Monday, May 07, 2007

Keeping It Real...

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about how to keep it real as a Christian, particularly as a modern protestant. I belong to a denomination that ascribes to no particular outward signs of holiness. We don’t wear any particular headgear, hold no food restrictions and from the best I can tell, most of us look normal.

Our services are quite another matter. We hail of the Pentecostal persuasion. Not quite Jesus Camp, but we’re no hymn singers either. For the uninitiated, I imagine it might be a bit much but I don’t go by “hype” for nothing. I generally bring the same level of energy to a “religious” gathering as I would in other areas of life.

So herein lies the rub: All of my closest friends are Christians. They’re the only people I’ve felt like I could share all of my life with. I’ve always believed secular folks would dismiss any conversation that began with, “Can I just tell you how awesome God is? When thus and so happened…” linking causal effect with an immaterial yet personal being. Perhaps I’m maligning the mass hordes of intellectual and worldly persons I’ve yet to meet. Question of the month: Do I want to know the answer?

The past few months have increasingly brought me into working relationships with non-Christians, some of whom hold other faiths. Rightly or wrongly, I’ve been censoring myself. I’ve been stifling my “God rocks!” commentary. He does. :) And I’ve lost some street cred with myself. Me and I are asking Myself what’s going on. [I’m still sorting through that.]

As for the intellectual hordes, are you among them? I would imagine, though I might be wrong, that God talk makes little difference between faiths unless someone were making a point to highlight areas of theological difference. This is also a point for discussion. The floor is open.


Beth said...

Veeery interesting questions you raise. As a secular folk - but quite interested in religion - I've often re-played in slow-mo my reactions when people speak in the kinds of terms you're describing. I would never want someone to feel she has to scale herself back in my presence, but on the other hand, I really have no idea how to respond to comments like the ones you're describing - for me, the problem is not that I don't agree that God rocks but that you're using language I don't speak and don't really understand. I'm not fluent and your thoughts don't translate into my language (and vice versa, no doubt).

Another very small piece of it is that sometimes the people who want to tell you how they feel about Jesus have literature to hand you or want you to come to their church, and there is little I dislike more than people trying to convert me. I find it incredibly disrespectful. So there's a bit of baggage with the language as well. It's not fair for anyone to dwell on that, or for the minority to hijack the language, but the problem is there, I think.

MoJo said...

I'm from Colorado Springs, Colorado, the center for conservative religious groups, mega churches, and a political structure that is dominated by certain religious organizations. I also went to a church-affiliated school. Perhaps, that's why I've always considered myself, a non-follower of organized religion, to be a bit of an outsider.

Faith, is a subject of great interest to me, but it is also a something I rarely discuss with people. This is perhaps due to the rather negative reactions I've received from many Christians upon learning that I do not go to church or even consider myself a Christian.

I do consider myself to be a spiritual person and have never and will never deny or disrespect anybody's declaration of faith.

In response to your post,I believe that a person should feel free to express what he or she truly believes. I only mind when a person asks me if I am a Christian (I usually give a non-answer)and then takes the opportunity to proselytize to, or worse, lecture me. That bothers me a lot, especially when I get the "Hell Talk".

So, to make a long post even longer, I say that it is fine to express one's spiritual or secular beliefs with the people he or she kicks it with, as long as this person remains respectful when others do the same.

t-HYPE said...

Thanks for the input guys.

Ditto on the folks with literature in their back pockets. For some reason they freak me out too. It's probably the "hell talk" lol!

I'm actually (probably a little too) fascinated with people who ascribe to no particular faith. I usually try to tone down my awe because it probably does come across as a Christian info-vaneglism precursor!

Anyhoo, hooray for respectful exchange.

Ennis said...

“Can I just tell you how awesome God is? When thus and so happened…”

Starting a story that way might scare somebody. I would probably figure that you meant to convert me, most of the people I know who talked that way were actively prostletyzing, they were missionaries of one sort or another. 3 minutes after that sort of opening they would usually ask "Are you saved?"

