Primitive Christianity Revived, Again
I struggle with how to talk about God. With people I don't know well or with people I may know well but I know from a non-religious context, it can be a real challenge for me, and for many other folks I know. Is that your experience too? I have written a post on my blog, In the Shadow of Babylon, sharing some ideas that have helped me get more comfortable, but I still struggle with this. I would love to hear your thoughts on why this can be such a challenge and any suggestions you have on how to speak more freely about God!
Here is the intro to the post:
Talking about God is not about converting people.
I feel like I need to say that because, in my middle-class, well-educated, mostly secular world, there is a hesitancy to talk about God and our experience of God, even among people of faith and even, astonishingly, within some faith communities. Within my own (generally liberal) Quaker context, I think this stems from a recognition that our experiences of God differ and the more we discuss our experiences, the more those differences will be evident. Perhaps we do not wish to offend. Perhaps we do not wish to be vulnerable. Perhaps we do not have appealing, nonjudgmental models for how to talk about God. Perhaps we struggle with the connotations of the word “evangelism.” Whatever the reason, many of us struggle with how to talk about God.
So again, talking about God is not about converting people. True conversion is the result of the work of the Holy Spirit, not human techniques and tactics. We have no responsibility for the state of anyone else’s soul. What we do have is the responsibility to testify to the love and goodness of God using our words, along with our actions. We also have the privilege of getting to know the faith stories of the people in our lives. But how can we do that without being weirdos or alienating those we care about?
This speaks to me. What a wonderful Blog post!
For a long time I was "afraid" to talk about God. But the more I refused to the stronger the urge became. With my family I began to think, "I don't avoid certain topics because I am afraid. My faith is as much a part of me has my hair, my frustration with my jiggly belly, my desire to be a master gardener, all of it is "Me", so to deny talking about it would be just as silly as not talking about any other part of my life with my fam.
Then I can remember very vividly sitting in Meeting and thinking to myself "I do not think God is here." but then the voice spoke back to me, "But I am here, you just refuse to let me out!" So I made a decision to "let him out".
I don't see myself as any great minister or worship leader or anything of the sort. But I do think it is similar to the idea when you are walking along the street with a group of friends or fam and see an unusual animal, or a rainbow. You don't think to yourself "Oh! Better keep that to myself just in case." I think nearly all of us interrupt conversations, break silence, even whip out our phones to post about it on Instagram because it is just too cool to keep to ourselves! Why wouldn't I give that same consideration to God? The more I find ways to speak about my personal faith and relationship with God the better I get at it. I don't think "becoming bolder" is the right way to say it but it does describe my feelings.
In a recent adult education class there was some discussion about "how do we know that the 'light' is talking and not just ourselves" ( or NPR? lol ) And without thinking I blurted out "For me if something is in my heart and keeping it quiet feels like depriving someone with me of hearing something beautiful than I know it is not my own mind, but Gods leading." So far it has been a good measure for me.
For myself talking about my faith is almost always done in a descriptive way. Saying "I felt blessed by.." "I felt God's work today..." "Check out what God helped happen in my life.." or even "I feel like God is not with me right now.." or "I really need to pray for..."
"In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven." Matthew 5:16
Instead of being nervous about how our faith will be received why not live the type of faithful life that will draw more people to it? People may very well roll their eyes and think I am weird, BUT you know there is the small voice inside of them that will speak up and say "Maybe she is on to something there" whether or not they do anything about that is on them.
I think that unattractive "evangelism" work that seems like an F Bomb among East Coast Quakers can be easily avoided by not expecting to earn something or provide something in order to hear what God is doing in my own life. And if someone rolls there eyes or makes a face or even avoids me because of it what harm does it do me? Usually none.
Thank you so much for your kind words and beautiful response. There is a lot to reflect on, and a lot that is encouraging, in what you have written. I especially appreciate this: "Instead of being nervous about how our faith will be received why not live the type of faithful life that will draw more people to it?" Thank you!
We may not be "responsible for" how words about God are received; but to not care how they're understood would be gravely ir-responsible and unloving.
Being recognized as 'a weirdo' is probably less painful than getting chomped down in the arena; but it truly does hurt until that old ego gets toughened up by the inevitable mortifying experiences.
Like this, perhaps? http://www.quakerquaker.org/forum/topics/i-am-a-fool-and-the-gospel...
About four years ago, my small meeting began a 30 minute sharing every Sunday morning before worship. We call it Circle of Friends. It came from a leading one of our Friends had. Someone volunteers each Sunday to bring no more than a page of something inspirational, we gather in a circle, and pass a copy to each Friend present that Sunday for the Circle of Friends; we read it aloud and go into silence as a group. Then Friends simply speak from the silence to share however that written material moves them. There is no planned "lesson" and no expected understanding from the material. We just wanted the opportunity to share with each other each Sunday from our thoughts about spiritual things.
We have the most wonderful and brief sharings with each other that involve God, the Spirit, and living a spiritual life. We use as material passages from the Bible (usually The Message bible due to its modern rendition), Eastern spiritual traditions, and even modern spiritual works; anything that brings us Light. The material involves the nature of God, compassion, suffering, how to love, almost anything that people of the Light are wondering about or struggling with in life. There are anywhere from six to eighteen Friends at this Circle of Friends each Sunday.
Just from this weekly session of sharing with one another our thoughts, it has deepened the spirituality of the whole meeting, and created an environment of sharing in a genuine way at other times as well.
There is a deep well of Friends right in our own meeting who long for what you are expressing Adria.
There is a serious reluctance in my family to speak about God, because of the now distant history of arguments between relatives of different denominations. There is a strong disincentive to talk about God in my community (largely gay) because so many were hurt by religion and have abandoned it as a result. There has been the same reluctance in the Friend's meetings I have known, partly to appease those who have rejected a Christocentric view of Quakerism, partly to comfort those who were also hurt by religion, and partly to reach out to those who come from other backgrounds. Have we become so fragile that some fear to speak when the Spirit gives utterance? Have we become so brittle that we will not listen to testimony unless it comes only in a preapproved, inoffensive and neutered language? God, Jesus and the Bible are out. Pop references and personal feelings are in. A poor silly gospel, indeed.
Truth can offend. It can scare people, even make them angry. It can be scary to speak the Truth. If we can't speak our witness to our friends, family and in our meetings, then how can we testify to the world? All I can try to do is to speak in a spirit of love. I continue to use God language, and also try to find other words that can reach those who don't/won't/can't here it. I tried not to for a while, and found the little world around me was perfectly happy to let the God of all Creation and the Savior of the World be forgotten. Thankfully, God will not let me go. He makes my feeble little light to shine. The only problem now is to live up to it.
You speak to my heart. Perhaps you can offer some insight...
In our meeting there has been a pretty clear line drawn in the sand between believers ( the maybe 3 of us) and people who tend to view Meeting as more a social/political club than a religious endeavor. I have had many conversations all over where people mention they don't believe and then mention about 40 things PEOPLE have done to turn them away from God.
In my mind that negates their own argument. It is my belief that PEOPLE say dopey stuff, act catty and form cliques based on their own needs and wants and GOD doesn't. He just loves us for following his word. I often feel frustrated that aside from what i just typed, I can't expand on that more. ( It's probs not a great idea when someone mentions a butt head "religious" relative, for me to talk more about the butt head than God. But I get stuck. ) To me the focus shouldn't be talking about all the bad stuff PEOPLE do in the name of God, but framing the conversation to show God hasn't given up on us no matter how dumb we act.
How do you handle moments like this?