Tag Archives: evangelism

The evangelist in me

“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.”                              —2 Corinthians 3:17

The Japanese bridge at Giverny, France in Monet's Garden.  All photos by Evan Schneider.
The Japanese bridge at Giverny, France in Monet’s Garden. All photos by Evan Schneider.

A few days ago, I met with my spiritual director and told her about this restful trip to France, the adventure of following God, and the newfound freedom I’m experiencing in simply being who I am in God.

She’s been someone with whom I’ve laid bare my concerns about this dual calling to ministry and anthropology, with whom I’ve questioned, sometimes painfully, how I can do both–that is, academia and Church work– and how I can carve a space for myself that truly and faithfully integrates the two.

But as we spoke, that question started to sound so misplaced, so trivial…and even unfaithful.  As she repeated my own question about how I might synthesize these two callings back to me, it all suddenly sounded preposterous.

Because I’m not the answer.  

Of course, it’s just about the most basic truth in the book, but I marveled as I realized that I don’t do this work of integrating, synthesizing, or redeeming.  That’s all God.

Delaware River.
Delaware River.

And God is good at it.  

As I mentioned yesterday, God deals in abundance.  For God, there aren’t categories and confines, limitations and boundaries, but God is the very definition of holism, the place where our callings find perfect harmony and symphony.

And suddenly I feel so secure in all of that, and it’s effecting everything: the way I live, the way I speak, the way I rest, and the way I work.  This security in who I am in God has prompted me to share the faithful parts of me with my colleagues in anthropology and to find that they can not only understand, but also value what I’m talking about.  It’s pushed me to bring anthropology into the classroom at the seminary only to find that future pastors find it challenging, instructive, and meaningful.  And it’s shaped how I talk, write, and minister to foster mothers and brothers and sisters in China, the academy, and the Church.

“And that’s the definition of evangelism,” my spiritual director replied as she heard me muse on my newfound freedom in this God who is so perfectly gifted at integration.

A private courtyard in Paris, France.
A private courtyard in Paris, France.

I nodded, and tried not to gulp or cringe.

You see, I have an uneasy relationship to that word evangelism.  It’s partly my reverence for culture and diversity that makes me suspicious and uneasy of the hubris and insensitivity that often undergirds conversion.  It’s also my own experience–the fact that I’ve learned so much about myself, my faith, and my God from non-Christians– that makes me wary of anything that smacks of evangelism.  And finally, there’s the trappings of that loaded word evangelical and its problematic place in American politics and culture.

But if I’m honest with myself, those objections to the term or the project of evangelism are once again, more about me and my problems, than about God.  When it comes down to it, I’m all about ministry that’s outside the walls of the Church, prayer that stretches across boundaries of believers and nonbelievers, and beholding the sacred in everyday life.  I’m all about a God whose news is so good it doesn’t just dwell within the walls of the Church, the hearts of believers, or least of all, me.  

Flower
More from Giverny.

I’m beginning to accept that God’s good news seeps out of me, in spite of me, and that is good, too.

So you heard it from me first.  Turns out I’m an evangelical who’s learning to love the evangelist in me, because God is abundant, faithful, and good.  Because I can’t do what I’ve been called to without God’s wisdom, patience, and grace.  And because I’ve been set free–from sin, fear, and death–and that’s worthy of a testimony or two today.

Amen.

Advertisements

Why we pray

Sometimes it seems as though the world is so saturated with pain and heartache and disease and fear that it might burst.  

It’s in those moments that we put our hands together, we bow our heads, we bend our knees.  If we’re honest with ourselves, sometimes we do it less out of faith and more out of desperation and perhaps a little bit out of habit.  We go to God to find solace from the scary world, to test that God is still there, to cry out to someone who we want so boldly to trust, cares.

If you’re like me, you may have circles of friends who aren’t people of faith.  Do you pray for them, too?  Do you tell them?

The Giant Buddha on Lantau Island, Hong Kong.  All photos by Evan Schneider.
The Giant Buddha on Lantau Island, Hong Kong. All photos by Evan Schneider.

Despite my shoddy track record as an evangelist, I almost always do.  I almost always tell them that I’m thinking of them, that I’m praying for them, and of course, being a former seminarian, I’ve wondered a bit about the theology in all that.

But I’m pretty sure God doesn’t.  When we’re on our knees and lifting our friends in prayer, it isn’t theology that grounds us, but the Holy Spirit.  And the Holy Spirit doesn’t merely speak the language of Christianity or faith, but the language of the heart.  So the language of the heart tumbles out of us, knowing no boundaries, no colors, no sects, no creeds.

When I’ve told my friends who aren’t people of faith that I’m praying for them, I think they’ve found it meaningful, perhaps even more meaningful than those in the church.  They don’t have to be Christian to know that interceding for someone is the work of desperation, habit, and perhaps a little bit of faith.  They do it, too, in their own ways.

As I read this little book by Anne Lamott on prayer these days, I am reminded how simply prayer is about communion with God.  I like how she believes that honesty before God, all of our anger, frustration, and fear, can actually lead us toward, rather than away from God.

Hong Kong

And I wonder if we in the Christian community have spoken too often about what prayer isn’t, so that we’re hardly left with anything that prayer is.  The funny thing is, my non-Christian friends want to pray, too.  They sit there before a meal, waiting on me to bless it.  They ask me when and why I pray.  In fact, they’re not nearly as skittish about prayer as we Christians are sometimes.

And what if I leveled with them?  What if I told them that I don’t pray because I have great faith, I pray because I need great faith?  What if I told them, I pray to hear my own voice saying that God is there, because sometimes I myself have a hard time believing it?  What if I told them that I pray because I simply wish I could feel God a bit nearer all the time?

When it comes down to it, I do believe that God meets us in prayer.  But I also believe God intercedes when we don’t have the words, that God hears the prayers that ruminate in our minds whether we choose to speak them or not, so that prayer is not so much about what God is or isn’t doing, but our need for God.

A pagoda peeking out over the trees in Hong Kong.
A pagoda peeking out over the trees in Hong Kong.

But when the doors to the church are shut so tight, I’m pretty sure those outside can’t see that we’re actually just a bunch of needy people, people just like them.  So this morning, I’m praying for friends, Christian and non-Christian alike, and I’m praying for God to shine brightly through my cracks, my weaknesses, and my neediness.  May it truly be God who is glorified, praised, and honored…in prayer, in life, inside the church and out.