Sunday, June 22, 2008
Fred Clark, the Seminary-educated Baptist of indeterminate denomination who holds court over at Slacktivist once defined evangelism as a form of hospitality. The idea, according to him, is that the would-be evangelist opens a space and invites others in for a conversation. An act of hospitality is, at its core, a risk. Guests can be rude, overstay their welcome or simply say, "No thanks," and keep on walking. A guy I know who I once taught in youth group when he was in junior high and later worked with for a semester when he came back as a volunteer leader recently contacted me. I'll call him D, as I need to identify him but I'm not necessarily keen on using his full name. Anyway, D had just learned that I no longer identify as a Christian and contacted me to confirm if this was, indeed, the case. I told him it was. Now, for the no longer Christian this is a big problem. It can go very, very badly if the wrong person is on the asking end of the question. See, your average Christian is a well-meaning meddler in the lives of others. They find out something about one such as myself who has left the fold and they start sharing it around. "Geds needs to be lifted up in prayer," they'll say, "He says he's not a Christian anymore." Then there will be speculation about the reasons for the newly-founded non-Christianity and decisions will be made about the way ol' Geds was and is living. Once the news reaches the right ears, then, the real shitstorm will start and poor ol' Geds suddenly gets besieged by (similarly well-meaning) folks who just want to make sure he's okay and know if they can pray for him and want to know if he's ever heard *this* particular argument in favor of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ the Carpenter of Nazareth. Then the re-conversion attempts start in earnest and the only way to make it through is to move and leave no forwarding address, cut off your Facebook account and seriously considering changing your name to something that appears 11,000 times in the phone book. I have to give D a hell of a lot of credit, here. I always knew he was a smart kid, anyway, and other than my top-flight work as a youth instructor he had the advantage of the fine work that Chris did as a junior high pastor, Rob (then probably Mark and Clayton) did as a high school pastor(s) and finally Chris (same one, he moved) and Ted are doing right now in Ecclesia. I'm sure he learned from others, too, and he learned the right lessons. Because when he approached me, he did so with hospitality. He asked me to tell him why I'd changed my mind and specifically requested a conversation. If it's appropriate to say so, I am proud of him for the way he's handled himself. I'm not quite proud in the same way as I was when he was a wide-eyed, charged up junior higher, but the fact stands nonetheless. Now, admittedly, I don't believe him 100% when he says he's not interested in re-converting me. First off, he's currently a missionary, so, y'know, that'd be a head scratcher. Secondly, the whole conversion thing is a central bit of Christianity and, therefore, has to be considered as an imperative for any Christian. However, I offer D the charity necessary to say that I'll go with him and that I believe he believes he's not setting out to re-convert me. And if he says, "Ha, gotcha, I was out to re-convert you!" at some point, I'll be perfectly justified in saying, "So long, punk." And, at the very least, he started by asking what my belief currently is, then working with the information I gave him to come up with a real conversation. I wasn't totally enthused about the project when first proposed, but I'm okay with it now. Primarily because I was offered hospitality by D and he's come through with it. It's sad that there are plenty of Christians who don't understand this concept, especially since Jesus would probably agree with Fred Clark and my old friend D. See, there were two separate times that Jesus sent out others on missionary journeys. The first time he sent out the 12 disciples and the second time he sent 72 people. In both cases his instructions were similar and very clear. He said to pair up, take only the cloaks on their back and the sandals on their feet, to only stay in homes where they were welcome and eat only the food they were given. If they weren't welcomed in a town they were to shake the dust of that place off their feet and move on. The Christian organization which remains nameless I worked with back in college used this passage as their philosophical touchstone for the year I was on the executive team. It wasn't until later that I realized how hilariously misguided their interpretation of Jesus' instructions was, although I wish it had clicked the first time I heard them. It would have saved me a lot of time and heartache in leaving that group. Because, you see, the leader of the group read that passage and said, "Eureka! Jesus is telling us that we need to figure out how to get other groups on campus to supply the needs of our ministry!" He was focusing, as he so often did, on the completely wrong part of the instructions. He read Jesus' instruction to eat only the food that was put in front of the missionary as, "Someone will give you food." He read the part about sleeping only in homes where