Saturday, December 07, 2013

A Conversation

We are safely home after laying my mom to rest, and there's lots I want to write someday about all that.  But instead I'll write about something else: a conversation I had today that I can't get out of my mind.

I was signed up to sell books from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. today at the Lane Library League fundraiser at the fairgrounds.  I wasn't up to spending the day there, between just being back from the funeral and also the snowy roads.  Paul offered to drive me in if I want to go, and there were specific authors I wanted to see, so off we went and I was there for about an hour.

A slender gray-haired woman came up to me.  Here's the conversation as best as I can reconstruct it:

She said, "Oh, I wanted to talk to you.  There's something I just don't understand.  I so enjoy your articles and what you write about the Mennonites.  I'm Unitarian-slash-Buddhist myself, but I'm interested in other religions, so I went to this lecture at the U of O about Mennonites, and it seems there's quite a variety. . .?"

I said, "Yes.  There's a huge variety of churches, all under the Anabaptist umbrella."

She said"Yes.  Well, there was this incident, and I just don't understand it.  We were down at the 5th St. Market one Saturday, and this group of Mennonites was singing.  It was just beautiful.  We just love music like that, even though we're not Christian.  And there was just this sense of community, with families in the group, and just how they sang.  It was lovely and we stood there listening to it.

And then while we were listening, this Mennonite man came up to my husband and began to talk to him and asked him what he believed and began to talk about their beliefs.  My husband said he's not interested, but the man just kept on talking.  And we wanted to listen to the music, but he just wouldn't stop talking.  I've read your books, and it just doesn't seem like something you would do, to be that aggressive."

She paused.  I sensed that she also wanted to say, "or that disgustingly rude," but as a Buddhist she didn't want to let it upset her.

I'm not sure what I said then.

She said, "I didn't realize you folks did that.  I know the Quakers don't proselytize.  I didn't think you did either.  But this man, he just wouldn't leave my husband alone.  And we just wanted to hear the music.  He just wouldn't stop talking."

I finally said, "We do believe in sharing our faith.  But usually we try to do it through how we live our lives and being open to people who ask questions, and being friends."

I sounded pretty lame, really, like I'd get an F in any Personal Evangelism class.

She said, "But how do you explain. . .?"

I said, "Well, in any religion you will have people who are really passionate and really aggressive about trying to persuade others to change their beliefs."

She said, "Yeah, I guess so.  But it just didn't seem like something a Mennonite would do."

Her husband joined her at my table.  She turned to him, "I was just asking her about. . ."  and he nodded and said, "Oh.  Yeah.  That man. . ."

They thanked me and left, still looking troubled and confused.

I am feeling somewhat troubled and confused myself.  On the one hand, any discussion of Witnessing or Personal Evangelism makes me feel like a failure because I am frankly terrible at approaching strangers and explaining the Gospel to them.

Also, if this man's behavior is so not typical of Mennonites, does it mean we've carried the "Stille in die Land" thing way too far?

However, would Jesus have had a choir sing beautifully to draw people into the marketplace and then talked so aggressively to curious listeners that they couldn't listen to the music and left feeling upset and disappointed and a bit violated?

What do you think?

I think she and I are both trying to make sense of that incident.


  1. OH WOW! Hit a sore spot with me...ditto on the "F" in evangelism. I even wonder about the benefit of passing out tracts esp. when they end up being litter a lot of time...but then our minister told us of a young lady, pregnant and in a foreign land (here) she was handed a tract and then called the phone # on the tract, she had tried another church, the never called back..anyhow long story short. The tract was handed to this young lady by our high school evangelism class, the person that provided a ride to church "just happened" to be our school secretary. don't know what the ending will be to the story, but it does make me want to pack some tracts...but being so persistent ...yeah not sure about that either.

  2. I am going to quote a homeless person who talked to me about this very thing. I was asked why religious people are so persistent in talking about their religion? Do they want to rack up brownie points with their church? Plus those people never listen to what we have to say, all they do is just talk, talk, talk, then up and leave.

  3. Just reading that makes me want to apologize (profusely) to that lady - and I wasn't even there/involved.

    I don't know that it is ever a good thing to force it down someones throat.

    "Taste and see that the Lord is good". Ps. 34:8

  4. cliffandbecky12/07/2013 9:29 PM

    I don't recall any instances of Jesus being boorish.

  5. First of all, I would like to tell you again that you and your family are in my thoughts during these hard times.

    You know I have been reading your blog and books for years, and I'd like to tell you that you do share your faith by telling about your life, your thoughts, your actions. In a much better way than many if not most of the people who try to "push" their beliefs on others. You give them a way to become better people. They might or might not convert, but you do indeed pass the message.

