Sunday, June 18, 2006

The Courteous Evangelist

It is with some trepidation that Pretty Lady takes up her pen, to address the issue of Manners in Evangelism. She understands that when one is in the urgent business of saving souls, such petty details as Form may take on less than no importance in the mind of the believer. In addition, she has noticed that when a person is in the throes of attempting to save her soul, such insistence of hers on adhering to a common code of courtesy may be interpreted as 'defensiveness,' i.e. resistance to accepting the Word of Jesus Christ as her Salvation.

In vain, Pretty Lady has declared that she has no such resistance; that Jesus Christ is a close personal friend of hers, with whom she is in daily communication. Form has little to do with Message, and it is dangerous and counterproductive to conflate the two.

Be this as it may, Pretty Lady has some suggestions to offer, purely as a practical insight. These suggestions have been inspired by a visit from a recently converted friend of hers, and as such may be taken with any degree of latitude that you like.

1. Listen before you speak.

When Pretty Lady arrived at the street corner at which she had arranged to meet her friend, the friend was nowhere in sight. Off to one side, however, Pretty Lady noticed a crazy person with a handmade sign around her neck, wearing earphones, ranting with closed eyes into the crowd. Upon closer inspection this crazy person turned out to be her friend.

Pretty Lady tapped her friend upon the elbow, and swept her, sign and all, into an affectionate embrace. Really, a person's temperament does not change after conversion; the form is the same, the message is different. This particular friend has been a Notorious Performance Artist in her former incarnation, and Pretty Lady was delighted to see her using these skills in the service of the Lord.

If it struck her that shouting at people with one's ears plugged and one's eyes closed was not, perhaps, the best way to connect with potential sinners in the crowd, she kept this observation to herself. Pretty Lady feels that as a general rule, it is unwise to criticize before gaining a sense of the Big Picture.

As Pretty Lady has expressed before, it is her view that the most loving action a person can perform is to simply sit and listen. This does not mean 'watching a person's lips move until there is a long enough pause for you to start talking.' It means genuinely attempting to understand where the other person is coming from, without judgment or trying to 'fix' anything.

In addition, a good listener understands how to use questions, both in order to better flesh out their picture of the other person's viewpoint, and to indicate a sincere interest in such. When responding to the information received, it is also a good idea to take a lesson from conflict-resolution tactics, and use 'I' statements rather than 'you' statements. As in, "I have found that accepting Jesus Christ as my personal savior helped me to overcome my drug addiction problem," rather than "You are completely messed up and will remain that way until you let God into your life."

Particularly when you are talking to a person who has just finished explaining the large, central role that God has played in her life over the last several decades.

2. Easy on the Apostle Paul.

It is Pretty Lady's recollection, from Sunday School class, that before the Apostle Paul's conversion, the fellow was a rather nasty piece of work. It is unsurprising, then, that in his reformed zeal, the man should have tended toward extremist viewpoints. As she has observed, beliefs have little to do with temperament.

Whatever her personal views on the Epistles of the Apostle Paul, then, Pretty Lady feels that it is tactless and counterproductive to confront one's potential converts with the words of Paul as a starting point. They are far too likely to be perceived as an assault, period.

During their first couple of hours together, catching up in a sidewalk café, Pretty Lady's friend mentioned that she was doing 'homosexual outreach' in the Castro, to save the hapless victims of the 'homosexual lifestyle.' Pretty Lady found this statement surprising, in light of the fact that among our large mutual acquaintance, there are enough and varied gay persons that it seems self-evident that there is No Such Thing as a 'homosexual lifestyle.'
There are 'promiscuous lifestyles,' and 'monogamous lifestyles;' there are 'loving lifestyles' and 'using lifestyles.' Pretty Lady attempted to express that these distinctions are where she places her attention, when deciding whether or not a person truly needs to be saved from themselves.

Her friend snapped, "Are you defending homosexuals?"

Pretty Lady refrained from retorting, "Are you attacking them?" and changed the subject.
3. Understand and respect other people's limits.

While this appears to be a no-brainer, Pretty Lady has observed that there are many people who do not perceive or acknowlege another person's right to set boundaries. Ignorant of the axiom, "Good fences make good neighbors," they persist in their attempts to show their neighbor the True Path, long after the neighbor has made it clear that their attentions are unwelcome. In Pretty Lady's view, this shows a profound disrespect for the neighbor, and is unlikely to engender positive results.

When she has questioned various evangelists of her acquaintance about this issue, they have invariably responded, "Jesus Christ told us to expect, and endure, persecution." Well and good.

However, there is a difference between enduring persecution and seeking it out--let alone perceiving it where none, in fact, exists. If Pretty Lady may make use of another cliche: "Nobody loves a martyr, not even the martyr."

After a number of hours in the company of her friend, Pretty Lady declared that she was in need of some quiet communion with God and her drawing table. She suggested that we make our way to the park, where we could soak up Nature, the friend could read her Bible, and Pretty Lady could get some work done.

