What is Evangelism?

2004/06/14 at 15:40

I’ve been moved recently by some blog entries by others about faith. One of them is “The Death of Evangelism” by fellow Pflugervillean and acquaintance of mine Matthew Sturges. In the essay, Matt ponders that term that scares so many mainstream Christians. Matt writes:

By “evangelism,” of course, I’m referring to the practice of spreading the Good News, the Gospel of Jesus. Already you’re cringing even reading the words, perhaps? Don’t feel bad–it’s a natural reaction. I’ll explain why in a moment. What’s important to note if you’re not up on your New Testament is that in three of the four Gospels, Jesus clearly gives a command to his disciples to baptize people and spread his teachings to all the nations of the world. A lot of Christians hate that part. Most of the people I know that consider themselves believers wouldn’t evangelize someone if their life depended on it, and certainly wouldn’t have the audacity to go up to some Buddhist and tell him that he was barrelling down the offramp to perdition.
. . .
So what’s the alternative? . . . The best answer I have, and I am not alone in this sentiment, is that Christians must evangelize by example. If I behave as I think a Christian ought, then my actions and my demeanor will be those of love and peace and acceptance. When people see that I am imbued with these qualities, they may ask me why. Or if they know a little bit about me and they see that I’m neither a strident moralist or an intense maniac, and that the people I know are also not that way, they might wonder if maybe religion isn’t necessarily a bad thing after all. “I mean,” they’ll say, “look at Matt over there. He believes in God, and he’s not a total tool. He’s not brainwashed. He appears to be free from moral absolutism. And he really seems pretty happy. Hmm. Maybe there’s something to this after all.”

In other words, Walk the Walk. Go read Matt’s entire essay; it’s very well written and insightful.

Shades of Grey

2004/06/10 at 09:48

Sojourners magazine has an interesting article on pro-life progressives. For these people:

Being a fully pro-life candidate, according to Allio and others, doesn’t mean just promising to work to make abortion illegal, supporting laws against certain procedures, or pledging to pack the Supreme Court to one day overturn Roe vs. Wade. (And for some, it means using methods other than legal sanctions to reduce abortions.) While some pro-life politicians take the so-called “seamless garment” approach, adding assisted suicide, the death penalty, and perhaps stem-cell research to the abortion issue, progressive pro-lifers tend to see the issue even more broadly than that.
“To be pro-life means also to work to eradicate poverty, to provide universal health care, to provide affordable housing, to be consistent on war and peace,” says Allio, whose office works on precisely those issues.

This reminds me of my friend Hildegard Wilke in Constance, Germany. She passionately feels that abortion is wrong, but she prefers to act in her sphere of influence–where she has a good chance of actually helping individuals avoid abortions. Instead of getting caught up in endless political debates (admittedly, the political situation regarding abortion is different in Germany than in the US), she avidly promotes use of contraception and the dissemination of information about the various alternatives to abortion. She volunteers at an organization that helps women in need and she stands on street corners giving out information on alternatives to abortion and information on contraception. The most poignant sign of her commitment came when when a new form of birth control came out: Hildegard felt obligated to try it herself so she could speak from personal experience about it.
In some ways I guess I am also a progressive against abortion. However, I don’t believe that abortion should be outlawed. I think the political debate over the legality of abortion is immaterial. Abortions will continue to take place as long as the motivations remain, whether or not the procedures are legal.
Like Hildegard, I believe that the only thing that will truly end abortion is to address the contributing social factors (mentioned in the quote above), to educate people on the alternatives and to promote values of individual responsibility (and to me, that definitely DOES NOT just mean telling a woman that if she got pregnant, it’s her responsibility to raise the child. In many cases, the responsible thing is to help the birth mother realize that she is not the best person to raise the child due to circumstances).

Makin’ Bacon

2004/06/10 at 09:22

I already knew a bunch of people at my new job: the company was founded by some guys I worked with several years ago. Plus, they just hired as development manager the guy I worked for at two jobs since then. And, they also just hired someone I worked with at yet another job. Someone commented yesterday that I’m the Kevin Bacon of the Austin software development universe. I’m not sure what to make of that.

Leading the Blind

2004/06/09 at 09:17

Back when I was a sophomore in college at UT, I worked for Ralph Read, a blind professor of German. Dr. Read had diabetes and had gone blind a few years earlier, and when I worked for him, he had several undergraduate and grad students who helped him with various aspects of his work and personal life. (Dr. Read passed away from diabetes complications while I was still working for him in 1985)
My job was to drive Dr. Read to and from school each day and help him some with class preparations. But it’s our daily car trips from his house in south Austin to campus and back that I remember most fondly. Dr. Read prided himself on his listening skills, and every day he asked me about my life and listened politely as I went on about the concerns of a 21-year-old for pretty much the whole 20 minute trip.
Being a good listener is a difficult skill, and I try to keep Dr. Read in mind as I try to exercise that skill myself.

