Category Archives: Conversations

Anonymites Anonymous

One of the hardest things I’ve found about returning to church is becoming a real, live, acting member of the body of Christ. I’m terribly introverted, and over the years, I’ve found it easier and easier to withdraw from social situations, rather than extend the effort to be part of a group. When I have joined a group, or exerted myself to join the larger world, it was often a false cheery front, performed out of necessity, counting the minutes to which I could retreat again into my own, comfortable, quiet and solitary world.

When I started going back to church this year, I didn’t really see any need to change that. I thought, well, I’d get in and talk to God, and get out. No muss, no fuss. Sure, smile at people, but don’t get too close – they might ask you something personal.

I don’t think I’m alone here on this. Lifeway released the results of a recent study that shows visitors to a church prefer to remain anonymous.

But as it happened, there was a new person’s BBQ at the pastor’s house in two weeks, and someone asked me if I would come, and I thought, okay…what will one time hurt?

I went. I felt awkward and weird of course. But there were a couple of people at the party I recognized the next week at church and we waved.

My kids went to Sunday school, and they wanted playdates with their new friends there. So I ended up talking to the parents. More awkward little small talk, but again…more people to wave hello to.

And soon enough, I was having a hard time getting out of the chapel after the service, because I kept getting waylaid by these people.

In my reading, I started noticing the passages about the body of Christ. How we are really actually his body here on earth. How we all have a function. And I started to realize how important this is – to be real brothers and sisters. So I had lunch with some here and there. I went on a trip with some others. I did more reaching out than I’ve done for decades.

It’s a quiet revolution in my life. There has been no big bang change, but I know these people, these siblings of mine. I know they are affecting my life, and I am affecting theirs, and it is in Christ.

I knew my attitude had changed when I recently spoke with a co-worker who grew up in a church in Eastern Europe. He was complaining how American churches are too friendly. He wanted to get in, worship, and get out. No muss, no fuss. And I wanted to tell him why, and that it was not only a necessary thing, but a good thing.

There are Sunday mornings that I still think about going to a different church; one that I could slip in unnoticed and not have to talk to anybody. But I find when I go to my church and sit through the sermon and see the people and talk to the people, somewhere along the line, somebody slipped a little extra love in my heart.

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A Most Relaxed Witness

I get a massage every two weeks. My first massage therapist was a no-nonsense ex-military slip of a girl and stronger than you could imagine her to be. I was so sad when she moved on to another location that was too far for me to follow her to. So I tried again, and ended up with Micah (as always, not her real name).

Michah is a lovely, soft-spoken butterfly type girl. She's quite intuitive, and she's really been able to help me with those horrid knots I get in my shoulders and neck from being hunched over the computer all the time.

Shortly after Easter, I had been asking a friend about false gods and angels in disguise. We ended up having quite a discussion about New Agers, mystical "spirituality" and the dangers lurking behind the "it's all good" facade. I decided that I'd ask Micah if she used any alternative healing techniques for her massages, you know – just in case. I was relieved when she said no, she just used plain old physical therapy techniques. Unfortunately, then she went on to say that she really *wanted* to get into the eastern spiritual techniques and had been dreaming of going to India to learn from a guru or some sort.

I didn't say anything at the time, but felt concern for her. It occurred to me several times during the next two weeks that I might want to pray for Michah, and so I did.

Yesterday, I had my regular appointment with her. I wanted to talk to her more about what her plans were, but didn't quite know how to bring it up. So I told her that I was excited (which I was) about my plans later that evening to go to an emerging church that my church sponsors. I'd heard a lot about it, and Alexander and I were going to go see what it was all about. She was interested, so I told her about how the emerging churches are specifically for people who don't feel like they belong in a traditional church, and that I'd seen a book about it recently called No Perfect People Allowed [Burke].

She laughed and told me her father had been a Christian and her mother a Jehovah's Witness. I offered that it must have been confusing for her. She told me that it was, but that she was now getting involved in Wicca. She said that she has always been drawn to the power of the earth and nature and the tolerance of the Wiccans really appealed to her. I was a bit taken aback at that point, and will admit to a momentary feeling of alarm. First from a stupid personal fear perspective, and then from an "Oh dear, I have no idea how convince someone who wants to be a witch that it might be a poor life choice" perspective. Fortunately, it was just a knee-jerk reaction and disappeared as quickly as it came.

I still had no idea what really to say, so I just told her my story of how I came to feel like I needed to go back to church, and once I got there, that God indeed did want to talk to me. I told her about how different my experience was from when I was a teenager. How I found out that you didn't have to "earn your way to heaven" or follow a bunch of stupid rules so (maybe if you were lucky) you wouldn't go to hell. I told her how Jesus died for all of our sins and paid off the debt and He just did it just because he loves us. He offers us this amazing gift and he offers it to everyone and it's just as simple as saying yes. Then He shows you how to do all the rest, one step at a time. Or at least it was something like that. It's hard to remember the details because I *was* getting a massage, after all :)

We fell silent for a while, and then I told her about my dream of the rain storm. I told her how I felt God had been reminding me gently for years that He was still there, and then he brought His enormous storm into my life. And how another friend at work had the insight that the storm was not just for me, but for the people all around me, people that I knew and people that were in my town. Micah seemed to see this right away.

I didn't say anything about Wicca, but I did tell her that I understand (and believe me I DO) that it's so hard to find the truth when there are so many voices telling you they know what you should do. I offered her the advice that's been given to me: Look at the message behind the words. Look at the people saying the words – are they good people? Are they living the life they talk about? Do they have your best interests at heart?

