Monday morning I attended the first session of my collage class, taught by the wonderful artist Lora Jost. There were only three students, and at the end of the session, we each showed and explained the collages we had made.
One of my fellow students, a 20-something guy, explained that the small man in his collage represented feelings of sadness, darkness, isolation. The large hand in the collage represented the hand of safety, protection, help. It was the hand of God, which he had found to provide a sense of security and peace ever since he accepted Jesus.
Awkward would be a good way to describe how I felt at that moment. And I have since wondered why I reacted this way.
I, like this young man, have found a sense of peace in my relationship with God through Jesus Christ. As a pastor, the proclamation of the gospel is my primary vocation. My heart should have rejoiced to hear someone share about their relationship with Jesus.
But my heart did not rejoice. My stomach dropped. Why?
Was it because this sharing was too intimate? Akin to someone I just met telling me about the great sex she had with her husband last night? And I’m really happy for them, but still . . .
Was my reaction because of a fear of the direction this might go? That he would proceed to sermon and altar call?
Was it simply a knee-jerk reaction to “evangelicalese”? Somehow the words “accepted Jesus Christ” automatically translated in my head to: “I get to go to heaven when I die, but you will go to hell if you don’t believe the same way I believe.”
Whatever the reasons for my negative reaction to this young man’s testimony, I would like my reaction to be different next time.
I want to value–rather than resent–the intimacies that are offered to me by other people. A glimpse–however dim–into someone else’s spiritual life is a beautiful thing.
And I want to trust others to have some sense of propriety and tact. Art class is not the place for sermons and altar calls; most people know this. And even if he had proceeded to ask us each if we had accepted Jesus Christ as our personal Lord and Savior, it wouldn’t have been the end of the world.
But mostly I hope my reaction is different next time because I need to get away from my aversion to “evangelical” language. For one thing, based on certain understandings of the word, I myself am an evangelical. For another thing, not everyone who uses phrases like “born again,” “saved by the blood,” and “personal Lord and Savior” think I’m going to hell. I should not rush to hasty assumptions.
Most importantly, I want to be able to use some (not all, but some) of that very language that causes the negative, knee-jerk reaction. I have accepted Jesus Christ into my life. I am a sinner in need of redemption. I don’t want to give up all the good words and phrases because some people use them in theologically inappropriate ways.
Maybe, as the class progresses, I will have a chance to learn more about this young man and his relationship with Jesus. Maybe I will have a chance to tell him a bit about my relationship with Jesus. Maybe we’ll both learn something–besides how to make a collage.