21 November, 2009

drive-by evangelism

I read the story of Pentecost this morning and my mind hinged on this: "We hear them telling in our tongues the mighty works of God!" I began to wonder what it would look like for me to learn how to do that--to speak others' languages, to talk to them in a way that actually meant something to them as people. The gospel was suddenly personal and accessible.

Verses like this just further reinforce my dislike of drive-by evangelism. I was the target of one such effort a few weeks ago. A middle-aged man came up to me and asked me if I could fill out a survey for him. I knew exactly what he was doing. I said I would and looked over a check-list that asked me for my name, e-mail, address, and phone number (none of which I gave), and then proceeded with a litany of questions that included "Who is Jesus?", "What are your psychological problems?" (really!) and "Do you go to church and if so, why not?" After I finished checking the boxes, the man asked me if I was a Christian. I told him that I was, and he proceeded to ask me if I "evangelized people regularly." I asked him to define it. He seemed taken off-guard. "Well... it's telling people about Jesus." I said that I did, but then qualified my statement by saying--perhaps too quickly--that I felt that evangelism required real relationships and investment of time.

I told him that I had to go (which I did), but left feeling disproportionately angry. I know he was just out there doing what he thought was right, but I had a hard time imagining anyone coming to know the grace and mercy of Christ through filling out a survey from a random man who accosted you in the middle of the quad. Or, like the poor freshman Emily and I saw a few weeks ago, who was double-teamed by two men and interrogated about why he was Hindi and why that was wrong.

The gospel takes more time than that; the gospel takes more effort than that. It's not enough just to pass out a survey and feel like you fulfilled your evangelism quota for a week. It's not enough to shout at students about damnation and masturbation from the Pit. It's relationships. It's getting to know someone beyond their label as a "convert" or a project. True evangelism is what Jesus modeled and the disciples propagated: it's Tyler Jones moving his family into a lower-class district of Raleigh and caring for his neighbors. It's Betsey asking the socially inept girl from class out to dinner every Tuesday. It's Alex and Emily giving up their Friday nights every week to pick up food donations for St. Joseph's. It's seeking out the unlovable, the ignored, the needy.

"It is like the surfacing of an impulse, like the materialization of fish, this rising, this coming to a head, like the ripening of nutmeats still in their husks, ready to split open like buckeyes in a field, shining with newness. “Surely the Lord is in this place; and I knew it not.” The fleeing shreds I see, the back parts, are a gift, an abundance. When Moses came down from the clift in Mount Sinai, the people were afraid of him: the very skin on his face shone." -- Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

On a different note, Guion is here this weekend and that means happiness, particularly now that I've finished drawing 50 costumes for an imaginary production of "A Streetcar Named Desire." I do not want to grow up and be a costume designer.

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