Each year I take high school students to the shore (Ocean City, NJ) and we take them to the boardwalk at night to see if anyone wants to talk about God and faith and the Bible.
Well of course no one wants to talk about that stuff on the boardwalk - especially when you are checking out the opposite sex and you are 17. If you try to walk up to a 17 year old draped 'come hither-esquely' on the railings you will get this look that says, "hey buddy, fishing for the ladies here - and you are definitely not helping the bait."
But we come armed with a secret . . . people actually do want to talk about their faith (they just don't want to fight about it). So you know what we do? We don't preach - we ask them what THEY believe. With the help of a short survey, it doesn't take long before we are knee deep in some great conversations.
Like I said, it is weird at the start. You just have to acknowledge the awkwardness.
"Hi I am John and this is Mike, and it must seem really weird that two guys would come up to two other guys on the boardwalk and start a conversation . . ." is usually how I start. They usually are like, "yeah, you're right . . . so what are you selling?"
The best part is that the students are not trying to do anything other than really listen. In fact, I would say that most people really get into it. They wind up talking a good 20 or 30 minutes about what they believe - because no one else has ever really asked them before. And what is most interesting is that because no one has ever really asked them, they aren't even sure about what they are saying.
Perhaps the most interesting (and saddening) result of these surveys is how they view God. When we ask, "if Jesus were to appear to you tonight and say something, what do you think He would say?"
The overwhelming majority of responses deal with some sort of critique:
"he'd say stop smoking"
"stop sleeping with my girlfriend"
" he'd say straighten up, I'm watching you!"
Most of our respondents were Catholic because of the proximity of Philadelphia and most of them would say that they are religious in some sense. But when you get to the core of how they see God seeing them - it is usually negative. God the angry step-parent . . . how sad.
Those voices sound so different than the Jesus that went to sinner's houses. So different than the Jesus who defended the woman who was caught in the act of adultery. Remember that? "Neither do I condemn you . . ."
No, those voices sound like the critical voice of you and me - telling people to get right before God. Stop drinking, stop smoking, stop swearing, stop sinning . . . and then God will like you. Reality check, the order is backward. We come to God "even while we were yet sinners" and it is the rendez-vous with God that changes us and makes us shed bad habits and sinful patterns. We don't get right to impress God, we are impressed by God and that makes us pursue what is right.
Just think of how different our world would be if we really knew that.