November 18, 2017

Conversation Enders

Twitter-CensorshipThis has certainly been the week where we have talked about words. We have discussed etiquette when commenting here. We have discussed Christians use of militaristic words. We have talked about Christian arguments. We have looked at the need to be careful when you speak. To be honest with you, I have not been that involved in the site this week. My daughter and I are on the West coast, where she is competing in the Canadian National Track Cycling Championships, and I am serving as the team driver.

There has been one thing however that has been on my mind concerning words, and that is how we put up stumbling blocks that end conversations could otherwise be about Jesus. Or in other cases say things that cause important conversations to never begin.

A young woman I know recently tweeted: “[Kid] next to me just stated that ‘there’s no proof for evolution anyway!'” She then used a hashtag that showed that she didn’t think very highly of this person because of the statement they made.

Strangely enough, I felt myself wanting to leap to the defense of the anti-evolution comment. But then I said to myself, how do I defend a comment that is indefensible?

The fact is, on social media I see Christians making comments all the time that make me cringe. The sad thing is that these comments are not conversation starters, but conversation enders. To give a parallel example, I have a friend who is big into conspiracy theories. He also runs as a candidate for political office. My (unspoken) thought for him is: “Do you think your advancing of political theories is ever going to advance your chances of gaining political office?”

I want to say the same thing to other Christians out there. “Do you think that your advancement of topic X, is going to do anything to help people to consider Jesus? Do you think it might hinder people from considering Jesus?”

That is not to say that we water down our message because it might be distasteful. I am not proposing that at all. But if our message becomes so obscured because of side issues, then are we really giving people a chance to hear the good news.

As usual your thoughts and comments are welcome. (P.S. – This is not a post about evolution, I could have used a number of different examples.)

Comments

  1. “Do you think that your advancement of topic X, is going to do anything to help people to consider Jesus? Do you think it might hinder people from considering Jesus?”

    First of all, if you really want to argue/reason with some one, social media is NOT the place to do it. Do it in person if at all possible, by private email (mutual consent only) otherwise.

    Sadly, though, I’m pretty sure most “debates” on social media have nothing to do with actually exchanging viewpoints and trying to convince others. For all practical purposes, they are displays of territoriality and social belonging. “I am (insert group/cause here), I am good! You are not, you are EVIL! Grrrrr!”

    • I’m pretty sure most “debates” on social media have nothing to do with actually exchanging viewpoints and trying to convince others. For all practical purposes, they are displays of territoriality and social belonging. “I am (insert group/cause here), I am good! You are not, you are EVIL! Grrrrr!”

      My sojourn on Christianforums taught me pretty much that. The faithgroup-specific/edification-oriented subforums were very friendly in tenor (I got some nice encouragement there, in fact), but the theology/discussion-oriented subforums were, by and large, shameless rehearsals of opinions followed either by hearty replies of “harrumph!” or uncharitably-worded rebuttals with their own harrumphs from other users.

      Considering who’s typing this response (I mean me, for clarity’s sake), however, my mind is haunted by images of a pots and a kettle…

      • Adam Tauno Williams says:

        > but the theology/discussion-oriented subforums were, by and large, shameless rehearsals

        And this is not limited to Christian/Religious forums. For someone to go off-book there has to be some degree of trust; there is no trust on most Internet forums, everyone remains strangers.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      >social media is NOT the place to do it.

      THIS.

      >I’m pretty sure most “debates” on social media have nothing

      This.

      Social Media is odd in that it is a write-mostly medium. Far far more is written than is ever read. Social Media is more about identity [hence endless “brand management” talks, presentations, and conferences] than it is about content or information.

      But this is not entirely SM’s fault. Good informative debates have always required structure and moderation [hence a moderator], SM lacks that entirely. There is also no gate to the pen, nobody has to qualify at all to participate, which is another requirement for informative and constructive conversation. Face-to-face automatically gets some of that via simple proximity. But on the interwebs someone can ‘chime in’ on a local or regional issue from the other coast, with no context or background, and then in responding to that the conversation veers away from constructive.

      • Part of it is the cultural tendency to get offended. I’ve had very productive and informative conversations on SM, and largely you can tell that isn’t going to happen as soon as somebody gets offended because you disagree with them. It’s really a maturity issue more than anything else, I think, and SM tends to attract a broader spectrum of personas to the conversation than many other mediums, so there is no way to filter between those who have something positive to contribute and those who only have a flag to wave.

        Some of the argumentation that goes on in many of the Lutheran FB groups I participate with quickly devolves into the petty and personal. Other times, some genuine theologians chime in and teach us all. You just have to know how to filter what you see to benefit from it, and you will always find what you are looking for.

    • Re:Social media.

      Social media tends not only to be fairly anonymous and impersonal, but it’s also so dang NARCISSTIC! It’s all about ME and WHAT I THINK and HOW THIS AFFECTS ME and HERE’S THE AWESOME THING I’M DOING TODAY or HERE’S THE HORRIBLE THING HAPPENING IN MY LIFE. Even here, at IM, which is a pretty good community and healthy as far as social media sites goes, can be a narcissist’s dream.

      And needless to say, narcissism and Jesus don’t match. The notion of “death to self” is really hard to find in a medium perfect for “self-promotion” and narcissism.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      For all practical purposes, they are displays of territoriality and social belonging. “I am (insert group/cause here), I am good! You are not, you are EVIL! Grrrrr!”

      “HERE AHURA-MAZDA, THERE AHRIMAN!”
      — pre-Islamic Persian battle cry

  2. When our minds are made up about something, it is difficult to even have a conversation. I think it becomes even more so when we have a preconceived idea about the person to whom we are speaking. (Really, how does one reason with a fool? And yet God invites us: “Come, let us reason together!” Is 1:18)

    The IM post yesterday “spoke” volumes to me – perhaps if we began our conversations with the prayer of Psalm 141:3, they would last longer. I think the quickest way to end a conversation is to not listen.

