Thursday, July 23, 2009

On Reaching for Dialogue: Revisiting Evangelism and Musings on Conversion Efforts

I advocate dialogue and ministry. In an earlier blog, I differentiated between ministry and evangelism. I didn't exactly say ministry was better than evangelism, but I thought it. My problems with evangelism are the ulterior motives and many of the methods associated with it. Even in the friendliest of situations, I don't like to think of someone being loving in order to persuade someone to a different belief system and/or life style, i.e., "convert."

Today, I realized I misjudged evangelism. I misjudged evangelism, because I was judging a great number of evangelicals and evangelists. I was judging those whose evangelism is like flattery. But, I mustn't confuse some expressions of evangelism for all expressions. (That's the trouble with inductive reasoning.)

Tonight I was thinking about the ever-ambiguous and most-beloved "dialogue." Dialogue is often thought of as an alternative to many evangelistic endeavors such as tracts, preaching on the sidewalk, apologetics, judging people, and corny questions ("If you knew that you would die today ..."). Essentially, it is conversation, but a conversation for mutual enrichment about ideas, opinions, values, ethics, worldviews, and ways of life among other things. To contrast, I don't think dialogue is just shooting bull or the breeze, although the delineation is hazy at best.

Note: dialogue is not to be confused with defending or discussing. If you simply talk about your presuppositions or go on the offense, you are not dialoguing. I am not suggesting we should go into every dialogue doubting everything, especially those things about which we are not talking. Rather, if you talk about the Bible, you must give your thoughts, hear the other persons thoughts, and weigh both of your thoughts with some healthy criticism that you have given and received. In the end, if you are not simply comfortable with the other person's view, then be uncomfortable with it and do not hold it. However, it probably isn't healthy to think you are unwavering. Faith is not a blind tenacity; it is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Don't let your convictions be uninformed.

In Christ in a Pluralistic Age, John Cobb, Jr. said dialogue should exist sans untouchables, which are those things you will not let go of, no matter what someone says or does. You may have your presuppositions, but your dialogue has a level of hypocrisy and insincerity if you won't dialogue about those presuppositions.

But what I have said is not so easy, is it? I thought about a few of my own "untouchables." Mostly, I thought about social justice and how I think Christianity is about making life more abundant, especially by improving this life for all. Lately--the past few years--I do not think I have entered any conversation about social justice and thought, Maybe Christianity isn't all about social justice. Maybe I can buy nice things and not think about the poor all the time. Maybe Jesus wants to bless me with money so I can spend it on myself, not others.

Oh how hypocritical he gets! How insincere his dialogue must have been! He ministers not and dialogues not--he evangelizes via apologetics!

Yes, I was evangelizing. I was evangelizing to Christians. When dialogue started, I wanted to persuade them to my views. I was borderline apologetic. I wanted to convert them, little by little and bit by bit.

Perhaps some places call for a preachy-sort of evangelism. The pulpit is one of those places. Some lectures. Some Sunday school lessons. Essays. Maybe even some blogs, although I'm not completely convinced. But in dialogue, I do not think preachy evangelism and apologetics are good ideas--although so hard to avoid.

This sort of dialogue is not pluralism, by the way, although it certainly leaves room for pluralism. A difference exists between trying to convert someone and wanting someone to "convert" to your views and ways. I can hope people will be attracted to social justice as I present it in story, proposition, and action, but I do not need to replace love with apologetics of any kind or for any product.

And now to repeat what I've said with a few aphorisms:
You can think you are right without forcing it on someone.
You can hope they concede to your point without trying to convince them.

Note: I suppose I've had a struggle with the thoughts in this blog all week, at least. See my last blog to see how I was trying to process and balance hypocrisy, conversion, judgment, and dialogue this past Sunday.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Superseding Christianity & Musings on Dialogue Methodology

In the following blog, I err by being judgmental. If you start reading, please continue to the end, where I try to keep my judgment in check. The following represents a man processing information, emotion, and spirit.

Dr. Livingston, I presume?

