Random Acts of Evangelism usually leave me grappling with a complex set of emotions. First and foremost, there’s anger. I sincerely do not want to talk to strangers about Jesus, and when they knock on my door with a Bible in hand, while I’m searing a roast, the meat gets crispy and so do I.
The only joy I get from these uninvited dialogues (monologues, really, but more on that in a minute) is when I tell them I don’t want a copy of Watchtower, or whatever, thank you very much, because I’m Anglican and we have our own newspaper, so don’t let the door hit you on the way out.
Through the years, I’ve come to relish the crestfallenness that creeps across their faces during my big bad denominational reveal. It’s primarily fundamentalists who go door-to-door, and I think they prefer impassioned atheists to mainline moderates. Maybe it’s easier to catapult a prospective convert from one extreme to another? The middle, however, is a real challenge for zealous disciples: such a vast expanse of potential religious mediocrity to navigate. It’s no wonder Anglicanism seems to throw them off their game. (Of course, there are fundamentalist Anglicans, too, but that’s another column for another day.)
Anyway, anger is what I felt one day earlier this summer when I was minding my business, training my son to be a good guide for my mother-in-law (she’s visually impaired and needs to be accompanied on her walks) when two something-sisters-of-the-something-mission crossed the street and interrupted us.
In fact, the reason I didn’t read their name tags in full is because I was focused on showing my son a particularly treacherous section of sidewalk that could leave his grandmother stumbling into oncoming traffic if he weren’t extremely careful. My business was life or death-it’s unclear if it will appear on my heavenly scorecard on admissions day, but it probably won’t damage my prospects-and chewing the fat about Jesus, however good his news, was not on my agenda at that moment.
The two young women with golden curls and flowing skirts might have been resplendent in the sunlight, but their luminescence was diminished by their forced grins, which were creepy-sweet. Maybe living a good Christian life had genuinely overstuffed them with ecstasy, and I’m the sour cynic who’s missing out, but I saw strained enthusiasm, reminiscent of buskers who’ve given one too many performances under a big, hot sun. Even my son, who is eight years old, asked me later, “Why were they smiling like that?”
I was steadying my mother-in-law’s walker when the sisters launched into their spiel: “We’re just wondering if there’s anything we can do for you today?” followed, without nearly enough time for a breath, let alone a yes or no reply, “We just want to tell you about the Lord Jesus Christ, who can be your personal saviour.”
On this occasion, and so many others like it, my anger evaporated into total boredom. How could it not? It’s always the same script.
As a child, thanks to my spiritually ambiguous parents who were perpetually searching, I was exposed to a lot of conflicting theology and religious dogma without nearly enough religious practice to support any of it. Through the years, I became deaf to some of the more frequently rehearsed stuff, especially the monologues that are so overwrought with a particular kind of Christian vocabulary. Who really talks like that? Give me authenticity or give me nothing. As a result, during Random Acts of Evangelism, like the one with the sisters, I can tune out with minimal adjustments to my audio input.
This acquired hearing impairment is also what allowed me, at a crucial turning point years ago, to drown out some of the religious noise in my head and make a choice to connect with a church and believe something. And that choice has subsequently helped me to move beyond a would-be believer’s doubt and uncertainty, to explore Christianity, on my own terms, from within the comfortable confines of a denominational brand. My tolerance for people muddying my waters is pretty low.
“We’re good,” was my response to the sisters on this day. “We’re totally good.” I returned my attention to pointing out the hazards and deficiencies of municipal infrastructure and kept my guided-walk tutorial-train moving as quickly as it could in spite of the crowd of heavenly hosts clogging up the sidewalk.
But there’s nothing like the dust settling on an evangelistic brush-off to bring on guilt and self-reflection. Religious differences and competing print publications aside, maybe being closed-off to other Christians who don’t play for my team isn’t such a good thing? Is denominational identity a coping skill or a cop-out? And, most importantly, how will I know when I’ve become too comfortable?
“Why didn’t you want to talk to those girls?” my son asked.
“It’s complicated, Joe,” I said. “It’s really complicated.”