Monday, June 30, 2008

The Hitch

I may not actually think I'm better than someone who doesn't know Jesus. Or at least, I may be realising that sometimes I do think that, by accident, and I may be starting to get a clue that it isn't true.

But here's the hitch. After the startlingly offensive tirade on Friday night, the non-Christian present said (even though we both agreed that the tirade was offensive and the tirade-giver was in error to have behaved that way), "The thing is, I just don't get what the deal is with Christians feeling like they have to tell people what to believe."

I tried to explain (again) why I am intent on sharing my faith. I love Jesus. He told us "make disciples" for Him. I want to obey Him. Also, I have experienced Him in my life and I know that He is the one who walks through the tough times with me and who will get me to God in the end, in spite of all my mess-ups. The more I care about someone, the more I want them to experience this life, too.

"Okay," said the one objecting. "That makes sense if you're talking to someone who doesn't have any system going that works for them, and they're actually looking for something. But what about people who are all set? People who have something that works for them? I feel like you're telling me I'm wrong."

I didn't know what to say. I tried to say something about how it's just that it's not about a system, and that really, all the "systems" are wrong, including Christianity if it's just a system and not a Person, and without that Person, nothing really works in the end. But he wasn't convinced, and I have to confess that even to me it sounds like I'm telling him he's wrong. And actually, I guess I kind of am. This makes me feel like not-a-nice-person, and I think it makes him feel like I actually do think I'm better than he is.

I don't think I'm better (in some ways, he exhibits Christlikeness more effectively than I do--although he said it's silly to make those comparisons, and I guess he's--hey! he's right!). I don't even feel like I'm "right" in this area--just chosen and grateful and blessed. But I can't escape the idea that at least, playing some kind of semantical game, I think he is "not right" about his system. And I don't know what to do with that.


David A. Zimmerman said...

Tricky business. I think you need to clear your head. Why not try the meme I tagged you with?

Jeff said...

Great questions and post. To some extent, when people feel like they are all set, I think the wisest thing we can do is step away from the whole thing. I believe that no belief system gets anybody through hard times. At some point every system will leave somebody cold. This is the point that we hope our patient loving actions speak to the person. And maybe we even get to use words to preach the gospel at this point, when the person is broken down by life. But when things are going good...
Really, why should they care? What does Jesus have to offer them when things are going well? These are probably provacative and over-the-top questions, but only slightly so.

I do think we have a right to say "Really, we're both operating for arrogant world views. Your system says that we ought to leave people alone. Mine says we ought to take care of people the best we know how. I'm open to the charge that I'm assuming I'm right and your wrong... But so are you."
People think they get to take secular humanism as a given, that they don't have to hold it up to the same scrutiny as world views like Christianity. (Yes, Christianity is a relationship most importantly. But it's also a world view.) This is plainly just silly. They owe as much an explanation for their world view as we owe for ours. And when it comes down to it, we all try to inflict our world view on others.

dave grosser said...

I don't know what to do with that either. So weird, I had a very similar conversation this week.

K. said...

You know what Augustine (if it was him?) said: testify all the time. When unavoidable, use words. My fiance said he was drawn to Christians because they seemed so 'clean'. If there isn't something about us that speaks to people they are right in not understanding what all the fuss is about. Only if your 'system' works better than theirs and they feel or understand they need it too... That is the hardest thing to do though, because we can't control what people see in us. And we can't even be sure they see anything worth having at all...

Christianne said...

i don't have answers for this either, jenn . . . but i did find myself thinking of the verses that talk about it being the Father who calls us to him . . . which means it is not up to us to convince someone . . . which means that if someone feels "set," maybe it's because the Spirit has not yet been called by the Father to bid that person come yet. maybe?

heather said...

It's frustrating. I'm so thankful that you continue to share though you encounter people who push back.
For me, it's not about what feels like it works here and now. It's about the hope of a future (and then sneaking that future into the present). God's actively working to redeem and re-create his creation. Someday we'll get to live on an earth with absolutely no evil. With only fun and joy and beauty and laughter and love. Why don't people want to know about that?
I don't get it.

Jenn said...

Dave--Are you telling me to lighten up? ;)

Jeff--I think of this "argument" often, but never in the moment. I'm trying to figure out exactly what, in this context, "stepping away from the whole thing" looks like, although I have an idea, and I definitely think that some sort of "stepping" is in order.

Dave--I have occasionally thought that there are spiritual "trends" or "viruses" that float along and influence people in similar ways at the same time. There may, of course, be nothing in this, but you know . . . ?

K.--Thanks for chiming in. (I'm curious as to how you found my blog--and how long you've been reading it. ;) I'm all for the sometimes-use-words thing, but I tend to "say anything," so sometimes it's hard for me to only use words sometimes! You're absolutely right about the whole other-people's-impressions thing, though. It can be freeing, in the sense that it therefore has to be all up to God anyway, and terrifying in the sense of this great responsibility and not knowing if I'm messing it up . . .

Christianne--I have considered that possibility. I do get a pretty strong sense that the Father is pursuing at least. But I'm also getting the sense that this thing is really entirely out of my hands.

Heather--I think they don't want to hear about it because they've never seen anything like it, so it doesn't (apart from the Holy Spirit) have much of a ring of truth. And some of us prefer to be pessimists instead of getting our hopes up and then having them dashed. But yeah--once one believes in it, it's hard to imagine why people wouldn't want to.

Jeff said...

Thanks for the meme. (Are we supposed to thank each other for them or act like it's some sort of disease we've caught... Anyway, seems fun.)
I think what I wasn't very specific or clear when I said "stepping away"
What I was really thinking about is just stop looking for reasons to talk about it... Sort of an evangelistic sabbath.
Sometimes it'll come up, and of course we should never run away from talking about faith issues when they arise.
But there comes a point that we've really planted everything as well as it's going to be planted. To try planting the same thing in the same place is to dig up a seed that was half way to growing.
Put less metaphorically: we need time to process the stuff we've talked about with people, to watch the other person and also watch our own life and see if the words connect with the reality we see. If we keep getting new words that we have to process it's easy to just give up and shut down.

K. said...

Hi Jenn
I have been reading your blog for some time, maybe a year - I like it a lot. I never know how to reach you not in the public eye but now suddenly I get it - you can just not approve of this comment, in which case you have read it anyway and nobody else sees it. :)
I have posted a comment to you before, my blog is on and I don't post regularly at all. I tried to open a 'scholarly' blog at blogger but as you can see I haven't done very much with it yet. I should be writing a doctorate so it was supposed to help me focus.
I am 44 and got my first boyfriend just 4 months ago, so I especially sympathised with you on this subject. Don't give up hope! I still can't believe I'm getting married! I have a lot of hope for you too. If it happened to me it could happen to anyone! I didn't mean you shouldn't use words, of course you can say anything you feel you have or want to say. But I meant (as somebody else wrote) that it is the Father who draws people and He will, I think and hope and believe, speak to his heart. So you can try to be less worried about his reactions because they are only the surface. (If you understand?)

Jenn said...

Jeff--thanks for doing the meme! I don't really know how one is supposed to respond when one is tagged--I think they're kind of like a higher-maintenance form of email forwards, but sometimes they're still kinda fun to do. And I have yet to run across one that tells me I don't love Jesus if I don't do it--although I'm sure they're out there.

I liked the metaphor a lot; I found it really helpful. I had been kind of thinking along those lines, but the metaphor helped give me something to grab onto, sort of. I'm trying to tread carefully. Thanks for the insight.

Krina--thanks again for the words of encouragement, both on your blog last year, and on mine now.