Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Ahhhh, this is what it’s about…

Tonight I had dinner with old friends from Iran. I worked on US-Iran relations for a few years and during that time, traveled to Iran twice. While there, I made several Persian friends that I stayed in touch with after my trips ended. One of those friends emailed me out of the blue last week to say he was in town with his family on vacation, and was I available for dinner?

So tonight I had dinner with the whole family – him, his wife, and their two daughters, 22 and 25 year old. He and his wife live in Tehran; their two daughters are in school in the U.S., both studying to be scientists.

It was a really wonderful reunion with an engaging, fun, warm, loving family…that, in years past would have been tainted by my quiet worries that, as secular Iranians, they definitely didn’t know Christ.

In years past, I would have felt a bit of reserve toward them, toward others like them – that inevitable sense that we’re different, that one of us knows Truth and the other, however nice or smart or kind they may be, just doesn’t. And I would have wondered, “should I be trying to evangelize them?” “And what does it say about me if I don’t want to bust open my Bible or share the Four Spiritual Laws?”

So tonight, free from the burden of worrying about their eternal souls, I simply enjoyed a great evening with people I care about. This was the kind of evening that makes me feel good about leaving the fold.

10 comments:

jennypo said...

Slapdash sez:
“And what does it say about me if I don’t want to bust open my Bible or share the Four Spiritual Laws?”

I think it says that you are both wise and compassionate - wise because you can guess about how useful it might be to bust open the Bible on any guests who haven't requested it, and compassionate because you can imagine just how impressed you'd be with someone who tried to ram their religion down your throat if you went to their house for dinner.

Slapdash sez:
So tonight, free from the burden of worrying about their eternal souls, I simply enjoyed a great evening with people I care about. This was the kind of evening that makes me feel good about leaving the fold.

You will notice that the evening you describe, while it might diverge from the average "Christian" experience, is actually pretty close to the way Jesus spent a good portion of his time when he was on earth.

No where in my Bible am I given the impression that anyone's eternal soul is mine to worry about, to nag, or to push. Instead, Paul urges us as Christians to "be ready to give an answer" to those who ASK us about the hope we have. If I don't have anything that other people want, the hard-sell is going to do nothing but make people more determined to escape it.

I'm glad you had such a good time. You make me wish I was there too. There are many things we in the West could stand to learn from the people of Iran.

Zoe said...

Great post and insights.

This here: "So tonight, free from the burden of worrying about their eternal souls, I simply enjoyed a great evening with people I care about. "

Agreed. This is what it is all about. :-)

lowendaction said...

hsadpals (intl. trans. Slapdash),

First of all, I am just happy to see an American spending quality time with folks from the middle east. I am thoroughly convinced, that if we weren't such an isolationist country/society (both by choice and ignorance) so much of the hatred between our nations would be laid to rest...good for you!

This was the kind of evening that makes me feel good about leaving the fold.

I would like to take the liberty of modifying your closing statement.

This was the kind of evening that makes me feel good about leaving the evangelical religious church culture.

To me, this is not a matter of semantics, but a very important distinction in terminology. As jennypo so accurately pointed out, Christ example shows us nothing about preconceptions, judging, worrying about the soul or fate of another. Instead He teaches us to love first, and love only. His dad has the soul-saving part covered. It's not ours to mess with. And yet, our human nature causes us to long for more control over such events.

Our modern church society has been doing a bang up job of removing our primary-nay our ONLY- objective of loving EVERYONE unconditionally. But because this is such a hard thing to do for so many (and I readily put myself on that boat), the church has come up with all sorts of other "important" things to justify its purpose and existance. Thus you have a mass of hollow structures littered across this "Blessed" country, filled with "good" people, and yet most of them have nothing to do with the "Big C" church that Christ was sent here to build on earth a few years ago.

My intent is not to give you some kind of lame spiritual guilt trip (like you don't have enough of that already;), but instead to help you to begin differentiating between what a group of people in a fancy building with a cross did to you, versus a God who has very little to do with what they are about. I'm not judging them, as I'm not judging you...I am simply comparing His word to their actions. If they don't line up, then He can/should not be associated with them.

good times.

Slapdash said...

***This was the kind of evening that makes me feel good about leaving the evangelical religious church culture.*** (LowenD)

LD, I appreciate the distinctions you are urging me to make and the challenge you put to me to separate religion/church from faith/God.

