Not too long ago when I was sharing on my Facebook wall about my enthusiasm about a combination of paleo-based foods that I had enjoyed for lunch, there was a person who commented on my post by saying something like this: "I love sodas and burgers. I didn't ask for this information about Paleo foods. Don't push your healthy opinions on me!" To which I responded, after checking and verifying that we weren't even official Facebook friends (which means he was either following my feed or searching me out by typing in my name to see what my feed was saying ... basically going WAY out of his way to see what I was sharing). So I said something like "Go ahead and eat burgers and drink sodas, dude. No one's stopping you. And if you don't like me sharing what I like to eat here, why are you hanging out on my wall? We aren't even official Facebook friends." He never responded to this. He hasn't ever commented on my wall since then. Whether he still follows my feed or seeks it out ... I don't know. I just almost typed "I don't care" but maybe I kind of do because part of me wonders if he was just wanting to find a way to engage with people but didn't have the skills to do so. I hope he's doing ok.
If you follow my IG feed, you may have noticed that I've been putting the words "if you want to" on sayings and signs. Like "Be brave, if you want to" and "Make art, if you want to" and "Have a nice day, if you want to." I really like how the four words can transform command statements into ideas/clarification of options/friendly suggestions. I like to put the words on seemingly harmless commands just to point out how inundated we are with humans' obsessions on proselytize.
I've learned that it's not just a segment of Christians who like to proselytize. In many ways, it's a larger non-Christian culture that likes to proselytize. And frequently with shame that feigns noble attributes like courage, freedom, happiness, and success.
Well, define courage. Do you mean the kind of courage that Malala Yousafzai had when she stood up for education for girls and got shot in the face with a gun by the Taliban? Or do you mean the kind of courage that a painter has to use purple for the first time on her canvas?
Usually there is no time to define courage or big dreams or nice days or bliss or truth. And if we were to have the time, definitions would be wide and varied.
There are times of course when I want certain people to give me commands. Like my boxing coaches. My relationship with them is one where I purposely pursue their commands. I want them to say to me "Do 25 jumping jacks" or "Jump rope for 3 minutes" or "Run 4 laps" or "Don't give up" or "Shut up and squat" or "Have courage." I actually pay money for them to say things like that to me. Part of the reason it works is because I don't need them to define their commands. The nature of the relationship is one where I know that "courage" in their context has nothing to do with the Taliban and everything to do with my determination to push myself during a physically challenging class or training session.
I think once we are outside the gym, if my coaches went around saying "Do jumping jacks" to people, they would not get good results. But if they said "I love to do jumping jacks" to people, there would be plenty of folks who would want to know more and engage with them.
And in my observation, sharing is different from commanding. It feels better when I'm in a space where it's fun and safe to share and inquire. Not so much when the space is filled with loosley-defined or undefined commands. In short, unless I'm seeking it, I don't like to be proselytized upon.
Speaking of which ... I was born and raised in a Christian family. I come from a family where scripture was memorized for fun, hymns sung in harmony and prayers spoken with eyes fervently closed and hearts completely in full faith. And I'm pretty sure that there was no little girl with a faith stronger or more purer than mine. I believed.
And then in high school, I ran with a crowd that convinced me that if I didn't pray "the sinner's prayer" that I was not a Christian. So I said it. I mean, I prayed it. It felt weird because it felt like I was opening a can of instant soup to pour into my heart a perspective about Jesus that I already had been raised with, but with a much more microwavable version, loaded with ingredients that I didn't really understand but allowed in. For those who I ran with, it was this instant soup that would finally save me and allow me into heaven.
Long story short (I'm now a person who doesn't believe in Jesus being the son of God for two main reasons: 1) I do not believe that Mary got pregnant without having sex, and 2) I do not believe he rose from the dead.) I don't mean to be provocative or mean-spirited. That's just what I believe. Mind you, I used to believe more strongly and more purely than anyone in the world. And I even poured some instant soup on my faith in high school to make doubly sure. But what can I say? God gave me a brain and most of all, free will to make critical observations and conclusions. I DO believe that Jesus was a great teacher of great things. Yes, I do believe that. And in many ways, I want to model my life according to some of the ways he lived.
So this thing about proselytizeing versus sharing.
Part of the reason I love my friend Amy so much is because she loves me so much and she has this sincere way where she shares what's going on with her within the context of her faith that makes it feel like the opposite of proselytizing. There are others in the universe who admire because they share in this way, like my friend Kerri, who shares scriptures that she focuses on to help her on her life journey. They both share sincerely, authentically, and beautifully.
Never do I hear commands from them. Never do I feel shame or guilt from them. But the way they share makes me feel very comfortable around them.
So Amy says to me a few weeks ago that she is going to be enrolling in a Bible study where they will be studying the book of Esther. She never says "Do 25 jumping jacks!" She just says that she's gonna do jumping jacks. And so the sharing intrigues me and I ask more about it. And as she shares, I think to myself "How interesting. I want to learn more about Esther too."
And so I find myself on Tuesdays in a room full of people in a church where we are studying the Bible. I'm upfront about my faith but I'm also open to learning lessons that I can apply to my life, from the story about Esther as told in a book called the Bible ... a book that I've read more than once, studied forwards, backwards, and sometimes diagonally ... and I think to myself that it's through sharing, not commanding or proselytizing that such a scene can be happening. Where a girl raised a Christian-turned-Agnostic can sit in a church studying the details of Queen Esther, Mordecai, King Xerxes, and more.
Thanks for letting me share.
Now I'm gonna go to the gym to lift some weights and then eat something Paleo. :)