BLOG. 6/25/14. DEVELOPING THE GIFT OF CONTAGIOUS CONVERSATION
(This is a continuation of the 6/23/14 Blog, and comes in response to some inquiries and comments by my readers.) My personal persuasion is that anyone who has intentionally received Christ in to his/her life, is thereby inhabited by the Spirit of Christ, which Spirit then incarnates Jesus’ real love toward those broken, rebellious, lost, confused, preoccupied (call them what you will: sinners? sojourners?) folk that he came to “seek and to save.” You will notice also, in reading the gospel accounts, that Jesus didn’t hang-out all that much with the religious-types, but seemed to move easily toward crooked guys like Zacchaeus, or to eat and drink with “publicans and sinners.” After all, these were the folk he came for.
It is so convenient for us to get so engrossed in ‘church activities’ that we have no contact with, or communication with those who are not our in-house friends. This is tragic. This is the short-circuiting of the mission. If Christ is in us, then no agnostic responses from others, no hostility toward religion, no indifference to things that are precious to us, no nasty put-downs of the Christian faith, are going to deter us from being right there, in love as the sons and daughters of light.
So let me give you a few leads on how to begin to work on this (in case you are not already). For one thing, you may frequently, in this post-Christian culture, have folk tell you that they don’t believe in God, or are not religious, but that they are spiritual. That intrigues me. It is worthy of a follow-up question to them as to how they interpret that word ‘spiritual,’ and see where it goes.
We are not involving ourselves in this communication with some kind of a religious ‘hard sell.’ Rather, it all begins with our compassion and our sensitivity, and our awareness (to borrow from Blaise Pascal) that there is a “god-shaped vacuum in the human heart.” We, who are Christ’s folk, after all, have the conviction that we are created by and for God. That reality may be deeply buried in others, but it lingers there somewhere. So we begin our communication with others in love, friendship, congeniality, and sensitivity by listening deeply to them—tuning in to them. This doesn’t happen quickly but must be patiently nurtured.
Here are some guidelines that I have borrowed from other, and have recorded in my own prayer notes. First of all, from the Irish poet, Seamus Heaney, at whose death it was written that four words described why he was so much loved: warmth, humor, caring, and courtesy. When I read that, I said: “Of course!” I have no idea about Heaney’s faith but I like the sensitivity of these adjectives, and seek to emulate them in my conversation.
Then there is a note from some contemporary psychiatrists to the effect that there are three anxieties that are common to all humankind: the anxiety over meaning (what is my life all about?); the anxiety over acceptance (does anyone care that I’m here, or care about me?); and the anxiety over death (what is after this life, if anything?). I sort of keep those in my mind and use them to trigger some thoughtful response when the context of the conversation warrants it.
N. T. Wright lists the four human quests as: 1) the quest for justice, 2) the quest for spirituality, 3) the quest for relationships, and 4) the quest for and delight in beauty. Another theological voice (P. T. Forsyth) records that human kind has five needs (these take a bit more thought but are rich: 1) a center, 2) an authority, 3) a creative source, 4) a guiding line, and 5) a final goal.
Ultimately, we only learn how to be communicators of the mind-boggling wonder of God’s love in Christ for folk such as we by actually seeking out such conversations over coffee/beer, listening deeply, and being patient and authentic as God’s New Creation folk. And it is what we were made for: to be spontaneous agents of the love of Christ for the real community of folk among whom we operate.