    I have become an agnostic -not an atheist by any mean- after being a Protestant all my life for reasons too long to explain here (you can read them on my blog) but I have the utmost respect and admiration for your faith and the way you share it. Kindly, peacefully and wisely.
    You share the Good Word by the way you live, the way you write and this is priceless. You may not pass tracts, but you pass the Music, and it is very powerful!


  6. Perhaps you could have apologized to them on behalf of this man's 'rudeness' and then reminded them that he was an individual and they needs to be careful not to stereotype all Mennonites by this man's actions.

  7. The reality is that when the Holy Spirit is working to convict another that person will resist Him and will fault your method of evangelism. In your attempts at evangelism the devil will again fault you for your lacks. How one can be always sensitive to the Spirit and speak only when and what and stop there becomes a challenge to any sincere child of the LORD because we do not want anyone to perish in hell. Remember the parable Jesus told about inviting people to the feast but few would come? The servant was then told to go to the byways and hedges and compel them to come... I know you feel sorry for the lady and her husband but I suggest you leave that with the LORD and let him take care of it. In my experience at the Crises Pregnancy Center I would rather a girl leave the center mad at us for preaching to her then one who thought we were so sweet and forget everything we said. If the woman is angry at you she will remember what was said. An person angry at you means you touched a sore spot. Still...just leave it to the LORD....God bless.

  8. I had a similar experience and twice in one day! A complaint about how a Mennonite had treated them rudely and the pain was evident as in their voices. And my response was something like this "I am so sorry that you were treated that way. Mennonites are human like everyone else and make mistakes too,some that hurt others. I stand in their place and say I am so sorry that you were treated that way. Please forgive me and my fellow Mennonites for hurting you." Both people accepted the apology and one, a Military man, walked away with tears in his eyes.

  9. As in this case, I think aggressive evangelism is counter productive. Driven by guilt rather than love, empty of relationship it drives people away rather than drawing them to Jesus. I recommend "Permission Evangelism: When to Talk When to Walk" by Michael L. Simpson. Witnessing when people "ask for the reason of the hope" in us seems to be God's way.

  10. I feel sorry for you to have been confronted in that manner considering what you have recently endured. I agree with another comment by "Pierre" that you do, indeed, share your faith by the way you live and love!

  11. Salt can get too "salty".
    Col_4:6 Let your speech be alway with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man.
    It seems to me that "grace" was missing in that incident.

  12. I feel the man was being rude. If he wanted to speak to the couple, he should have waited until the singing was done.

  13. You were in a hard spot and I don't know what I'd have said.
    In general, Mennonites prioritize Truth, and they often forget that Beauty is just as eternal and powerful. The singing was Beauty and was ministering on a level that the by-stander could understand, but the Menn. man didn't recognize that. Truth, by itself, kills. Jesus came full of Grace and Truth. We Mennonites all need more Grace it seems.

  14. For what it's worth: I somewhat coincidentally read David Kinnaman's book /unChristian/ on the plane on the way home from a program in which I experienced some similar situations--only, from the side of the attractive/obnoxious group. I can't say the experience did a lot to increase my positive perception of such approaches. Kinnaman's book, and its chapter on perceptions of Christians, fit well with that. I recommend reading the book--even if you take issue with some of his analysis, the data presented are worth seeing. A few excerpts:

    "Perception: Christians are insincere and concerned only with converting others."

    "Although Mosaics and Busters [groups defined in the book] generally resonate with spiritaul topics, they don't like feeling 'cornered' into conversations about faith. A generation reared in a marketing-drenched world is uqick to sniff out what they believe to be the underlying motivations and superficialities."

    "Young outsiders generally do not get the impression that Christians have good intentions when it comes to trying to 'convert' them. Most reject the idea that Christians show genuine interest in them as individuals. This was one of the largest gaps in our research: most Christians are convinced their efforts come across as genuine, but outsiders dispute that. When it comes to matters of faith, young outsiders are skeptical of the 'the Jesus shtick.' This is a key finding of our research. Only one-third of young outsiders believe that Christians genuinely care about them (34 percent). And most Christians are oblivious to these perceptions--64 percent of Christians said they believe that outsiders would perceive their efforts as genuine."

    "Many of the young people we interviewed also pointed out how hard it is to take Christians seriously in light of some of their tactics. In all of the interviews we did, we heard no favorable comments about so-called street witnessing, where Christians intercept unknown passers-by to share the Good News. 'People stalk you and verbally berate you. I'm like, do I know you? Why should I care what you are saying?' was one comment.

    And outsiders expressed particular disdain for methods that 'trick' people into paying attention. One respondent called this 'the con of conversion.' She said, 'Christians want you to pay attention to their message about Jesus, yet somehow I don't think Jesus would be happy about being turned into a gimmick.

    Outsiders are skeptical and savvy. In the vast majority of cases, rather than creating spiritual depth in people, these methods create unChristian barriers--mental and emotional obstacles--to Jesus."

