Dear Sean

His daughter told me he parked himself by the window and talked to his best friend every day—morning until night.

DEAR SEAN:

I don’t mean this to sound mean-spirited, but I’ve read some of your stuff and I can’t tell if you’re a real Christian or not.

There are no gray areas, sir, you’re either all in, or not. Your use of swear words is not cool, or glorification of alcohol and tobacco… Substances that promote destructive lifestyles.

I’m just trying to figure out what you believe, as well as urging you to consider your eternity. No offense.

PRAYING FOR YOU

DEAR PRAYING:

None taken. I wish I could answer this, but I don’t know how. Most anything I say will be the wrong thing. And I might inadvertently cause you to worry for my soul even more.

So.

Yes. It’s true. I cuss sometimes—mostly on accident. Some phrases come from my blue-collar ancestry.

And I promise: I only use three of the six major swear words. Though in very rare cases—like blunt trauma to the kneecap—I’ll use a fourth.

But I still haven’t answered your question. So let me tell you what an eighty-nine-year-old preacher once told me.

I’ll call him Brother Jay. I wrote a report for a world-religion class. I visited Jay at his home. He was white-haired and slumped in a wheelchair.

His daughter told me he parked himself by the window and talked to his best friend every day—morning until night.

I saw him by the window, moving his mouth. I didn’t see anybody with him.

Jay was a preacher’s son. His uncle—also a preacher—sexually abused him as a boy. When Jay blew the whistle, his mother sent him away to a boys home.

He grew up an orphan. His family never visited. Not ever. The word loneliness comes to mind.

A woman took him under her wing. She was a custodian at the shelter. She brought him home with her. She took him to church. She introduced him to his best friend.

Then, something strange happened, he fell into preaching as a young man. Jay discovered he had a lot to say about the red letters.

He told me, “I regret every word I ever preached if it didn’t make outcasts feel included in the family of God.”

I asked which denomination he belonged to.

“None,” he said. “There aren’t any, son. Sometimes, I don’t even like being called a Christian. I’m a child’a God’s what I am. Just like everyone.”

“But,” I pointed out. “Not EVERYONE can be a child of God. There’re a lot of evil folks in this world.”

He didn’t even pause. “You wanna know who the children of God are and aren’t? Easy. Anyone who don’t love his brother, ain’t one.”

“It can’t be THAT easy,” said I.

“Look it up,” said he.

So, what exactly am I, you ask? I wish you could talk to Brother Jay about this, he’d know exactly what to say, and how to say it.

Sadly, he’s no longer with us.

He lives with his best friend now.

59 comments

  1. Constance Ridgway - March 21, 2017 10:02 am

    Judging sucks and it’s a crummy gig. Just love everyone God puts in front of you the best you can.
    “He’ll take care care of the rest”. (Keith Green)

    Reply
    • Judy Holley - March 22, 2017 7:03 pm

      I’m late weighing in on this, but had to throw in my insight: Jesus was God in a fleashly body walking the earth in Rome’s “Pax Romana” times. Which meant the peace of Rome, literally translated into “keep your mouth shut & do things our (Rome’s) way or we will kill you in creative painful ways. During this time in history, people worshipped,more or less, the Roman gods. There were “temples” to the goddess of fertility Aphrodite where one could go & engage in sexual orgies as a form of “worship”. Homosexuality was widespread & accepted in the society. The homosexual orgies were publicly advertised on signs along the streets. People drank a lot, goodness was not a value of the culture. Now, here is God walking among this world society. What did He say? Not ” You must notsurpr “the real thing cause you cuss.” He said “Judge not, for you will be judged by the same standard you use to judge.” He said “Love one another” He quoted scripture “Love covers a multitude of sins.” Then He taught those who would listen. Then He lay down His life and died for the sins of the world. He drank alcohol with his disciples. (Why else would the pharisees call Him a wine-bibber?) He never said “don’t cuss”. Old testament laws never said “don’t cuss”. Wherever you got your set of values it clearly wasn’t all from the Bible. Sean is a talented writer who has a knack for capturing the southern angst. (Maybe you aren’t southern so you don’t get it.) Okay. We got your message. If his very mild language offends you, go read something else. If Jesus, “…the word made flesh & dwelt among you” didn’t condemn specific sins where do you get your authority to do so? Jesus said “By this will they know you are mine, if you have love for one another.” Redundancy is on purpose incidentally. As I said, I think you just “don’t get it”. Anger,rage & associated acts of aggression are some of the things Jesus died to free us from. Want to sit in a puddle & nurse your anger because someone left you? You aren’t the only one who ever “got left”, honey. Get over it. Pity parties are overrated. Do like Sean. Take your experiences & use them to help others. Put away your critical spirit & find a way to love people that you regard as undeserving. You may be surprised to learn that he knows way more about life than you.

