Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Witnessing at Work

At work today, during my lunch break, I had set down on the table a book I am reading during my lunch break and went to microwave my lunch. A co-worker that I don't know too well decided to sit at the same table as me. Usually, I prefer to eat by myself, even though there is a group that sits at the table to discuss movies, music, and all kinds of things. This co-worker who invited himself to sit at my table is the second replacement to the job of the guy who died this past March. I haven't taken a liking to this guy for some reason (I liked the previous guy and the guy who died). Now, this co-worker gives me a reason to keep a weary eye towards him.

I noticed him reading the cover of my book. It's a book about people's experiences with coincidences / synchronicities. Its called Soul Moments by Phil Cousineau. This book is perfect for my lunch half-hour. The stories of people are about a page or two in length. I can read several of them without getting too into a lengthy chapter and the stories offer a dose of inspiration. I guess the co-worker saw this as his "in." Little does he know, though, that I am well versed in the whole "leading questions."

He started asking me religious questions. If I went to church. What church I went to. Did I believe in God. Etc. I was completely honest and open about what I believe, so this always gets me into trouble. Why, you ask? Well, because it goes something like this: "I belong to the Community of Christ." When they ask what some of the beliefs are, I tell them, "standard liberal Christian views similar to the Methodists and other mainline protestant churches." When asked, "Do you accept Jesus as your saviour?", this question nearly always trips me up, because the honest answer is that I do not view Jesus as a personal saviour. Evangelical types always pounce on this. It is "opportunity" to "witness" to me. But, the joke's on them.

Because of my views regarding Jesus are a bit...um...unconventional for a Christian, at this point, I have to "distance myself" from the Community of Christ so I won't make the church I'm a fifth generation member of look bad to the Evangelicals. So, I told this co-worker that while I love the church I belong to, its a family heritage and my own personal experience tends to fall more towards "New Age spirituality." He then asked me what classifies as "New Age." I told him that it ran the gamut, without going into specifics about what I believe. When he asked if I ever had a religious experience, I said that I did and shared my most profound one of ten years ago, telling him that it happened exactly as the Buddhists said that it would. He asked questions about that. Then he tried so tell me that Jesus and Buddha could not be at the same level. That one man was more superior to another, to which I disagreed. I told him that they were "spiritual brothers" who shared similar messages.

He told me that he belonged to a church, called "Trinity" which, from the way he described it sounds like a recent "start-up." He called it a "back to the basics" type of church. Great, an evangelical start-up! That's a huge strike against it. I know that a lot of evangelical types love "non-denominational" Christian churches, but I don't. I'm more of an establishment person and at least the church I was raised in has a century and a half to draw from. Granted, many churches have centuries or even millenniums to draw from, but I'm not picky. I'm all about heritage and I belong to the Community of Christ and the larger Latter Day Saints movement. One of the best things about the church I belong to is that we have members all over the country and around the world, so it does feel like an extended tribe of about 200,000 people. Its a good base to build a lifetime network. A start-up church simply has none of that. They have to work to expand, which means pressuring members like this co-worker to evangelize at every opportunity, including at work where it is risky.

I plan to walk a delicate line with him in any talk about religion / spirituality, but if it gets uncomfortable and he doesn't back off, I could complain to our supervisor and that'll be the end of that (she and I agree on politics and I have shared my religious beliefs with her when she asked before because she thought I was a Mormon). For now, though, I'm okay with answering his questions even though I definitely feel like he's discreetly trying to push his religion rather than having an open conversation that is more about sharing than converting. He has no clue how knowledgeable I am, with a lifelong inoculation against evangelical Christianity.

My dislike of evangelicals stems from my teenage years in Germany. Because the nearest RLDS congregation was several hours drive from the town we lived in and not to mention spoken in German, my dad still wanted my brother and I to have a Christian background. So, he made me attend the protestant youth group offered by the Army base's chaplain services. These weekly events made me miss one of my favourite TV shows: Casey Casem's Top Ten (which showed the music video clips of the week's top ten). Yeah, I was big about the pop charts as a teenager! Anyhow, the youth group meetings also featured fun and games where one of the leaders was a GI who didn't care who he hurt on the basketball court. He had pushed me quite a few times. There was something wrong about a grown man who cheated to win in a game with teenagers. This was a new experience for me, because in all the games I played with fellow members of the RLDS Church, no one seemed obsessed with winning. The point of playing any game was about bonding and fun. So, that was one contrast. Then came the devotion part and it was very difficult for me to set aside my feelings of being pushed and trampled on and accept the "spiritual lesson" of the week told by the win-obsessed GI Jerk.

If that was not bad enough, at youth rallies where I met teens from other bases in Germany, there always came a moment after the fun and games where they asked people to give our lives to Christ. I was very uncomfortable with such public displays and when I mentioned being baptized as an 8 year old, I was asked which church and when I told them, they would say that it didn't count because my church was a "cult." I had no idea what a cult was, other than what my mom had told me about several years earlier regarding the Jim Jones mass suicide. To compare the church I grew up in with something like that was just rude and ignorant. So, if evangelical Christians want to know why I don't like them, it boils down to their ignorance and their judgmentalism, not to mention their hypocrisy.

I have seen from the church my brother attends that nothing has changed. There is something about the evangelical mind that simply does not get it. They lack the comprehension gene. Its because I know something that they don't. I know and understand exactly how deceptive the human ego is. The impulse to convert others to one's religious views is nothing but egotism. How do you know its ego? When you have the audacity to walk up to someone you don't know or don't know well and think your view of religion is what they need to be happy, successful, or fulfilled. Evangelical types never make a point to get to know the person, because if you get to know someone's history and views, that means you might have to accept them as they are...including how their religious or non-religious views contributed to the person they are at that moment in time.

Here's a huge difference between evangelicals and myself. For as long as I remember, I've always been the kind of person who wanted to learn from other people. In elementary school, I had a friend from Pakistan that no one else in the class wanted to befriend. I knew he and his family were of a different religion and it did not matter. That was in the second grade and I've been consistent ever since (save for my senior year when I tried to "save" my favourite teacher, who was the first atheist I had ever met). Ironically, I don't have issues with my atheist / agnostic friends today, but they have a problem with my spiritual worldview. If you can't be allies with people with different views than you, then you're still under the rule of the ego.

So, if this co-worker continues to go in the direction that I am expecting it to go, it will end badly for him. I could end it easily by asking him to respect my beliefs if he pushes the issue, but the problem is, I have a mischievous streak. I want to toy with his beliefs and see if my logical means of analyzing consistency will plant seeds of doubt into him. The evangelical worldview can't hold a candle to the universal view. In fact, he even asked if I had a universal view and when I said yes, he seemed to imply that this was the wrong view to have. Perhaps for him, but it has done wonders for me. Once you've expanded your mind to the possibilities of the universe, it is very difficult to force yourself back into the tiny box of narrow-minded evangelical Christianity. Or, in another comparison...once you've been to college and received your degree, it is very boring to go back to Kindergarten. The amount of knowledge between a Kindergartner and a college grad is about the scale of distance between an evangelical Christian and myself. Its a gulf that cannot be bridged.


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