Do you have to open with that? Could you bring it in once you have somebody interested in the story and it's clear that you want to share something with them rather than try to save their soul?

I would think that the main obstacle would be signaling that you're not like many of the others who use the same language for a different purpose, as an instrument.

Would you still get something out of it, even if you have to make clear that you're talking about your subjective experience? Or does that water it down?

t-hype said...

Thanks Ennis. That's helpful discourse.

I often get the vibe that Godtalk is like saying, "Hi, Jack. You're the bomb!" at the airport--however innocuous the actual meaning, everybody's on edge.

Using spiritual language as an "instrument" rather than honest expression is distasteful at best. Beating people down with the Good News is not the way to go. Nor is a manipulative sales pitch approach.

On the other hand, I'm not much in favor of subjective disclaimers in part because they're pretty much a given--the mark of the postmodern mindset. Whenever someone says something about faith, you can feel the asterisk hanging in the air: *The sentiments expressed by the person currently speaking represent neither a tangible reality nor sentiments of other persons currently present. So be it.

As for getting something, I guess I should get over the fact that people might get a little wigged out. Especially when they're anticipating "the pitch" and it never comes! ;)

Daddy's Girl said...

Interesting post (and comments). To an extent, I guess there is always going to be some margin for causing offence. I think it's pretty difficult to escape the stereotypes and misconceptions that are bound to arise when the 'God' word (or even more alarmingly, the 'Jesus' word) pops up in a conversation with a friend of another faith (or of no faith). The warning bells will probably go off, because the listener will probably recall a conversation that began like that and ended in lingering discomfort and frustration for both parties... but then, I guess that with time and acquaintance, the other person will understand that you're not out to bash them over the head with a Bible, or to tell them they're going to hell forever unless they accept your beliefs.

Ennis said...

It'll probably work best with people you know, but you'll want to keep in mind that things that sound reasonable to you are things that they will have only heard from people who are out to convert them, and it might take some time to "reclaim" those phrases if at all.

Let's put it this way - somebody might come up to me and ask me if I've been saved without trying to convert me (they might simply want to know), but I would have a hard time giving them the benefit of the doubt. Same thing with somebody asking me if I "know Jesus".

The example you used was far more in the gray zone for me than "have you been saved", but ...

p.s. For what it's worth, I'm actually somebody who goes back and forth between secular and faith spaces, although I largely live on the secular public speech side. Still, I had a roomate who was a mormon just back from his mission, and used to spend a lot of time with other missionaries when I lived abroad. I've gone to church with some missionaries when they invited me to see their world, watched them baptise, saw people speaking in tongues. I also had friends who were evangelicals who made absolutely no attempt to convert me.

t-hype said...

Your post script sounds interesting, Ennis. Any memoirs?

You're so fabulously pragmatic. Thanks for participating in my public inner dialogue.

I do think, in most circumstances, it's a bit much to randomly pry information out of people. I generally like to lay all my cards on the table and trust that folks will ask questions if they have any. I guess maybe, I've been feeling like I'm hiding my cards. ;)

In some ways, I'm similarly dispositioned about my ethnic and socio-economic commentary. While I often write about different things online, I rarely talk about them with those who don't have "an ear to hear."

Anonymous said...

I've thought about this on and off for the past couple of weeks, and here is my current perspective.

If you were a jet-setting millionaire and had friends who were decidedly not, would you jump right in and joyfully share how fantastic your trip to Tahiti was? I'm guessing not. Unless you had developed a lot of trust with your friends, you would probably be a quite careful about issues that allude to your wealth and you wouldn't linger in such conversations unless your friends showed clear signs of interest.

You are blessed with a similar wealth -- faith in God -- and I think you have to exercise as much care in communicating about this gift as you would any other.

It's sad, I know. It's natural to want to share your fullest self with *all* of your friends, but frankly, I don't think it's possible unless you've built up a lot of trust.

t-hype said...

Word anon.
Great analogy. Thanks for the fresh perspective.

Keep it coming!