      Reply
      • Camille Atkins - March 24, 2017 10:57 am

        Judy Holley, WOW! I don’t know you, but would love to! What a superb comment!

        Reply
        • Judy Holley - March 24, 2017 6:44 pm

          Thank you for the complement, although it is undeserved. I believe what I believe & don’t judge anyone for disagreeing. It just tics me off badly for people to say mean things & claim it’s ok because they are “Christians”. Like old departed Bro. Jayb I no longer call myself “Christian” because of the meanb ignorant, sometimes heinous things do vin the name of” the One who came to teach us what love is. I get straight to the point. I say “I’m washed in the blood of Jesus & trusting Him for my entrance to heaven. I just hope He’s not too embarrassed by my life to speak up for me.” Then I ask people, “How ’bout you? Are you under the blood?” Conversation either begins or ends right then. … It took me all my life to figure out what love is. For folks who don’t know, I just figure I’m probably older than them & maybe lived in my own hell a little longer. By the way, no one can ever have too many friends. We can correspond if you like. I am seldom at a loss for words. 😏☝

          Reply
      • Janet Oakley - May 22, 2017 11:13 am

        Judy Holley, DEAD ON!! You put into words perfectly what I believe! I actually use Sean’s writings every morning to start my day off by focusing on the positive! He has a way with words – and so do you! – and a wonderful ability to observe. Spread your love, Judy, the world needs it.

        Reply
      • Marcia - May 22, 2017 11:30 am

        Thank you for putting this so plainly. So many Christians judge Christianity by their rules not God’s….Love one another❤️

        Reply
      • Charlie - May 22, 2017 8:36 pm

        Well said, Judy.

        Reply
  2. Sandra Swindall - March 21, 2017 10:09 am

    Love this! Reminds me of the sermon where a preacher used the word, “damn” in his sermon to address injustice, but then he paused and said, “And I bet most of you right now are more concerned that I just said damn than you are about the message of my sermon.”

    Sandy Swindall
    Montevallo, AL

    Reply
    • Ed Rockensock - March 21, 2017 11:54 pm

      All the more reason not to use the word if it distracts from the point being made.

      Reply
  3. Lisa Ison - March 21, 2017 10:21 am

    This reminds me so much of when I was being discipled/mentored/befriended by the woman who eventually led me to Christ back in the mid-80’s. My lifestyle wasn’t one that was approved by most church folk. So, as it happened, I wanted to tithe from my meager earnings from my antiques shop, something that I was taught to do as a child and I always did it throughout my sinful life, not really understanding what it meant. I visited a church in Roswell to give this pittance and even asked the pastor if I could belong there. He said he would take my tithe but if he allowed me to join his church, some of his parishioners, you know, the ones that gave large amounts of money, wouldn’t like it. So, I left my tithe in the offering plate and never returned. I am forever grateful to one woman who looked beyond my faults and saw my need…

    Reply
  4. Brenda Burklow - March 21, 2017 10:49 am

    I also am black or white , I don’t do well in gray . I can see God in everything and everyone, I can look deep into their heart and can feel if Christ is in there because His Holy Spirit connects with the Father . He can live in our hearts and we can still sin but He is faithful to forgive us our sins if we ask . People should not judge others by what they hear or see because we as His chrildren are growing more like Him everyday . And on that day we shall all be White as He is . I can see Jesus in you just by reading your stories because your heart connects with His . I will see in you in Heaven my brother

    Reply
  5. DEBRA GAMBLE - March 21, 2017 10:51 am

    Every story you write makes me feel like I just spent a few minutes in church. Great way to start my day. Thank you.