they were welcomed as, "Someone else will provide you with shelter." The instructions in question, however, we're about what was going to be given to the missionary, but how the missionary was to accept what was offered. It was an instruction that if offered bread, the missionary was not to say, "Hey, I wanted cake," and if not offered a bed he was not to pound on the door and yell, "Hey, open up!" In short, it was an instruction not to force the hospitality of others on oneself. I'm sure we all know exactly why I'm making this post. Although I was thinking of doing it as a sort of childish lecture to an audience who would be unable to respond, somebody has to be an adult here. Leave it to one of my former junior highers to remind me of what being an adult requires. So here's the deal. I'm prepared to offer hospitality and charity. It's not an ulimited hospitality or charity by any stretch of the imagination, as I already feel that my hospitality has been sorely tested by the unpleasantness of the last few days. However, in the interests of the fact that I love the hell out of Ryan and he's made me aware of the fact that he was hurt by my attitude on Friday and, ultimately, it's not good for his wedding if a feud starts here. I am, therefore, going to lay out what's been happening on my side of the computer screen for the last week (in Cliffs Notes version, mind you. I'm certain no one wants to know about me reading my mail or playing Solitare). I'll start at the very beginning. My very first assumption was that james was a random concern troll. This is because after I made my post about gay marriage in California I got a post dismissing my entire point and asking me about the origins of morality. This is a common concern troll tactic and I knew exactly how it was going to go. I was supposed to answer the question and no matter what I answered I would get, "Nope, you're wrong, morals come from god." I had no interest in being used in that way and happened to know that the point was moot, anyway, so I decided to side-step it. This was not good enough. I was once again asked the question, then told that I have to be "neighbors" with someone who I don't know and don't like. I was also offered Christian love. Now, you had no way of knowing this at the time, but the absolute worst thing that a group of fellow Christians has ever done to me (and, more importantly, to someone I think of as an adopted little sister and am therefore highly protective of) was prefaced with, "We're doing this in the name of love." I am leery of anyone who comes to me offering "Christian love," as it's sometimes used as an excuse to be a real jerk and mostly just comes off as an obligation. So the unpleasantness and childish name calling started in earnest. For the record, although you did not use the specific word "ignorant," it can be inferred from several places in your first couple posts. And I still maintain that I never called your wife an asshole, for the record. I called you one and I called my former Christian self one (and, really, if I did call her an asshole, I apologize. I truly meant to call you one). I met your wife once, she didn't seem so bad, except her stock fell pretty far with me once I realized that she was Anonymous. The reason, for the record, that I deleted your final post was that it was the most childish thing I had ever seen. I kind of wish I had actually gone with my thought of saving a copy of it in Notepad, but I just didn't want to see it any more. But, see, after you dismissed my defense of an evolutionary-based morality with, "Nope, Social Darwinism comes from that, you're wrong," and I offered up the history of Social Darwinism (which you can look up. Everything in my post was within kicking distance of absolute historical truth), your response was, "All you just said was, 'blah, blah, blah, blah,'" then had the audacity of following that up by accusing me of being the sort of person who would disagree with and belittle someone who told me the grass was green. Now, were I an amateur pop psychologist, which I pretend to be when I'm not being an internet historian, I would posit that we don't get along very well due to the simple fact that we are massively alike. When I look at you I see the same intellectual arrogance that I've been trying to escape in myself. In fact, the very fact that my first assessment of you led me to say, "I don't think I want to be a pastor any more because I'll probably end up being a pastor like that," tells me all I need to know from my side. So here's my olive branch: join me back in the ranks of adulthood, if for no other reason than the sake of your brother. I'd really hate to have to tell him that he'd probably better find a new best man two months before his wedding and I'm pretty sure that would end a friendship that has already survived a hell of a lot in the years since the seventh grade. I don't want to be your neighbor and I'd really rather never see you again after the wedding reception, but I think it would be in everyone's best interest if we could figure out how to be civil for the next two months. Now, then, in a show of good faith I'm taking down the filters so that you may respond to me publicly if you so desire and everything can be on the up-and-up. Please don't disappoint me.