Monday, April 4, 2011

Ira Glass, Billy Mays, and Jesus

Ira Glass got me thinking about faith over the weekend.

On Saturday I spent most the day in my craft room sewing and listening to This American Life via podcast. One episode was called "Bait and Switch" - stories about people taking the bait, falling for scams, or being tricked. The portion that had my full attention was about evangelism. It was SUPER interesting to hear this topic discussed in documentary-style by Ira Glass. One of the producers talked about tactics he’d used as a college student in an evangelical organization: a survey meant to strike up spiritual conversations or an event with a hidden agenda (been there, done both).

The producer talked about a beach party he helped organize. Girls in bikinis handed out fliers inviting anyone interested to drop by a luau later that day. Mid-way through the party (a series of wholesome skits), several people stood up and started talking about what a big difference God had made in their lives. The guests looked at each other and realized, "This is a gimmick. These girls aren’t ‘on the market.’ This is the exact opposite of what we came here for!"

Proselytism is a subject I'm familiar with (as a former proponent) and hyper-sensitive about (as a current opponent). My problem isn’t the message of Christianity, which is chock full of benevolence, second chances, and peace. But the message is totally lost when it’s delivered like a marketing ploy. I hate the stereotype that every Christian is a crazy televangelist in disguise, and the actual emphasis many churches put on "witnessing." Blech. It makes church feel like a pyramid scheme.

It seems to me that the really important things in life are communicated in multiple ways, person to person, in the context of friendship. I don't know about you, but I don't make decisions based on a single billboard, or a guilt-laden forwarded email, or because a used car salesman says my name three times in a sentence and makes eye contact.

Example: I use OxyClean because my mother in law showed me how much it whitened her vintage linens. I bought a tub of it based on her recommendation as someone I trust and the evidence I saw for myself, not because Billy Mays inspired confidence or used clever marketing tactics and eventually wore me down through volume and repetition.

The other thing that bothers me about being overly (obnoxiously) verbal about personal beliefs is the tendency to brag, or take on the attitude "Be like me!" The idea that my life should be a shining example to others puts all kinds of pressure on me to act as if I have it all together. The result is that I become less authentic instead of more authentic. I can spot this a mile away in other people, too. Nothing bugs me more than unreasonably cheerful people who always mention "blessings" or name-drop while describing how good God has been in their recent experience. My assumption is always that people like this are exaggerating simply to evangelize me.

What about you? Does the phrase "authentic faith" sound like a trendy church phrase or an oxymoron?

Does my ending a blog about faith with an open-ended question feel like a gimmick?


  1. Girl, as always, I'm right there with you. The whole evangelizing thing has become just that... a gimmick. Leaves me wondering how in the heck I'm supposed to share the tiny glimmer of faith that hasn't been squelched by the church.

    I fondly remember the Coffee Pub, and how we were encouraged to reach out to the customers in a Christ-like way. That did not involve painting Scriptures on the wall (or on the bottom of the coffee mugs, as some church members suggested) or pulling our Bible out, or even playing Christian music over the speakers (we were told NOT to play Christian music... loved that). We were simply told to talk to them and get to know them over time. I was able to reach out to one customer by leaving doggie treats for his precious Ruth. That spoke to him way more than shoving guilt down his throat.

    Sorry for my long-winded comment. And no, your blog question isn't a gimmick. :)

  2. Is it bad that the luau thing cracked me up? Can't you just see them sitting around, plotting that one out? Some of those things are just so stupid. I was a part of a pancake breakfast once where we were giving out pancakes and just "loving on people." Some little old lady gave her offering to pay for that.

    Btw, the name of the book is "Crazy Love" by Francis Chan. I'm not sure how I feel about it yet.