Last week, I was talking with a candidate about the difficulties he was having with friendships.
This person was reflecting upon the nature of his relationships at his sports club and he commented that even though he enjoyed spending time with these friends, there was always a bit of a barrier between them because these friends werent Christians. He often felt that there were things he couldnt say about his life because he thought they wouldnt get it.
I was able to empathise with this. I have just had the joy of spending the weekend in London catching up with my university friends who do not yet profess a Christian faith. I have known these friends for nearly 15 years and I love them dearly. It is occasionally a source of sadness to me that following my calling has meant that I am no longer a part of their daily lives and consequently miss out on a lot of the things they do together.
However, it is not just that I live in a different city which means I am slightly on the edge of the group. If my Christian faith means anything, I should have completely different priorities in my life which mean I could not do everything with my friends, even if I were available to.
In the Contemplative Pastor, Eugene Peterson talks about the apocalyptic essence of the Christian faith, which understands our world systems to be broken beyond repair and doomed to destruction, and that another kingdom is being formed right now in secret to take its place. This kingdom of Jesus characterised by justice, peace, love, mercy, joy, forgiveness and grace is already in existence all around us, it is just not visible yet. Our role as Christians is to alert people to the true nature of reality, and to order our own lives in readiness to live in this new kingdom when it comes.
OK, I appreciate that to explain the Christian faith like this to your work colleagues would most likely lead them to the conclusion that you are at best a fool, or at worst deranged, and it might jeopardise your chances of getting that promotion you need in order to pay off the mortgage. And so we don't say anything.
Perhaps when asked by your colleague so what are you doing this weekend?
I admit, it might be a bit too much to respond with meeting with fellow followers of The Way to celebrate and be reminded that Jesus is Lord of creation and to pray and be equipped to overthrow the present powers of this world in subversive ways in our daily lives but we could at least opt for going to church I find it brings me a sense of peace and perspective on my life rather than oh, nothing much.
It seems that because we are so often afraid that our not-yet believing friends wont get our faith and will think we are mad, we dont say anything at all and dull down the vibrancy of our faith in order not to isolate ourselves from our friends and colleagues. Jesus says we are salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot (Matthew 5:13). This verse is a huge challenge to me when I recall all the times I have missed opportunities by saying nothing much when I could have said so much more.
Friends of mine who live overseas and seek to share their faith with the people they live amongst have been experimenting with what they call salty statements as a way to open up faith conversations. As I understand it, this is simply about avoiding the self-censoring that we so often do because we think people wont get it, and being a bit more intentionally explicit about the things we already do and think.
So, here are some examples of how these salty statements could be employed:
Colleague: Its lovely weather isnt it?
My usual answer: Yes
Salty statement: Yes, praise God for the sunshine
Colleague: So are you coming out for a drink later?
My usual answer: I cant, Ive got other plans
Salty statement: I cant, Ive got a church group at my house tonight where we will be praying for people who are sick (optional extension: is there anything we could pray for you about?)
Colleague: Why didnt you go for that job? It looked great.
My usual answer: Oh, it just didnt feel right
Salty statement: Well, Id been wrestling with the decision for a while and so prayed about it and felt that God was calling me to do something else
Colleague: I hate watching the news and all the stuff about the refugee crisis, its terrible
My usual answer: yes it is horrible
Salty statement: I find it hard to watch too, but wherever I see the news, Ive been trying to pray for the people affected and ask God what he might want me to do about it.
It is not about trying to cram the whole gospel into every sentence, or manipulating conversations towards matters of faith, its just about saying a bit more than you might normally to give people the opportunity to talk further if they wanted to, or at least to let them know that you are someone they could talk to about these things if they ever wanted to. Yes, they might not get it, but how will they if no-one tells them (Romans 10:14)?
And yes, they might think you are weird, but then at least they might stop making small talk with you and let you get on with your work!
Why not have a go this week, think of salty answers that you might be able to give to common questions, and then be brave and have a go. Be the salt and light Jesus calls you to be.
Helen Collins; Adviser for Licensed Ministry