I am a shusher. I shush teenagers in my classroom, I shush talkers during movies, I shush attendees of theatrical productions. In college I once actually shushed a couple in front of me during chapel. They kept kissing each other on the neck, and I could hear the slight slap of lip on skin. Gross.
I’m also a church shusher, which doesn’t translate well into a Latin American culture. My church is in Managua, Nicaragua, which is not exactly a typical shushing environment. Latin American culture is not typically known for its solemn and quietly reflective modes of worship, so people at my church will freely talk on their cell phones, let their children run around the church and have discussions with each other at a normal voice level while the pastor is praying.
A few Sundays ago I gently shushed a trio of children who scooted into the seats in front of me. They came about 15 minutes into the service, and two of them had their grubby hands over their ears because the music was so loud. I smiled and put my hands over my ears as well so that they would feel welcome. Well, kind of welcome. After a few moments I could smell them, the scent drawing me to stare at their dusty knees and matted hair. During worship they talked. During prayer they talked. I tried to smile while shushing them, but they didn’t quite get the message. They continued to talk, and I chalked it up to ignorance. After all, church is mostly about a proper sense of decorum, right?
These were campo kids. Campos are areas in Nicaragua that are incredibly rural and intensely underdeveloped. I’ve spent some occasional time with campo kids, but I had never seen any in my middle-class church. (They were with a wonderful missionary family who was taking on the impossible task of trying to supervise a dozen of them at once.) Their skin was darker than their hair, and I could hear the solid thwack as the oldest of my trio hit the youngest of my trio on the head. Or the arm. Or anywhere else.
Without massive intervention, these children will never break free from the social and economic sphere into which they have been born. My trio would never make it. Even in the midst of this knowledge, with an academic understanding of the virtual hopelessness of their situation, I am ashamed to admit that I found myself more revolted by their manners than grieved by their circumstances.
These are the children I am shushing, the children who are bothering me in church. And this is the way that God has to convict me. While I abstractly understand the concept of loving the poor and unfortunate, and even though I am serving as a teacher/missionary in a developing country, I still find it easier to keep this idea conceptual as opposed to practical. I would rather send money than sit next to someone who smells bad. It’s easier to ask myself, “What are these people thinking?” than to ask, “How can I help these people?” It’s easy for me to think that I am better than them, that I am enlightened, educated, and they are ignorant and backwards. I am full of intellectual pity, not Christian compassion.
This brings me back to the shushing. I shush because I am full of pride. I think Lewis (and a number of other theologians) had it right when they said that pride is one of the worst traps you can fall into because so many other sins bleed out from it. Pride is what somehow makes me think that I am better than those kids because I bathe or understand "decency." Pride is what makes me think that people should “know better” in church. And the breaking of pride is the only thing that makes me realize that I am a sinner like any other, and it’s only through the grace of God that I can do or be anything.
To introduce a little imagination theology, I don’t know what Jesus would be like if He were walking on the earth, but speculation leads me to believe that while He would visit our churches and talk with "good" Christians, he would spend a lot of time in conversation with the outcasts. And not the superficial listening or tolerating someone because it makes us feel good, but listening because He really cares, values and respects who they are.
I’d like to be more like that and less like a shusher.