On the short (15 minute) plane ride that was the first leg of my journey yesterday, I had a conversation with the woman next to me. She's an administrator at Nursing Homes all around Washington, but is also a "snow-bird" with a home in Phoenix. We spoke for a while about Alzheimers, about 'sea-gulls'--the adult offspring of nursing home residents who come swooping into eastern Washington from the coast, crapping all over the place. I insisted that I am no such bird. I say hello and goodbye to the staff at Mom's nursing home, but little else. Only seeing her every couple months, I don't have the ability to tell whether they're doing their jobs or not. That's my sister's place--my sister, who sees Mom every single day! She's the one who sees changes, who knows that though Mom's hair looks greasy, it's because her shower day is Thursday. She's the one whom they call when Mom's spitting her medicine in their faces, when they have to take away the water pitcher in her room because all she does is pour it out on her bed, her lap or the floor. Me? I'm just a crapless seagull, in from the coast to sit with her a while.
Then this woman asked what I'd been in Pullman for, and when I told her my multi-prong purpose--seeing Mom, visiting RE, leading a Christian retreat--she paused a moment then asked, "So what do you think about the Sedona Retreat situation?" I knew nothing about it, having been in a news-free zone for the last week. She was stunned that I didn't know about it. Proceeded to tell me the whole gory story. A well-known "spiritual guru" who led willing participants (each of whom had paid 9000$ for the 'privilege') through 3 days of fasting then in a sweat house experience which is meant to cleanse and purify the soul. In exceedingly hot weather, in a huge tent, people who were already dehydrated, became weak and weaker. Two died on the spot, one later in the hospital. Twenty more people had to be hospitalized. A very sad situation. VERY sad.
That's terrible, I told the woman. She was very happy to tell me all the gruesome details. And I was more horrified by all of them, though how clear she was about the facts, I'm not sure. You know how these things go. "Was it a Christian retreat?" I asked, wondering what she'd say. "I think so," she answered. Instead of clarifying that of course it wasn't Christian, not as I know Christian, I retreated and murmured my abhorrance of such a thing, then the plane landed and she got off. I opened my book and didn't think about it again.
But today, as I've thought back on the conversation, I wondered how she might think I'd have any other opinion of such a practice. Or that, because I'd also led a retreat, I might somehow be connected with the kind of retreats held in Sedona. Many new age, (or old age, one might say in this instance, because sweat houses are the province of Native Americans. Many tribes had this practice; some even continue it to this day. Sweathouses are NOT the way we are purified or cleansed.
Unfortunately, to the unreligious, all religious practices look alike. And, unfortunately, many very loathsome things have been done in the name of Jesus. Just this morning, I saw a bumper sticker on a car: "I love your Christ. But I hate you Christians. Why can't you Christians be more like your Christ?"
It's a good question. A question I ask myself often. Usually when I'm looking in the mirror. I'm not nearly as much as Christ as I wish I was, as I pray to be. I'm thankful that He's changing me, that I'm in the process of growing up in maturity in Him. There are also plenty of unsavory practices that Christians en masse do. Like not loving our neighbor if they aren't exactly like us. Like paying minute attention to things that aren't important (the kind of music in the moments where we're privileged to be in the very presence of God Himself), and not paying enough attention to His mission in the world.
But now and then I am reminded that there's a whole population in the world who believe that a whole lot of practices that have absolutely NOTHING to do with Christ or being a 'little-Christ' are Christian. It breaks my heart to think this is so. It breaks His. I wish I hadn't been as tongue-tied with that woman as I was. Those people who put their lives into the hands of that "spiritualist" were looking for something. They felt a need for something they weren't going to find in a sweathouse in the desert. And that woman sitting next to me on the plane--maybe she was too. And though I can do nothing for those people who died in Sedona, I could have spoken words of LIFE to my seatmate. And I'm sorry I didn't.