Tuesday, January 30, 2007

For or against the Christ? (part II)

I must say that it’s been a real treat getting some of the feedback I received from my previous post. I think your responses tell a story of how radicalized religion can be both positive and detrimental to our work as living ambassadors of Christ.

As promised, here was my response to the woman with the bold sweatshirt. Now, I’m warning you in advance: (1) This post is pretty long and (2) its length doesn't necessarily suggest profoundness. I just talk alot. The unimportant parts are italicize. If you want, you can ignore them. They just set the stage for a more important point. *Sigh* So much for brevity, right Mari?

I admit that I didn’t make any deep and prophetic statements that caused her to reexamine her position. If anything, I’d say that she had my number. I’ll explain in a second.

As I stated previously, seeing this woman’s shirt caused a mixed reaction inside of me. I admired the courage it took for her to make her beliefs known so openly, but also disturbed me to see the arrogance and oppression clearly conveyed by the garment. I wanted to call her out on it, but she beat me to the punch. *Please note, I’m not going to be quoting word-for-word. I can’t remember exactly what was said. But it’s pretty close*

**Digression**

The woman first came to me as she was approaching the checkout line. Noticing that I was administering a survey to a shopper, she detoured from the line and came my way. Our conversation started off well enough. She asked me what I was doing. I explained to her that I was pre-testing a survey instrument for my thesis. I went on to answer questions she had about my research. She seemed very interested in my work and wanted to take part (a kind gesture on her behalf, largely because I had been having a horrible time getting people to commit). I politely declined, informing her that I couldn’t use her responses since my sample had to be random (Long story. But to make the story short, a ramdom sampling strategy was the most effective method for my research design). She understood. It should be noted here that this woman had an incredible personality; one of the nicest people I ran into all day.

**End of Digression**

As she was turning to head over to the counter, I jumped in with a question about her shirt (most people who know me would agree that this was a bold move, given how conservative I am when it comes to confronting people) said to her, “I’m sorry; but as I look at your sweatshirt I assume that you’re a Christian.” She flashed a beautiful smile and proudly said “Yes I am!”. She mentioned that she attends some church in the area. I forgot the name of it, but I probably would've kept it anonymous anyway; just to protect its identity. She returned the questioning by asking me if I was a Christian as well and, if so, what church I attended. I informed her that I was a Christian, though I didn’t have a church home. She invited me to her church, to which I responded by saying “I’ll think about it.” She seemed geniuinely happy to hear that, almost as it something great just happened. “Praise God that I ran into you”, she said. Crap! How could I confront her on the sweatshirt and she just thanked God for meeting me?! But, I put that out of my head for the moment, braved it up and said “Yeah. I’m a Christian”, reverberating my previous affirmation. “But I disagree with the message behind your shirt. I think it does more to turn people away from God than it does to attract them to Him”. I was expecting for her demeanor to change, but it didn’t; much to my surprise. She continued smiling at me while responding “I’m sorry if it offends you. But I can’t suppress the truth. If one person turns away from sin from my message, then its worth offending others.”

Whoa. Hard to top that. But I tried. “Has your effort been successful? Have you led anybody to repent?” She responded, “No I hasn’t. But I'm not responsible for changing people’s hearts. That’s why Jesus sent the Holy Ghost. My only job is to get the word out there, even if it makes people uncomfortable.”

Wow. This lady OWNED me.

She thanked me for the time and for the conversation and continued with her checkout. Being the sick one that I was, I was also starting to get angry looks from people. Maybe it had something to do with the sniffing, coughing and hacking I was doing. So I got out of there.

On the way home, I couldn’t help but to recall her words about not holding back the truth. The fact is: for Christians, Jesus is our truth. We are called to be the salt of the earth. Since we are salt (as Will recently put it), sometimes we have to get mixed into the meat every now and then. To that end, the lady was absolutely correct. But I also couldn’t help but to think that our ministry goes WAY beyond wearing apparel that condemns sins. Of course I didn't think to say any of this until after I left the store (don’t you just HATE that?!)

Anyway, it bothers me to think that many of those to whom we are called to minister only experience the condemnation that comes from not following Christ. So many of them will never experience the truth and happiness that comes with following Him. If our lives as Christians have become more about chastising those with whom we disagree (denying rights to gays, vilifying those who commit abortion, calling someone’s religioous belief system a lie, etc.), how can we expect for people to accept our message? How can we expect the Holy Spirit to work wonders if we spend our time creating the obstacles? I mean, Jesus is pretty good at what He does and all, but I’m sure that He doesn't appreciate us making His job harder than it needs to be.