I told her about the feelings that I should be praying for her. She got a bit teary at this point, and didn't say why, but said that the last three weeks had been really hard and she really did need it.
I invited her to come to the "alt.church" with us that night, but unfortunately she had to go to her other job right after my appointment. But she seemed like she really wanted to go, and she thanked me seriously for telling her all that I did. She said she hadn't quite understood it that way before. I told her it was about the best thing I could tell anybody and I was happy to do it. I suggested if she really wanted to find out about Jesus that she say just a little prayer to let Him know.

I have been examining my heart whether I should post things like this or not. I know my tendencies toward pride, and so I am trying hard to make sure my motives are worthy. Yes, I am happy. I'm joyful my Father might be working to touch Micah's heart through me. I feel like this account might show someone else how ordinary situations can turn so extraordinary. That apologetics isn't just for fancy debates among scholars. That the people around you are still looking for truth even if they don't talk about it.

So please help me pray for Micah. This story doesn't use her real name, but God will know who you're talking about.

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A Skirmish

Backstory: 

Confrontation, in my book, has always ranked right up there with real fun stuff – going to the dentist or perhaps poking myself in the eye with a sharp stick.  I expend a fair amount of energy trying to prevent it or avoid it.

I grew up in an authoritarian family, and my father had some what they call "anger management issues" these days.  I learned very early on to avoid the hot zone.

I also experienced an (unrelated to the above) terrible act of family violence. Among many other life changing affects, it tranformed my avoidance of conflict into more of a phobia. 

Just the thought of arguing makes my stomach turn.  There are some discussions I just won't have because of the potential for conflict.  I can force myself to do it if I really feel I need to, though. My position at work requires me to participate in technical discussions that sometimes disinigrate into arguments. If I want to get what I consider the best position heard, I sometimes have to fight for it. Sometimes I will, sometimes I am unable. It's a limiting factor for my career, but that's been okay with me.

I do force myself far beyond any other situation when it comes to doing the right thing for my children in maintaining consistent rules and discipline at home. My daughter is a natural born lawyer and has a never ending supply of arguments why she should be able to do what she wants to do, and she will use every trick in the book to get it. So I persevere more than I would. Sometimes it comes down to ugly conflict. I do it for them, but it has been a real struggle.

Current Story:

Last night, my friend Alexander* and I met some friends from another website we hang out at. Paulina* I had met once before, and have had a natural easying going relationship with her. She brought her boyfriend Craig*. I know him through the site, but not well, and this was the first time I was meeting him. Alexander had met him before, and warned me he was a big personality – very loud and opinionated.

We started off a bit awkwardly, but Craig started bringing up fairly interesting subject to discuss. He said that he and his friend always hung out on Thursday nights, discussing and debating the big topics – politics, gender, philosophy, media, etc.  Apparently he really wanted to get our conversation going in the same vein, because he started baiting the table, stating positions analogous to what you would see from a troll in forums. Normally, I just refuse to get into these kinds of discussions. However, because I am trying to think less of what *I* want and more of what other people need, I tried to consider that this seems fun to him, and I will try to make him comfortable, so okay, I'll play. Plus, I've been studying the basic principles of logic, so perhaps there was a little urge to test out my wings with some friendly debate. 

I'll admit – he got a heated debate started when we stated that women always play games, and men never do.  Harumph. 

The details of the conversation that ensued are irrelevant. But the important thing is that as I started to deconstruct his position using the few principles I've studied thus far, I started to see how he was coming from a morally relativistic viewpoint.  And oh hey!  I knew something about this!  And I knew why that was bad. 

 I found myself starting to defend absolute truth and Christianity in short order. I prayed to the Father for an emergency dispatch of the Holy Spirit, because I was going to need it!

Now, I've only just begun my study, and there are so many things to learn, but it's so amazing how clear the fundamental truth of the matter has become to me, and how incredibly important.  I can't really remember all the things I said over the course of the debate that followed, but Alexander told me later I represented my position and Christianity very well.  He was astonished at how I remained composed and calm even when Craig was getting pretty personal in his arguments. There were many things I had to say that I didn't know the answer to, but it felt so good to be confident in the answers I did know.  I had something for him to consider.

I prayed to keep my ego out of the discussion, and keep myself gentle and respectful. I don't know that I succeeded completely, but I do know that it was far, far more than I could have ever done before, and certainly not something I would have or could have done on my own. Especially towards the end of the conversation, he took two final swipes:

First, he said that if I were a Christian, he couldn't convince me of anything because I would always come back with faith as an answer. To this, I pointed out that the number of my arguments that were based on faith during our entire conversation were exactly zero. I asked him to give me an example of one that I had not based in history or reason, and he could not. I honestly think that surprised him.

Second, as we were wrapping up and calling a truce, he was trying to mollify Paulina, who apparently felt a little ignored and upset at the conversation. (I do feel bad for that part, and I will have to call her this morning to apologize.) Craig stated that this was all in fun – that I had made good arguments, and that if were honest, I would concede his points. I asked him at that point (nicely) did he just state that I was being dishonest? That I was lying? The amazing thing is that he denied it right away! He said point blank that he had not said that. Of course, Paulina and Alexander jumped in and told him, yes indeed, you just did say that. We all laughed, but it wasn't very comfortable.

Alexander and I dropped Craig and Paulina off at their hotel and went out for some coffee so I could recover from the stress of the conflict. He knows me pretty well, and was there to listen and make me laugh at stupid things.

I don't know that I've made any difference in Craig's opinion, but this discussion validated some things I have been thinking, even moreso than I ever would have suspected.

  • Jesus is making a HUGE difference in my life.  (Yay!)
  • Apologetics is really, really important for my own faith.
  • Apologetics is really, really important for talking to other people in ordinary ways.
  • I'm happier than I've ever been. 

Life is good. Thank You, Father.
*Pseudonyms

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