There was a time that we, as a people, had no trouble with things that aren’t interactive. We were willing to listen to a teacher or a pastor simply speak at us. We were willing to engage in entertainment that we were merely passive participants in. We didn’t feel the necessity to clog every news broadcast with poorly-done surveys that imply our opinions on things are the most important part of current events.
My final sentence above notwithstanding, I’m not here to cast judgement on this state of events. It’s just an observation I want to begin with: we, as a people, are coming to expect more and more interactivity.
I was reflecting on the process of witnessing to people. (evangelizing, sharing the good news, call it what you want.) The way that it seems like we often do it, it doesn’t seem very effective.
Maybe this is because times have changed. We have come to expect to be talked to, not talked at. We have come to expect to be part of the processes which impact us.
Then again, maybe this isn’t such a modern thing. Maybe in this instance, we’ve been doing it all wrong all along.
In the end, this point doesn’t really matter, though. Because obviously we can’t get in a time machine and change how we used to do things. Whether it worked before is somewhat moot. The relevant thing is that it’s not working now.
I guess I’m not being clear about what, precisely, is not working. A way to express the point I want to make is by thinking about negotiations. Labor negotations. Settling on the price of a car. Working out a solution with a hostage-taker…
A thing that these all have in common is that they require good faith of both parties. If people are going to get anywhere, both people have to be open, willing to be changed.
There is only a certain type of person who is going to be moved by us if we approach them in a closed off manner, utterly convinced of the superiority of our view. People lonely and desperate for the truth might be more impressed by us if we approach them with an air of utter conviction that we have everything 100% correct. But most people? Most people are going to walk away from the negotiations table.
I think that Christianity has come a little ways. There are plenty of people who recognize the importance of asking questions, and tailoring how we say things to the needs of our audience. We’ve gotten past the days, I think, of expecting a cookie-cutter testimoney will equally impact everybody.
But we’re only half way there.
The facility where I teach does these online trainings, some times. (Bare with me, this will make sense in a moment.) Every now and again, they ask questions. Most of the questions are multiple choice questions with black and white, correct answers.
But occasionally, I guess that they just want he learners to reflect on what they’ve read. So they put in these open-ended question, with a box to type sentence-long answers. That is a sentence that will never get read. It is a sentence that it truly doesn’t matter what I put there. Ultimately, it’s a sentence that is meant to fool me into thinking there is interactivity, when there really isn’t. My response doesn’t matter at all.
And this is where I think Christianity, as a whole, is at: we are asking questions, but really, in those blanks… the learners response does not matter at all. The questions are simply there to give the delusion of interactivity, or maybe to build up a sense of empathy with our audience, or at best, a way to help us to continue the things we say and why we say them.
But none of these are good enough. People know our hearts. They sense our motivations. Most people don’t want to engage somebody who isn’t changeable. I think we’re called to something more, something paradoxical.
Those of us who have made a faith comittment had certain reasons for doing so. There’s a really important question that I think we have to askourselves: What if that same sort of evidence came to us now, with information that lead us in a different direction? Would we be willing to be changed? Or, now that we’ve siezed onto something, now that we’ve built a status quo, will we, for a variety of reasons, just grab onto it blindly, holding out for no reason at all?
It’s understandable, why we might enter into the process of telling people about our faith with an attitude that is unshakeable. Words like unshakeable are usually, in fact, compliments when we discuss some one’s faith.
Because there are many sorts of things that should not shake our faith. But there are things, I think, that we should allow to shake our faith up. I’m not saying that we should put reason and logic on a pedestal, above other considerations. There is a powerful role for faith and for tradition in all of this. The movement of the Holy Spirit is tremendously powerful.
But if we really believe that Jesus is the way and the truth then we have nothing to fear. Being changeable does not necessarily mean that we will change. It just means that the possibility is there.
This open-ness, this willingness, it’s part of a wider context. Following the example of Jesus, over and over again, is about taking the scary route, giving up life in order to have it, submitting, taking the path of apparently the least power in order to have true power.
The Jesus story, over and over again, is about the contrasts between the people who came to Jesus and were open to change, and the people who rigidly stuck to the old ways. We are confronted with this same choice… who will be: the one who was willing to change, or th closed off ones who assumed they already know the answer?