    Several years ago I did a study about sharing Jesus with others. Asking questions and listening to the answers provide the discernment necessary to determine if the Holy Spirit is at work in the conversation; and if not – hold your tongue. (This is in contrast to the witnessing technique I observed : Shortly after being introduced, the Christian took charge of the conversation by asking, “Do you know Jesus as your Savior? Because if you don’t, you’re going to Hell!” Sad but true story ….)

    In the end, perhaps we need to ask ourselves, “Would anyone want to consider Jesus after speaking or being with me?”

    • I met a man here in Harrisburg Pa going out on the streets and doing outreach. He would stand on a corner with a bullhorn and shout things like your parentheses. He stood with another man who was incredibly humble. My first response was to run as far as I could from the bullhorn. Yet the person I was with wanted to talk with him. We were grouped up as time was out and we were heading back to our meeting place. Some had not kind words and some said this should never be and I leaned in that direction but was quiet and was asking what was I seeing from the Lord.

      Weeks later the man came out with us but he couldn’t stand our modest approach and it was obvious by the shaking of his head. He did lead some people in prayer that we did not and I watched. He was in the drug culture for along time and Jesus had saved him from it and he had zeal. Oh boy alot of zeal. Most would have a hard time with him including me.

      My daughter called me about a man she met at her store she manages who said he went out on the streets and she wondered if I knew him. She spoke about how he said most churches wouldn’t even want him there and he spoke about God non stop. I said to her didn’t you say you were saved and knew Jesus. She said I would have but he never stopped long enough that I could.

      Immediately my thoughts went to when I get so worked up thinking about God how I could be doing this and I learned and am still learning. I was sad. We can do this so easily. This man is on a journey and God will move through him to people only he can touch. I’ve seen it. Others might get hurt by his roughness, though I think God will send someone to their side, after all he did to mine. I will not make excuses for this man I only know he will change as time rolls on and he continues.

      “Several years ago I did a study about sharing Jesus with others. Asking questions and listening to the answers provide the discernment necessary to determine if the Holy Spirit is at work in the conversation; and if not – hold your tongue.”……………. This is wisdom and has caused me to reflect on many things and I need it to be the gift it is.

      • Richard Hershberger says:

        This reminds me of Brother Jed and Sister Cindy. Anyone unfamiliar with them should look them up. Their witnessing technique was to show up at a college campus and shout abuse at passersby. Back in the 1980s when I was in college their appearance was the source of much glee. It was considered a splendid clown show. I’m sure the idea was that some would come to mock and stay to pray, but I never heard of anyone being converted this way, and I can’t imagine why anyone would be. Apparently they are still doing their shtick today.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          Oh, yeah. I heard of these two hitting Cal State Fullerton many-many years ago. Was “Sister Cindy” the self-described “ex-Disco Queen” otherwise described as “a five foot Guinea Pig dressed as a Fifties teenager, poodle skirt and all”?

          • Richard Hershberger says:

            That’s the one. At least the “ex-Disco Queen” part. That line stands out prominently in my memory. I don’t recall her physical appearance or attire.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            That was the secondhand description passed around my area.

        • Actually Richard believe it or not he connected with the hardcore drug addicts and drug dealers like he was and he did reach some. I realize that coming from that life is extremely self focused and it carries over and is worked on by the Holy Spirit. Many more will have to come into these lives and some will never go any farther than they are but its okay. This love of our God accommodates as I am learning to do also. Easier said than done for me at least.

          • Richard Hershberger says:

            Perhaps, but college campuses are a poor place to go looking for hardcore drug addicts and dealers to connect with. I’m not claiming that there aren’t drug dealers and users on campus. Of course there are. But they are the functional ones. Those that descend into “hardcore” status drop out pretty quickly. In the meantime, Brother Jed and Sister Cindy are busy putting forth the message to everyone else that Christianity is a clown show. Hardcore drug addicts and dealers aren’t that hard to find, if that is their calling.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            In the meantime, Brother Jed and Sister Cindy are busy putting forth the message to everyone else that Christianity is a clown show.

            “We All Float Down Here! And when You join Us, YOU’LL FLOAT TOO!”

          • I’m sorry Richard for the mix up. I was talking about the guy here in Harrisburg not the others you mentioned. I don’t know who they are and I wouldn’t spend any time trying to figure that out.

        • I know Brother Jed. He’d haunt us at my school. And apparently my old church used to partner with him until he got too crazy even for them.

          I read one of his books once. A manifesto on Romans 7-9 (or is 6-8? those three important chapters). The man is a self-admitted Pelagian who thinks Pelagius got a bad rap because everyone else just wanted their sin and didn’t want to live holy and godly enough.

          He’s a heretic. I won’t mince words. And as an evangelist he made me very ashamed to be an openly known believer and fellow campus evangelist. At one point I may have wanted to try open air preaching/shaming, but no more. He was an arrogant sore and blight on campus every day, routinely trumped by believers and nonbelievers alike on any number of topics, and was too blinded to ever be humble for a moment. Throw out a zip code, lift a few phrases, and work the crowds. I’m sure there are churches who’d pay to support a man like that doing things “for the kingdom”.

          A pox on him.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            Throw out a zip code, lift a few phrases, and work the crowds. I’m sure there are churches who’d pay to support a man like that doing things “for the kingdom”.

            “WITNESSING the Gospel” and “Saving Souls” justifies anything and everything.

        • Jed Smock! He would come to campus when I was in college & I was so surprised a few years ago to discover he was still at it. I can still picture him after 30 years, red faced standing on a busy corner of campus yelling at people and calling them “Whoremongers! Brood of vipers!”

          He got attention for sure, but left a bad taste in just about everybody’s mouth.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            I wonder if when he’s not Street Screaming, Bro Jed makes the rounds of local churches with tales of his Persecution for the Sake of The Gospel.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        I met a man here in Harrisburg Pa going out on the streets and doing outreach. He would stand on a corner with a bullhorn and shout things like your parentheses.

