Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Do you like candy?

Baraka posted the words to a graduation speech that I've known for awhile but properly identified its source as a Chicago Tribune columnist and NOT Kurt Vonnegut.

I was struck the instruction that we should do something that scares us every day.

I think that's a good idea but I don't do it. Sometimes people tell me that I'm being courageous when I do things, but usually those things seemed like my only option if I didn't want to be disappointed with myself in the long-run. That's right. It's all about avoiding guilt, people. :-)

Yesterday, though, I did something that scared me a little.

While walking into the Dunkin Donuts to buy a bagel and orange juice for breakfast at 7:00 in the morning, the man standing outside asked me for change on my way back out. Good tactic, that one. Give people a chance to mull over the possibility while waiting in line. Saturday and Sunday were two of those days that were so cold you would slap your grandma if that would make God give us just 5 degrees. It's been awful. With the memory of that on Monday morning, I actually considered what I could do for this guy even thought normally I choose not to purchase their services (feeling good about myself for helping someone out). So, I bought an extra bagel for him.

However, on my way out the door, he was standing in line behind me. I was so flustered by this unexpected turn of events that I just kept walking.

Damn! Now what do I do with this bagel? Leaving it in the atrium at school with a note is kind but doesn't quite count as "good" in the same way. And I know that if I waste this opportunity, I'll regret it later. So, I remember that men sleep on the steam grates by my school. It's still early enough that they'll still be asleep.

But what if the hypothetic homeless man wakes up while I'm trying to leave it anonymously? What if he talks all crazy at me? What if he wants to talk normal with me? What if he's insulted by my charity? What if it's even too cold for the guys that sleep on the grate to have avoided the shelters and there is no one there?

So, I parked the car, walked over to the grate and confirmed that there was a leg poking out of the dirty sleeping bag mound. I laid the bag with the bagel on the concrete next to him and hurried back to the car.

My heart was pounding.

When I was an annoying teenage Christian, I always balked at the idea of approaching strangers on the street to see if they wanted to talk about Jesus. I didn't have any theological problem with it. It just scared the hell out of me. What if they talk all crazy at me? What if they wants to talk normal with me? What if they're insulted by my evangelism?

Tonight, a sweet young woman asked me nicely, "Have you gotten one of these yet?" She had a cartoon-y religious tract in her hand. She continued somewhat feebly, "It's just a story with some fun cartoons." I smiled at her and told her I wasn't interested.

I'm really not. I'm horrified that God's desire for us to live in relationships with one another has been perverted to handing out tracts blindly to trick people into saying that they prefer Jesus to Hell. The ones aimed at children are particularly horrendous. I'm not good at relationships and will avoid them altogether often but at least I don't pretend I'm in them by handing out tracts.

The girl walked away and I pulled out my quilt that I'm working on. I experienced a slight tug on my heart that might have been God telling me that I should engage this woman in conversation to help her down the path toward emerging Christianity but the only things I could think to say to her were snarky, so I ignored the tugging. Now that I think about, those are ignoble goals since it presumes that I have some truth that those silly evangelicals don't, which is not at all where I want to end up on this spiritual journey. What God probably meant was that this woman needed to be loved and possibly I could show that love by being willing to listen to her and that in listening, God's light might shine through me. But I didn't realize that until now.

She came back to ask me what I was knitting. Ugh. Still, she was sweet, so I explained that it wasn't knitting but quilting and I explained the concept of a charm quilt.

And then I got into a conversation with her.

She said she was a grad student, too. At Moody Bible Institute. There's a big surprise. I told her I was studying Education policy and the policy of Poverty and Inequality. She's getting a degree in Discipleship. She wants to use that to help churches teach people what to do once they've converted. I don't actually remember how she phrased the idea of "converted" but it was totally non-confrontational so people (myself included) wouldn't notice it. She wanted to help them learn how to read the Bible and how to love God more.

(On a side note, although I can think of a lot of ways "how to love God more" is valid theological and practically, when she said it I was totally creeped out because I'm sure that to her it means following a bunch of rules.)

Of course, the irony is that although she wants to do all of these things, she's spending her time in the train station handing out tracts, which is all about the conversion moment and not at all about spiritual growth. I asked her what denomination she came out of. "Moody or me?" In my head I thought, "You, sweetheart. I know all about Moody." She explained her family's journey from Catholicism to Baptists to non-denominational. Then, she finally asked me if I went to church. I felt like saying, "I already told you that I'm studying how to eliminate poverty and inequality on a systemic level! Isn't that church?" Instead, I told her that I was part of the emerging Christianity movement. Figured I'd blow her mind a little if she went home and googled it. I told her she could look up my church at wickerparkgrace.net, Before I finished, she clapped her hands a little and repeated, "Wicker Park!" She was excited about the hipster neighborhood that is quickly becoming another land of the bohemian yuppies. I didn't know that she could lose any more cool points. Then, she realized that wasn't what I meant and asked me to repeat the website.

My train pulled up at that moment. I'm glad I was nice to her. Not heaping on additional abuse to that she is likely to receive if she keeps up what she's doing can only make the world a better place. At least, it keeps my soul cleaner. Lately, I've been admonishing myself, "If you don't feel gracious on the inside, act gracious on the outside. You're more likely to be right." It respects the fact that she might very well be doing something that scares her while I'm heading home to watch another episode of Buffy.


Anonymous said...

In addition to you being nice to her -- "I'm glad I was nice to her." -- as the dad, I'm delighted that she was nice to you. Because you need and deserve the love of Jesus, just as she does, and just as I do. I wonder why I tend to not love and not be nice to those Christians who disagree with me when I know Jesus is loving me even though I often disagree with him when I ignore the poor, or when I gossip, or when disrespect your mother.
Love, the dad

Helen said...

Rebecca, I love how thoughtful and introspective your posts are.

I wrote about your experience with the 'sweet young woman' on my blog

Nathan said...

I really like your blog...you stories and the way you write. Good stuff.

I've added you to my blog roll.


Baraka said...

Warm greetings of peace dear Princess Max,

This is such a thought-provoking post. The young woman seemed fairly nice and it was kind of you to try and engage her on a simple human level.

I had a very interesting conversation with a Lutheran gentelman in Amsterdam in October, just before he headed off to Suriname for a few years to do missionary work.

I have a lot of baggage re: the connection between colonialism/missionaries so keeping an open mind about his work was tough.

It reminded me of E.M. Forster's maxim, "Only Connect!"

We don't always understand fully, but we can try to connect on a basic human level.

Baraka (of the Bugle Beads)

Mike Clawson said...

Well done Rebecca.

My guess is that the girl was doing it as a class or general school assignment. I'm pretty sure Moody requires their students to do this kind of street evangelism on a regular basis. After all, D.L. himself had a rule that he had to share the gospel with one person every day, and was known to run out at midnight in his PJ's to accost drunks on the street on those days when he forgot to fill his quota. :)

Christy said...

Ed policy too? So glad I'm getting you and Megan together, she's into that too. (ha, this comment is 99% irrelevant to your post!)

PrincessMax said...

Wow. Look at all these people!

My dad comes out of the woodworks. Helen links to me. Nathan adds me to his blogroll. Baraka quotes E.M. Forster. An odd visual image from Mike. And Christy chimes in.

Happy Valentine's Day!

Baraka, where does Forster say that? It's wonderful. I'm about to make my younger brother read Passage to India now that he's just returned after a 2 week visit. It's one of my top ten novels.

Baraka said...

Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon.
Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted,
And human love will be seen at its height.
Live in fragments no longer.
Only connect...

--E.M. Forster, Howards End