I ate lunch with my fiancee Curtis this past weekend at a cafe in Manhattan. The food there is unbelievable and really cheap, but it's one of those places where the tables are scrunched so close together that you're practically touching the people sitting next to you. In our case, the neighbors were two obviously close female friends in their early twenties chatting loudly.
Our food had just arrived when I heard one of them say, "Hey! Did I tell you that I visited my mom's church this weekend?" The friend dropped her fork. "NO! Your mom goes to CHURCH?!"
My ears perked up, because I'm always interested in hearing other people's experiences with God and religion. I glanced over at Curtis to see if he overheard, but he was totally focused on the chicken cutlet. I considered getting his attention, but then realized that I had the perfect opportunity to eavesdrop without the distraction of my own conversation. I picked up a salt shaker and tried to look really engaged in seasoning my steamed vegetables as the girls continued.
"Yeah, my mom goes to church! She's like a born-again Christian! Totally!"
"WHAT! I never would have thought!"
"Yep, she goes to this giant church. I went when I visited her. It was so crazy, listen to this..."
"Oh my g-d, I can't believe YOUR mom goes to church. Lightning didn't strike when she walked in?"
"Hah, yeah, I know, right? So we go, and it's like huge."
"One of those mega-churches?"
"Yeah, a mega-church. Definitely. And they had like a rock concert at the beginning. People were throwing their hands up. It was craaaaazy."
"Oh my g-d."
"Yeah, so then the preacher gets up and starts talking about how, like, people don't know how to think, they keep making all these bad decisions, so they should let Jesus do the thinking for them."
'That's really scary."
"Yup. And in the hallway, you know how when you're in college they have those little exhibition booths, where if you want to join this club, you go here, and if you want to be in this club, you go there?"
"They had those! And one of them was like this anti-abortion booth."
"Oh my g-d."
"Yeah, it was REALLY bad."
"I feel sorry for those people."
"But I still can't believe your mom goes to church."
"My brother keeps saying I should stop telling people about it. He's like, you've gotta stop doing that! But I can't! It's like, SUCH a good story."
"It really is."
The girl changed the subject of conversation to her boyfriend who couldn't commit after 3 years and I tuned out, lost in thought about her perceptions of the church experience.
It was eerie just how much the church she described is like mine, right down to the 'exhibition booths' (and I'm pretty sure there was a pro-life table in our hallway at some point where people could sign a legislative petition). I know how strange that set-up seems to a person who doesn't understand how the modern evangelical movement approaches Christianity. It seems weird, I get it. I don't fault them for not understanding the act of worshiping God with hands lifted high, or for misunderstanding the preacher's explanation of the way God transforms and renews our minds. That's to be expected: as 2 Corinthians 4:4 puts it, the god of this age has blinded people's eyes to the light and hope of the gospel.
No, the truly sad part to me--and I wonder if you feel the same--was the huge disconnect between the girls' perception of the mom and the life the mom was trying to lead. How differently would that conversation have gone if the mother had experienced a changed life after joining that church? I can imagine the daughter saying, "I think it's so creepy that she goes there, but you know what, she's really happy. She's been acting so different since she started talking about God all the time. She stopped fighting with dad, and she's always off volunteering somewhere and helping people out. And remember when she lost her job, she wasn't even worried, she just kept saying God would take care of her or something. I don't know what she's getting out of those weird rock concerts, but it's working for her, I guess."
The saddest thing I can imagine anyone saying about me is: "You went to church with ANGELA? She goes to CHURCH? Whoa." My witness is far from perfect, but I hope that there is something different enough about my approach to life that others would say, "Yeah, doesn't surprise me that she goes to church. It figures that she's a Christian."
Some people eavesdrop on conversations. But there are also people watching our entire lives. The Bible says that we can tell a tree by its fruit, because every living creature produces after its own kind. If we are of the Spirit, then we should produce the fruit of the Spirit. We are a representation of the God we serve, and one day we will stand before Him. How awesome will it be to hear, "Well done, my good and faithful servant!"
How do you show yourself as set apart for the Lord without being overbearing or self-righteous? Is there anything you actively do to keep a good witness? How do you respond to people who are baffled by your religion, beliefs, or values? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section.