So last week, I had an article appear in the NY Times blog, Motherlode. What an incredible opportunity and one that has taken me on quite a journey this past week. First and foremost, I’ve received an outpouring of support, which has amazed me. People telling me how much they appreciate the article, and how I have articulated their own experience of being young adults who love Jesus, love their faith but don’t necessarily agree with the stereotypes around their faith.
There was the e-mail from Grant, a hospital chaplain, who felt moved to write me and encourage me and who literally brought me to tears with his kind and generous words. Largely, these types of comments and e-mails have been the rule.
However, a few stray arrows have found their way to my inbox.
Like this gem: “If you wouldn’t tell your non-Christian friends that Jesus came down from Heaven and died on the cross for their sins, are you sure you’re Christian at all?”
How does one answer a question like this?
What has fascinated me is the way in which my article has raised such ire in the Christian community. I have touched a nerve; I have spoken to a fear. I wonder exactly, what is that fear?
Why does taking my friends’ feelings and perspectives into consideration when I share my faith, mean that I’m not Christian? Why does my unwillingness to proselytize my friends mean that I don’t have a personal relationship with Jesus? Some people don’t want to be converted and I respect that. In what way does my respect for a person’s unique spiritual journey compromise my own salvation?
In the end, I am who I am, and my faith is a part of my identity. Anyone who wants to be my friend learns this about me. I don’t hide my faith but neither do I have an agenda for my friends. If they want to talk about faith, we’ll talk about it. If they have questions, I answer them.
I believe that my life as a missionary kid has prepared me well for this conversation. You see, growing up overseas has required me always to be aware of two cultures at once. I always have one foot in each culture. Missionary work is about building bridges, about empathy.
My husband’s family lived in Haiti for ten years and he remembers his father always telling him, “Dwayne, everywhere we go, we learn the heart language of the people. Not the national language.”
You see, French, the national language of Haiti, was the language of the oppressors, of those who came and colonized. Haitians developed Creole as a way to speak to each other in the midst of their oppression. Creole was their own.
Dave understood that in order to reach the people they were there to serve he couldn’t fly in from Canada and start speaking the language of those who had captured, abused, and oppressed the Haitians. Yes, they would understand Dave on a literal level, but he would never truly reach them. He had to get down on the ground level, learn the language of their hearts, and meet them on their terms.
In a similar way, I learned as a little white girl in an amalgam of cultures that I would not get very far if I always demanded that everyone learn to speak my language, learn to understand the world through my eyes.
I think Christians in America find themselves at a similar crossroads. For so many decades, Christianity has been the majority voice in this country, the defining religious worldview. It has shaped politics and social mores. Christianity has been the national language. But that is changing, shifting. The majority is broadening, diversifying.
I think a new generation of Christians are taking the scene. We understand that we can’t demand everyone speak our language, and meet us on our terms.
This new generation of Christians value relationships above proving ourselves right and we are dedicated to learning the heart language of our culture, not so that we can compromise and lose our roots, but so that we can better communicate the Truth.