My mother built her life around the church. Most recently, she attended healing services on Wednesday, worship on Sunday, and for as long as possible, she volunteered at the church thrift shop.
Back when we lived in Indiana, Mom helped with coffee hour, taught Sunday School and participated in any way possible.
Her goal was to raise us up in the Episcopal Church, but more importantly to teach us how to be good people. All these activities doubtless contributed to who we are today, but the most memorable lesson we derived didn’t come from sitting in the choir—or the Sunday School rooms—or the pews. It came from sitting in our car. The greatest lesson that my mother ever taught me in faith happened when she agreed to give a ride to Elizabeth Taylor.
I can imagine your thoughts: Elizabeth TAYLOR? And I’d guess you are thinking about the famous movie star.
No, not THAT Elizabeth Taylor.
I’m speaking of another Elizabeth Taylor—and trust me, this woman was not movie star material.
This Elizabeth Taylor was a unkempt newcomer who showed up one Sunday at church. Mom quickly learned that Elizabeth lived a block away from us—and didn’t have a car. So my mother volunteered to give Elizabeth a ride to services.
Which would have been well and good except…except that Elizabeth didn’t keep herself very clean. She had a bad case of body odor which she tried to cover up by dousing herself with a cheap and cloying perfume.
Summers in Southern Indiana are hot, muggy and miserable. The only air conditioning our car had was 460 air—four windows down, 60 miles an hour. It didn’t work in town. Between the heat and the closed surroundings, Elizabeth’s presence was especially…ripe.
So, one particularly stinky Sunday, after we got home from services, I started complaining, “Mom, do we HAVE TO give her a ride?”
Then Mom said something that I’ll never forget. She said, “Jonie, how can I sit there in Church, repeat the commandment to love my neighbor, and then, not give that poor woman a ride?”
She taught me a lesson I never forgot.
Some people take the Las Vegas approach to religion. You know what that is. You’ve heard the slogan: What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas. Some people attend church or temple, and leave their religion at the door, as if it were a vestment to be shrugged off on the way to real life. My mom refused to do that.
What my mother taught me was that real faith is messy—and sometimes even stinky--it’s inconvenient, it calls upon us occasionally to put aside our concerns and needs as we care for other people. Let me back that up with scripture:
James 2:26 For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.