    Reply
  6. Ken M. - March 21, 2017 10:54 am

    Beautiful. Perfect. Too many “Christians” have forgotten what it means to be Followers of Christ… they have forgotten that we are all sinners, and we have all been forgiven (even the “other” sinners), and that Jesus gave us two commands: Love God with all our heart and soul and spirit, and Love our neighbors as ourselves. Only God knows our hearts, and Sean… I think you have a pretty Christ-like heart, even though I don’t know you.

    Reply
    • Naomi - March 21, 2017 11:27 am

      I love that comment. So true. Although I’m compelled to add; as we recognize that we are sinners, and God hates sin, we must accept the sacrifice that God provides in order to stand before God with our assurance of Heaven and an eternal relationship with God.

      Reply
  7. Carol DeLater - March 21, 2017 11:26 am

    I love the way people throw their Christianity judgement around. I love how some who claim to be Christians look the other way. What I REALLY love is that old preacher knew the secret that should not be a secret.

    Reply
  8. Marcia W MacLean - March 21, 2017 11:26 am

    Good answer.

    Reply
  9. Camille Atkins - March 21, 2017 12:00 pm

    Sean, your best yet!! I have had more than my share of legalistic church folks who are more concerned with holiness than goodness. From my studies of the Bible, which I have given up, BTW, it wasn’t the adulterers, liars, thieves and robbers who put Jesus on the cross, it was the legalists, those who concerned themselves with “words,” cuss or otherwise. I have not questioned your heart one time in all of your writings, but I would be inclined to question the heart of the one who wrote this comment. What keeps me coming back to you is that you are real people, stripped of all the pretense. Please don’t change to satisfy a few “Christians” who were likely raised by some strict, overbearing do-gooder, or married to one, who likely isn’t doing any genuine good…you are!

    Reply
  10. Mike - March 21, 2017 12:00 pm

    God loves you.

    Reply
  11. Michael Bishop - March 21, 2017 12:08 pm

    Will Campbell once wrote that a cussing preacher he knew, upon being rebuked for cussing, apologized for doing so and then said, “We’re all born-and-bred bastards [or words to that effect], but God loves us anyway.” A lapse in word choice and propriety perhaps, but rock-solid theology.

    Reply
  12. Ruth - March 21, 2017 12:12 pm

    I just started following you.. and I knew you were a believer of the only one true God from the get go. If we all would just love, let people come as they are and allow the holy spiritual to guide us others would come to know Him. Thanks for sharing your insights.

    Reply
  13. Cherryl Shiver - March 21, 2017 12:42 pm

    And all the people said, AMEN !!!!!

    Again I say, one of the best life lessons my Momma taught me,

    Your life is the only Bible some people will ever know.

    Reply
    • Cece DuBois - March 21, 2017 2:13 pm

      Cherryl, I love this quote from your Momma. I plan to use it, with attribution. Thank you for sharing.
      Cece

      Reply
  14. Christi McCully - March 21, 2017 1:04 pm

    Sean, I agree wholeheartedly. Jesus came to straighten all of the rule following Pharisees out when he told us what the first two commandments were: love God and love your Neighbor. It is amazing how challenging that can be. I go to a church that says that Christians can be the very thing that turns people away from Christ. Isn’t that a shame?

    Reply
  15. Marilyn - March 21, 2017 1:08 pm

    First of all, I enjoy your columns and always look forward to your next one. You have been gifted with both archetypes of the WRITER and the STORYTELLER. I’ve had the pleasure of knowing Storytellers, but their stories have been lost because they lacked writing skills…and a Writer – without a story – well… .

