Witness, When A Work of Ego

Liam’s comment in the Dick & Max thread was worth pulling out for discussion, I thought.

As a church minister, I often check things that I do against my personal needs. It might happen less often now that I’m older, but it occurred frequently (and embarrassingly) enough when I was a young adult. Like many people I did churchy or faith-y things as much for my own edification as anything else. I knew that by playing at Mass, I got to be a better guitar player. As I got to be a better musician, certain less selfish aspects barged in. I would have to play songs I didn’t like. I would have to not play some songs I did like. The music I played was at the larger service of the liturgy. The essence of ministry began to seep into my young mind: it’s not about me; it’s about serving other people and about following and serving Jesus Christ.

Dick’s latest quote:

Nothing I share with you or Todd make any sense because you only using your Un-renewed Minds.

I suppose I take umbrage at such comments from people who don’t know me. I confess upfront that Dick and I have never met face to face, never exchanged a personal email or a beer, and we are not Facebook or neighborhood friends.

I think an internet “evangelist” might say, “Our conversations are frustrating. I don’t think we’re talking about the same thing and I question whether or not you really are a Christian because of our language barrier.”

That, of course, might open up the frustrated person to criticism. Dick has never gotten to know me. He hasn’t responded to my invitation to email me. He seems to have a problem with me and my website, especially the Bible posts. And yet he doesn’t take the advice of his Lord: go to the person and address the issue brother-to-brother. It’s a lot more fun to splash one’s disapproval in public. I don’t know if that’s a particularly pagan thing, but it is human.

And so we have a public talking-past-one-another, which edifies nobody. Liam pointed out the utter fruitlessness of this approach to “evangelization.”

If that is indeed true, arguendo, then there is no objective point to your sharing thus with Todd or Athiest Max. Moreover, there’s no need to sharing with people with Renewed Minds because they already would understand. Your statement admits that your sharing has no connection to the renewal of minds as you conceive it.

There’s no need to share with other believers because they get it. There’s no point to share with Christians on a different wavelength because they don’t get it.

This point had never occurred to me:

Preachers today face something Peter and Paul did not – a history of Christian failures.

I suppose that if college students had never heard of Jesus, Christianity, or Catholicism, it would be vastly easier to evangelize them. I think we have a clear alternative to rioting at the altar of the God of Sport. Or the God of Alcohol. Or both. As I know from alcohol-fueled riots in my own city, there are a number of baptized Christians making public mischief. Is that somehow worse than using an un-renewed mind? I happen to think that evangelism in the rubble of football or booze is a lot more challenging than “nice” Christians who just happen to have stumbled into a variant other than one’s own. Long hanging fruit is nice. But often I want to ask “evangelists” if they are groundhogs or giraffes, earthworms or eagles.

If these preachers don’t realize they have to account for different contextual realities in their preaching, their preaching becomes more of a *work* for the ego than authentic witness, and in that way actually *gets in the way* of God.

This is correct. And every minister, servant, volunteer, would-be-godly person has to face this. For myself, that means looking at the realities for the people I serve in liturgy: the music and style in which I play, the ritual choices I make or suggest, and so on.

I think one has to have the hope of fruitfulness. One has to understand that people do not follow patterns, and there is no cookbook approach that will be successful, except to ourselves, our own ego, our sense of control.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
This entry was posted in Commentary, evangelization, Liam, Ministry, The Blogosphere. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Witness, When A Work of Ego

  1. Liam says:

    Thanks, Todd.

    While we’re on the subject, I will point out another opportunity for the ego. It comes in the maturation stage of faith, as we can be graced with the realization that, when We encounter an Other we might “witness to”, it may well be that God intends that encounter to change Us more than it might change The Other. To the extent we take this in the spirit of radical humility and openness, the insight is grace.

    But. It’s not difficult for the ego to takeover and make the encounter about Us.

    It’s helpful to keep C.S. Lewis’s apt words in mind: “The devil… sends errors into the world in pairs – pairs of opposites. And he always encourages us to spend a lot of time thinking which is the worse… He relies on your extra dislike of the one error to draw you gradually into the opposite one.”

    For me, at least, a foundation for spiritual grounding is to try to have a radical (that is, at the root of things) openness with hope but without expectation (as expectations are premeditated resentments, and resentment is *never* something of God, but a form of emotional slavery). It’s a form of perpetual Advent: Now, And Not (Entirely Complete) Yet. That is, simply being open to finding God wherever God may choose to show up in a way I can become aware of, and not prejudging the when, where or how of that, but being grateful. My daily prayers, for what it’s worth, includes a prayer of thanksgiving for all of God’s graces and blessings he has given me, *especially those I don’t know of, don’t understand, don’t appreciate, or take for granted.*

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