Evangelism the party game

Last night I went to a Christmas dinner with an amazing diverse group of women with a shared interest in Italian language and culture. The group has been meeting over nearly twenty years to have Italian conversation, eat wonderful antipasti and generally have a nice time.

It was my first Christmas dinner and so I was unaware of the traditional activity, which varies each year, but usually involves some kind of party game. Last year they all had to wear hats with a word they couldn’t see and they had to guess it from the clues others gave them.

This year we all had phrases taped underneath our chairs. These were random, mostly surreal statements that we had to slip into conversation without detection. Once we’d all had our first go at the munchies and got settled, we were allowed to read our slips of paper. Mine said ‘I love Italian cheese but I prefer Kraft singles’. I couldn’t say it with a straight face, not between mouthfuls of delicious Italian nibbles, so I gave the game away instantly. My partner worked hers into an otherwise perfectly normal chat about holiday destinations. Mind you her sentence was much easier than mine: ‘if I won the lottery I’d buy a house in Tuscany’.

It was a great game, and funny to see people leading conversations off in weird directions so they could work their phrase in undetected. It was a lot of fun but for a while I was silent, paralysed by the need to fit this unfamiliar set of words into my conversation. My phrase felt like a burden I had to get rid of. Others had the same problem, to the point where they couldn’t play the game at all.

And it made me think of the formulaic evangelism that I was taught growing up, the three- or five-point scripts intended to show people their need for God, His work in Christ and the great plan of salvation. I never used any of them because they felt a bit like a set of random sentences inserted into a completely different context. Like this party game.

I dislike scripts. They feel manipulative and inflexible. But I know they work for some. For those who, like in this game, spend the time to bring the conversation round, set the context and then gently introduce the script. For a long time I felt that there must be something wrong with me because I have always found it so hard to even set the scene for prepackaged words about God. For me it simply doesn’t work. It feels awkward and false. Not because God is false, but precisely because He is real.

Fresh Wound

It’s over. Again. Another life in our family has ended. A slow puncture this time instead of an explosion. Everyone in our house, apart from the 4 year old, is moving slower, as if grief is a kind of invisible heavy gas we have to wade through. Holding your breath for months wears you out, wears you down. We’re all tired.

Yet I can say I see mercy in the midst of this. At the bedside a few weeks ago we were able to say thanks, we love you, goodbye. Whatever needed to be said and heard. We were there to help and support at just the right time. For reasons best known to God, we were spared the loss of communication and consciousness in the final days. It’s not easy being away from the rest of the family. Distance does not dull the pain or the sadness. But I have seen enough to trust that there is a reason for our being here now, for our being there then.

One of my children asked me if it was okay to shout at God. I said, No. He’s still God. But you can tell him how you feel. Perhaps I should have said yes, but I was a child raised to never shout at her own parents, let alone God. A different era, I know. At least shouting is communication. I am learning this from another child. And God is, thankfully, more patient than I and unlikely to shout back.

I have never before spent time with anyone so knowingly close to death, and her quiet dignity in the face of it and all the discomfort of her condition, was powerful. All my petty preoccupations dissolved in her company. This beautiful woman, my husband’s mother, had not been a great church-goer in recent years, but in those final days her calm anticipation of meeting God comforted me more I suspect than any clumsy words I found to say.

We will meet again. Of this I am sure.

John 14 v 1 – 3

Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and  take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.

the beginning of wisdom

Three weeks it’s been. Did you miss me?

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Proverbs 9 v 10

The last time I sat down to write for this blog, the first post after Easter, I was waylaid by my old friend Fear. I give it a capital F as a sign of the respect I have treated it with, the comfort I have arranged for it, the welcome it has had in my life for years now. Like an old friend it has had the run of my house, wandering in unannounced and helping itself to my stuff, leaving a trail of destruction behind it. Often it just whispers in my ear saying ‘no, you can’t do that, remember, you might fail, or you might be taking on too much, or people may laugh,’ or some other crap.

That shut me up for a while, I’ll be honest. I thought about the stuff I’ve been writing, about the people I know who might be reading it.

As you can see, I decided to carry on, foolish perhaps but steadily moving beyond caring.

And in that endlessly self-referential way of mine I can’t help but smile at the irony of this. You see, the last post was about the aftermath of Easter, which in secular life, is about waving goodbye to that man-size egg-laying bunny and its chocolate frenzy and moving on to mother’s day and father’s day and pet’s day and whatever else marketing people fill their time with. In Christian life, the period immediately after that first incredible Passover in Jerusalem where Jesus allegedly rose from the dead, is when the Christian church really took off. Thousands of people came to find out what this new belief was all about because those early followers were totally fearless. The same disciples who ran off and left Jesus at his time of need were up preaching in public about having seen him alive. About him being the Messiah. No fear there. If you’re a Christian you can’t help comparing yourself to those folks. And feeling a bit small.

If I really believe the same amazing claims as they did, there should be no fear here either, right. And yet it persists. Fear of failure. Of success. Of doing what I’ve always wanted to do. Of not doing what I’ve always wanted to do. Of losing control. Of taking control. But I find I’m getting tired of all that. So I’m outing my fear, and exploring what the Bible has to say on the subject.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.

I repeat this here because I want to find out what this means. Is it possible that the only legitimate object of fear for me as a believer in God is … God?