It nattered, “You make a fine sermon to the choir. But have you noticed that many people just don’t care? Some people regard your supposed insights as an assault. And you need a haircut.”
At the barbershop, I recalled the ebb and flow of a long-ago conversation....
I was driving the team back from a University competition. In the darkness behind me, a sophomore confidently pronounced, “Of course, there are no absolutes.”
I observed, “That sentence, ‘there are no absolutes,’ itself is an absolute.”
“Ah, ok,“ he amended. “Ok, there is one absolute, and that is, there are no other absolutes!”
The other students in the van pounced on this clumsier claim. They were mostly engineers. Of course they sided for absolutes in mathematics and science. Everywhere, said one, the sum of the squares of the shorter sides of a right triangle equals the square of the longer side. Yeah, said another, except in the land of Oz.
A weighty question arose: Is it not a truth, that there’s more than one way to skin a cat?
For several miles the engineers tried to count the ways: Knives of course. Compressed air. Explosives. Ultrasound. Centrifuge. Liquid nitrogen. One boy recommended marketing. What, marketing? we all exclaimed. He said, “Just tell the cat, all the cool cats are being skinned, you should be too.” I loved those outside-the-box thinkers.
When we move from mathematics and physics to how to scramble eggs, people see around them lots of ways to reach any given goal. This is often what people mean when they say, there are no absolutes: they mean there is no one best way.
“There's more than one way” becomes a tested truth, a primary truth. If someone claims a unique path, that claimant obviously is blind to the facts of life; at least naive, if not a crackpot.
As we bumped over the potholed Bagnell Dam Bridge, I asked whether the methods used to make the bridge made any difference, so long as the bridge worked. One student replied, “Sure. Whatever.”
Some people simply shrug off talk about what God has done with the constant drizzle of other advertising. They carry an umbrella called, “Whatever.”
But one engineer would not let that apathy pass. He excitedly admonished, A bridge might look ok now, but it could fall! You can't tell by looking! You can’t see inside the concrete! You’ve gotta use good materials from the beginning! You’ve gotta use good methods! You’ve gotta check each part as it goes in!
This is the engineer I want for my bridge, for my pacemaker, for my society.
I stopped the van at a McDonald’s. One of the students discovered a Christian tract at his table. He said, “I hate it when people try to convert me. It’s like I am some country to be conquered.”
These words stuck with me. His intractability was not about truth or falseness. It was about power.
Similarly, a few weeks ago a person requested my help but then said, “Wait. I don’t want this if you are trying to convert me.”
As many of you know, I do not wear a “God’s Gym” t-shirt or other assertive marks. I had said only, “How can I help?” I don't smell godly. Indeed, conversion has never been a primary motive for me. That's not necessarily a good thing, but it's a fact. I would welcome a response, “Oh, thanks! By the way, what must I do to be saved?” But I’ve never been this-for-that in giving. I give freely, because I have received freely.
So I said, “No strings attached! God has been good to me.”
I don't want to get praise that should go to God. Jesus is quite clear about this. “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” But I haven't found a guaranteed way to direct praise to God.
In this case, mentioning God provoked a storm. “You are trying to convert me! Don’t talk to me about God!”
So this wimpy unintentional evangelist retreated. I plead, “OK, look at it this way. This is the right thing to do.”
"Hmf. Ok, just as long as you're not trying to convert me."
I would have counted this a weird incident, but I've found other people throw up such barricades at the teeniest hint of God-talk. Please use the comments below to tell me if this is a trend you've seen, or if this is just me. How might I do better?
Granted, people have reasons to expect from Christians manipulation and exploitation. Y’know, the Crusades, the Hundred Years War, Indian reservations, televangelists. Christian authors promote friendship evangelism, lifestyle evangelism, and worship evangelism. I know a youth worker who dreams of making a YouTube video that will go viral. We should not be surprised that people view Christians as using friendship, benevolence, and entertainment to gain some kind of dominance. Who wants to be a scalp on some congregation’s wall, a notch on someone's gospel gun?
Again, the touchiness is rarely about truth, but about power. Many people hold as dearest their ability to chose. Some pundits call this a post modern attitude. However, the worship of choice has been around a long time and holds genuinely heroic honors. Prisoners of war, when all property and freedom has been stripped from them, have clung to this one point of control. “Everything can be taken from a man or a woman but one thing: the last of human freedoms to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way.” wrote concentration camp survivor Viktor E. Frankl in Man’s Search for Meaning.
I have discovered that people are willing to hear an interesting story. They don't want my viewpoints, they don't want my conclusions, they don't want my judgments, but they will hear a story. Whatever conclusions they draw, these will be their conclusions, conclusions they own.
The last of the students returned to his dormitory, I drove the van back to the University lot. The team had performed well on the field. We had another trophy for the school.
Did I mention this was a collegiate computer programming team?
My arrival disturbed a mockingbird. It ran through a few other birds’ calls before croaking its own harsh remonstrance.