        “And stop screaming. Nobody likes a religion with people screaming.”
        — The original Internet Monk

        • I said where I was from so there might be a chance I can share communion with a dear man named Charles and that list is open by the way. i don’t know how that’s going to happen but stranger things have.

          • You can find me by clicking on my name. This online place is about as good communion as it gets in the meantime. And if not on this side, definitely on the other.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says:

        ” I will not make excuses for this man I only know he will change as time rolls on and he continues.”

        How do you know this?

        • Didn’t you?

          • I did.

          • Adam Tauno Williams says:

            No, nothing in the story tells me what *will* happen. I suspect we mean different things by “know”.

          • I’m sorry Adam. I cut that off. IMHO(I am not use to these caps things so I’ll practice) the Lord doesn’t hang carrots in front of us. The key is continuing. Sometimes it doesn’t look like anything is happening but change seems to be a constant here. Mind bender.

            For example my neighbors have no idea how many times I have fixed their fish pond because it just keeps running fine. LOL. They never see me doing that. I keep an eye on it because I love the fish and he has enough to deal with because of cancer. I can’t remember a time where I have not done things for my neighbors. If I being who I am imagine God.

            I do believe we think we get stuck but even in the stuck we are being moved. All in all quite amazing.

      • and Jesus had saved him from it and he had zeal. Oh boy alot of zeal. Most would have a hard time with him including me.

        I consider those people dangerous. Yes, they may be believers, but they are doing more harm than good, no matter how self-righteously they/we truss up what they do. They’ve been gloriously saved and forgotten common sense. They forget that there are parts of the Bible like Proverbs that tell you to shut up and work a normal job and live godly.

        Glorify their actions, yet they are deeply unbiblical. And as has been my experience, crucify those who try to apply a seatbelt to the so-called “holy spirit movement”.

        • Adam Tauno Williams says:

          > I consider those people dangerous.

          Agree.

          > Yes, they may be believers

          Correct, but this exempts them from nothing, and certainly not from norms of civility.

          And I have no doubt there are believers in the asylums. Yet no one would ask them to be their spokesman.

          • Patrick Kyle says:

            ’10 But you, why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. 11 For it is written,

            “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to Me,
            And every tongue shall [e]give praise to God.”

            12 So then each one of us will give an account of himself to God.’ Romans14:10 -12

            “4 Who are you to judge the [a]servant of another? To his own [b]master he stands or falls; and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.” Romans 14:4

          • Patrick Kyle says:

            “And I have no doubt there are believers in the asylums. Yet no one would ask them to be their spokesman.”

            Maybe God does.. Been reading in the OT lately. Jeremiah tells the inhabitants of Judah they are toast so God is telling them to surrender to the enemy now and if they don’t goes on to describe the horrors that await. Or Ezekiel with his x-rated rants and eating bread cooked over a pile of crap, and laying on his side for a year. Or Hosea, marrying a prostitute in the Name of the Lord and chasing her through the market place every day trying to separate her from her chosen vocation. Like John the Baptist or Elijah were ‘balanced personalities. Even Jesus. Can you imagine the comments on this thread if someone went into a prosperity Gospel church and tore up their bookstore and whipped people with a bunch of ropes?

            I am real cautious when it comes to being the ‘speech police.’ Although I might find some things distasteful or even rude, God uses a whole bunch of different people and personalities in His efforts to reach the widest audience. There are some people who absolutely are not reached by reasoned, quiet, and polite dialogue .

            My mother attempted to raise me to be mature enough to not be easily offended, and to be a bigger person than to hold others in contempt for differences of opinion or actions. ( The jury is still out on how successful she was. Though these concerns are always somewhere in the mix.)
            Contempt and disdain are lauded and encouraged in our culture. We take’ our right’ to be pissed of and offended very seriously and exercise it vigorously. Much to the detriment of our faith. Doesn’t Paul list outbursts of anger as a fruit of the ‘flesh?’

          • Random side comment, but it just struck me how delightfully hopeful Romans 14:4 is.

          • Yes, Danielle. And the Message take on Romans 14:2-4 is wonderful!

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            Text instead of Zip Codes?

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          They forget that there are parts of the Bible like Proverbs that tell you to shut up and work a normal job and live godly.

          A common refrain in Judaism is “Just Live Your Life”.

          • Exactly. Not to mention 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12. “Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.”

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            And I think of all those Medieval priests, monks, and nuns who went into Holy Orders or the monastery/convent because it was expected of them, where the only way to be Spiritual was to take the vows and separate from the outside world.

            And the ascetics who were so into “Mortification of their Flesh” in the name of their Souls — like St Rose of Lima clawing her once-beautiful face into a mass of scar tissue and gargling lye to destroy her once-beautiful voice.

            And today’s Nth-degree of Separation Fundies, isolating themselves from the Outside World into Pure Christian Bubbles (furnished for them by CHRISTIAN(TM) knockoffs of outside pop culure) to avoid Heathen Contamination and pass the Rapture Litmus Test, like Kirk Cameron’s Excessive Scrupulosity, so terrified by contamination by Those Heathen or the possibility X Might Cause Me To Sin that he locks himself in his trailer when shooting Left Behind because he heard Heathens were on the set.

            This isn’t “just living your life”, just the opposite. It’s avoiding living your life — or even living a life — to gain brownie points with God and pass the Great White Throne Litmus Test.

        • You know who the most dangerous people in the world IMO are those that are graceless. Have you ever seen a wounded animal. Have you ever taken the trap off their leg after they tried to chew their foot off and were starving to death. Have you ever been bitten by them to where they have drawn blood. I have and that same animal lives with my mother now on three legs and is loved and healed.

          These people you have no problem considering dangerous are not that different. Some of us have traps on our legs and don’t even know it yet. I am not afraid of a man like that. I don’t understand everything that is moving him or why he is moving that way. I do try to have compassion and sometimes I don’t succeed.

