I’ve had some readers recently ask me to stop writing so much about Iraq. They want to hear more about everyday life.
True, and now that I’m home in Sacramento, I have some thoughts about communicating your faith in everyday life. I’ve discovered that the process of communicating your faith can be as complicated as trying to speak a foreign language to someone who doesn’t understand.
The process reminds me of the joke about the Texas Ranger who tracked a bandit across the Mexican border and found him in a saloon. The ranger snuck up behind the robber and placed a gun against his head.
‘Tell me where you hid the money,’ the ranger demanded, ‘or I’ll introduce you to Jesus.’
The robber quickly rattled off how he’d hidden the money behind the old mission; but his directions were in Spanish.
‘Bartender,’ the ranger implored, ‘Tell me where he’s hidden the money.’
Translating, the barkeeper said, ‘The bandito says, ‘Go ahead and shoot, Mr. Ranger, I love Jesus.’ ‘
I was fresh out of seminary in the mid-1980s when I encountered one such failure to communicate. Preaching for the first time to a military chapel, I shared my faith in the volume congruent with my tradition as a Southern Baptist.
However, it quickly became clear the congregation was more accustomed to liturgical sermons spoken in a conversational style.
After the sermon, I had two clues that my sermon was lost in the translation. The first clue came from a woman who stopped briefly at the back door to shake my hand.
‘Humph!’ she exclaimed, ‘I can tell you’re a Baptist.’
However, the second clue came from our chapel administrator, the noncommissioned officer in charge.
‘Sir,’ he said with a knowing smirk, ‘you’ll need to accompany me to the medical clinic. Looks like you’ve been chosen for the Golden Flow.’
This is military slang for our random drug screen.
‘Sergeant,’ I asked, ‘was my preaching so strung out that someone thought I was on drugs?’
He didn’t answer.
But I often wonder if our faith jargon makes people think we are on drugs as we say such things as: ‘I’m born again,’ ‘I’m confirmed’ or ‘I’m clear.’
Using such faith-specific jargon on someone of another faith is likely to get you the same reaction as the evangelical pastor got when he asked my friend’s 6-year-old daughter if she wanted Jesus in her heart.
‘I don’t want Jesus in my heart,’ she screamed. ‘He won’t fit down my throat.’
That kind of religion-speak is often more about our ability to recite and regurgitate religious creeds than it is about sharing any kind of hope with the people who need it most.
Christian scripture urges believers to ‘stand ready to give a reason for the hope that is within you.’ (1 Peter 3:15) Sharing a hope isn’t about reciting the Ten Commandments or the Doctrine and Covenants. Sharing hope is about helping people, in crisis and in the normal times of life.
Sometimes sharing our hope is as simple as telling someone how God helps us be patient with our children and sometimes it is as tragic as sharing how God helps us through the loss of our child.
Perhaps it all comes down to why we want to share our faith. If we’re sharing to obtain another notch on our ecclesiastical belt, then we’re likely to rely heavily on the kind of jargon that separates us from relationships. However, if we want to share genuine faith, we must focus on the delivery of hope.
So, in a world overflowing with conflict, we must redouble our efforts to become people who are about sharing real hope.
‘May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace . . . so that you may overflow with hope.’ (Romans 15:13)