Sunday, January 25, 2009

The evangelism thing

In her comment on my bozo-bus post, my friend Catherine brought up some Big Questions : "How then can a Christian follow the Great Commission [Matthew 28:19] and still respect the beliefs of others? Can it be done? Should it be done?"

I think it's quite possible to respect others, but I have to say that I do not think it's possible to respect their beliefs, if I try to persuade them of another belief, no matter how lovingly or sincerely I do it. If it's a call to persuade others, that Commission, by its very nature, demotes their beliefs and places ours above.

To explain, I have to spout some AA 12-step philosophy because it's taught me the best way I've found to honor other peoples' views and still maintain my own integrity.

Here's what happens in a 12-Step meeting : I can be in tears over my boss, my love life, my money problems, whatever, but no one in the room will say, "Here's what you could do," or "Have you tried...?"

What I will hear is : "When I faced [ ]
what helped me was [ ]."

The difference becomes a LOT more obvious when it's about touchy subjects that are inclined to cause exchanges in which people judge or feel judged. I'm highly likely to slam down the mental receiver if someone issues a finger-pointy "you," much less the intrusive "should," but I can listen to some one say "It was like this for me," and not bristle, not close my mind. It's not something I need to rebel against.

The 12-Step way, that of telling how I see things, not how anyone else "should" see them, lets me be genuinely respectful of others, and still honest. About faith, or politics, or my friend's marital problems, or whether my brother should eat Ding Dongs [TM] , or anything else.

Carrying the message and persuading are not the same thing, and when I read the Matthew passage, I see an instruction to inform those who haven't heard the Christian tenets, not a responsibility to persuade people who have heard and rejected them.

I'm fully capable of saying, "This is my experience," but wholly incapable of making any experience, much less a particular one, happen for somebody else. People have certainly questioned my beliefs and had no impact at all. I've been told that the faith in which I was raised probably planted images in my mind that I clung to in time of trouble.

I'm actually fine with others thinking that. If it's supposed to either burst my alleged bubble or tee me off, I'm afraid it's done neither. Spiritual belief doesn't enter us through the mind, even if it does come to rest there. It's a watershed, heart(?) soul(?)...OK, OK, irrational! 8~) moment that is strictly one-on-one between that great Source and each of us, and if we -- yeah, I include myself -- need more enlightenment it too will come from the source.

It doesn't mean that I hide what I believe. It does not even mean that I tell about it only when asked. Nobody asked for my thoughts about anything, but I've been jumping into online conversations for years and I, um, did start a blog. I just decided to start yammering away, and about faith as well as any other thing I feel like pontificating about. This might even meet some people's criteria for "evangelism," but it's just being who I am.

I also can't ignore times past when I thought I was doing the right thing, the best thing, and later realized i had not one clue.

There's yet another Twelve-Step tenet, which is that we don't know everything, and that "more will be revealed." That is, when I think about it, literally the most comforting phrase I've ever encountered.

1 comment:

Sherwood Harrington said...

I've printed out this post and will keep a hardcopy close at hand in two places: my office and in my desk at home. In both places, I know I will have cause to go back and read it over. Why I know that is a topic for another time and place, but I thought you'd like to know that I found this piece of particular value, Ruth. Thank you.