          I will keep trying to exhibit the right things as far as I know and am able to. Always trying to remember that what I know is incomplete and will never be complete on this side and it won’t be long and that won’t matter as much as I think it does now.

          A man here struck by lightning was the strongest man in town physically at one time. Michael is someone you can touch and sense the power that comes from him. He sits on street corners here with a staff with scriptures carved into it he made himself. He blesses those that go by in some of the tougher neighborhoods here. He says it took lightning to drive him to his knees and Christ sent him back and went he got up he believed. Mentally ill, dangerous, you could say that to him and I am sure he will extend grace. A drug dealer hit him as hard as he could in the face with a gun he wanted to shoot him with. Michael just stood there and heard vengeance is mine sayeth the Lord. Two weeks later they killed someone and ended up in jail for life. We got to pray for them together. I like Michael.

          • I agree with your attitude toward the “odd ones,” w. Probably because I’ve spent a lot of time trying to NOT seem odd. As you say, God reaches people in different ways, and they aren’t all polite, attractive, closely-reasoned ways either. And as you said above, some of the prophets weren’t the type you’d introduce to your parents!

            When people have been in the grip of demons like alcohol or drugs, they don’t (usually) need quiet explanations about right and wrong; they need an approach to God that is as strong and compelling as addiction is to the dark side. IMO.

  3. Not only can these comments be conversation enders. They can be relationship enders. There are people in my life – some of them family members – who I have contact with mostly through social media. If I had to make a decision about what kind of people they are based solely on what I see on their Facebook pages, I can honestly say I would want nothing to do with them.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      Isn’t this an upside? You get a greater perspective on someone’s mind when they feel free to air this side of themselves.

      I find it to be a relief. They say things publicly they would never say standing next to me, only because they would not want to be in proximity to my reaction. Now I know.

    • Just wait for the emails…

      “I didn’t like what you said on this forum you didn’t know I visited sometimes only to see what you comment on. You should be ashamed. I’ll pray for you.”

  4. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    To give a parallel example, I have a friend who is big into conspiracy theories. He also runs as a candidate for political office. My (unspoken) thought for him is: “Do you think your advancing of political theories is ever going to advance your chances of gaining political office?”

    At which point, you have just identified yourself as Part of The Conspiracy, One of THEM.

  5. The ultimate conversation ender is just bringing up the name of Jesus. Talk about Jesus with some non-believers (even some believers)…and see just how long the party lasts.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      And how much of that is allergic reaction from one-too-many “Can’t change his mind and won’t change the subject”?

      (Of course, the Obnoxious “Witness(TM)” just chalks it up to Hardness of Heart and Blessed are Ye Who Are Persecuted instead of looking in the mirror… [Moderator – rest of comment out of bounds.] )

    • My experience is mostly the opposite. Politics, culture wars, self-righteousness and any number of other rigid positions can be conversation enders. Conversing about Jesus elicits far more interest and interaction than any of those.

      • It can depend on the context and the status of the relationship between the two parties. There just is no substitute for discernment and sensitivity.

        • Yes, this 100 percent.

          Also, most people expect to have a conversation with acquaintances/friends in which both people are actually talking and listening to one another. It is one thing for a reference to religion to arise naturally as one discusses one’s life or opinion on some topic of mutual interest. In that context, you’re just mentioning something about yourself. Or the topic is coming up in an open-ended way, with the expectation that you actually will listen when the other person wants to talk about how much they like “The Zen of Motorcycle Maintenance.” It is another thing for an ordinary conversation to be broken off by one party launching into a rant or a sales pitch. It’s even worse if the person senses that the entire conversation leading up to that moment–or even the whole acquaintance or friendship–was nothing more than a build up to that point.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            “OH NO! I HAVE ONLY THREE WEEKS TO MAKE SOME HEATHEN FRIENDS SO I CAN TAKE THEM TO THE BILLY GRAHAM CRUSADE AND GET THEM SAVED! WHAT DO I DO? WHAT DO I DO?”
            — actual panic reaction at Cal Poly Campus Crusade circa 1976-78 when CCC staff announced a Billy Graham Crusade at Anaheim Stadium and to “invite your unsaved friends”.

          • The special irony of this situation is that the type church that wants people to do this kind of witnessing is usually also responsible for the person not having any or many “non-Christian friends”. Already the church has encouraged all deep friendships to be with insiders; they have ensured that there is programming all week to occupy their members’ time; they have carried on endlessly about how silly or dangerous other ideas and people are, and how you shouldn’t get too close. Those are pretty thick barriers to getting to know people, or treating them with unambiguous respect.

          • Things exist in their own right. They don’t just exist as a platform for proselytizing and converting. The world is not a pulpit. Discussions that insist on always circling back to Jesus as a justification, or that insist on always using the world and what happens in it as an object lesson in service to evangelization, are not real discussions. People get pissed off when it dawns on them that they’ve been snookered into a phoney discussion just so someone can have the opportunity to convert them to Christian faith. Not only is there often a false pretense involved, but they quite naturally feel themselves being devalued as human beings who already have lives and thoughts and feelings that are meaningful, as if they can only begin to signify if they become Christian (and the “right” kind of Christian, usually). People and things exist in their own right, and have their own inherent God-given value and dignity, quite apart from whether or not they become Christian or can serve as platforms on which to make Christians.

          • “Not only is there often a false pretense involved, but they quite naturally feel themselves being devalued as human beings who already have lives and thoughts and feelings that are meaningful ….”

            This exactly.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            The world is not a pulpit. Discussions that insist on always circling back to Jesus as a justification, or that insist on always using the world and what happens in it as an object lesson in service to evangelization, are not real discussions.

            They’re Jesus Jukes.

