Always An Open Question
Several years ago, Barbara Brown Taylor, in a Faith and Writing Conference at Baylor University, made this statement (or something close to it): "What 'being a Christian' means is always an open question."
The past few days I've spent some time over at Off The Map. Here's what they're about:
"Off The Map is a Christian non-profit organization which is focused on reinventing evangelism for ordinary Christians. We advocate that the foundational building block of evangelism is connecting with people as modeled by our leader, Jesus."
As you explore the various blogs related to their mission, just what they have in mind becomes clear. I'm not sure how I'd put their approach, but I think it might be something like: "Love people, care about them, for the sake of that love and caring, and don't try to sell them anything, including Jesus."
This has a deep appeal for me. It's not that they don't want people to know Christ...it's that they desire the same organic relationship that Christ had as he dealt with those around him. To look at another person as a "lost" person, in Off the Map's mindset, is to see an "it" rather than a "Thou." (Martin Buber's I/Thou rather I/It relationship). Off the Map has one blog called "Conversation at the Edge" where an atheist is blogging about her attendance at a Lutheran Basic Doctrines class. Her approach to reporting the experience is balanced and honest and extremely eye-opening. There are several video-taped interviews of one of their leaders interviewing "lost" people at a church conference, the point being to discover and illustrate how "lost" people feel about us Christians, especially how they feel about being thought of as lost.
I can think of any number of old-school objections to this approach. But I personally don't want to raise any of them, because I think this is important work. For me, the radical transformation happening in many Emergent church circles is the exploration and clarification of what it means to actually love. To love without agenda, to love without selling, to love without judging, but to stand in the gap for a suffering world with no strings attached, except to say that we want to show God's love for the world.
How strange that after 35 years of following the Christ, I feel so unequipped to live the simple life of love. But I suspect my experience is not unusual. Duty, wanting to be right, wanting to be well thought of in church, carrying the guilt of not "evangelizing" as I should be (read 'selling/marketing Jesus'), coupled with my deep idealism of an MBTI 'INFP', my desire to see the great power of the New Testament lived out in our time...all of it adds up to the large gap Dallas Willard, Philip Yancy, and others have written about so well. Why do we not experience the power of the first century? Where is the river of living water of John 7?
Do not read that I doubt it's here. What I don't know is whether I am drinking of it. If I already am, why am I thirsty?
And why should it make me nervous to ask?
Conversion is not what I'm after...I want transformation...