evangelometers & the ways of love

last wednesday at our house of refuge we had an interesting and challenging conversation that was all over the place related to theology.  i thought it was so beautiful because in most of my christian experience if someone had been saying a few of the things that were being said they would have most definitely been slammed with the “i need to tell you what the Bible says” schtick and immediately shut it down.  as a pastor in this community i had this odd and crazy moment where i consciously thought “this is why groups become homogeneous around doctrine; it is way easier that way.” we also joked that some of our “evangelometers” were going off (my friend tami created this word).   any guess on what an evangelometer is?  we like to joke that it’s the little red dial that says “warning, warning, warning, this is a direct violation of what i have been taught as a good evangelical christian.” my evangelometer has been trained to recognize violations of “biblical-truth-the-way-i-was-trained-to-interpret-it ” and to “look out for certain words that might imply inclusivity or wisdom-from-anywhere-else-than-the-Bible.” living in the tension of a wide range of people who are at all different places on the journey–some as dedicated to Jesus as they were from their initial conversion experience to those who are in the process of questioning the whole kit and kaboodle to everything in between–is definitely an art and not a science.

i also think it is a way to practice love.

to learn to listen.

to learn to stick with our own experience, strength, and hope and respect that others have their own, too.

to learn that we don’t have the market cornered on God.

to consider what the beatitudes might mean in real life.

to trust that God is at work in these moments, and maybe it’s not so much about the theological nuts and bolts of the conversation, but actually what’s happening underneath relationally–in our hearts and in our words and in our actions.  i think these moments are a great opportunity to love God, love our neighbors, love ourselves well.

what happens is people get to interact with others who see things differently than them but learn to respect their journey even if it’s very different from our own beliefs.  that’s loving people where they are instead of only loving them when they believe what we believe.

what happens is people learn to listen and ponder instead of feeling the need to interject and change someone’s mind.   that’s also loving people well by honoring their story.

what happens is we learn to let go of feeling the desperate need to control someone’s thoughts, feelings, and beliefs and trust God is big enough to handle it.  that’s loving God well because it implies our trust instead of our fear.

what happens is we have a space to share from our own experience, beliefs, and journey, too, even if it is radically different from the other persons.  that is loving ourselves well and honoring our own story in freedom.  and loving others well, too, because we are bringing our real selves into the relationship instead of hiding in fear that maybe we’re too conservative or too liberal or too something-or-other for others to love.

one of the reasons i am so passionate about diversity in groups is that without it, we can’t really learn so many important things.  it’s why i’m not a huge fan of “coffee shop church” because if we’re honest, we usually only go to coffee with people that we like.  learning to live in the presence of others who are very different from us (in ways far beyond theology) is such a powerful teacher. Jesus modeled this over and over in the gospels and we all know how tricky it was for the pharisees to be around “those people.”  for the most part, this us and them thing often continues because we all like to take the path of least resistance; it’s a natural phenomenon for groups and churches to be homogeneous around doctrine, life-stages, socioeconomics, etc.   no doubt, that is safer.  easier.  a lot more fun sometimes, ha ha.

but one of the best things that has ever happened to me was getting out of the typical christian married-with-kids-in-soccer-and-living-in-the-suburbs-with-a-bunch-of-people-just-like-us ghetto and going down to the wrong side of town.  or the wrong side of christian faith where doubt and questions live.  down to where lots of average people live and are wrestling with how to stay alive and find hope in the midst.  down to where no one gives a rip about predestination or theories of atonement.  down to where evangelometers don’t matter but love and presence does.

yeah, i’m not saying evangelometers are bad.  i’m saying we need to find ways to stay in the conversations even when they start screaming “warning, warning, warning.”  we need to practice kindness and respect.  we need to not be afraid that just because someone else is questioning their faith that means we have to give up ours.  we need to rest in the beautiful confidence that God is always teaching us if we will listen.  we need to let go of our need to convince others and just live our own life well.  we need to bravely stay in conversations that make us feel uncomfortable and keep asking ourselves “why is it so hard to let others believe something differently than us?”

oh, so much can be learned through true authentic diverse community if we will let it.  if we will put our evangelometers on silent and keep asking ourselves “how would i like to be treated in this moment? how can i love well? how can i listen well?  what can i learn about myself, my faith, my life through these conversations?  what am i afraid of?

i love what danielle shroyer recently wrote about conversation as a spiritual discipline.  i think so much spiritual transformation is possible through diverse, kind, respectful, interesting, loving dialogue with people in different places on their journies of life and faith.  she writes:

“Friendship is a full-contact sport because when you have respect and trust between two people, robust conversation is not scary but life-giving.  It’s a game you can play without fear of losing your friendship.  You can play your hardest on the field, and go out for drinks afterward.  In an increasingly diverse world, I believe this deeply held commitment to respectful conversation is one of the most potentially transformational gifts we can offer the world.  One of my biggest hopes is for the Church to embody and practice the spiritual discipline of true conversation.”

my hope is that we can have these conversations not just with those outside our own faith communities, but within them as well.  it’s definitely an opportunity to learn the ways of love.

Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar co-pastors at The Refuge, a Christian community and mission center in North Denver and is the author of Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.

19 Comments

  • Why is it so hard to have Christians disagree about anything and just leave it at that – we disagree! I am saddened by the lack of discussion as opposed to argument that happens within my own circles. In fact, it’s gotten so bad that when politics comes up I don’t even participate, knowing I’m on the “wrong” side of the discussion. There is no room for differing opinions. You are only accepted if you add fuel to the one-sided fire that continues to blaze in most conservative Christian circles!

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  • my meter doesn’t go off, nearly, as much as it used too. doesn’t mean i don’t still have core beliefs, but i’m not going to beat you up with them. so often we turn our conversations into debates instead of discussions. i can’t remember the last time that someone changed my mine by putting their finger in my face telling me how wrong i was or that the bible said. it was probably when, as a child, my parents used guilt and shame to “teach” me something. as far as evangelism goes, my new method, is to just honestly listen to my friends hearts and share from my heart and let the Holy Spirit do the rest. after all it is his/her job. it is tricky and hard, but well worth it.

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  • I’m kinda like Mike, but now my meter goes off in the presence of evangelical/fundamental/arrogant/know-it-alls. And that is just as bad.

    If I am willing to listen to what a ‘different’ person has to say, I also need to be willing to listen to someone who comes from where I came from. Just because I have moved away, doesn’t mean I have to persuade them to move as well.

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  • my meter doesn’t go off at all so i guess that makes me a heretic; oops sorry, it does go off like Al’s…

    just about fnished with D. Willard’s “Knowing Christ Today” and somewhere in there he makes the statement that people try to “own” Jesus and box him in, but he’ll have none of that…interesting lesson for me…how is Jesus being reflected by others….which reminds me of Yancey’s leadership article way back then on the “Diverse shapes of God”….

    quod libet….

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  • It is so freeing to discover that it’s not my job to straighten out anyone on their theology or Bible interpretation. Jesus forgot to tell us to do that. But He did tell us to love people. To love them, we must first notice them, then get to know them.

    This past week-end an institutional church group joined our little group in our center city neighborhood to pick up trash in the streets. The real point of doing this is getting to know the people in the neighborhood in a non-threatening way. Cleaner streets is a by-product.

    At one point, a large group of us were moving up an alley. Three of the church folks were having an involved conversation with each other, comparing the theology of three denominations on several points and discussing who is correct. Two men came out of a building to load some boxes into their vehicle. The three church folks had to literally walk around the two men, but never (really) saw them. The men might as well have been posts.

    I’ve been thinking about that all week. They totally missed what they were there for. They were so wrapped up in theology and who was right that they totally missed the people!!! That story describes in a nutshell most/all churches I have seen. Who cares what is the proper method for baptism or whatever it is that they’re so wrapped up in? They’re missing the people!

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  • Haha!!! when “evangelometer” came leaping out of my mouth that night, I thought I would laugh my socks off…

    And yet tonight, there it was again… it was sounding off loudly. The person who talked at Kathy’s tonight certainly has her fair share of theological confusion, LOL. (yeh, it was me). This “living in community” thing would be totally lame if we all believed the same things or were never vulnerable enough to admit we’re in different places in our growth.

    I’ll never forget this huge Bible study I was in , where we were all talking about a Beth Moore study– Something about the Disciples leaving their families to follow Jesus. I let a terrible thing slip… Ya had to know the crowd… I could have just died… I was deep in wondering and just said it right out loud, “I’ll bet those guys really missed sleeping with their wives! Now THAT is love for Jesus!!!”

    My evangelometer must have been busted back then, too… That explains a lot. =0)

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  • Wow, great discussion here on a diversity, relationship, conversation and love. It seems the hardest part of having these “tough” (but desperately needed) conversations, is that the walls get thrown up so quickly. As Kathy said, the act of .. loving through listening.. honoring… trust over fear… is key to relationships/community.

    I admit, I get angry and judgmental, the instant people start to be “inclusive” or “exclusive” in regards to church doctrine, or tradition. In those situations, I find myself asking some challenging questions to make a point, only to be written off as a nut (and maybe a heretic). Maybe, I need to be much slower to react and listen more intently. Often, people just repeat what they are taught, rather than search their hearts. That searching is often very painful, and the results, often, not very popular. Bringing “our real selves into relationship” is scary. Especially in a world where we tend to create all sorts of facades around the way we live (and love).