As many of my blogs begin, this one was birthed by Sunday school, my ever-faithful midwife. This week we began Sunday school with a quick recap of last week. Last week, we talked about how our church congregation--as an "institution"--helps the community and each other, especially in these hard economic times. Interest in the class exists to find an innovative way to help our "walk-in ministry" somehow, but we haven't delineated how just yet.

After that discussion, I had prepared a few things to look at in the Bible, most involving a recurring use of "living" as a metaphoric descriptor: Living bread (or bread of life), living water, living sacrifice, living stone.

We started with "living sacrifice" from Romans 12. This passage was the one that prompted me to investigate other examples of the "living" adjective. Really, the adjective became a lot less interesting when investigated, although it packs a lot of meaning.

"Living" simply contrasts with something that is neither dead nor nonliving. It is, well, alive. Sacrifices aren't so much alive. They might start out alive, but they die, because their life has been sacrificed. Sacrifices sacrifice life. A living sacrifice turns out not only to give up life, but to remain alive.

We read the rest of chapter 12, too. It describes some ways a way to be "a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God." We started to talk about how this list is hard to comprehend today. Specifically, someone mentioned giving generously (or cheerfully; v. 8), sharing with others, and opening your home to strangers (v. 13).

I mentioned Shane Claiborne's book, about how he and I mentioned Shane Claiborne's book, about how he and the Simple Way have some really great ideas on how these ideas really work. And not only work, but work safely. And work even if you have a spouse and kids. Shane is single, but people in his "church," the Simple Way, have kids (those in the Simple Way might not call their group a church, that is my word).

I think we should help people pay for their prescription medicines, but if we stop there, then we might as well stop helping period. If we're Christians, then we have disgraced the cross and might as well stop pretending to carry one around.

Living sacrifice.

Yes, being friendly to strangers can be dangerous. Not living in a so-called "good neighborhood" could be dangerous for you, your spouse, and your kid(s). Could be. Sometimes. Not nearly as often as you think. Especially if you give yourself to the community. Friendship makes safe so many dangerous situations.

I know of this one parent who purposely sent their kid to a "could-be" dangerous situation. Turns out things went pretty well for about 33 years. After 33 years, this son was put on a cross and died. I won't say his death was "worth" it, because good does not redeem evil. But, good forgives evil and people are redeemed, for sometimes they don't fully comprehend what they are doing--nobody taught them about what they were doing.

And then we read 1 Peter 2. In this bit, we read about living stones. Stones, like sacrifices, are not alive. Stones, unlike sacrifices, are not dead; they are nonliving. 1 Peter wants people to be living stones so they can become a whole building--a spiritual house, with priests who can "offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God." The stones are living and the house is not physical. It is a house that can move and do things--like the glory of God in Ezekiel.

Superseding Christianity

Sometimes people look back at Second Temple Judaism--the Israelite religion of Jesus' time--and think the temple and the religion surrounding it was dead. I wasn't there, I won't judge. But whatever you believe, please be aware that current-day Judaism is not Second Temple Judaism. If you believe the Israelite religion in the first century CE was dead, know that you need to know more about current-day Judaism before you can make the same accusation.

And instead of pointing your finger at Judaism, look around you. Did God really choose Christianity to be the living stones?

Today I was disillusioned. I looked around me in Sunday school and saw a building made with nonliving material, a building that makes people come to it instead of going to people. It was a building where people came to put their belief into action--dead action.

Dead action is what you have when you turn the AC on ridiculously high to accommodate your temperature comfort based on the ridiculous amount of clothes you wear during the summer--clothes that could help people in job interviews, clothes you only wear on Sundays, clothes you do not need, because your closet is bulging.

Dead action is when your Eucharist--the Lord's Supper--is coffee and donuts with family at the expense of sharing a meal with people who need friends. There is nothing wrong with food with family and friends, unless it takes the place of helping people. An ancient church leader, Basil, said:
When someone strips a man of his clothes, we call him a thief. And one who might clothe the naked and does not--should not he be given the same name? The bread in your cupboard belongs to the hungry; the coat in your wardrobe belongs to the naked; the shoes you let rot belong to the barefoot; the money in your vaults belongs to the destitute."
We would be much more willing to help people if we started to get to know who needed help. And as friendships blossomed, loneliness wouldn't be a growing issue in the church.

