Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Today was a hard day for Teacher Elliot

Some history. Last night, Monday night, believe it or not, I saw *Collateral* for the third time. (I plan to see it one more time this Wednesday before its run ends in Taiwan.) It was as engrossing as the first two times, only this time even more enjoyable like hearing an old friend tell the same good jokes. You know what’s coming and that’s what keeps you listening. At any rate, I had a very nice night and looked forward to a good night of sleep before a short day of teaching.

But here’s the problem. I’m a creature of habit. At times, in fact, I'm pathologically habitual. This morning was a case of pathological habit. For nine months last year I had it hardwired into my brain that I had class at 1:10 PM, after lunch. “Don’t be late! You have class after lunch on Tuesday!” That was one of my weekly mantras that helped me keep five different teaching positions and a handful of church-related duties in order. And so, as a pathological creature of habit, every week of summer classes this past month, I have had to check the impulsive impression I had class after lunch on Tuesday. You see where this is going.

After the movie, just before I got home, I was seized by a sudden, inexplicable bout of melancholy. Everything became gray and cold and slow. I blogged a little while to ward off the faceless sadness, but eventually got to bed. I was looking forward only to a good night of sleep and a very good, much needed time with God the next morning. Well, I’m partially happy to say, I go the former: I had a very good night of sleep. I’m not at all happy to say, however, that I completely missed the latter: I had no time with God this morning.

Why? Because the phone rang. It was Janet. Not good.

“Elliot?” Janet asked.

“Yes,” I answered, still wiping sleep out of my eyes.

“Where are you? You have class!”

“Oh, yeah, right. I’m sorry. I’ll be there.” Pathological habits. It was Tuesday. It wasn’t after lunch yet. But this summer is not last year. I jumped up and threw on some clothes. I moved quickly, but not frantically. It was much too late to make a desperate dash for the school. I may as well take my time and let the last-minute sub teach the class he was already teaching for me.

It was a tough ride to work. The lights worked against me. I was still somber from the night before and now even more upset for being late. I had just gotten past the culture shock scandal at the end of last week. And now, of course, I plunge my face into the fire again. “Hi, I’m an idiot. Please fire me.”

The idiot reached school and schlepped his way upstairs to his desk. There I sat. Somber, heavy, slow, numb. Why? Shame, I guess. Life, more likely. Whatever the reason, I was very reserved and edgy all day. As Ileft the office, I saw Ryan, a co-worker, was studying Chinese.

“You’re studying Chinese there, Ryan, learning characters?” I asked.

“Yeah, “ he said with a grin. He’s a very nice guy.

All I could think to say was, “Good.” That’s good, Ryan. [Ryan, if you’re reading this, howdy! – EBB]

And then it dawned on me. Ryan, who is not a Christian, cares very much about learning Chinese. He’s good at it and it’s a good thing to know in Taiwan. He cares about Chinese, but, as I’ve observed, has virtually no interest whatsoever in Christianity. It is a peculiar religious view of the world he was raised in and which he’s since grown out of. He has not time for it.

Frankly, despite my faith in Christ as more important than Chinese )or anything else), I don’t blame Ryan for his apathy. Why spend your time on what, by all modern appearances, looks like a waste of time. Life is short. Christianity is old.

My epiphany, if I may call it that, is that evangelism is not just about explicating a message – “the Gospel” – but about sharing, and sahring in, truly Good News. The Gospel is good news, but news is not just news. News is not just information. The news is an objective matrix of events and tensions that effect our lives. Look at the damage done in my home-state, Florida. It’s news to me, but it’s news to my friends and family there. News is alive, and the Gospel is the News of Life. “This just in! God Shows Incalculable Mercy to Fallen World!” “Extra! Extra! Savior of the World Rises from Dead!” “Hear ye, hear ye! God Loves You in Christ!”

As I left the office I realized that Ryan, and the world in fact, does not need sharper apologetics (by themselves at least). I realized, or perhaps just recalled, that there is a tremendously pastoral and existential side of apologetics. People must not only see that the faith is true, but also what this means for their lives. The non-believing world does not need to hear simply that the Faith is true. People must also hear how the Truth is true. Important as it is, and as ably as Blogmaster Shea does this, neither do I mean that we must explain *why* the truth is true. We need to clarify, in a practical, flesh-on-bone way, *how* the Faith is God’s truth. In other words, the Faith must not only be shown to be true, but must be shown to be alive.

Now, realize this is not another insipid call to "relevance," according to which all the details, the lights, the music, the vocabulary, etc. is tailored to make people feel at home. It is more about a conscientious effort to show what living the living truth means for a people living the truth of dying. It’s unfortunate that many readers may see this is a well worn platitude – “preach the gospel with words if necessary” – but it’s a real, if inchoate, breakthrough for me.

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