            Not only is there often a false pretense involved, but they quite naturally feel themselves being devalued as human beings who already have lives and thoughts and feelings that are meaningful, as if they can only begin to signify if they become Christian (and the “right” kind of Christian, usually).

            Back when the Cal Poly Campus Crusade Incident cited above happened, I figured if they actually DID go out and make a HEATHEN(TM) friend just to drag him to Billy for salvation — and the friend ever found out — he’d be justified in gunning for them. It’s not much different from a sexual predator grooming prey.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      Of course! Did they ask? If not, yes, it is a conversation ender.

      Some stranger approaches me on the street and immediately brings up Jesus [or Obama, or Bush, or the Mayor, or Bin Laden, etc…] – and this happens roughly once a month – then absolutely that conversation is over.

      Why would they jump on me standing at the bus stop about such a thing? Their motivations are not good.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says:

        My immediate assumption is that such a person is mentally ill.

      • Like the Mormon missionaries?

        • They don’t really ambush you, though. They wear telltale outfits and travel in pairs. You’ve got a good three minute warning before they catch you up. And they don’t act crazy.

          I’ve been semi-ambushed by Jehovah’s Witnesses before, but never Mormons.

      • How I met one of the elders at my former church:

        “Hey man, see any good movies lately?”

        me – yeah, saw this and this…

        Interrupts “That’s awesome, you know what’s more awesome? Jesus.”

        It went downhill from there for many years…

        • *Blink, blink* Oh, did Jesus make a movie?

        • Richard Hershberger says:

          This. If I am having a casual conversation with someone and he brings up Jesus out of the blue like that, it is because I am being proselytized at. If you are making light chitchat, you talk about the weather or this week’s football games or the like. If you want to discuss theology with me, I am likely up for that, but not necessarily at that particular moment. But when I am being proselytized at, I will be polite to the extent of letting it be known that I already have a church and yes, I am very happy with it. At that point the proselytizing should stop. (And no, I don’t have to tell you what church it is I go to.) If the proselytizing continues, what I am hearing this person telling me is that his is the One True Church, unlike my church which he knows, even without knowing its name, isn’t a True Church like his. I keep my response to myself, since my momma raised me right, but the conversation is dead on the spot.

          This is different from using churchy vocabulary like “Have a Blessed Day.” I don’t use that language myself, but that is just how some people talk. It at least is inclusive: sharing a wish for blessedness is a good thing, entirely unlike implying that I am probably damned for not attending the right church.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          JESUS JUKE!

        • Pope Francis’ at World Youth Day 2013 spoke about how the Christian life is like training for a game one loves. People care so much about soccer, and this is good; it is better still to care for Christ, for he offers something greater than the World Cup.

          Headline on MSN: “Pope: Soccer Is Great, But It’s No Jesus.”

          Which sounds more Jesus-Jukey?

    • I’m a non-Christian, and I don’t mind people talking to me about Jesus if they’re telling me how important He is in their lives and how they’re rearing their children etc. If they want to invite me to their Church I’ll state that I’m Jewish and worship accordingly. I’ve never had anyone push it beyond that.

      Although my mother’s second husband was quite Christian (independent Baptist) and when I went to help with her care in her last days, I would read the Psalms to her. He asked me one day which church I attended. I told him I attended a synagogue. His next statement was well, as long as you love the Lord. I let it stand there, not sure whether he meant Lord as in Adonai, or whether he meant Lord as in Jesus. I figured it was a good place to suspend the conversation.

  6. Mike, in your example of the woman tweeted about the kids: who “owns” the stumbling block? Did the kids create it, or did they merely expose it in the woman? Or do they both share in it, and it is something that should be walked around, not hurdled over?

  7. I’ve confronted people about these kind of things before. 9 out of 10 times, they don’t budge an inch, because to them, there hobby horse issue is so closely intertwined with the Gospel that it is impossible for them to separate the two. Once you arrive at this point, it becomes dangerous to inquire further, because suddenly your legitimacy can be up for question. Most of the people I’ve talked to about these kind of things are even those with whom I agree on the issue, which kind of helps, I suppose. But I think this reflects a failure on the part of our churches to confess the Gospel with purity and boldness, so that instead, our message gets co-opted by peripheral issues which displace what should be our central focus.

    I am very happy that, as a church musician, I have nearly free reign to fight against this militaristically by aggressively putting the Gospel on the lips of God’s people through song. Christ isn’t just the main point of our worship services, he’s the intensive focus from beginning to end. My hope is that this stirs up in the hearts of our people a disposition towards opening conversations about our faith, instead of putting up obstacles to them.

  8. I have never been anywhere else online with the balance of participation and knowledge and civility as here. I guess technically it is a blog, but it works more like a forum and I continue to think of it as a church, and an excellent one at that. Pretty much self-policing and most of the time it seems to work. I missed the recent tempest in the teapot and wish it had not been erased as I would have liked to see just how bad it was and what was said. I suspect there was overreaction. Water over the dam.

    I frequently check out Scot McKnight’s blog as I get notices from Patheos of new topics. I used to comment there occasionally before he switched to Patheos. Apparently a lot of people say the same because comments are few and far between now, and those that appear are pretty much garden variety with occasional exceptions. I hope this place never considers going to a commercial format. I don’t in any way mean to put down Scot as he comes up with some good articles, but the response to them makes me very glad this place exists and is kept going, something that must often seem a thankless job. Big thanks, CM! Also thanks to all who keep the place alive with support and participation. It’s a great group of people and a good advertisement for Jesus.

    • + 1

    • Patheos was a good platform but is going downhill. A 30 minute video shouldn’t load and autoplay in the corner…

      • Richard Hershberger says:

        My take on Patheos is that it is well meaning but faintly clueless. The idea seems to have been a kind of round table forum for discussing religion from a wide range of perspectives. This is a fine idea, but what it is in practice is a host for innumerable blogs, each doing their own thing largely in isolation from one another. Some are fine blogs. I read Slacktivist regularly, and a few others occasionally (including Scot McKnight). But the fact of their being hosted by Patheos is irrelevant, other than its being somewhat clunky with lots of ads.

