The family and I went to downtown Chicago to enjoy the windows at Macy's and Christkindlmarket, a post-Thanksgiving tradition now in our house. As we walked in the brisk air, me in my new Irish wool cap and the girls by my side, we saw them.
"Do you want to go up there?" my wife asked.
"We'd better not, it isn't going to end well," I replied.
There in front of us in the midst of the beautiful courtyard around Water Tower Place were several individuals with signs and bullhorns, tracts and facial grimaces that declared without question they were there to "preach the Gospel."
I typically avoid situations like that, but we were drawn in. My wife had to wait in line to take a picture of the signs.
A woman next to me chuckled at them and I asked her, "Are you interested in Christianity?" She replied, in the glorious goodness of someone genuinely interested, "Yeah, but not this bulls&*t."
It happened rather quickly, and I can't recount the moment we decided to do it, but my wife and I moved in close and tried to engage the "shouter" of the group.
It did not end well. My daughter will now refer to this event forever as "The day that man yelled at daddy."
Their signs reduced the Gospel to two things: Biblical manhood & womanhood and "do you know where you're going to go when you die." They shouted against Sodomites (homosexuals), and yet they were viciously violating the very Gospel they claimed to present.
"You're making my job impossible, dude." I told him.
"Dude! Ha! More "Simpsons" talk!" he responded. "What are you some kind of pastor?"
"Actually I am, and I know you have to interpret this in light of the first century context."
"Where do you see that in the Bible?" he said. "The Bible doesn't say that."
"Yes, but you have both your hands and eyes..." I replied but was cut off by him shouting "Ahhh, no, no..." and launching into a tirade. Had I been able to finish I would have reminded him of Jesus words about what to do if your hand causes you to sin. He wasn't living by the interpretational method he was using for the issues of the role of men and women in passages like 1 Timothy 3.
Meanwhile, a woman walked up to my wife and said, "If your husband is a pastor looking for someone to damn to hell, he can damn me because I'm a lesbian." My wife calmly and joyfully said, "He would never do that, because honestly Jesus loves you."
Astonished, she said "Thank you."
We walked away, with the shouter accusing me of being a "stupid Christian" for thinking we have to interpret the Bible in its cultural context and said "there goes a preacher with nothing to preach." What did I preach, in confronting this guy? That was the real question for me. I agreed with some of what the signs said, but the attitude, the belching steam of vengeance that accompanied their words, is that something to preach?
As we left, I stopped only momentarily to shake the hand of the lady interested in Christianity who said, "Thank you." She then thanked my wife for wearing "man-britches" (more on that later.)
We walked away, and then we ended up in the Loyola University Museum of Art. They have an open exhibit of 100 creches, or nativity scenes, from throughout the world. They were beautiful in their simplicity, goodness, and how they presented the very reality of the Gospel-with-flesh-on entering the world with an umbilical cord attached, swimming in afterbirth in the midst of a cooling Bethlehem evening.
Peaceful. Serene. Radical.
Yet I knew within earshot were people who were shouting about this same Jesus, accusing people of being modern-day sodomites and that if they were more submissive women they probably wouldn't be divorced. People who looked miserable, apparently because that's what Jesus does to a person, and who were attempting in some way to convert people to that life.
How could the peaceful child in the nativity be the source of such hate and anger?
I confess a few things from this experience. I fought and ignored the Holy Spirit and never returned to the scene of the shouting. I felt a need to run back and take that crowd from them, to tell them about the prodigal's God and how this wasn't who Jesus was. They were there for the "show", not for the goodness of the truth.
But I didn't. I didn't want to undergo shouting and anger like that again. Plus my daughter said, "Can we not go past that man again?" I explained why I did it but I knew there was a line she wasn't quite ready to cross in her life either. I have since have long conversations with God about this situation and am learning a great deal about what it means to "witness."
I confess I was (and am) furious. I was furious at the movement for Biblical manhood and womanhood growing out of the Neo-Reformed tradition in America today because the trickle down of that discussion is arrogant abrasive street preaching that would consign discipleship to whether or not my wife was wearing "man-britches" (which they accused her of, to her face) and me making sure I had short hair. I don't blame those teaching and wrestling with the issues, but with the short-sightedness of the importance of that argument in the scope of the Kingdom of God.
I confess these thoughts are still hanging in my mind.
What a cheap mockery of the cross and Kingdom of God. What a mockery of the Scriptures and their massive Kingdom story. What a misrepresentation of the greatest story the world could ever want.
I have much to reflect on from this experience, and I realize that much of it isn't new to you who read this blog. I do know this - I have a new mandate, a new drive in me to make sure that as far as it depends on me that people will understand how to read the Scripture and how not to use spite and anger to convey the peaceful tale of the creche.
Lord have mercy on me, a sinner, and open my mouth so that when the time for boldness comes I will be ready.