    “I can’t tell if you’re a Christian or not.” It always amazes/amuses me of how much time some people actually spend making decisions whether others are going to be saved or not – like it’s a part of their job-description! Unlike some letters, this query wasn’t offensive, but I loved your response. Brother Jay was right…without that fulfillment, anything beyond that is a moot point.

    Reply
  16. Nona - March 21, 2017 1:18 pm

    God help her . I believe I know her and several hundred just like her.
    Self righteous.

    Reply
  17. Amy Spurlin - March 21, 2017 1:19 pm

    When my writing students write with good content to convey a message and I could hear a voice, I always wrote a message in bright green ink and used exclamations (which I usually discouraged!). Today I send you this message: BRAVO, BRAVO, BRAVO, Sean!

    Reply
  18. Amy Spurlin - March 21, 2017 1:22 pm

    Oh my, Sean,
    Please, please change that typo in the first line. It is wrote, not write
    Thanks from an old English teacher in Andalusia.
    By the way, if you are looking for local color, check out David’s Catfish House in Andalusia.
    Thanks, Amy

    Reply
  19. Joyce - March 21, 2017 1:32 pm

    So many “Christians” are concerned about how good of a Christian their neighbor is instead of looking to their own heart. My Grandpa was an old time preacher man and I know in my heart, if he was here today he’d be one of your greatest supporters. Don’t change a thing.

    Reply
  20. Judy - March 21, 2017 1:33 pm

    When I get to judgment, God isn’t going to ask me if Sean is a Christian. He will be recounting the way I led MY life. But, if perchance He does ask, I will reply, “I’m no judge, but I think Sean is a Christian, with a capital ‘C’ “.

    Reply
  21. dana - March 21, 2017 1:50 pm

    well, sean, your not knowing whether you’re a Christian or not doesn’t worry me, although i think you are — you don’t have to know Christ blazed the trail to be walking on that path. and i’m not worried about brother jay, either, even though he seemed to think maybe those who hate others aren’t God’s children. all of us are God’s children; some of us just haven’t learned yet that God can be our best friend, too.

    Reply
  22. Just Southern - March 21, 2017 1:51 pm

    The back hills, or back bayou, Southern Christian is a hard one to figure out for genteel souls. They cuss without thinking of the dictionary meaning but instead only the emotion they heard it used with while growing up. They chew, they spit, they smoke, they even fish on Sundays because the family has to eat. But they’ll also slog through rain the likes of the Mississippi River to take out cash for a down on his luck alcoholic because he can, he was there, and if he doesn’t he doesn’t know who will. What they don’t do is quickly reply with some version of “Of course I’m saved” or “I absolutely am a Christian” when someone asks. They pour their hearts out in brotherly love to their fellow man but when asked if they believe they can’t bring themselves to do more than voice a, “I hope” in reply because they are so blamed sure of their own humaneness and would never dream of being so presumptuous as to assume that they were right about something so important. Their answers and manner with regards to faith isn’t doubt so much as a humbleness borne of untold generations who look up and cry out, “Oh God help us” when no one else is around because they are afraid if they do it in front of others they’ll “show off” with their pretty words instead of meaning it completely.

    Reply
  23. James Godwin - March 21, 2017 1:52 pm

    The non Christian reading these posts would likely think that the main thing wrong with the Church is that it’s full of Christians. That just is not the truth. We could all find fault with the Church because it is full of sinners, yet Christ commanded us to assemble ourselves together.
    We need to look for positive 2things to say about our churches, otherwise the Church will die.

    Reply
  24. Gail - March 21, 2017 2:03 pm

    Sometimes people legalistically separate, but the love of the Lord is inclusive. I see the heart of God in you.

    Reply
  25. Cece DuBois - March 21, 2017 2:08 pm

    Hey Sean,
    Your answer was better than mine could have been, so I choose yours. Life is messy, Lord knows. He does. He knows that. Tidy Christians who who make it their business to call out others for perceived offenses make me tired.
    Thanks for the writing, please keep doing it. I read you every day, and I share you far and wide.