Southern Hospitality

2004/06/01 at 14:32

I am a well trained Southern man: I try my damnedest to open or hold doors for women.
I remember when I moved to New Jersey, I was constantly stumbling over women as we approached a door. Finally, it occurred to me that door-opening is a delicate dance requiring the woman/women to move out of the way slightly to allow the man to get to the door. In NJ, the women weren’t playing the game. hence the stumbling.
This morning (in Austin), I was reminded another aspect of this Southern custom: the polite thank-you from the woman/women. As I was approaching the door to leave the bagel place where I stopped to get coffee, I saw a woman approaching from the outside. I was far enough ahead that I could push open the door, go through it myself and then hold it for her. But something told me even before I opened the door that this woman wasn’t going to play the game. Sure enough, it felt clear that she expected me to hold the door for her, but I didn’t get a look, a smile, a nod, and certainly no polite thank-you. After she passed, I gave her a loud ‘You’re welcome” anyway.

Messages from God

2004/05/28 at 10:08

In her blog at The Village Gate, blogger “Renee in Ohio” writes about George W. Bush’s statements that God told him to act in regard to Iraq:

One thing I have noticed about the stories in the Bible about God talking to people and giving them a mission of some sort, is that they are usually reluctant at first. Moses is told that he will lead the people, and he tries to beg out of it–”You don’t want me. I’d be no good at that sort of thing. I’ve got this stutter, you know.”
Jonah, as my kids recently learned in the Veggie Tales movie, was told “Go to Ninevah.” Johah says, “Gotcha!” and promptly sets sail–in the opposite direction.
Whether these stories literally happened, or are an allegorical expression of the faith experience of a people, what stands out to me is the fact that God is often seen commissioning people to do things they find difficult. Challenging. Scary. Seemingly impossible, or at least implausible.
God seems pretty unlikely to say, “Attack Iraq, kill thousands of people, get oil contracts for your rich friends.” I don’t think Bush needed any higher power to tell him to do that. But apparently he needs to invoke a higher power to justify it.

Renee also offers a quote from Susan B. Anthony that I hadn’t heard before: “I distrust those people who know so well what God wants them to do because I notice it always coincides with their own desires.”
Bingo!

Jesus says, “Don’t download music”

2004/05/25 at 11:26

The issue of whether Christian young’uns should be sharing music via P2P has made a lot of news lately, even a Salon (premium) article.
The Gospel Music Association (granted, not an unbiased party) recently released a study that concluded:

…born again Christian teens are not much different than are non-born again teens in terms of holding an anti-piracy moral position. Just 10% of Christian teens believe that copying CDs for friends and unauthorized music downloading are morally wrong, compared to 6% of non-born agains.

I find the attitudes that sharing music isn’t wrong interesting, and this is an interesting angle.
I certainly think that the recording industry is pursuing the wrong strategy by fighting music sharing tooth and nail. And it’s ultimately a doomed strategy. I think they’d be much smarter to embrace technology and find ways to make money from it, instead of desperately hanging on to the existing system.
But, regardless of whether the current laws are fair, the law is the law. It’s currently illegal to share music, and I struggle with that.
I’m not saying I’ve never downloaded music. (I have, in fact, but I found it too much trouble). Also, I don’t think music sharing is any different from software piracy, and as a software developer, I can see who’s harmed by software piracy.
So, I struggle with the issue of following the law, regardless of my perception of its fairness. No answers, but I understand the public dialog.

Body and Soul

2004/05/24 at 13:03

This entry from the blog Body and Soul covers about every thought I’ve had recently about the war in Iraq as well as many I haven’t had. It’s a lot to digest.

Simplicity

2004/05/21 at 15:16

A New York Times article discusses some designers’ call to simplify technology. These people claim:

There is too much needless complexity in the world, he argues. Technology, which was supposed to make our lives easier, has taken a wrong turn. In 20 years we’ve gone from the simplicity of MacPaint to Photoshop. While the first fostered a creative explosion, the second gave birth to an industry of how-to books and classes. And such complexity is commonplace, Dr. Maeda says. Despite the lip service paid to “ease of use,” “plug and play,” and “one-click shopping,” simplicity is an endangered quality in the digital world, he adds, and it is time to break free from technology’s intimidating complexity.

And of course they mention Microsoft Windows. I see their point, but they offer a tired argument. Can you do all the things with MacPaint that you can do with Photoshop? Of course not. PhotoShop (or Word, Windows, etc.) may have a zillion features, but these are programs with lots of users with very different needs. Sure, any individual user may only use a small subset of a program’s features, but there’s a group that needs every feature that’s been included. Contrary to what these folks imply, we aren’t just making things more complex for its own sake.

Pics of Waving man

2004/05/20 at 20:43

This morning I took my camera in the car on my way to work, hoping to snap photos of waving man. Considering I see him at most maybe once a month, the chances were slim. But lo and behold, I did pass him this morning. But I had to turn around and come past him again in order to get photos. He didn’t seem to realize it was the same car that had passed the other way a minute before, and if he noticed me snapping photos as I passed somewhat slowly, it didn’t stop him from waving.
Amazingly, I managed to get a couple of decent photos and not crash my car.
Waving man
Waving man