While Pretty Lady drew, then, her friend sought out another lady in our vicinity and exhorted God to heal her. The other lady took this in good part. When the lady departed, the friend turned her zeal toward Pretty Lady once again, and treated her to an extempore discussion on what was wrong with Pretty Lady's life, her views, her friendships, her mind and her habits.

After awhile Pretty Lady mildly requested that she be allowed to work in silence for a bit.

"You don't have to get defensive. I'm just trying to help you," declared the friend.

It is Pretty Lady's sweeping observation that once a person has accused her of being defensive, the conversation is effectively over. It does not matter if the perceived 'defensiveness' exists or not, or whether this defensiveness is a rational response to inappropriate behavior or an indication of psychotic paranoia, and a deep denial of the Truth. The subtext remains the same; it is, in effect, that "I have perceived that you are setting a boundary, and I do not acknowledge your right to do so."

Whether or not you acknowledge another person's boundaries, most people will continue to defend them ever more strenuously until they are firmly established. Ergo the slamming of doors, ending of friendships, and violent acts of warfare.

4. It is in emptiness that God may truly come to us.
The situation between Pretty Lady and her friend continued to deteriorate, through dinner and beyond. Without enumerating all the painful and confusing details of their conversation, let me just say that the evening ended with Pretty Lady becoming nearly hysterical upon a stranger's doorstep, and her friend offering to pack her bags and depart.

"Maybe that's a good idea," Pretty Lady declared.

The ensuing walk back to the car was a silent one. In this silence, for which she had been yearning for hours, Pretty Lady felt healed. Her heart unclenched itself, and she perceived the perfect imperfections in her friend and in herself. Once they reached the car, Pretty Lady spoke again.

"I apologize for getting angry, for being passive-aggressive, defensive and mean. All I needed was a little quiet. I would be happy for you to stay the night, as long as I can remain quietly in the studio by myself for a bit."

Her friend accepted this apology, although her aspect gave Pretty Lady to understand that she was still enduring great agony of spirit. Unable to soothe this agony, Pretty Lady contented herself with vacuuming the living room, and fetching clean towels, soap, and bedding.

In the morning her friend departed before daylight, leaving some inspirational CD's and a written apology for being so judgmental. Pretty Lady bears her friend no grudges, although she suspects that they will remain on their separate pathways for the foreseeable future.

In conclusion: Pretty Lady feels that she must retract an earlier assertion that engagement is necessary for true affection to blossom. There are times when it is much more loving and appropriate to sit in silence.


Anonymous said...

This was a brilliant and much-needed post.

It's quite telling that the *only* person ever to inspire me to seek out religion and spiritual self-examination is a fundamentalist Christian who never, ever, EVER tried to tell me I was a bad person according to his religion (even though I was and am). ElBorak simply loved me, for who I was, and invited me into his circle of friends and family. After witnessing the most amazingly healthy and functioning family of intelligent, non-judgemental people I've ever met, I have, over the course of several years, re-thought my position on organized religion, and will be seeking out a synagogue this fall when we move to a city that actually *has* one. And he thinks that's just spiffy, rather than lamenting that I'm not accepting Jesus Christ as my lord and saviour. Funny, a Christian leading a Jew back to the path of faith. Maybe not so funny, since he was maybe the third person I'd ever met who actually *follows* the doctrine of Christ.

Pretty Lady said...

Thank you, Mitzibel, that is very inspiring. I had a conversation along similar lines with a very close friend, who said that the one person to inspire her with an interest in returning to the Church is her sister-in-law, who never talks about her faith; she simply lives it.

Anonymous said...

I fully agree. More people are changed by observing people living their faith. Especially if one has known them for a long time. One's naturaly curiousity will cause the unsaved to ask why are these people happier/more content/peaceful or what have you, than I am? What do they have that I do not.


The Aardvark said...

Very,very nice.
Believe it or not, I do my best to refrain from pummeling folks into submission with a 25 lb King James.

Trying to live it before a watching world always presents a challenge, (as opposed to merely mouthing). The attempt to live it has opened more ears than shouting from the rooftop. One is also less likely to injure oneself from the fall. You may nibble at the metaphor at your leisure.

Pretty Lady said...

No, Aardvark, anyone with sufficient detachment and perspective to come up with a phrase like 'pummelling folks into submission with a 25 lb King James' is usually immune to the actual action of doing so.

Humor is indeed a saving grace. :-)

Pretty Lady said...

Spacebunny, thanks for visiting!

Anonymous said...

C.S. Lewis said, in the "Four Loves", that in true _philo_ friendship, that sometimes nothing more be done between two people than to sit and watch the fire; i.e. that this is evidence also of good communication.

Anonymous said...

C.S. Lewis said, in the "Four Loves", that in true _philo_ friendship, that sometimes nothing more be done between two people than to sit and watch the fire; i.e. that this is evidence also of good communication.