Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Keep Your Motor Running

I was out running in a strange city early in the morning, and even though I was enjoying myself I was wary. I hadn’t checked out the route with anyone, and I kept waiting for someone with a weapon and evil intentions to jump out at me from the shadows. As the sun began to rise, the shadows began to shrink, and my field of vision grew larger. I relaxed, but I still steered clear of any areas that seemed at all suspicious. I was almost back at my car which I had parked in an empty lot about an hour earlier. But as I grew closer I saw that my car was not all alone. Someone had pulled up a mini-van right next to my car, and the engine was running. I wasn’t sure what to think, but I was grateful that the min-van was not between me and my car’s driver’s door. I was almost at that door and was pulling out my key when the side door of that mini-van slid open and a smiling man in a three piece suit leaped out. He came towards me, and I noticed he had a leather book gripped in one arm. I didn’t know if it was a Bible, a Koran, or a catalog from Amway or Land’s End. But I knew that the man who I had never met before and who was jumping out of a van with the engine still running in the early morning hours wanted something from me. Before he spoke a word, I put my right arm up with my palm towards him and said: “I’m good.” Now if he knew me, he would have known that was an untrue statement. But it was the first thing that came out for my mouth. What I meant was some jumbled version of: “I don’t know who you are or what you are selling or if you are trying to kidnap me and throw me in the back of the van. But I am freaked out and a bit scared. So back off.” Apparently he couldn’t adequately translate “I’m good” because he kept coming and asked: “Do you know who you are?” I am sure that if I hadn’t known who I was that he would have had the answer for that question either in the leather book or the back of his van. But thankfully for me, his question was one to which I knew the answer. I replied: “Yes, I do” as I opened my car door and climbed in. He didn’t wait for me to start my car but jumped back in the van, and it sped off presumably to park next to another car all by itself in a parking lot, to keep the engine running, and wait for the owner of that car to return. I am thinking that probably the dressed up man and his driver had the best of intentions. Maybe they were Christian evangelists and someone had sold them on the “park next to a solitary car, keep your engine running, then jump out when the driver approaches” school of evangelism. Maybe they were an Amway sales team. Maybe they were human traffickers n the market for 58 year old men (a limited market to be sure). I don’t know who they were, and I admit that I was already in a suspicious state of mind when I encountered them. You might even say that I was a bit paranoid. Had I been walking into a church foyer on a Sunday morning, I would not have been startled if a smiling and suited man had walked towards me holding a leather book, although his question “Do you know who you are?” is generally a better question for a hospital emergency room than as a conversation starter with a new person. So what’s the point of my telling this tale to you? In the days following that incident, I have asked myself about how we share our faith with others. Many people who don’t go to church are suspicious and wary of organized religion. Sometimes their feelings are based on personal experiences, but other times their views are uninformed yet very real. I think most people do want to know who they are and do want to know where they fit it, yet they are apprehensive about a slick and smiling salesman trying to sell them the answer. Is our local church a safe place to explore life’s biggest questions, or are we a community that drives people away? Do are methods of sharing our faith startle people and make them uneasy? Or do we create an atmosphere that encourages open conversation about what matters most in life? Let us avoid the “park next to a solitary car, keep your engine running, then jump out when the driver approaches” school of evangelism.” It doesn’t even work on ministers. AMEN