Friday, March 26, 2010

Something important I figured out about why "evangelism" makes my skin crawl

I have always been uncomfortable with the way the evangelical church defines evangelism. They equate it to the Great Commission and indicate that real Christians are ready and willing to evangelize (do drive-by evangelism, hand out tracts at the drop of a hat, and preach at anyone who breathes and enters their radius). I've never been comfortable with that.

For a long time, I harbored guilt about my unease. Obviously I wasn't a real Christian if I didn't like participating in these activities. Along with making me uncomfortable, they seemed ineffective.

I didn't know how ineffective until I was reading The Unlikely Disciple, where the hardest chapter for me to read wasn't the one about masturbation or the one about homosexuality, but the one where the author signed up to do a spring break evangelism trip. I knew the chapter would be mortifyingly embarrassing to me as an evangelical (and it really was). I didn't want to read it, but I knew I couldn't skip it.  I stalled out at that point for two weeks.

Part of my discomfort came from knowing that this kind of "evangelism" was pointless. Even someone who does not relate to others normally knows that the tactics we teach to evanglize are not the most effective way to tell others about our faith and beliefs.  We are called to love God and our neighbors, and we do that best by having relationships with people and living out our love for God and them among them. However, I wasn't comfortable with the kind of "life-style evangelism" that didn't ever involve telling people why we do what we do and what we believe that motivates us to do what we do. (Another balance issue?!)

Recently, I figured out that the root of my unease with what evangelicals refer to as evangelism has to do with the meaning of words. Matthew 28:19-20 is called the Great Commission and is used by Evangelicals to describe their mandate to evangelize. Leaving aside concerns about whether Christ was speaking to that specific audience or a broader one (and assuming He was addressing a broader one including all believers), I am not satisfied that we are reading this verse right. My Bible doesn't say, "Go preach at people" or "Go tell them the gospel, get a prayer of confession, and mark them down as a statistic.  My Bible says, "Go therefore and make disciples . . .."

What we describe as evangelism seems to me to have less in common with biblical discipleship and more in common with historical practices like forced conversions, the Crusades, and the Inquisition. In the past, the church had political authority and power, and we could bludgeon people into doing our will. That's not very biblical, but we did it a lot. For a really long time. Power corrupts and all that.

I wonder if some of our mindsets about missions and evangelism today still reflect the distortions of past (colonialism, HRE stuff) instead of reflecting a more biblical focus. It wouldn't surprise me if this is a case of not knowing our history and continuing to repeat it ad nauseum.

So now I'm really curious about what it means to make disciples.  What does the Great Commission really tell us to do?  what does it mean to make disciples?  Any thoughts?

Friday, March 19, 2010

Today she told me, "Don't give up."

Can she somehow tell how much I want to? Maybe it's a good thing I haven't gotten any of those government jobs.

If I did get offered a good government job, I think I would give up on this dream of teaching college. I would keep writing, I think, because I can't stop, but I wouldn't have to feel guilty about not being published, wouldn't have to keep submitting things or worrying about submitting things because if I'm not trying to get a teaching job by being published (since I can't get any experience), then I don't need to be published. That would be several loads off my mind. Is this laziness?

I would have more time to read and maybe try to see how I could use my love of reading and writing to help foster kids. I could try other dreams, be open to unexpected, new dreams and opportunities. Of course, I would think of myself as a quitter, but the bills would be paid, and I would be more at peace, so the trade-off would be worth it, right?

In Bebo Norman's song "Pull Me Out," there's a line I really love about not knowing if your troubles are a test about holding on or letting go. How do you tell the difference between being stubborn and being tenacious?

I don't think that success is necessarily the criteria because God doesn't promise us success. Is this about my heart? About my attitude? I don't know. Can contentment and ambition live with each other?

Sometimes, you don't get what you want until you stop reaching. A lot of married couples have said that sort of thing recently. "I stopped looking, and then I found him/her." Other happily ended stories are about dogged pursuit. Some sad stories are about not knowing your own limits; others are about giving up too soon. How do you know which situation you're in?

Am I getting more comfortable here in limbo, avoiding the smugness of knowing, of clearly seeing in hindsight?

Today, again, I pray my usual prayer, "Please help me, God." At least, I'm pretty sure that's the right prayer, no matter what the situation.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Love, Judgment

From a Kirkus Review of Sherman Alexie's The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven:

". . . the ability both to judge and to love gives the book its searing yet affectionate honesty."

It seems like in our culture, love and judgment are certainly not supposed to walk hand in hand. They are treated as mutually exclusive. (I wonder if this has anything to do with the difference between civility and political correctness.)

"I can't believe a loving God would condemn anyone to hell." You may have heard that one before. In my mind, I follow it with, "A righteous judge couldn't do anything but condemn people to hell."

I'm people, and I know what I'm like, and I've had some experience observing people. If you believe (and know) the Bible (all of it, not just pieces), I don't really see how you could think any of us pass muster to be declared innocent.

When did judgement and love get as far as the east is from the west? I suppose it was when love became niceness and judgment became a bad word.

Whenever people ask how a loving God could send people to hell, I wonder if they want the legal/justice system in this country to disappear because we need to forgive, not condemn. I'm pretty sure most of them don't because they realize that wouldn't work very well for the law-abiding citizens.

Also, read some Sherman Alexie. That reviewer was right. Somehow Alexie finds the perfect balance of love and judgment, and the honesty will kick you as hard as the affection. It's amazing.

In your opinion, when did judgement and love get so far away from each other?