    The most moving spiritual conversations I have had involve people who think differently from me. From these conversations, (if I allow it.. shutting off the evangelometer), lead me to be open to varied points of view. Sometimes, the conversation causes a great change in me, or solidifies my current viewpoint. Either way, it is a learning (loving) experience. Sometimes these conversations do not sink in for years, as my relationship with Jesus grows and changes.

    Diversity is not easy. Relationships are not easy. Community is not easy. Love is not easy.

    A great and challenging topic. Thanks to all for sharing.

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  • People have become believers instead of experiencers, discipleship has become a mechanism for uniformity rather than uniqueness, being a good Christian is nothing more than being a good person – we have become blind to the spiritual nature of life and the unseen reality in which we reside, the Kingdom of God

    and

    Christianity has become docile, palid, domesticated, organized,hierarchical …. definitely not radical.
    What the Spirit once did programs now do.
    Scripture is their proof God no longer speaks or acts.

    Jesus is being lost in a religion bearing His Name.

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  • “yeah, i’m not saying evangelometers are bad. i’m saying we need to find ways to stay in the conversations even when they start screaming “warning, warning, warning.” we need to practice kindness and respect. we need to not be afraid that just because someone else is questioning their faith that means we have to give up ours. we need to rest in the beautiful confidence that God is always teaching us if we will listen. we need to let go of our need to convince others and just live our own life well. we need to bravely stay in conversations that make us feel uncomfortable and keep asking ourselves “why is it so hard to let others believe something differently than us?””

    Even when like Al it’s the them we came from that sets off the warning? Humm. That’s the hardest for me.

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  • Love all of it, Kathy, especially this:

    “…because we are bringing our real selves into the relationship instead of hiding in fear that maybe we’re too conservative or too liberal or too something-or-other for others to love.”

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  • Kathy,

    This is a beautiful post, and I will definitely refer back to it to remember your wording on some things. I feel like I’ve been on much the same journey in the past several years, and especially wrestling with the question of homosexuality and the church. I have friends and family on both sides of the issue whose “evangelometers” say different things, and it’s been interesting trying to find space to actually listen to each other instead of talking past each other. I’ve learned a lot from a Canadian group called “New Direction,” whose goal is to foster this space for love amidst diverse opinions in the church. Your post sounds a lot like many of Wendy’s, at the New Direction “Bridging the Gap” blog (http://btgproject.blogspot.com). You should check it out, if you have time; it might be an encouragement!

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  • Kathy…you KNOW I love this…
    Right now…my evangelometer is pissing me off. It runs continually…still.
    It. is.exhausting.
    BUT, I am starting to really think this is where I am supposed to be…and I am hopeful, like many other people who resonate with your thoughts here…that my bells, whistles and alarm settings…will become less and less sensitive over time and I will rest in knowing ‘its good’.

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  • In the past few years, I have been getting in touch with my “inner pagan.” Of course, that gives my “inner Pharisee” panic attacks. Can’t you just picture my little prodigal running around trying to be herself, trying to find the freedom to live that she didn’t have under the iron fist of the Pharisee (read ‘evangelometer’ :)) .

    And can’t you just see that poor terrified Pharisee who is freaked out because she is losing control, and what if God and community don’t love and accept her any more if she’s not in control?

    They’re both of them spinning around in circles, unable to sit and be at peace, and–what this post helped me realize–so worried about the ‘enemy’ that they are unable to see friends. This reminded me to focus on the outward gift of love rather than the inward focus of defensiveness and fear. It’s so hard to change that momentum…

    Thanks, Kathy! You’re awesome 🙂

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  • Kathy,

    Great post!! It’s amazing how you can be so controversial and loving at the same time.

    I definitely have an evangelometer, but the question that this post brings to mind is how big is God? I am guilty of believing that where I am right now is where He is. It’s a way of connecting with him I think, but while I’m connecting I’m also limiting. Tough combo. Here are some words that came to mind when I read your post. More questions than answers…

    I want to live. I want to love. I want to listen and learn. I know the truth. I want the world to know the truth. The world needs my truth?

    God’s way is my way. My way is God’s way. I need God. God needs me?

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  • My dad used to really enjoy asking us kids what we thought he did at his job. Our little minds had such a very amusing take on who he was and what he did. Can you imagine if his reputation as a professional was dependent on our ability to understand and articulate his role?

    Yet, we often feel that it is so very, very important that we get others to agree with our way of seeing God. I don’t think this means that Christians are arrogant…on the contrary, we are trying so hard to do what we think God wants, like little children–because we are taught over and over that God wants us to “make” everyone believe like us. We learn to be so afraid of difference, and we don’t learn how to be ok ourselves when people are in a different place than us. It’s upsetting and scary when others think differently, unless we can make them “them” and put a barrier up, or just see ourselves as trying to change them. But it’s absolutely terrifying if we ourselves begin to think or believe differently (believe me, I know).

