An encouraging note about human kindness
This encouraging note reminded me how many people have been hurt by various forms of religiosity, but really are just looking for some authentic expression of humanity, of kindness … of basic human-kindness:
You might not remember me; I was the person serving drinks (including your Fanta) at the reception for the … conference yesterday. You have completely resurrected my faith in the evangelical/"post-evangelical" tradition. I was a die-hard Pentecostal in college and had a falling out with not just the movement but will all people who confess to being "friends" with Jesus. I suggested to our campus minister that our group could help out at a soup kitchen where I volunteered through my Episcopal church and was rebuked with a very strange reading of James. "Religion is about taking care of widows and orphans," said the Pastor, who continued, "God doesn't want religion. He wants faith." For the last decade (including eight years as a Methodist minister) I have harbored a deep resentment against relationship theology, which I considered to be spiritualistic, individualistic, and frankly gnostic. My theology has gone from liberal to existential to post-Liberal to agnostic, but it has been detached from relationship for quite some time. I discovered you in seminary and quickly separated you and a few others (Tony Campolo comes immediately to mind, as well as Eugene Peterson minus The Message) from the insular "evangelical" movement. But I never really understood the theology of incarnational relationship until last night.
Most of the people to whom I served drinks were, frankly, rude. Several said nothing to me except the name of the beverage they wanted. More complained than thanked me -- this was the first time in my life that I have tended bar and I was not always correct about how much ice people wanted or whether they preferred Coke Zero to Diet Coke. You, on the other hand, looked first at my face, then at my name-tag, and then proceeded to ask me about...me. No one ever does that to a bartender, especially when he's drinking soda! You wanted to know my story, my background, my place. You picked out the least important person in the room, not knowing even that I was a minister or a PhD student, because that is exactly what Jesus would have done. You didn't even advertise who you were (I suspected you were Brian McLaren -- the Brian McLaren -- based on what little you said, but you were so humble that I didn't want to presume). I spent hours last night processing this with my girlfriend, who is Jewish (and I sincerely hope will always remain so), trying to figure out whether there is something to the idea that people can be so in touch with Jesus that they exude him.
You spent the first ten-to-fifteen minutes of the reception talking to me about my project, and I got the profound sense that this was not just about the skills you learned as a pastor or through CPE. This was genuine. You only joined the VIPs after I became busy serving other people. I cannot begin to tell you how much you have turned my life upside-down. I have always respected your approach to post-modernity (as I told you, I was part of an Emerging church plant based on your writings), but your personality last night reminded me about everything that led me to relationship theology in the first place.
Sorry for rambling, and sorry for the personal email -- I had to beg, borrow, and steal to get your email address. You made my day yesterday, if not my week and month. Thank you for bringing Jesus with you everywhere you go. I regret missing your talk -- I had to work behind the scenes most of the day -- but I hope to hear you at some time in the future. It was a true honor to meet you.
A confession: At this reception, most of the people in the room knew each other, but I only knew one person well and one person peripherally. So, had I known a lot of the people there, I might have gotten so caught up in seeing old friends that I might have been no better to the person serving drinks than the other guests were. But I'm glad we connected … and glad that a simple act of kindness can make a difference.
May all of us remember that everyone we meet is a neighbor, and that when we look out on the world through the eyes of Christ, there is no male/female, Jew/Greek, Bond/free, gay/straight, documented/undocumented, bartender/customer, PhD/GED, etc.