Another First

I performed a wedding this afternoon at the historic courthouse downtown, and afterwards rushed to have lunch with a friend of mine.  As such, I was still wearing my collar, something I don’t generally do out and about.

As we sat at the table waiting for our food, an older man was edging closer and closer to our table.  I waited until it was obvious that he was intentionally trying to get my attention before greeting him.  He commented on my collar and I confirmed that his assumptions were right – I was a clergyman.

He smiled benignly and proceeded to lecture me about the nature and origin of the Bible.  How Jerome had first written it in the fourth century (translated it into Latin, I offered), based on the Septuagint which was in Greek, he continued (which I affirmed was a translation from the older Hebrew).  Not to be discouraged, he began talking about how the idea of God was really an Indo-European export to the rest of the world, and how the Native Americans in our area of the country had no concept of God until the Spanish imposed it on them.

No experience with the Christian God, I corrected, but certainly concepts about gods and deities in general.  He was adamant that nobody anywhere knew about gods and religion prior to Rome and then Britain and then American expansionism.  You’ve obviously done a lot of reading, I joked.  Oh yes, he affirmed.  Lots of study to answer important questions.

Eventually he wandered away, no doubt feeling good about having educated me about my beliefs.  It’s the closest thing I’ve had to a confrontation based on wearing a clerical.  He was anything but confrontational, but clearly felt the need to school me on my mistaken notions about the roots of Christianity and religion in general.  He wasn’t interested in conversing, just sharing from his knowledge, much of which was garbled and completely wrong from a historical and cultural perspective, not to mention theological.

There was no sense in arguing.  I smiled and listened until his order was ready and he left.  In some ways, as I think about it, this was an interesting experience.  An interesting reminder of why I approach evangelism the way I try to – as a conversation to be entered into rather than a message to be lobbed.

I have no doubt we might have had an interesting conversation, but he wasn’t interested in that – or me.  He was interested in telling me what he thought he knew about what he thought I believed.  He didn’t bother to ask what denomination I was with, or the particularities of my belief.  He just assumed that I was a religious man who needed to realize the foolishness of my vocation.  Not in so many words, of course, that would be rude and this man wasn’t rude.  But it’s essentially what I walked away with.

It’s a good thing to keep in mind, as I talk to other people – people that I presume aren’t Christian.  Simple explaining to them why their view of the world is completely wrong without actually learning what their view of the world actually is can be rather pointless.  It’s in learning who they are and what they think and believe that I can begin to draw connections to Jesus.

Which is what I had to do at the wedding.  The groom was a lifelong Lutheran but his fiance was an atheist.  Knowing them for all of an hour or two, I wanted to try and find a way to leave her with something to ponder after the bustle of the ceremony.  A connection to Jesus, to God, from where she seemed to stand here and now in her beliefs and convictions.  Hopefully I didn’t come off like the guy in the restaurant, even though my contact with the happy couple was nearly as brief.  Hopefully the little I had learned about them through phone and e-mail and a brief visit the day before was enough for the Holy Spirit to guide my words in a way that didn’t come off as an unrequested and unintelligible barrage of misunderstandings and assumptions.  I doubt I’ll ever know, just as the man at the restaurant will never know if his impromptu lecture had an impact on me.

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