  15. [continuation]
    "Myth: Anything that brings people to Christ is worth doing.
    Reality: When you're talking dollars, there is no price too high for a soul. But the problem isn't just cost. In our research with some of the leading 'mass evangelism' efforts, we found that often these measures create three to ten times as much negative response as positive. In other words, imagine your church is considering mailing Bibles or videos or other Christian materials to homes in your community. Our research shows that the 'collateral damage' of doing so--those whose impressions of your church and of Christianity would be more negative as a result--is significantly greater than the positive ompact on those who will respond favorably to these efforts. Moreover, such mass evangelism efforts are most effective with marginally churched adults, while outsiders are usually the ones who respond negatively.

    As Christians, we have to keep in mind that response rates are not the ultimate goal but rather the wise and careful stewardship of the image of God. Today's media and technology create unparalleled opportunities, but they also wield the potential to harm the Christian image among many outsiders. If you create more barriers with outsiders because of your tactics, you have not been a good steward of the Gospel. How we choose to share Christ is as important as our actually doing it."

  16. Of course the instant reaction is "how rude" but I think I really have to go with Sandra's logic above. How can we apologize for someone sharing the gospel?

    It sounds like they were upset because the Christians weren't accomodating of their secular experience of the holidays. Yet it was free, and they were there freely and free to leave.

    I'm not sure I agree with the conclusions of the research "Eldest Son" posted above, it is not surprising at all that non-believers don't think Christians are as sincere as Christians think they are. It is hard for non-believers to attach a motive, when they don't understand the gospel and so they assume it is insincere.

    I think the rabbit hole of making people comfortable so they will accept us has a fox at the bottom.

  17. Some later thoughts:
    One thing that bothers me about this couple's experience is that the choir was put there as a lure to pull people in, but then they weren't allowed to listen to it, as though the music was only fluff and the talking was what mattered. But, as Anita said, "The singing was Beauty and was ministering on a level that the by-stander could understand, but the Menn. man didn't recognize that." Anyway, that bait-and-switch technique seems deeply wrong and unfair to me.
    The second thing that strikes me wrong is the fact that the guy wouldn't stop talking. Maybe it's the introvert in me, but few things are more grating than folks who just will.not.shut.up. True, the Gospel needs to be shared, and it might make people angry [and it's not hard to tell from the comments that some of us are more prophets/crusaders than others. :-)] But. What about respect? This couple's reaction to the Mennonite man was similar to my reaction to the loquacious JW's at my door--more revulsion than interest. Listening is a gift that opens hearts and communicates love and respect. Why don't Christians use it more? Like Katie Troyer said, quoting the homeless person, "those people never listen to what we have to say, all they do is just talk, talk, talk, then up and leave."
    Thanks to all of you for your comments, and may God give us wisdom and the right words.

  18. Yes! Yes! Dorcas, I agree very much with your comment. Where's the respect? Where's the listening?
    In my time spent on the mission field and now, living right in the middle of a small town, I have found respect and listening go a long, long way in sharing Jesus. This is a good reminder again to me. We, as Christians, need to use respect and listening much more then what we do in relating to the outside world.
    Blessings, Barb

  19. I feel like there is a balance to all this. It's interesting how there is a very wide variety of comments, and very contrasting opinions. And that's definitely ok.
    Personally...I think that it was rude how the man wouldn't stop talking, and as was mentioned more than once, was not allowing them to hear the singing. If they were enjoying the music, they may have gotten more of a message out of that than his talking since they really didn't "listen" to him anyway.
    I don't think we should turn people off by pushing it on them, because that will not give them a good taste for Christianity and Jesus.
    On the other hand, maybe we as Christians/Mennonites aren't being verbal enough about our faith and what we believe. Should we be "known" to totally let people alone? Should we be "known" to never challenge people? I don't think so. But we should be known to live a quiet and peacable life, not stirring up anger (and one way to stir up anger is by "pushing" the Gospel on people).
    I'm not sure exactly...this has given me something good to chew on for a little while. :) Thanks.

  20. One more comment.

    Whether the Mennonite was as obnoxious as this woman was saying may be a matter of perception. On the other hand one hears objections raised by people who frequent Rescue Missions but are not allowed to participate in the meal offered unless they sit through a sermon. I have heard objections raised to this requirement that it is NOT appreciated. I see this man's witness in the same vein.

  21. My grandfather, a Catholic-Christian, was a beautiful witness to the faith, because he was always respectful of people. He always loved people for who they were, and he spoke of God and the Trinity. He always spoke out of love. If someone was ever offended or upset, it's on them. He always had the upmost respect for others. We are all called to be witnesses, and I think evangelization is a spiritual gift, and used by the prompting of the Spirit.

    I can see how this situation was awkward, and you were not there to judge the man, just to affirm that Mennonites are respectful people. You are just another contact and conversation of their personal spiritual journey.