Suppressed Immunities

January 11, 2014

As my blood counts sink lower, my immunity to “normal” disease and viruses diminishes. Yesterday’s trip to the nurse practitioner for my periodic check-up assessed my vulnerability, which turns out not to be too bad yet. The numbers of white blood cells and hemoglobin are going down, suggesting caution, but this is normal and par for the course. It shows the chemotherapy is doing its job. The advice was, Go ahead to the Aquarium because it is not packed with people and is a wide-open space. But now would be the time to avoid packed-like-sardines scenarios (I translate that to be BART during rush hour).

The object of the game here is to avoid picking up the flu or a head cold, which for most people means keeping your hands washed and not touching your face. (Many viruses are transmitted by physical touch, not by airborne “emissions.”) One can also get a flu vaccine, which I finally did yesterday. [In October (BC days) when I first asked for one, the doctor thought I had pneumonia, so not a good idea. Apparently cancer doesn’t count, so now it’s okay, though the shot is a little less effective once a person is on chemo…] The point is, there are things one can do to keep from getting sick, sort of. It requires vigilance and a little paranoia, but it can be done.

Translate that to the efforts people make to avoid being exposed to the gospel. There are a few people in my life who are resistant to the gospel of Jesus Christ, and it’s as if they have masked and gloved up in order to keep any part of the message from reaching them. One got a little bit of “church,” a good inoculation in childhood, enough to protect him from the real thing in adulthood. If the conversation ever drifts in the direction of Christian faith, I can feel the resistance surge, the discussion veer, and the subject change. These folks keep their distance from books and ideas that lift up the Christian faith. They certainly wouldn’t be caught dead in an actual church. It is as if they have developed a serious allergy as a result: the slightest exposure to anything faith-related and they start sneezing and gasping for air.

We’re also seeing the immune response culturally these days. As a nation, are we losing our ability to share “good germs” with one another? It seems the view that committed Christian faith is somehow toxic is growing. In a questionable effort to sanitize our society toward secularism, are we lurching toward unintended consequences that promote atheism instead? In our denomination (in my case, the PCUSA), in the name of “interfaith dialogue” are we killing off the orthodox position that the only way to salvation is through Jesus Christ? We are in danger of developing a hyperactive and out of proportion reaction to Something and Someone who is truly our friend, graciously for us, and powerful enough to help us address our social ills.

All of this requires believers like myself to find ways to get people in touch with the Savior that do not evoke such violent responses. Sometimes that means being very oblique in the approach, witnessing through actions and not words, and joining them in common causes in which we can work together. Having said that (and practiced that method) I also think we underestimate our friends if we think an open conversation about Jesus automatically shuts a door. If this view makes us allergic to sharing the gospel, then something really terrible has happened! The question is how do we do it?

Here’s what we are called to do: We live our lives as Christ-followers and reflect thoughtfully on what we are learning along the way. We do not shy away from being specific about that in conversation, but we use the vocabulary familiar to our friends rather than some church-y buzz words that only have meaning to us in an isolated context. We view our present experience as life on a journey toward the One who created and saved us, and we share Facebook pictures of the scenery along the way. In other words, we overcome our own religious allergies and start interpreting to our friends what the Word of God means to us in a particular situation and how that directs our responses.

In my small group this week, a gentleman indicated that what kept him from being open on the subject of faith was not any adverse reaction from the not-yet-believer, but fear that he might get a question he couldn’t answer! Such an admission tickles the cockles of my heart, because “there’s an app for that.” The more a person learns (the content and context of the Bible, a bit of church history, and maybe just a few topics in what the seminaries call “systematic theology” [doctrine in categories]), the more at ease that person can be in normal conversation with someone whose views are different or undeveloped.

So this missive really is a call to discipleship once again, to learning and to teaching, and believing that God’s Spirit can empower us for the gentle but persuasive work of the Kingdom.  What do we have to lose? A lot! A subject for another day, so stay tuned . . .

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