I went to a Tenebrae service in a nearby town with two young adult friends (who now attend my church) and we stopped to eat at a pub on the way home. It turned out that there was karaoke that night, so we stayed to sing and enjoy ourselves. I believe there’s an incriminating video of me singing “Mambo Italiano” floating around on Facebook right now, if you need the proof.
A friendly guy stopped at our table. Flirty, funny, sarcastic, and fun. Justine, who is new to church-going and is gonzo about it, said, “You should come to our church some time!” The guy rolled his eyes and made some derisive remark about the “Zombie Jesus.”
The three of us immediately reassured the guy that We’re Not Like That. Because that’s the first thing you have to do these days when you mention that you’re part of a church community: suffer the immediate knee-jerk rejection of people who assume you must be a flaming Santorum. It’s too bad, but Christians in America have earned our own nasty reputation, and the cool kids have to suffer by association. But as the great Dolly Parton says, “Get off the cross, we need the wood.”
As we chatted amiably enough about church, the guy continued to rib us. I mean, we’re Unitarian Universalists: evangelism is hardly our thing! Our usual idea of proselytizing is to invite someone to an animal rights rally. Rarely will you find a UU gushing about how much she loves church, but that’s where Justine is at right now and I think it’s wonderful.
The guy made a crack I thought was hilarious. He said, “Why should I go to church? Are they offering lap dances and handing out free $50 bills?”
I thought it was a great line until it hit me that he was being serious. Here he was, a guy alone at a bar, making a statement about what really would be attractive and valuable to him.
But we’re the loser nerds and he’s the “cool kid” by this society’s standards. We’re the geeks who had just come from a worship service and were sharing a meal together, and he was the lone dude swaggering around comfortably insulting something that is precious to us.
I have thought for some time that the way to witness to people like that is to match them sarcastic comment for sarcastic comment, let them poke fun at me and the Church (and God), and stay around being cool with them. I would certainly rather do that than to get huffy and offended or to try to speak earnestly with them and to watch their eyes glaze over. Who actually opens the doors to the Jehovah’s Witnesses any more? Who feels obligated to listen to a chick in a pub talk about her religion? No one.
But now I think that there must be some middle way between sheer mutual goofing around (after all, would I so casually tolerate that level of disrespectful teasing about any other important aspect of my identity?) and over-earnest evangelizing. However I do it, I want to keep it light, friendly and inviting, but I also want it to be real and courageous.
Something like this might have worked:
“There’s cool people in churches who are just as smart-assed and skeptical as you, but who really get a lot out of being together asking the big questions and supporting each other in finding some answers.”
Or, “Yea, I know that there are a lot of obnoxious religious people in the world, but there’s a lot of lonely, obnoxious drunks in bars, too. Quit dissing the church or I’m going to take you out to the parking lot and kick your ass for Jesus.”
That latter remark would certainly get his attention. The point is, you have to speak to people from where they are. I’ll have to work on this.