Thursday, September 30, 2010

On how God can bring good things from tracts, in backwards ways.

I went to a local park to eat my lunch yesterday, one of the main hang-outs for low-income folks in the neighborhood.  I was sitting on the bench, reading my book, when I saw a man out of the corner of my eye who didn't seem to fit the scene.  He was wearing nicer clothes than anyone else (including me), and he seemed to be praying over two people on the bench across from me.  Sure enough, when he was finished, he approached me and handed me a tract and a yellow lollipop.  He asked if he could pray for me.

I'm not one to turn down prayer when it's offered, so I humored him and said yes.  He launched into a generic prayer that seemed almost memorized.  I guess he couldn't help but be generic, since he hadn't even gone to the trouble of asking my name.  He did, however, make some assumptions about me in his prayer, evidenced in phrases like "Lord, free her from her addictions" and "Holy Spirit, convict her of her sin."  Amen, brother.  God knows I have addictions and sin I need freedom from, but something tells me they're probably not the ones he was imagining.

After wrapping up his prayer, he asked me two questions in rapid succession: "Do you have Jesus in your heart?" (pointing at his chest).  "Yep."  "Do you have a Bible?"  "Yep." 

This satisfied him, and without so much as a goodbye, he moved right along to a skinny girl dressed in a dirty, tattered t-shirt and sweatpants, who was sitting about five feet away from me.  I watched as she accepted the lollipop and tract (though she threw the leaflet in the garbage as soon as he turned his back).  She gently declined his offer to pray.

When the man had left the park, I caught her eye and said, smiling slyly, "At least he had lollipops."

She grinned, and said quietly,  "I didn't have the heart to tell him I'm a practicing witch."

I laughed, imagining how the man would have responded.  She continued with a story of what happened the last time she told a "Bible Thumper" the truth about her religious beliefs: "I literally got thumped with a Bible."

With that, we launched into a great conversation.  I asked whether she practiced witchcraft in community with others, and she told me about her coven.  She asked if I was a witch.  (Somehow, this was a lot more refreshing than being asked if I "had Jesus in my heart.")  I told her that I was a Christian, but I found myself suddenly reluctant to be grouped with the man we'd just encountered, so I awkwardly added, "maybe not quite the same kind of Christian as that guy." 

We shook hands and exchanged names, and talked for twenty minutes.  We talked about our belief systems, and how ancient they were, and what we had in common - a belief in the spirit world and that we were privileged to interact with it, a desire to act in love, to seek peace and light.  She told me about growing up on the streets, and how despite all the pain and temptation she experienced, she never let her "Self" be compromised, "because all I really have is myself, and if I give that up, I might as well be f***in' dead."  She told me how she gave up her crack habit for a cat habit - "it's expensive to take care of six cats, but not as expensive as buying crack every day."  She showed me a beautiful marijuana pipe she'd found in a parking lot.  She said she enjoyed talking to me, and hoped we'd see each other in the park again.  I enjoyed talking to her, too.  It felt like the start of a friendship.

And that's how the ever-surprising Holy Spirit, who has a pretty good sense of humor, brought an encouraging avenue to relationship through the most anti-relational, dehumanizing, well-meaning but misguided "drive-by" evangelism attempt I've ever personally experienced.

In hindsight, as I think about the guy who prayed for me, I wish I'd thought to ask to pray for him.  I would have prayed that God would free him from his addictions, too.  Of course, I probably shouldn't do that kind of thing unless I at least know the person's name.  And maybe their favorite musician.  And maybe I'd want to know whether he'd had difficult experiences in his life, whether he had pains he was dulling with his addictions.  But by that point I'd probably feel like I had to share some of myself with him, too, and that might be too much vulnerability, and it might take too much time...

... and honestly, I have trouble interacting with people who have such different ideas from mine about sharing the Gospel.  I'd rather not admit that we're part of the same family, that we're Christian brothers and sisters who need to learn to love one another in spite of our different approaches to evangelism.  And besides, I'm far better at talking to homeless witches. 

Yeah, on second thought, I think it was best to let him go on his way.