Last month, the American Freedom Defense Initiative placed advertisements in New York City subways that read,
“In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man.”
“In the choice between love and hate, choose love. Help stop bigotry against our Muslim neighbors.”
“Love your Muslim neighbors”
“Hate speech is not civilized. Support peace in word and deed.” From New York Times.
The ads war in the NYC subways make me think of the failure of the American melting pot. We still don’t know how to have kind, respectful spiritual conversation. We all want to clamber on to of the moral high ground and preach.
In the ad war I think both sides are missing something: love for each other. They’re calling names (“hate speech”, “savage”, “bigotry”) I think my favorite ad is Sojourners “Love your Muslim neighbor.” And yet, does the tit-for-tat advertisment make for more love?
I think people’s MO is to choose a side and dig trenches or we just hold our tongue. We don’t have spiritual conversations.
A week from tomorrow I’ll be speaking on “The Man Behind the Curtain: Good News Without Tricks” to Biola’s Torrey Conference. The question at this Christian university is like that at many others: how do I share good news in this changing world?
How do we bring up Jesus as if he weren’t an f-bomb, muttered or spoken too loud and then glancing around to see who heard.
Last weekend I ran into a woman whose story I began to tell in Coffee Shop Conversations. She was pregnant the same time I was so we had plenty to share.
I ran into her at our grocery story on Sunday and caught up a bit. I opened the conversation with “How have things been with your son and boyfriend?
“Husband,” she corrected, “But we split up. He was cheating on me.”
“I’m so sorry, that’s super annoying.” We talk and even laugh a bit. She tells me some more details and then I think of what I really want to ask.
“How has the split changed your feelings about marriage and love?” She launches into a long story of how she never thought she’d find love, but her ex gave her hope. Now, she’s just certain nothing will last. Nothing. I listen, I ask her if she’s more hopeless now.
“Not hopeless, realistic,” she says steely-eyed.
“How has this experience changed your feelings about God?”
“Not changed much really.” She explains how she used to go to church, how she prayed as a five year old that God would protect her from things that “should never happen to anyone.” And how God didn’t come, how God let her down. She tells me how “Bible-thumpers” will stop her and preach to her. How she’ll listen and sometimes even go to church with them (just to be polite). I plunge in with this,
“Do you remember from the times you went to church what Jesus says when he’s hanging on the cross?” She shakes her head, “God, why have you forsaken me?” She looks curious for second. “That reminds me of what you said” I tell her.
“Yea,” she responds, “But people tell me that if a rapist says he’s sorry God forgives him and lets him into heaven. I tell them, if that’s where the rapist is, I want to be in hell.”
My heart jumped with understanding. I got what she meant. I told her so. We talked a little about my son who was asking for a second sugar packet. We said goodbye.
So, I ask you, what is Jesus’ good news for her?
Evangelism is more about good news than it is about tricks or convincing one-liners.
Sometimes people ask me how I end up in these conversations. While I can’t underestimate the differences between extrovert and introvert (I’m the former), I’ve seen my introverted husband have deep spiritual conversations, too. We both practice two things:
1- relentless curiosity (which is neither loving or good to fake)
2- bold questions (for instance: “How have things been since _____”, “Are you married?” “What does that tattoo mean to you?” “How has your divorce changed the way you see love and marriage?” ”How has your divorce affected your journey with God?” ”Do you believe God has abandoned you?”)
If you practice both of these I promise you’ll have a chance to answer equally personal and meaningful questions.
By the way, these aren’t just questions I whip out on the unsuspecting “unbelievers” (can we lose that word?!). These are questions I ask anyone I care about. They’re questions I want to be asked by someone who wants to know me better.
Do you have any questions you love to ask others?