    I’m so grateful for the way you have cultivated a space here where there isn’t that fear. I think more people allow fearless space than I realize, but I want to open my eyes to that more.

    I like what urh said…”the world needs my truth?” I think the world does need our truth–our own stories–that’s our little puzzle-piece reflection of a corner of who God is. And I think every tiny reflection of him is important.

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  • Christen, I love your Dad analogy. That really expresses our desire to be accurate, but also our inability to have a mature/complete understanding of who God is. It also gives me permission to grow and change how I see God, and challenges me to appreciate someone else’s different picture.

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  • sorry all for delayed response, up to my eyeballs in kids and easter and life. i am glad you liked the evangelometer thought…

    patty – yes, you are in the thick of it. it’s so interesting, how polarizing certain topics are and what assumptions get made. i remember during the election running into some people and it never ever occurred to them that we wouldn’t be voting the same as them; and honestly, the things they said were just plain offensive, sort of like “if you don’t agree with this, you are unbiblical.” you do an amazing job of navigating this all so well…

    mike – love your thoughts & never a dull moment at the refuge, eh? i am so with you on this: “i can’t remember the last time that someone changed my mind by putting their finger in my face telling me how wrong i was or that the bible said.” it’s so funny how we think our methods work!

    al – amen, amen, amen. i always need to be reminded of this, it’s so important. good listening is good listening no matter what our perspective. i think a beautiful gift we can give is to model what this looks like. it is much easier said than done, and i have some wing-dinger conversations with some friends who really disagree with me, but at the end of the day we so love each other and do our best to listen and learn…sometimes better than others, ha ha

    carlos – yeah, i cringe when i think of some conversations i had with people close to me who weren’t christians and i was in my zealous days. yikes! talk about “owning Jesus” and being so sure.

    dan – thanks for reading!

    sam – great story and i can so picture it. today when we were reflecting on john 13 and jesus’ telling the disciples to love one another i was reminded yet again how that was the big idea. all the other stuff we spend so much energy caring about is really an adventure in missing the point, yet we know how to do that so much better than love….

    tami – all credit goes to you for the word. love it, love you.

    brian
    – thanks for taking time to comment. i love what you said here: “The most moving spiritual conversations I have had involve people who think differently from me. From these conversations, (if I allow it.. shutting off the evangelometer), lead me to be open to varied points of view. Sometimes, the conversation causes a great change in me, or solidifies my current viewpoint. Either way, it is a learning (loving) experience. Sometimes these conversations do not sink in for years, as my relationship with Jesus grows and changes. Diversity is not easy. Relationships are not easy. Community is not easy. Love is not easy.” amen.

    mark – preach it, brother. those are some seriously good vocabulary words–and oh so contrary to the radical gospel…

    minnow – yeah, the situation you are in is one of the hardest ones, i think, where it’s not so much trying to embrace people who are diverse in their theologies, but rather those who are very rigid. often thinking about you, praying for courage and hope.

    valerie – so glad you’re reading and part of the nuttiness from across the way.

    beth – thanks for the link and info. yeah, sometime last year i got a bridge builder award from wendy’s blog, which was really fun for me because that is something i am so passionate about. sitting at the same table is one thing, really learning and listening, giving and receiving from one another is quite the other. i am excited to hear what you guys are doing up there!

    joy
    – i knew you loved this word and thought of you in that convo….

    christen – oh my goodness, that could not have been better said: “I have been getting in touch with my “inner pagan.” Of course, that gives my “inner Pharisee” panic attacks. Can’t you just picture my little prodigal running around trying to be herself, trying to find the freedom to live that she didn’t have under the iron fist of the Pharisee (read ‘evangelometer’ :)” i also love the thought about your dad & the idea that when we are more secure in ourselves it’s easier to accept others. i think this is such an important point because i think that others’ views freak us out because if we’re honest, it might tap into the possibility we are “wrong” and what would that really mean? i guess the bottom line is fear. so many of us live in fear. and the church often perpetuates fear instead of freedom. thanks for sharing your journey & heart. it is so beautiful to see your courage in staying with it and not going back to “egypt” even though it’s safer there. love from afar…

    urh – thanks for reading and taking time to share some of those questions rattling inside your head. yeah, we’re all learning more than we bargained for, aren’t we? it was safer in the good ol’ days!

    al – yeah, i liked it too as a reminder, too, that my image of God can shift and change and grow and there’s nothing ‘wrong” with that, in fact, it is a good thing because it’s a new experience of God that maybe i haven’t allowed myself to consider before because i put so many limits on it.

    cheryl – thanks for reading!

    Reply

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