    Best of everything –
    A fellow traveler

    Reply
  26. Pat Byers - March 21, 2017 2:09 pm

    I cannot believe someone would actually think this of you, let alone put it into words? It is very difficult to KNOW if anyone is Christian or not. Many non-Christians sit in church each Sunday. They wear it on their sleeve, like a badge of honor. They say they are, but they aren’t. And many good people don’t sit in church, for various reasons. I am one of them. And I stopped calling myself Christian long ago. I remember the day when. I call myself spiritual. I believe all the things I was taught. But I don’t believe in the church anymore. And I say damn too often. But. Like you, I am a good person. I witness with many people, as you do through your writings. I just don’t sit for an hour in my best clothes, proclaiming my faith to the world.

    Reply
  27. Paula - March 21, 2017 2:09 pm

    My brother’s wonderful wife introduced me to your blog – just another reason I love her! Most days, you really touch my heart, and many days your words speak hope to anyone who takes the time to read and think. Thank you for sharing your life with us, showing with your words and actions, a heart with a love like Jesus – so much more valuable that being a rigid rule follower.

    Reply
  28. Betsy - March 21, 2017 2:19 pm

    As the old song goes… They will know we are Christians by our love.

    34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:34-35

    Reply
  29. Kelly - March 21, 2017 2:22 pm

    Bless your God-created-heart .

    Reply
  30. Kay Keel - March 21, 2017 2:58 pm

    AMEN! Sean! This is one of your best – in my opinion anyway. Sitting in a church for an hour (or more) every week won’t make you a Christian anymore than sitting in your garage every week would make you a car. Sharing the love in your heart is what is important. His commandment was to “love God with all your heart, mind and spirit and love your neighbor as yourself”. Your neighbor is everyone else…even if they (fill in the blank). Sharing…as usual!

    Reply
  31. Peggy Boggus - March 21, 2017 3:00 pm

    Excellent!

    Reply
  32. Sam Hunneman - March 21, 2017 3:06 pm

    Yes, you hear an “Amen!” from
    another fellow traveler who cusses.
    Thanks for the lift.

    Reply
  33. Laura Tornambe - March 21, 2017 3:23 pm

    Amen!! We are ALL God’s kids!! Jesus did not choose the saints to carry His message, He chose the broken and made them whole! There is no perfection in being human! Love, that is the closest I can ever be to perfection while I wait to go home. Love one another, simple really!

    Love and Light, Always!!

    Reply
  34. Nancy - March 21, 2017 5:50 pm

    Labels divide. Love unites. Perfect sermon. Thank you!

    Reply
  35. Stephen Raisbeck - March 21, 2017 6:27 pm

    Great reply to “Praying For You”. I love music & almost always there’s a song that can relate to any situation. Dig up an old Johnny Paycheck song … The Outlaw’s Prayer & have a listen “Praying For You” … NONE of us are perfect, not even remotely close.

    Reply
  36. Peggy Black - March 21, 2017 6:45 pm

    Best answer ever!!! I think Brother Jay is proud of you. I am.

    Reply
  37. gayle tucker - March 21, 2017 8:24 pm

    The same person who feels they are so pure they can admonish you also will have to be judged. So, I guess we can say you have had your pre-trial and pre-judgement from this perfect individual. I know you are honored they could take the time to tell you how flawed you are.

    Reply
  38. Suzanne - March 21, 2017 8:41 pm

    Hello. I so enjoyed this…actually I love all your caring words. Suzanne

    Reply
  39. Sandra Lee Van Dam - March 22, 2017 2:37 am

    Amen.