Proponents of the “Apparel Ministry” (as I like to call it) feel like as long as they are planting the seed of inquiry and conversation, the Holy Spirit can move in and take over. Really? Now, I’m not trying to discount the power of God; but let’s not kid ourselves here. Above all else, God gives US the call to be physical extensions of His heavenly hand. As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, God expects us to get our hands dirty when it comes to reaching out to others. Relying on some mystical being to change somebody’s heart won’t work after you’ve physically insulted and demeaned them with a shirt. Some people can see the error of their ways and turn away from wrongdoing. But most people don’t. Usually, we're to blame for it.

In every instance in the Bible where God reveals Himself and wins the hearts and/or respect of those who originally didn’t believe, He used some person to be an extension of Him. Those people built relationships with others, worked with them, supported them, fellowshipped with them. They didn’t just wait around condemning others; hoping that it would eventually lead to someone asking “What must I do to be saved.”

I suspect that a large part of the problem is that many of us can’t reach out to others because we don’t even know them. I’m estimating that less than 5% of the Christian world even has a true friendship with people outside of their church circle. When’s the last time you had a meal with a non-Christian? When’s the last time you did something sociable with someone with whom you had varying faiths?

**Digression**

It took me a second to realize this for myself; largely because the only people I've really associated with were church folks; especially true since most of my family is spread out all over the country. But as I started breaking away from them somewhat (except for my partner, JD who has been my heart even when I didn’t deserve her), my eyes were opened to how many acquaintences I didn’t have. My inner circle was essentially made of the folks at my former church. Essentially, my eggs were all in one basket.

**End of Digression**

Having closeness with other Christians is pretty good when you’re trying to maintain a healthy relationship with those in the body of Christ. It’s not so good when you become so exclusive that you don't minister to those outside of the circle. I think that’s why I’ve been trying to be more involved with community activities, volunteerism, and school projects. It’s a good way to know people different from myself. The ultimate point is that we need to remove ourselves from our church exclusion and show the outside world the Jesus that lives in us. Building relationships, I think, is far more fruitful to doing so than wearing sweatshirts that belittle people.

Your thoughts?

- ACL

17 "Insiders" spoke their mind. Join in...:

Cynthia said...

Yeah Dre. This WAS a long post. But it was a great read. I think you make an interesting observation. Too often, we only associate with those like us, making it easier to pardon the sins we commit. But when it comes to the sins of those outside of our "circle", we're more likely to persecute and condemn. Sad truth in the body of Christ.

Cynthia said...

I was only teasing about the long post joke, by the way. :-)

But it was long..... LOL!

Will Luongo said...

I think it all boils down to priorities. So often in the church our priorities our either other church people or "reaching the unsaved". Neither of these priorities are scriptural. A more biblical model looks like this:

Love God, Love People. That's it. It's almost like if Jesus were to break the commandments down into two that is what He'd say...

That being said, I don't think service opportunities are the only way to reach people, in fact I think this is a lie that continues to propagate a "we are better than them" attitude.

Many of the finest ministry moments, and deepest questions fielded happened at a weekly LAN party that I used to hold at my house every week. I invited any of my friends that would be interested, whether they were from school, church or work, it didn't matter. That is where the real meat of ministry is. Spending time with people and not just christians.

Will Luongo said...

*So often in the church our priorities are either other church people...

I started rewriting that sentence in the middle and messed it up. lol

Marianita said...

Hey, thanks for the shout out! That post was long, but I'm not one to talk (My comment on your last post was probably longer than your post itself).

It was bold of you to tell that woman what you thought of her shirt. I'm glad you did it.

Exposure to different religions is really important. It helps you appreciate your own beliefs, and, I feel, it gives you a sense that you made a choice in your religion, instead of "I was raised Catholic, so I'm Catholic."

I am proud to say that I have a lot of friends with different religious affiliations, and I've learned so much from my Jewish, Buddhist, Muslim, Agnostic, Athiest, Jehova's Witness, and Wiccan friends (the list goes on!)

Might I add, Cynthia and Will both bring up very good points.

saved sinner said...

Andre,

I wouldn't completely write off how un-profound you thought you were. It is very well possible that your conversation with her, even brief as it was, could have at least sparked some ideas in her head that may not have previously been there. Like her, your only job was to get the word out there. What she does with it is on her.

Outstanding points you raised in this post about relationships and reaching out to others. Jesus was more about inclusion and acceptance than what many of today's so-called followers are.

