Toby and the Church

Toby and the Church

I think one of the saddest moments I have witnessed on NBC’s “The Office” is seeing Toby Flenderson stand alone outside of a church.

The whole gang is gathered at a local Presbyterian church for the baptism of Jim and Pam’s daughter Cece.  But no Toby is to be found. 

That’s not actually that unusual.  Toby doesn’t fit in well with the others at the office.  Being the HR guy, he has to enforce rules and regulations and it doesn’t help that Michael Scott, the boss, makes him EXTREMELY uncomfortable by always hating on him in front of others.  He’s not the most social guy in the world, so you just imagine he might be somewhere else that day.

But then, there is a cut shot to Toby standing outside of the church doors.  Overhead, carved in stone, it reads “All are Welcome.”  And Toby can’t bring himself to go in.

He’s been through a divorce. And he’s Catholic, so I’m sure there is a layer of frustration and exclusion that he has felt from his own tradition around things like communion.  He struggles to have a meaningful relationship with his daughter. No one really sticks up for him when Michael picks on him.  He broke a bazillion bones in Costa Rica when he finally got the chance to get away from it all and ended up right back at Dunder Mifflin.  The woman he has had a crush on in forever is now inside of that church, baptizing her daughter. Life has not been the best for Toby. 

I saw in his eyes as he stood outside of those doors a deep sense of disappointment.  He doesn’t feel good enough, worthy enough, loved enough… but at the same time, he knows that he deserves better than what he has recieved. 

When he finally walks in the doors, that pain in his heart leads him to the front of the church where he stares at the cross and asks, “Why do you have to be so mean to me?”

There are points in each of our faith journeys where we and the “big man” upstairs have our problems.  We look at the situation we have been handed and we think its unfair.  We don’t understand why we have to deal with all of this pain and frustration when other people seem to have it easier.

And there are days when we, like Toby, find ourselves at the foot of a cross, or on the corner of a street, or alone in our bedrooms and we cry out, Why?

There are some who would be quick to denounce these cries of doubt and disbelief, but Toby and  those of us who cry out find ourselves in good company.  The psalms are full of these emotional outbursts and cries:

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me,
so far from my cries of anguish?
My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,
by night, but I find no rest. (Psalm 22:1-2)

 LORD, do not rebuke me in your anger
or discipline me in your wrath.
Your arrows have pierced me,
and your hand has come down on me.
Because of your wrath there is no health in my body;
there is no soundness in my bones because of my sin.
My guilt has overwhelmed me
like a burden too heavy to bear. (Psalm 38: 1-4)

How long, LORD? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me? (Psalm 13:1-2)

We are human.  And the weight of this world can be heavy upon our shoulders.  Especially when all around us we see darkness and not the light.

It is okay for us to cry out.  It is perfectly alright for us to scream at God – How long?  Why?  What is going on here?

But like the Psalmists, we can’t stay there.  Each one of those psalms concludes with a reminder that God is good and steadfast and full of mercy and love.  With a reminder of the power of our creator God to overcome our darkness and sorrow and pain.  Because rain falls on the just and the injust.  Sun shines on us all.  And mixed in with those cloudy days, we have to remember that there has been sunshine too… If we are going to blame God for everything bad that has ever happened to us, then we need to give him credit for the good, too.

So go ahead, cry out with Toby and ask, “Why?”  Express your frustration. But maybe do so with the Psalms in your hands.  Use the words to help you let your pain out… and then carry you into praise and thanksgiving for a God that never leaves our side and never forgets us… no matter how far away we think God is.

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