        • Christiane says:

          “. . . what it (Patheos) is in practice is a host for innumerable blogs, each doing their own thing largely in isolation from one another ”

          I had noticed this also and wondered if it could be turned into a ’round-table’ where an issue was discussed from each faith perspective . . . the possibilities for good coming from understanding different perspectives is there, plus the future possibility of the different faith groups asking questions of each other and commenting about one another’s viewpoints . . .

          Patheos has made a ‘beginning’ of sorts, but Imonk has a more integrated structure where diversity comes together for dialogue . . . imagine a blog with the blended diversity patterns of Patheos AND Imonk, and imagine how interesting that could become for increasing inter-faith understanding

    • +1

      As I’ve mentioned before, being in ‘the wilderness’ can be disorienting and isolating. It was to my surprise that I ran across the site one day, and found that IM acknowledges that this is an experience, and reflects on it. That it has also managed to cultivate so much positive dialog between people–and people who don’t all agree, at this–really is a wonder. I’m grateful for the hospitality, and willingness of so many participants to venture their own perspectives. It’s particularly hard, I think, to sustain both serious conversation and permit a certain amount of vulnerability about what is being said. Yet somehow it works here, most of the time. Due to that fact, it helped me in reflecting during a long sojourn and attempt to reestablish roots. Multiple posters here have encouraged me since that time, probably more than they’d guess.

      Considering that there are relatively few spaces where dialog is not only possible but ‘safe,’ this site really is a blessing.

    • +1

      This has been my “must read” blog for I guess a decade or more though I seldom comment.

      Most of the believers I know seem so sure about everything; that’s not me and never has been. Most days the only thing I’m sure of is God’s love for me shown through Jesus. This place has been a refuge–a safe place where it’s okay to ask questions and a place where those questions are discussed, chewed on and wrestled with (and sometimes even answered!) by intelligent, thoughtful and Jesus-shaped people from different backgrounds and traditions.

      You all have been a help and an encouragement to me and don’t even know it so–thank you all. To echo Danielle’s words: this site is a blessing.

  9. Amen, Charles. I know several people who are simply negative. My family was that way. Lots of conversation Enders. “I don’t like that food, books like that, etc.” Finding fault without knowing facts. Today a friend wanted to argue (she calls it discussing) on the phone about something that happened in the political realm; I told her I did not have an opinion because We really don’t know the truth. What we read is what people want us to read. She hung up! Some enjoy arguing and try to convince others; I don’t. Many have feet set in stone, I feel sorry for them.

  10. Good post, Mike Bell! As I read it, it occurred to me that who we really want non-Christians to have a conversation with is God. Unfortunately, we make the conversations WITH us and ABOUT us (that is, our opinions of God and Jesus, but God isn’t in the discussion). The key, then, is to re-direct conversations people are having with us toward a conversation with God.

    I’ve been praying about and for an agnostic “seeker” friend of mine. We have a very solid friendship, with all topics on the table and dealt with respectfully. Spiritual conversations are frequent. Then I realized, “I’m not making God a part of this. He can experience God.” So I sent him a short email: “If there is a God, He wants to have a relationship with you.”

    Little did I know that he mulled on that for months and eventually wrote a prayer to “a God who might be.”

    So if God is real, it’s up to HIM to bring my friend into a conversation with Him. Oh, my friend and I will continue to have spiritual discussions (among other topics), but God needs to converse with my friend about “soul” matters, and I need to let Him do that.

    • Yes, Rick Ro! Chaplain Mike told me years ago, when I was lamenting how hard it was to discuss God with someone, “It’s often more important to talk to God about people than to talk to people about God.” I’ve remembered those words of wisdom for twenty years.

      • That’s awesome, Damaris. Thanks for sharing. CM’s advice fits with my own recent experiences. I have a list of friends and family that over the past two years I’ve been praying for. About 6 months ago, my prayers shifted from typical “Save them, Jesus,” to “Speak to them, Jesus.” Incredibly, my own interactions with them have changed DRAMATICALLY since then! When I speak to them now, I just assume God has or will speak to them, which enables me to RELAX and just let the conversation go where it goes. And incredibly, the spiritual discussions come more naturally now AND seem more fruitful.

  11. URL – “conversaton-enders”

    You know, some of these posts remind me of a Slacktivist article I just read –

    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/slacktivist/2014/11/20/proverbs-and-fart-jokes-and-other-ancient-wisdom-literature/

    Lots of wisdom here regarding how we should view wisdom in the Bible. Breathe of fresh air. I wish I could read things like this all the time…

  12. This post and the one yesterday bring up a point for me that is so often overlooked: a word fitly spoken requires time for reflection. But we live in an impulsive culture. Social media seems to promote this impulsiveness. How much more attractive would believers be to other believers and unbelievers if we stopped to reflect on our words before speaking?

    • Good point about the impulsiveness of social media.

    • Even without social media this can be an issue. Giving time for reflection requires comfort by all participants in the conversation with having silent pauses. Not all are comfortable with this, nor is it natural for all. One friend a decade or two ago was clearly not comfortable, and would joke about conversation pauses only happening because we were evolutionary hard wired to pause periodically and listen for the danger of approaching mammoth herds.

      My wife and I are an example of it not being natural. She has to consciously work to leave openings in conversations for me. Her default tendency is to keep talking until interrupted. My default tendency is to keep silent until the other person stops talking. If we both operate on our default setting, we don’t have conversations, we have monologues. And by the time she does pause, I’ve usually stopped listening to what has been said lately and wanting to reply to something said at least a few sentences ago. That isn’t me doing a good job of listening either… So maybe our default setting is more of an unlistened to monologue – not healthy.

