Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Easier or harder?

I could not think of a title for this post, but on the drive home from work, thinking about one of the themes presented, I remembered a lunch I shared with some pilgrims and (at that time) the three sisters at the Monastery of the Honorable Forerunner John the Baptist. Listening to sister Agní give us her testimony in Greek, I learned a new word I hadn't heard before, when she concluded her witness with the words δεν ειναι ευκολο (dhen ínai éfkolo), ‘it ain't easy.’ Hence the title, asking, [does believing in Jesus make your life] easier or harder?

Have you ever been invited out to lunch by a group of three or four people whom you know for the most part only slightly, and been invited maybe out of a sense of obligation? And maybe these people knew you to be a Christian, though none of them were, and that might make the social setting a bit awkward? And to top it off, you might’ve been in a foreign country, where they were speaking a language you didn’t quite understand?

I’ve had that experience a little bit, but only in part. Sometimes when I’ve visited the Greek monastery in the forests just beyond Goldendale, Washington, I’ve found myself seated at table for lunch with some of the sisters and their guests, and all of a sudden, everything goes Greek on me. That leaves me out of the conversation for the most part, because I only know Biblical (koiné) Greek, the dialect we use in the church services. My knowledge of the demotic dialect is limited to being able to listen and understand maybe about half, and as for joining in a spirited talk, well, kalimera and yasou don’t go very far. The difference is this, that I am with other people who I’m certain are followers of Jesus, all Christians like me, so no matter what happens, I never feel uncomfortable, even when I’m left out of a conversation. But getting back to the other scenario…

In a foreign country, like Japan. The Japanese can be very formal and shy when they don’t know how to deal with a situation. One of the women who talked so animatedly with you last time you went to lunch, this time tries her best not to look at you. A sense of nervousness seems to have flipped the language switch, and you find everyone is talking Japanese to each other, leaving you out of the conversation, except when they want to know something from you. So you just sit there quietly, sad on the inside. Maybe the thought comes to you, ‘This must be what it’s like, in some small way, for Christ, who is present, sitting with them and with millions of others, watching them and waiting for them to come to Him.’ Then maybe a surprise question was popped on you, waking you from your brain-fugue. The friend who invited you tells you, somewhat apologetically, that they were all just discussing why Japanese people do not have nor need a religion. You can see where this was coming from, and now you know why the averted glances. What can you say? Well, you just tell them the truth, and hopefully in words they can understand.

And from there, you start witnessing, about how religion from the world’s viewpoint is something you add on, like a topping. ‘One has their work-life, their social-life and their religious-life. But with Christ it’s different.’ From the look in the women’s faces, your friend suddenly realises that he’s going to have to translate, since he knows English best. You pause a moment to let him catch up, and then, ‘Christ becomes your life and encompasses you,’ you tell them. Returning a moment to the topic of their conversation, religion, you continue explaining the difference between what they and most people think, and what is really true about religion and Jesus Christ. You tell them, ‘If one believes in Christ, their life does not get easier, like religions teach, but it gets harder.’ Their puzzled looks, and your friend’s initial remark about the Japanese not having or needing a religion, prompts what comes next. You try to make the point that you agree with them, the Japanese do not need a religion. Far from it, because their life is so well-organized, it would only bog things down. But what they do need is Christ.

It gets quiet again all of a sudden,
and you drop one final seed into what you hope is fertile soil.

You make the point that, if they want an easy life, then they shouldn’t bother with Christ—He’s not for them. But if they want to know the truth, then they have to believe in Him, and the consequence of this belief will be a life of struggle.

You don't know if they understood,
but you pray that God will give the increase.

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