experience on again and off again since it happened, and asking myself how much is our responsibility, and how much is just other people’s problem? What I mean is, yes, as ambassadors for Christ, Christians need to be above reproach and have a good reputation in front of our neighbors and co-workers, classmates, and so on. The Bible makes this clear. We may be the only example of Christ some people ever come across and our actions can make the difference between life or death in eternity.
But at the same time, how much is out of our control and not worth losing sleep over?
I knew a Christian who would always challenge people who may have had more “liberty” than him in certain areas and say
“Well, if you drink that glass of wine/watch that movie/listen to that music, you need to ask yourself if it’s worth putting a stone around your neck and jumping in the ocean”
I always thought that kinda ridiculous and bordered on self-righteous judgmentalism towards other brothers and sisters in Christ who may have not shared his personal convictions. But I also understood the badly communicated heart behind it that we also need to be careful not to be hypocrite Christians who cause others to be turned off of the Gospel message for all eternity.
Some people can hold us to truly unreasonable standards and find fault with the smallest thing no matter what we do wrong. So where do we find a healthy line to draw and “not worry about it”, and where do we hold ourselves to incredibly high standards and raise our convictions in front of a watching world around us? When is it appropriate to let other people’s standards dictate our personal convictions and how we live our lives? How much is just “in the Lord’s hands” and beyond our control?
I don’t ask these questions rhetorically as though I have the answers. I truly want to know.