      Our church has small groups. There have been times I’ve realized that I and one or two others were dominating the conversations because we are opinionated and always ready to speak. Sometimes I remember to pray “Lord, should I say anything about this?”, more often I fail to ask the question…

  13. I think it would be an interesting “Open Mic” post for IM commenters describe a time when an online conversation on social media or a blog post / rant actually caused them to change their mind about something.

    • I think that some of the reasoned discussions that are sometimes held here are as close to changing my mind on things as you can get.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says:

        Agree. I have changed my perspective based on posts and comments written here. I’ve changed my perspective on non-religious issues based on content sent to me via Social Media. I suppose it depends on where one draws the circle of “Social Media”; SM tends to be much more about links and references to content than the content itself [which tends to exist more traditionally – unless you count a BLOG as SM (I don’t)].

        But then I wanted to change my mind about many things, I needed guidance of finding a perspective to settle on. People move more often I suppose when they are dissatisfied with where they are.

    • OldProphet says:

      That would leave me out Steve I don’t do online , no facebook, no Myspace, no Tumblr, no social media at all. I follow 1 blog, imonk. I think people have too much time on their hands. “It must be true if its online”! I know I’m older but if I can’t look into anothers eyes, I can’t trust what they say, by cracky!

  14. Mike:
    The past few years I have come to the conclusion that I should chose issues carefully. I realise that going on about some issues can introduce huge distractions from Christ.

    What has helped me some is to think of myself as an ambassador. An ambassador speaks for his country and there is a proper protocol to follow. You can’t just go off the cuff and make boneheaded statements.

    This is a major change for someone from Alberta.

  15. Two images from today stick in my mind. The first is of w’s man with a bullhorn in Harrisburg, and the second is of Miguel saying of those who don’t see it his way, “I have nearly free reign to fight against this militaristically by aggressively putting the Gospel on the lips of God’s people through song.” Perhaps a third image of me fleeing, hands over ears, “Lord Jesus, save us from your followers.”

    But w makes a vital point. As offensive as the man with a bullhorn is, as embarrassing to the cause of Jesus in our eyes, in the eyes of Jesus he is doing his job and reaching people that can’t be reached with conventional, polite methods. I don’t know what to make of this. I don’t know what to make of Miguel holding up aggressive brain washing as a plus after all the posts on that subject this past week. Onward Christian Soldiers! I am sure that fundamentalist Baptists find me as outside the loop as I do them. Apparently it takes all kinds to make a Kingdom. I’m trying to remember that. It’s hard.

    Something like fifty years ago there was a preacher who walked the sidewalks around 47th and South Park in the heart of Southside Chicago, well-worn suit and tie, well-worn Bible in hand, poor, respectable, not a fool, in retrospect a prophet of God about His business. He did not confront people, he did kept moving, and as he walked briskly he loudly proclaimed, “Read your Bible! Ask the Lord for understanding and He will give it unto you!” Over and over, nothing else. You could hear him coming. It must have been like the disciples of Jesus proclaiming that “The Kingdom of God is at hand!” Or Jesus himself. How do you actually proclaim the good news without a sound system? Would Jesus have used a bullhorn? How do you teach 5,000 people outdoors without one? John the Baptist, John Goldenmouth, Herr Luther, Mr. Wesley, anyone? How many people eventually turned around after hearing the Read Your Bible man? Was I one of them? Why is this memory so vivid when this man probably left the planet years ago?

    Why is that introverts fully understand how extroverts are wired and what makes them tick, accept them as the other half of people, but extroverts are mostly clueless as to how introverts think other than believing there is something seriously wrong with them that needs fixing. If Jesus said the Kingdom was for whosoever, does that mean we have to put up with people we don’t like or strongly disagree with? Exactly who is it that needs to wake up and smell the coffee?

    • Really, Charles, having people sing about Jesus and what he has done for us is “aggressive brainwashing?” Heaven forbid a “Jesus shaped spirituality” be all about Jesus.

      • Miguel, “fight”, “militaristically”, “aggressively”, are these Jesus shaped words? I don’t think so. I give you some slack because you are young, but the only places I find Jesus showing his warrior side is when confronting religious leaders who were clueless and should have known better. Granted that John, the Son of Thunder, saw Jesus in a different light in the Apocalypse, but this was most likely the same John who wanted to call down thunderbolts on those who did not accept their mission, and the same John who Jesus said had no idea what spirit was motivating him. I really find your militaristic language not only offensive but contrary to the Spirit of Jesus who calls us to love and self-sacrifice. Maybe you should join the Salvation Army, except I don’t think even they would put up with such language.

        • Well. I suppose those words not being on your nice list explains you missing the point entirely. Should those not ever be said by a Christian? Really, “The Salvation army wouldn’t put up with your language” is cutting me some serious slack there, isn’t it? It doesn’t appear very flattering to them either.

          Love and self-sacrifice are the weapons of war in Christ’s kingdom. The scriptures are full of military metaphor for how good triumphs over evil, it is two sides of the same coin. The ultimate love and self-sacrifice, Christ on his cross, was at the same time crushing the head of the serpent and undoing the kingdom of darkness.

          Either way, the point is that we don’t have to stand by helplessly while conversation enders bar the gates of the church. We all have our areas of influence within the body where we can draw attention away from these things and back to Jesus. I tend to be very intentional in I leveraging congregational song as a means of discipleship (encouraging love and self-sacrifice even). FWIW, I’ve sang “Onward Christian Soldiers” twice in my career, under compulsion both times. “Fight the Good Fight” is just a better option for that sentiment.

          • Bear with me a minute. Miguel I find that you and Charles are some of the most honest here and face value is important to me. IMO Jesus was alway being militaristic only the true power was in the Lamb. His light cut through the kingdom of darkness.
            The reason why he chased them out from the temple was that place that was occupied was the Gentile court and was for gentiles to come and worship and get to know God. Only the Jews didn’t think it important and left no room for them. Israel was always the chosen to exhibit the nature of who God was and they chose to bury it and keep it to themselves and then give that talent back without gain. In the tithe of duet 14 we see God wanted people to be with Him and that was the way it always was from the beginning. The tithe and the Gentile court were both a way for that to happen. Jesus then accomplished this Himself and we reap the rewards of His conquest. Music, I like the fact that someone is using it to bring people to Him. Afterall there are many using it to lead away. I didn’t understand the parable of the servant that cooks the books all that well but I start to get an idea of it here and now.

