oh dear

In an interview today, one of my interviewers mentioned that “we don’t want to proselytize, just make friends with people and get to know them…” This is completely understandable; on a list of “horrible things that should never be done,” a lot of people would rank “proselytizing” just below “pushing strangers in front of subway cars”. However, the word “proselytize” just means “try to convert someone to one’s religion”, which is something I still plan to do. Call me old-fashioned, but I still think people would be better off if they knew Jesus.

This is not to say I don’t understand the aversion to proselytizing as it’s been done by Christians in the past (the past being the last few minutes before now), my chief image of which is people handing out those baby New Testaments with Psalms and the Pledge of Allegiance (I am not making that up, go find one and look at it). Now, I love the New Testament and Psalms and the Pledge of Allegiance as much as the next redheaded blogger, and I truly believe those baby Bibles have done a lot of good. But as a strategy for winning people over, I see some problems with them:

1. Blind people might have a special understanding of dependence on the Lord, but I think it’s kind of cruel to induce blindness on people we don’t know. I mean for real, why are they SO tiny? Are we trying to make people believe that it’s an easy read? Like,hey, this book is so small, it’s snack sized, I’ve got half an hour… Or have we read too many of those Civil War stories about bullet-halting pocket Bibles? I guess the pocket thing is an important consideration, but in real life, at least if you’re a girl, you’ve still got to be wearing some serious cargo pants to really tote that thing around easily. Maybe someone should develop a holster so we can all keep our tiny Bibles on our belts next to our pagers.

2. It’s disingenuous. Not as bad as those fake-tip tracts, but still, it’s a pretty heavy-duty text to foist on an unsuspecting stranger without explanation, even if it wasn’t in the King James. But I’ll accept the argument that they’re supposed to get all intrigued and go to church and be all welcomed and their questions answered – I still submit that it’s disingenuous. This is because the vast majority of the New Testament and Psalms is fairly appealing – yeah, there’s the occasional imprecatory, but it’s mostly all hey you’re a sinner but you probably knew that, however God loves you!!!! And that’s super fantastic. That’s the heart of the message. But what about the other stuff? Last night I read in Numbers about God swallowing a bunch of his own people INTO THE EARTH for suggesting a more democratic form of government. Can I admit that I don’t get that? Can I please for one second put aside all the journal articles and Hebrew study I’m supposed to tackle this with and just say, WHAT.
I don’t think we can leave these things out, like here, try our religion, there’s nothing in it that’s totally bat-sh*t crazy! As well as all that is good and beautiful and true in the Old Testament, the whole beginning of the story, the part where there is God before there are Christians. It’s important. But it’s also much, much older than the New Testament, it’s a narrative and not an essay, it takes work and trying and, like, research, and most importantly, community to start to understand what it’s really saying about God’s family and what it means to belong there.

3. The Pledge of Allegiance is seriously not a holy text.

If that’s our picture of proselytizing (or “witnessing”, as we who hate syllables like to call it), then no, I don’t want to do it. Making friends with people and getting to know them, however, is something I definitely want to do, just because I want to know the image of God. I want to tell my friends my story and listen back to theirs. I want to be able to look at them and say, there are things I don’t understand about this, but this is still the safest and truest place I’ve ever been. I want to still be there when they have questions, not off handing a Bible to someone else. I want to pray for them, alone and together, because that’s what Jesus did, that’s what it means to be a Christian, that’s what we do when we need God, which is all the time. I don’t really want to engage in any one activity that could be labeled “trying to convert someone to one’s religion,” and yet I hope that it is impossible for me to refrain from doing that. Because I want to introduce Jesus to people, every day, and by some unimaginable act of grace I’m starting to think that means introducing myself to them.

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2 Comments

  1. Janice Graves

     /  June 28, 2012

    We really are the only Bible some people will ever read. Our lives speak volumes. Give it your best shot.

    Reply
  2. Jacqueline in Atlanta

     /  June 28, 2012

    I’m working on that holster. Let me know from what medium you would like it made. 😉

    Reply

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