I have one nitpick to your edit of the above - it's not only evangelical culture that inculcates the us/them mentality, the urge/need/mandate to make disciples and otherwise evangelize. I've spent time in Episcopal and Catholic communities and they are also of this mindset, even if not as egregiously or annoyingly as evangelicals. So I do still feel okay about saying I'm glad to be outside the "fold"... because for me standing outside of the institutions of Christianity, whatever the denomination, is giving me a freedom of thought, a freedom of being, that I have not experienced from within the walls and communities of Christianity.

SocietyVs said...

"So tonight, free from the burden of worrying about their eternal souls, I simply enjoyed a great evening with people I care about." (Slapdash)

I think this is what the 'gospel' has come to represent for me - living our values and not badgering people with them. If someone really wants to know they will ask about our lives - we shouldn't have to be pushy (which for me is a huge turn-off concerning faith). But the point is - our lives should reflect that happiness and freedom we have - that happiness and contentness we have to come to know - and being able to see our friendships have depth. I think you did an awesome thing!

Heather said...

**And what does it say about me if I don’t want to bust open my Bible or share the Four Spiritual Laws?”**

I think it says that you're seeing them as people, first and foremost. You're not adding anything to them, or subtracting. You're just focusing on them and who they are. And it sounded like it went really well, too.

Slapdash said...

Looking back, going to Iran was maybe one of my most important formative moments in terms of me starting to really see people as people, and not as labels, not as stereotypes. I traveled there in 1999 and 2000, and felt very much like an ambassador between the two countries, especially back here in the US as I later tried to dispel the stereotype of Iranians as terrorists that so many people here carry around (it still drives me crazy!). If only everyone could have gone to Iran with me, and been welcomed into peoples' homes unconditionally as I was, been immersed in deeply philosophical and intellectual conversations as I was, to seeing the vast difference between what Iranian government forces in public life, and how Iranians let their hair down in private life... I could go on and on.

But again, I think that was a really important moment of helping me break down a big "us/them" false dichotomy. Which started with Americans and Iranians...and later affected my thinking about faith, religion, church, God.

Slapdash said...

My comment above reminded me of a funny exchange I had with an evangelical friend from back home: when she found out how annoyed I was with church and God, she asked if I thought that all of my international travel was the cause of it, my exposure to people and cultures and belief systems that are different from my own. Well yes, of course that was part of it! But I didn't want to say so to her, because it would only validate the insular us/them thinking that she lives by. ("Oooh, see I knew it! Those bad godless people corrupted my good friend and made her turn away from God!")

lowendaction said...

slap,

I guess all I'm trying to get at, is that I TOTALLY know what type of so-called Christian communities you have been exposed to (and yes, it's obviously much more than just the evangelical...I'm not even sure why I put that in there), but I also have been, and currently am, in the fellowship of a precious few individuals who are nothing like that. The big "C" church that is described in the bible has nothing to do with what you are discribing, and I guess it stings a little bit when you-understandibly-sweep EVERYONE who bears the name/title Christian under the same rug.

I strongly believe that those who actually end up in God's presence, are a going to be a VERY VERY small group. I'm talking much smaller even than those around the world that carry some version of the God banner.

I guess all I'm tyring to say, is don't write off the big "C" on account of having been negatively exposed to the small "c".

BTW, I really hate using those kind of terms, but at this point I just don't know how else to illustrate it. In German, there are two very distintly different words for the term church. The one is "Kirche", and that refers to a building of some religious affiliation. You will not find that word in any German bible ANYWHERE. What you will find, is the word "Gemeinde", which litterally means fellowship.

That's what the whole church love thing is about, not pews, worship tunes, and fancy talkin pastors...(not that those things are nesessarily bad, but when they take presidence over the former...you automatically become a Kirche!)

good times

joeyanne said...

Hi, I've never commented before, but I enjoy your blog. It sounds to me like your "de-conversion" isn't taking anything away from your faith, but expanding it. It sounds like you are becoming more like Jesus. I don't mean to offend, if you are set on de-converting from God, not just from the church. I could really relate to your feelings when your friend asked if your questions/problems with the church/God had anything to do with your travels. How could anyone experience so much and not change? And it sounds as though the change is for the better!