Tuesday 9 April 2013

Why I Am That Awkward Christian

Last summer I was at the Olympics. "Oh", I hear you ask, "what events did you go to?". Well, none. In fact, I saw a great deal less of the Olympic competitions when I was in London than when I was back home watching it on TV. So then why did I give up a week of my summer to go to London 2012? Essentially, to talk to strangers about Jesus.

There's probably a cliché in your head about a socially awkward Christian attempting to share their faith. I almost certainly fulfilled it. I was in a team of other Christians, most of whom (whilst being utterly wonderful people) had very little idea how things like London transport worked. Collectively, we stuck out like a sore thumb. I had official merchandise on (oh yes). I had a matching lanyard and T-shirt and rucksack. Basically, I looked like I was going on a daytrip with the scouts. Christian scouts. If this wasn't exactly boosting my rep or giving me access to once-in-a-lifetime sporting moments, why would I go?

We all know what it's like to be sold something. I was in Morrison's the other day when it was announced that anyone who went to checkout one could receive a free metal potato peeler. I went and hovered nearby, mildly intrigued but not wanting to commit in case there was a catch. A salesman stood up and announced that you'd be given the peeler after listening to his 10-15 minute promotion about a new kind of knife. Some people drifted away. Some lingered. I think everyone was suspicious. This is the feeling you get when a stranger knocks on your door. It's the feeling you get when one of those charity fundraisers catches your eye in the street. Maybe it's the feeling you get when Jesus comes up in a conversation. When we're in these situations we often put up mental barriers because we can't help feeling like the other person wants something from us.

Is this me?

A few weeks ago my university had a Missions Week where the Christian Union put on a series of events designed to help people explore faith in Jesus. It got me thinking about whether talking about God is worth it. So these are two reasons why, in spite of inconvenience and in spite of social awkwardness, I'm convinced that it's a conversation that's utterly worth having.

It's Either True or It's Not

Are you religious? Right now, I honestly don't know. It's not that I'm unsure of whether I'm a Christian, whether I believe in God or whether I know Him in my life. It's that I'm not sure I want the tag. On consideration, I probably don't. For me, being 'religious' comes with the following baggage: dullness, legalism, bureaucracy, an inability to tolerate questions, small-mindedness...did I mention dullness? Sometimes you can add hatred and hostility to the list. I'm sure you can come up with a few of your own. Here's the thing: I don't associate any of them with God. God and religion are two different animals. You can pick your religion but you can't pick whether God's real or not.

Tolerance is king in our society right now. There's undoubtedly a very positive aspect to that: it's obviously good to have respect and to be civil towards people who are different to you. But there's also a very harmful, and completely illogical, consequence to tolerance: we've largely stopped caring about what's true. The attitude is: 'Oh, you're religious. That's cool for you, but it's just not for me'. But seeing God as an optional extra or thinking that religious faith is OK for one person but not for another seems crazy to me.

Either God's there or He's not.

More specifically, either the claims of Christianity are true or they're not. Deciding that you're not a religious kind of person doesn't change reality.

Let me put the following to you: either Jesus of Nazareth was raised from the dead or He wasn't. He is, at this moment, either alive in heaven reigning as God Himself or disintegrating into dust along with the rest of dead humanity.  If Jesus didn't rise from the dead then I want to walk away from Christianity right now. If He did then I want every other detail of my life to fall idle in comparison with my response to that truth. Which one it is matters supremely. We might use different methods to get to our answer (and all of us, deliberately or implicitly, come to some sort of verdict) but it's got to be worth investigating. Worth demanding answers of. Worth praying over. Worth talking about...

...whether you're religious or not.

Because He's Worth It

To borrow a phrase from L'Oréal...

Ultimately, that won't cut it, though. It's not enough to reflect internally on philosophical possibilities. That won't change us in any real sense or make us willing to tell anyone else about that change. First, let me tell you about the way in which I used to see sharing my faith.

I've seen it in the past as a goal in and of itself. I've thought that evangelism is something I have to do to be a good Christian. That it's somehow one of the things that I'm supposed to be doing. So I've attempted it as a stale exercise of cold-hearted obedience. I've identified friends as targets and tried to drag them to an event or impart some religious information to them as part of a stage-managed operation. I've attempted to spread Jesus by force and...it leaves me feeling unsatisfied and it doesn't work.

Obligation is a terrible motivator. You'll only ever really carry out an obligated duty because you have to. Often you won't care how good a job you did. That you've completed what you were expected to do is enough. Your heart isn't in it. This is how sharing my faith has often been for me. But it misses a key, if obvious, point: we're motivated to share what we care about. If you're truly passionate about something then you can't help but share it: it's infectious. I'll probably never know, but I suspect that this is what a girly coffee date feels like. Not being able to not share something because it's so exciting: 'You won't believe when you hear'. I think that recovering this sense of knowing that God's worthwhile is essential: it's the only proper reason why anyone would ever want to share Him.

The irony is that I'm convinced that God gives me the best possible life. Jesus once said, "I came to give life - life in all its fullness" (John 10:10). Jesus is saying that He isn't like the seedy knife salesman who tries to make you sign up for something you don't really need. He isn't out to exploit you. He offers the best quality of life there is. This is my experience. This is my life story. It's about an uncontainable, substantial, ever-present, unshakeable, smile-on-your-face-putting contentment. If that isn't worth sharing then I don't know what is.

There's a story in the Old Testament about a city that's surrounded by a foreign army. There's a siege and the people inside are starving to death. Four guys eventually decide that surrender is as good as starvation and go to hand themselves over. When they get to the enemy camp they find it deserted: the army's abandoned their position in a hurry. Four lean, hungry men come across hundreds of tents full of food, and they gorge themselves. Then they suddenly take stock of their situation and say,

"We're doing wrong. Today we have good news, but we are silent. If we wait until the sun comes up, we'll be discovered. Let's go right now and tell the people in the king's palace."
 2 Kings 7:9

This is why I deliberately try to share my faith. This is why (although I'm not as good as I should be at speaking out in the first place) I refuse to keep my mouth shut. This is why I want to ignore social expectations and conventions in order to speak. This is why I'm more than happy to be that awkward Christian. The point isn't whether I'm 'religious' or not. The point isn't whether I'm obligated to speak. The point isn't even that there are hungry people who need the food that I have. The point is that I'm so full - so completely and utterly satisfied. And that's totally worth sharing.

Guess what? I'd actually love to chat to you about it. Just send me a message.

1 comment:

  1. It seems that most comments are on Facebook rather than here! I would like to write a piece like that about my faith and attempts to share it - mostly long ago when I was a student in London! You write well.


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