Good job too, Marianita, for your right-on-the-money observations.

saved sinner said...

Andre,

I wouldn't completely write off how un-profound you thought you were. It is very well possible that your conversation with her, even brief as it was, could have at least sparked some ideas in her head that may not have previously been there. Like her, your only job was to get the word out there. What she does with it is on her.

Outstanding points you raised in this post about relationships and reaching out to others. Jesus was more about inclusion and acceptance than what many of today's so-called followers are.

Good job too, Marianita, for your right-on-the-money observations.

Andre said...

@ Cyn: Your analogy reminds of the parents who can find fault in EVERYBODY else's kids but their own. Same damning effect. Good point.

But I still don't appreciate the long post jokes...

@ Will: I'm not exactly sure where you're going with your comments. The way I see it is that BOTH of the priorites you cited are, in fact, scriptural. (1) 1 Cor. 12 explicitly cites fellowship with other believes as on the purpose of the Church. Fellow Christians make up the "body" of Christ. Without fellowship, there is a lack of harmony and equilibrium; similar to if an 'arm' was in conflict with a 'leg'. (2) "Reaching out to others" is also scripturally supported by the Great Commission. "Go ye therefore..."

I think the ultimate problem, however, comes when believers get things twisted. They either place more premium on their church friends than they do the unsaved OR -- if they DO minister to the unsaved -- they use some insipid and persecutorial methods of doing so.

Don't worry about the typo. I get it...

@ Mari: I KNOW that the "Queen Antithesis of Brevity" didn't just tell me how long this post was. The nerve of some people...

At any rate, I agree with you about the idea of broadening our scopes by referring to MANY types of people. Growth, to me, can't occur without a certain exposure to unfamiliar, uncharted areas. I think that one of the reasons why God caused the people of Babel to have different languages was for man to remove the comfort and convenience that came with knowing everyone. Given that there are so many types of people, beliefs, and cultures, no one group can lay claim to having the ONE TRUE belief.

How did your exam go?

@ Saved: Hey Rob. Sometimes getting the word out is hard when you don't have a listening ear. But I get your point. Thanks!

I see that you posted twice. Are you having a hard time with the submit button?

Marianita said...

Hey Andrem I DID admit that I shouldn't be making fun of your long post "I'm not one to talk."

I guess I stumped anonymous guy. Yay!

The exam went ok, I did above average but I wish I had done better.

Moving along, besides Anon, the people who read your blog and comment on it are very insightful, and I'm glad I didn't ruffle too many feathers.

Greeneyes said...

Andre My Greeneyed KING,

Hey Sweet Cheeks , Hows the cold??? all sniffed out I hope ;0).
I really like the long posts , esp something as interesting as this and of course yours!

You said this lady was a really nice , well it goes to show you cannot judge a book by its cover . I do not agree with wearing a shirt that can insult , hurt or judge anyone , putting in someones face , what about the rest of the "SINS" in the world were they posted ,no, just the ones she chose to judge , the shirt may have gotten more towards salvation with beauty not threat.

Your comment on reaching out to others is the right one , we need more people like you ANDRE, I have many friends from many faiths ,not one like this "LADY" and that is fine by me , Take care
Stay warm and God Bless

G

Andre said...

@ Mari: I know you took a bite out of some homemade humble pie. I just like to rub it in a bit. Any chance that I have to pick on you is most welcomed.

I don't think you have to worry much about ruffling feathers, unless people aren't well receptive to intellectuals like you imparting their knowledge. Thanks, as always, for your insight.

@ Greeny: My green-eyed queen. Most of that crap is out of my system now. The green tea pills I've been taking have been working wonders. Thanks for checking up.

Interesting point you raised about the lady. Like you, I would've NEVER associated her personality with what she was wearing. I admit I don't know much about her. But if her personality is anything like what I experienced with her, she'd do far more to advance the Kingdom (with strangers and friends alike) by being herself and not relying on apparel.

Keep yourself warm up there, young lady.

ajbendaña said...

This post reminds me of the day I realized that most if not all of my judgements of people based on first impression are wrong. I used to just show up to a place, and say hello to the people I knew becuase I felt that all the others were alien and unwelcoming. Then one day I decided to just go and say hello and introduce myself to everyone in attendence. It was a huge wakeup up call for me in the sense that it made me understand that people just need interaction (with different book covers a.k.a peoples façade) in order to loosen up and see people for who they really might be. I was more connected and could focus on reaching out to people I never would have spoken to. I made the night all the more memorable and fun.

I know this post was kind of off topic but its all good.