          • Miguel, I take it you are named after the ultimate warrior angel, the top general called upon when the chips are down, someone needed in the total balance of things. But I doubt very much if Michael indulges in Boot Camp Blather, as it was brought up last Tuesday. I went back and checked to see if you played hookey that day, but you were there and as rational and generous as you usually are. That is why it struck me so hard to find you indulging in those blathering words just a few days later.

            I recognize that it takes all kinds to make a Kingdom and I recognize that some people are starting out from a place that responds to w’s Man With a Bullhorn. But many more are turned off. If you reach one and alienate twenty, how does that work out? I dunno. Sometimes you have to let God deal with things. I recently heard a man my age speak of the Kent State shootings as exactly what was needed to put a stop to those idiot students trying to take over and destroy our American way of life, this nearly 45 years after this watershed tragedy. There may not be a lot of hope that he will ever see it differently.

            I look around me and see a whole generation of young people walking away, a generation that doesn’t much care for fighting the senseless wars that the older generation foists on them or the language that supports those wars. They don’t protest or riot today, they just turn their backs and walk away. Fortunately our military is volunteer now and those in are there out of choice and service, God bless them. In any case, if I object to your choice of words as counterproductive, I greatly admire and envy your musical abilities and wish they were mine as well.

        • Charles, if you object to the language of war as spiritual metaphor, you would really dislike the Bhagavad Gita. In the Gita, Arjuna the warrior, who on the eve of war is suddenly reluctant to take up arms against his enemies when he sees his own kin among them on the opposite battle line, is counseled by the god Krishna, who is acting as his charioteer, that war is really a spiritual endeavor, and that it’s Arjuna’s spiritual path to perform his duty as a warrior.

    • Charles, I was one of those who was impacted by a polite street preacher. He stood on the sidewalk in downtown Cleveland, Ohio, bible in hand, preaching as the rush hour crown streamed around him. But there was something about him thjat stuck with me, a 19 year old ex-Catholic, convinced that he was going to hell (and I WAS!).

      I wasn’t led that day to pray for salvation, but a number of weeks later I WAS led in a sinner’s prayer in a college bar which resulted in my acceptance of Christ and His salvation.”So that street preacher’s efforts were not in vain. They, at least, bore fruit in MY life, and in probably many other lives.

      I also had an experience street witnessing. I was at a Detroit county fair handing out bible tracts, not really wanting to be there and counting the minutes till I could leave. Weeks later a young man came to our mission and asked me “”Do you remember me? You gave me some literature and said “God bless you”. I went home and read the tract and thought about it all week, then I prayed and asked the Lord to save me.””

      This was no real effort on MY part. In fact, I was more an encumberance than a help with my attitude, yet God used my imperfect effort to bring someone into the kingdom.

      All this to say that all of the criticism leveled at other people who are deemed unlovely in their witness is misspent talk. We can criticise others but God alone is the judge. As the scripture says “Who are you to judge another man’s servant?” Their witness may not work for ME, personally, but they are still God’s servant, no matter HOW unlovely and imperfect.

      • Yeah, He is the one calling us and someday He will show us what we had privilege in with Him. Nice comment as the above by Charles. This is what keeps me coming here. It’s called love.

  16. OldProphet says:

    Jesus should be our model Realistically, how many things, methods, and styles, that we see today to “evangelize” were used by Jesus? Feed the poor. Heal the sick. Cast out demons. What else? I think a real dialogue in the whole body of Christ is something I would love to see, but never will

    • Are you sure? I think it happens here every day. I think the body of Christ is constantly engaged in dialogue with one another, with varying degrees of success. What are you looking for that you find missing?

      Feed, heal, and exorcize can sound like a very tall order, especially those last two. My sister once worked for a Catholic hospital whose mission statement was “to carry on the healing ministry of Jesus.” Jesus didn’t necessarily use modern medicine, but I do think they’re on to something there: Caring for people something a Christian does. We many not have his supernatural abilities, but we can simply use what we do have to help, in those areas specifically.

  17. I think Brother Jed and Bishop Spong should go on the debate/lecture circuit together, sort of like a dumbed down/smacked down version of N.T. Wright and Marcus Borg.

    • That sounds like the makings of a bad reality show.

      In her recent essay collection, “When I was a Child We Read Books,” the ever-erudite Marilynn Robinson critiques several authors, Spong included, for their treatment of the Old Testament. Her care with words is by itself almost a mockery of the lack of care some people take with whole books. (And, actually, the essay wasn’t a bad reminder for all of us in the habit of trying to juxtapose the Old and New Testaments, in such a manner as to shrug and wink about the former.) Anyway, I admit I drank this down like the guilty pleasure that it was.

      It might be almost as nice to overhear Wright and Borg at afternoon tea: I understand they are friends. There’s a lesson in there, somewhere.

      • An off-hand addendum: I don’t remember if Robinson said quite this, but it occurred to me this morning that it would be at least in the spirit of her essay–and this week on IM–to observe the following: It is interesting that certain writers of critical books should, by reading the Old Testament with so little “charity, which is another word for love,” find so little love in it. Where some read reductionistically, Robinson reads carefully.

        On reflection, it is striking how much this is true of how one reads people, and not only texts.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        That sounds like the makings of a bad reality show.

        After Duck Dynasty, Ghost Hunters, and Honey Boo-Boo, DON’T GIVE THEM IDEAS!

  18. After a week of posts about guarding our words and here we are bagging on other believers because we think their witness is harmful. We never learn, do we?