I'm only 25, I haven't seen every the community inside and around every church building in the world. But, I've been involved in more churches than some twice my age (for better or worse). From what I can tell, Christianity has superseded nothing. If it has, then it needs to be superseded, if it hasn't already.

One of these days I hope to be part of that supersession, and a prophet calling people towards it. I like to think I am heeding the call of prophets, but I know I'm not perfect.

Adding Dialogue to Judgment--Nothing is Untouchable

A lot boils down to interpretation. I think God modeled humanity in Jesus as Christ. I think Jesus shared time and resources with the poor--people who behaved in ways he may not have approved of. People who were sick. People who were lame. People who may not have been the best conversation partners. People who slept around. People who likely stole, because the economic situation surrounding them forced them into poverty.

Jesus loved those people. Jesus fed those people. One time, Jesus fed those people by asking a young boy to give up his meal. Jesus didn't use children as an excuse not to love people.

That is the Jesus I know. Others know a Jesus who wants you to give money and time to a church you ask to serve you. You get something, the church gets something, the community gets a little.

I am frustrated and harsh. So many good people worship a Jesus I don't see. They are good in ways I may never see. And I need them, because they do things I don't do. They love in ways I don't love. They minister in ways I do not minister. And we worship together. I don't agree with them and I think they are wrong about many things. They don't agree with me and the think I am wrong about many things. We need to continue in dialogue, so we can mutually benefit each other.

And one of these days, I hope they will see that their actions are dead and their building is not living. And then we can worship side-by-side in service, not in a service. But, as a good adherent of dialogue, I might see the error of my ways and join them by becoming a member of a church building. I doubt it, but it is possible. In dialogue, any change is possible.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Get Angry!

I'm reading this great book by Shane Claiborne called, Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical. Today he quoted Kaj Munk, a man killed by the Gestapo in 1944. Before he died, he said Christians need some "holy rage":

"The ability to rage when justice lies prostrate on the streets, and when the lie rages across the face of the earth ... a holy anger about the things that are wrong in the world."

I agree with him. People who follow Christ need to get angry. And we need to learn how to handle anger, because we aren't going to get far if people get angry and leave the Church.

But I can't figure out exactly why we aren't getting angry. But I know what makes me mad, which is why I plan to always be involved with people in the church somehow, being angry, making people angry, and quenching the thirst of my rage by blessing others with the blessings I receive from God: abundant life in this life [*].

There's a lot going on to get angry about. These things are not petty doctrines and maybe not doctrines at all. They aren't whether or not you believe what I believe. They aren't music. They aren't fashion or "Sunday dress". They aren't what time you meet or whether or not you have a greeting time between Sunday school and church.

No, there are things not just more important than these things, but things that are important period:

"To rage against the ravaging of God's earth, and the destruction of God's world. To rage when little children must die of hunger, when the tables of the rich are sagging with food. To rage at the senseless killing of so many, and against the madness of militaries. to rage at the lie that calls the threat of death and the strategy of destruction peace. To rage against complacency. To restlessly seek that recklessness that will challenge and seek to change human history until it conforms to the norms of the Kingdom of God. And remember the signs of the Christian Church have been the Lion, the Lamb, the Dove, and the Fish ... but never the chameleon."

But still, everything you just read is abstract. Sometimes we need to put a face on the evil before we can get mad. We need to not only see our own tables full, but we need to see and learn to love the poor and the rich, the oppressed and the oppressor.

It is hard to get out of cushy lives and travel to some place that could be dangerous for us or our children. Unfortunately, we always get angry too late. Sometimes it is too late because the safety we loved has been taken away. But even if it isn't our safety taken away, it is the safety or the life of someone else that has gone.

It is too late for some. That is, we can't help everyone if we get angry right now. But if we get angry now, it won't be too late for others.

I think I might like you when you're angry.

[*] Normally I would also say, "and the next," but I'm beginning to deconstruct this life and the next life in mind. Perhaps you'll read about it in the future. For now, you can add "and the next," because you and I mean similar enough things by it. Also don't start thinking I want to be silly and make people angry about silly things in tacky ways. I'm not talking about anger for the sake of anger. Read on, I think you'll catch my drift if you haven't already.