Will Luongo said...

Andre: (I almost called you Dre, would that have been ok?

It's not that these ideas themselves are bad by themselves, or that they are as ideas unscriptural. For example, church people are people, and therefore should benefit from growth, attention, and love. Similarly, reaching the unsaved is important.

However, to put these as the main priority is entirely unscriptural, and nowhere does scripture suggest otherwise. Perhaps you might object that their main priorities are not as I have stated. I would disagree, and cite the following examples:

Many churches don't want to piss off the people that are already coming by inviting or appealing to people they may disapprove of, or by not holding them accountable. In recovery, we have a word for this mentality: Co-dependency. This mind set is unhealthy, and unscriptural.

Similarly, many churches will sacrifice principles, values, and clear stances as to not offend the people not yet in their midst. Same word: Co-dependency.

Finally, 1 Corinthians 12 does not at all suggest that the purpose of the church is fellowship, although we are required to live in unity and understand our individual roles. Requirements and purpose are very different.

Reaching out to others is not the great commission, and this is one thing that the church twists maybe more than anything else (speaking of when christians get things twisted..). We are sent to make disciples of all the nations. All the nations includes all nations, saved or unsaved.

Andre said...

@ Aldo: Your experiences, while they ARE yours, aren't that unique. There are countless experiences where people with previously held stereotypes and prejudices were proven wrong by opening up to strangers. Your story is pretty unique in the sense that you ACTUALLY MADE AN ATTEMPT to know the other person. Congratulations. You're WAAAAY ahead of the game.

Andre said...

@ Will:

Andre: (I almost called you Dre, would that have been ok?

Call me anything you want; as long as you don't call me collect. *crickets chirping*

It's not that these ideas themselves are bad by themselves, or that they are as ideas unscriptural. For example, church people are people, and therefore should benefit from growth, attention, and love. Similarly, reaching the unsaved is important.

No argument there.

However, to put these as the main priority is entirely unscriptural, and nowhere does scripture suggest otherwise. Perhaps you might object that their main priorities are not as I have stated. I would disagree, and cite the following examples:

Many churches don't want to piss off the people that are already coming by inviting or appealing to people they may disapprove of, or by not holding them accountable. In recovery, we have a word for this mentality: Co-dependency. This mind set is unhealthy, and unscriptural.


I agree with you here, to an extent.

Similarly, many churches will sacrifice principles, values, and clear stances as to not offend the people not yet in their midst. Same word: Co-dependency.

Really? Maybe it's just with the churches I've had experience with, but it was actually JUST the opposite. It was the intolerance for different people and things that shaped the church. Hence, the purpose of this post.

The churches I've dealt with didn't care who they pissed off, as long as they informed outsiders of the church's "rules" and "norms".

Finally, 1 Corinthians 12 does not at all suggest that the purpose of the church is fellowship, although we are required to live in unity and understand our individual roles. Requirements and purpose are very different.

"Requirements" and "Purposes" are interrelated to me. Requirements; or a series of actions that need to be performed; can't exist without first defining the purpose; the "WHY" behind it. So, we're 'required' to live in unity, love, etc. for the PURPOSE of strengthening the body of Christ.

Reaching out to others is not the great commission, and this is one thing that the church twists maybe more than anything else (speaking of when christians get things twisted..). We are sent to make disciples of all the nations. All the nations includes all nations, saved or unsaved.

I never explicity said that 'reaching out' was exclusively for the unsaved. We can minister to essentially ANYBODY we come in contact with. The point of this post, however, was to examine our relationships with the unsaved to whom we are called to reach out and minister. Even though Jesus came as a doctor for the sick, He never said that the healthy couldn't stop by for the occassional check up...

Will Luongo said...

Collect:

I mean, Andre... ;)

I would argue that the churches in which you've experienced the opposite, really did only care about the people who were already 'christians' in their church, and would therefore be covered by the first of my either or preposition.

I can also demonstrate that purpose and requirement are different. We are required to keep the commandments, but that is not our purpose. In other words, requirements help us fill our purpose, therefore requirements cannot be purposes. Another example: There are requirements for graduation, but they aren't the purpose you go to school.

You never specifically said the unsaved, but since I did, and you replied to me, I assumed you did as well. You are correct that we are supposed to be reaching all people, but I hope it was clear that this was not the idea I was condemning as unscriptural.

Will Luongo said...

More typos: PLease replace preposition with proposition.

Also, I meant:

You never specifically said the unsaved, but since I did, and you replied to me, I assumed you were referring to them as well.