    Reply
  40. Peggy Perry - March 22, 2017 12:55 pm

    “I can’t tell if you’re a Christian or not”? All he has to do is read ‘the red words’. He said “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” John 13:35 (KJV)Jesus’ disciples asked him about some character they wondered about. Mark 9: 38-40 (KJV). He also made remarks about not pointing out the splinter in someone else’s eye when there is a beam sticking out in your own, knowing someone by their fruits, and refraining from judging unless you want to be judged. I will say ‘bad’ words too when presented with sudden physical pain, and often have thoughts I shouldn’t. But I’m not worried about my relationship with Christ, or about others’ opinions of me. My daily conversations with Him keep me certain I’ll be seeing my best friend someday, too.

    Reply
    • Debrah - April 30, 2017 4:33 pm

      Nice post! I would love to read an entry about how you and the kids are handling the unbelrabae summer heat. I sure hope baby boy isn't having a difficult time dealing with his first summer. 🙂

      Reply
  41. Kelly M. Long - May 22, 2017 8:57 am

    Point well made, Sean. As an imperfect Christian myself, though I strive to be more like Him, I also am guilty of the occasional cuss word, now and again. Sometimes it’s by accident and sometimes my temper gets the best of me. I would be the last person to judge someone for that “for we have all sinned and come short of glory of God.” But thank the Lord for his saving grace and mercy because I am not worthy of it.
    Now, for my brothers and sisters in Christ that had harsh words for “Praying”, just remember that we are judged in the same way we judge others. Even though she didn’t, Sean employed the Golden Rule in his reply to her. Let us do the same.
    A little food for thought: if you wouldn’t talk a certain way to your mother or grandmother, it’s probably not a good idea to talk that way normally, which is why I try not to, fail as I might. As the Good Book says, “Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength, and my redeemer.” ‭‭Psalms‬ ‭19:14‬
    That’s my two cents, for what it’s worth. God bless you, Sean, my brother.

    Reply
  42. Roger Brothers - May 22, 2017 10:01 am

    Seems I read something in an Old Book once about knowing people by their fruits.

    Reply
  43. Ben Smith - May 22, 2017 11:33 am

    Awesome what more can a man say.Well just keep on writing and I will just keep on reading. Thanks for all.

    Reply
  44. Deanna J - May 22, 2017 12:01 pm

    I too am a child of God! Bless you everyday!

    I see you have picked a lot of followers !! Love it!!

    Reply
  45. Steve Baccus - May 22, 2017 12:13 pm

    Oh well. Everybody is a critic. Some folks are so heavenly minded that they’re no earthly good. I read your stuff almost every day because what you have to say is more Christian, and honest, than what’s said in some pulpits on Sunday morning. Keep on keeping on, brother.

    Reply
  46. Ann - May 22, 2017 1:37 pm

    Sean, you are my kind of human being. The kind that looks for good in this world and lifts it up to encourage the rest of us to be a little more like those good people. “Mean-spirited” hasn’t got a clue why the rest of us scorn his entire existence. God is much more pleased with you than him.

    Reply
  47. Buck Godwin - May 22, 2017 1:52 pm

    It sure sounds like a lot of judging going on here and it’s mostly negative against Christians and churches.

    Most of us go to church in order to become better servants to our Lord. Some of us really struggle with it so please don’t chastise us for trying.

    Can you imagine living in a world where churches and Christians don’t exist?

    Reply
  48. Lori Klein - May 22, 2017 1:59 pm

    Your writer was kind to be concerned for your soul. They voiced their concern in an awkward and inconsiderate way. Mean even. We are quick to forgive so many sins, but this one- arrogance, judgementtalism, Pharisee-ism, well it’s harder. Much harder. But it’s still part of the call to love and forgive our brother and sister.

    Mr. Dietrich, you handled this so well. You didn’t fight back, you didn’t call names. You were ‘prepared to give an answer’, just as you’re called to be. You fought the temptation to fight judgement with judgement. I hope I’m strong enough to be like you the next time I’m faced with another flawed soul who feels the need to attack me in that way. Well done.

    Reply
  49. Sharon - June 10, 2017 5:17 pm

    Gandhi said, “If it weren’t for Christians, I’d be a Christian” That will preach, dammit!

    Reply

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