Christians like to debate with non Christians. We like to defend our beliefs and and we like others to know our beliefs. Even when they don’t care too. Even if they are just trying to enjoy their Saturday afternoon with the family, our megaphone will ensure that they will hear what we think.
Sharing what we believe is not a bad thing but sometimes I wonder exactly why we do this. Do we tell people what we think because we care about the issue and believe deeply that there is something wrong with the current system or attitude? Or is it about seeming like we are an expert or smart? Is it about power? Do we really care about change?
When the street evangelist yells at passersby that they are going to Hell, is this about love for those people or is it about anger, the fear of people different to us or is it just because they have nothing better to do?
Debate is important. It’s where new ideas are created, it’s where people can learn to acknowledge that the person sitting opposite them has valid ideas too. It’s where bigots and those seeking to oppress have their ideas shown to be ludicrous. Perhaps we are on completely different ends of the spectrum but the shared passion that we hold shows us one thing. We are actually the same. Our ideas are different sure but we both care about what we believe so passionately.
But one thing that debate generally doesn’t do is change the other person’s view. Rarely will a racist debate someone and come out of it realising that actually everyone regardless of the colour of their skin has the same rights. Placards don’t usually make someone stop and think about where they are spending eternity. Yelling seldom turns into a respectful chat over a pint.
It just doesn’t happen that way.
What does bring real change and what does bring two people with wildly different ideas together is spending time with them.
This is why Northern Ireland will always struggle with sectarianism until Protestant kids and Catholic kids start learning together. This is why atheists will struggle to even consider God until Christians start acknowledging how their views and beliefs have and continue to hurt people.
It’s also why the biggest porn actor and a Christian Pastor can sit on a stage every night and disagree about the effect porn has on people then leave together and grab dinner. It’s how a group of Christians can enter into a porn convention and share about what they believe without needing to resort to name calling AND be invited back year after year.
Jesus knew this when he spent time with a man named Zacchaeus. Everyone raised their eyebrows when he took himself away and went to his home. Zacchaeus was a tax collector everyone hated them, they represented oppression, so for Jesus to spend time with him, let alone in his home was not at all normal.
But Jesus realised that to really get to know him the best way was to see how he lived. To have dinner together. There is something about eating with another person that can change everything. It’s about stripping everything away and realising that when it boils down to it, everyone has to eat. We are both humans, we both enjoy food and we will both poop later.
It says that Zacchaeus immediately decided to give half of everything he owned to the poor and promised to repay everyone he cheated out of money, four times as much. This, before they had even eaten together.
There is power in a simple invitation.
There is a new found inclination to openness when we simply acknowledge someone.
You can’t eat dinner with strangers because as soon as you share food in your home you are no longer strange.
Inviting someone into your home requires great humility. It says I am willing to spend time with you. It says no matter how strongly I disagree with you, I know that there is more to you. There is more to me. It’s the acknowledgement I don’t define you or myself as what we believe. I could be wrong. I am willing to listen. I am willing to learn. Because you no longer define yourself solely with your beliefs there is no need to feel threatened by those who think differently than yourself.
My favourite story in any of Don Miller’s books comes from “Blue Like Jazz” when he recounts a confession booth he set up at Reed College, a notoriously “secular” school (although I hate the term secular as it suggests that God can not be found there, I can’t think of a better term right now..suggestions on a postcard please). The twist being once in the booth instead of expecting the students to confess their sins, Don and his friends would confess their sins as Christians and as the church.
This is so counterintuitive to a church that has an amazing difficulty in apologising for our screwups (or as Francis Spufford calls it HPtFtU, the Human Propensity to fuck things up) As a church we can not claim that everyone needs to repent or face the wrath of God one day and turn around and be bigots the next and expect people to take us, or more crucially God seriously. For a lot of people the problem they have with Christians is not simply that they think we will judge them for sins, but that they we pretend to be Holy and better than everyone else, screw it up ourselves and then still judge them.
Sharing with someone that I am loved exactly as I am by God, that I want to live better for Him and for others but that I fuck it up daily and yet still be confident that I can return to God without shame; is the only way we can show people that what we have found in this strange, weird spirituality of Jesus is worth living for.
Everything else is just bullshit and the world will see through it sooner or later.
This is why Jesus calls us to humility. Not because it’s arbitrarily a nice thing, but because it’s physically impossible for us to welcome others into a love that allows room for us to fuck up, unless we can easily admit that we do actually fuck it up sometimes.
Without fail every time I am with someone who knows I am a Christian and they swear in front of me they immediately apologise. This tells me firstly that they think I don’t swear (they’re wrong). Secondly it tells me that they believe that Christians are offended by things like swearing (sadly they are right) and thirdly it tells me that their assumption of what it means to be a Christian is that we think we are superior and you can’t be part of the club unless you are perfect.
But this is not the message of Jesus despite how we act and it is not the way to welcome people in.
If we want to have people take us seriously the only place to start is by being vulnerable and showing our cards. By admitting that in the past we didn’t and even now, don’t always get it right. People will start to listen, wounds will heal, and we can actually live together peacefully.
Afterall we are all the same. Because somewhere on the other side of town; just like you, your enemy is also pooping down a toilet.
An image perhaps worth bearing.