Taking It Into the Streets: Drop & Dash?

Pentecost

At the shopping mall, one of a pair of young women appeared at my side. Pressing a paper into my surprised hands, she said, “Here. Take this.” And she peeled off. I looked down at a tract: one of the three-steps-to-salvation sort. I approached the pair, who were making off at speed.

“Excuse me,” I called to their retreating backs. The young woman turned, eyes wide. “I’m giving this back to you,” I said—I hope with empathy. She retrieved the tract, turned wordlessly, and the two continued on their way.

Why did I act as I did? Because this was not the first time a fellow Christian assaulted me with a tract, forcing it into my hands and disappearing into a crowd. And I don’t feel gifted. I feel ambushed. What is the point of sharing good news if we don’t stick around to answer questions? The act feels patronizing: like the person’s saying, “I can tell you really need this.” The age-old evangelism adage of one beggar telling another where to get bread assumes the beggar bearing good news has taken time to know the other person is, indeed, a seeking beggar. The adage also expects the good-news beggar to accompany his hungry friend to the bread source. What I experienced felt more like a drive-by.

Second, I returned the tract to give the young woman an opportunity to rethink herself. Her demeanor belied discomfort with her actions. And I’ve been there. Following the dictates of my spiritual leaders, I wore a button, put a sticker on my bumper, learned my witnessing lines, carried my tracts. And felt miserable.

I see three possible reasons for a person feeling that uncomfortable sharing good news. 1. There’s something wrong with 1. the message, 2. the messenger, or 3. the mode of message sharing. For years I labored under the conviction that I, the messenger, was at fault. I didn’t love Jesus enough; I was a coward. But I also knew in the deepest, truest part of me that forcing beliefs on another person violated that person’s selfhood. If our news is truly good, if God intends to set us free, would that same God wish us to share the news by violating another’s free choice? I trashed the tracts.

The first possibility—that the problem resides with the message? It’s tempting to force onto others what we want to believe, but aren’t quite sure of ourselves. It’s hard, after all, to stand in the truth that Jesus would live a hard life, heal persons and give them hope despite His experiences of personal betrayal, die a torturous death, and then—could it be?—rise again, fully alive. We need others to believe with us, but assaulting people with such incredible news debases the message.

Which brings us to the last possibility for my discomfort: the mode of message sharing. Drop-and-dash faith sharing is not the answer. If the news is, indeed, good, if we love another enough to want him/her to know,  we cannot pronounce judgement, then cut and run. We will look her in the eye. We will hear his story. And then we will let God and love guide our actions.

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Taking It Into the Streets

Pentecost

The Church birthed in the fiery winds of Pentecost was deeply human and deeply compelled. Its feet itched to get out on the streets and do love; its tongues ached to speak love in every language imaginable. But soon the mammoth Christendom machine rolled into history and its clanging gears and noisy pistons nearly drowned out the human voice of the Church. The goal of the Christendom machine was to keep itself running and it would do anything—including violating human souls—to keep the engines buzzing. Those it wounded most deeply were the open and searching among us: the children, the artists, the prophets. Yet despite all its efforts, the Christendom machine is winding down, its weathered and rusted gears don’t make the kind of impressive noise they once churned out. And in the deepening silence we begin to hear again the sounds of the Church: its feet scurrying into the streets to do love and its tongues speaking love in every language imaginable.*

 

*With this piece I introduce my Pentecost series, “Taking It Into the Streets.” We will ponder together the meaning and mission of Church from its Pentecost birth to today.

 

 

Naughty Knots

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I love to untangle knots. Transforming a hot mess of tangles into a straightforward length of cord—now that’s satisfying. Recently I faced a major tangle challenge: a conundrum of knotty mobile frames. We’d fashion each mobile frame by forming two chopsticks into an X and tying a length of fishing line to each corner. We gathered the tops of the lines at the X’s center and attached an ornament hanger. We weighted the lower portions of the string with clear pony beads. Stay with me, there’s a point here, I promise.

During transport, the mobile frames got, well, a little too well acquainted. I wanted to use them for a creativity class, so challenge on. Just imagine the mess created by intertwined ornament hooks, chopsticks, clear beads, and almost invisible fishing line. What to do?

At times I tackled the simple problem: ah, I see the trouble here and—problem solved. Other times I dealt with the weighty knots; I hung an ornament hook, determined which four lines belonged to its mobile, freed the lines around it, and the other mobiles dangling from my working mobile pulled that mobiles’ lines taut. In short, the law of gravity helped define what belonged where. Sometimes I addressed the problem closest to me, working from the inside out or from the top down. And when the tangle was just too naughty to navigate, I intuited. I’d get it wrong occasionally: especially when two lines had intertwined so tightly I couldn’t determine which direction would free them. But when I erred, I learned something: just do the opposite. After an hour and a half, fourteen mobiles hung free, ready to invite children to create.

Now why did I treat you to a reading of the Knotty Olympics? Because each day we face tangles. We might not be able to right them with clever fingers, but the principles I learned with the mobile frames apply.

Problem solving’s first and hardest task is determining what the problem is: what needs untangling and why. Problem solving sets a thing free to serve its true purpose. And we have within us an abundance of resources for doing that.

  • We might start with the simple: that aspect of the problem we can easily see and fix.
  • We might let the laws—of nature, of our home or office, of our nation—clarify and support our work.
  • Sometimes we begin with that aspect of our knotty problem closest to us, the one in which we’re most invested and/or have the greatest potential for success.
  • And, at times, we intuit. Go with our gut. Use the Force, if you will.

But here’s the unifying aspect to all these options: patience with ourselves. Untangling knots with hasty, frustrated fingers tightens tangles; mistakes made under self-reproach teach us nothing. Our lizard brain, which knows nothing of nuance, kicks in. When we’re patient with ourselves and with the process, however, our mistakes become powerful teachers.

So next tangle time, we can call on our resources—internal and external—exercise patience, and roll up our sleeves. And whether we celebrate our success with a “Eureka!” an “Aha!” or simply a satisfied sigh, we’ll know we not only set the tangle cords free, we’ve freed ourselves in the process.

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