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Harold and Bill

October 21, 2014

Many years ago; and I mean many, many years ago, a strange thing happened at my wedding reception.  Peggy and I had been hitched for like an hour or so and, based on that extensive experience, I was already pretty sure that our marriage would last.  And so, we were ready to go into the reception hall to celebrate.

All the guests were around the tables waiting for the big moment when the leader of the music group playing for the reception would announce our arrival as Mr. & Mrs. for the first time.  We were out in the hall with the rest of the wedding party and, to build up the suspense, he decided that he wanted to announce each pairing of bridesmaid and groomsmen first.  To do this we had given him the names of all in the wedding party.  Sadly, somehow he had gotten the names mixed up.  As a result the first couple he called out went something like this.

“Ladies and gentlemen, I’d like to introduce our first bridesmaid and groomsman, Harold and Bill!”

Although they had been waiting in line next to their respective bridesmaids my two quick-thinking friends linked arms and happily skipped, yes skipped, into the room.  We all had a good laugh at the band leader’s expense and frankly, this has been a highlight memory of our wedding reception ever since.

Bill is my cousin and Harold was just a friend at the time but he has since married my sister so they are both family to us.  We, as a family, have laughed about this incident for decades.  At nearly every wedding they’ve gone to ever since Harold and Bill have at some point linked arms and reenacted that happy skipping event.  They are both retired and they still do it.

Now this is a private family memory.  Today, if you are not part of the family, you might think that they are mocking same sex couples.  I’ve even had someone tell me that they are mocking people who disapprove of same sex couples.  It is neither; it is simply reliving a fun family moment.

I was thinking of this the other day when an atheist acquaintance demanded that I prove that God existed.  I declined his invitation but said I was open to talk some more about God and life.  I then started to tell him about Jesus and how he responded to the Pharisees demanding a sign.

My intent was to say that God doesn’t submit himself to examination on our terms and then perhaps go on to reasons for belief but I never got that chance.  He saw my answer as proof that I knew God wasn’t there and was just avoiding the truth.  We talked a bit more, neither of us getting anywhere.  I tried to talk about faith and quoted this verse:

The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit. (1 Corinthians 2:14.)

He saw that as a cop-out and we soon parted without agreement but without rancor.  As often happens, it was only some time later that the idea of sharing the story of Harold and Bill came to me.  You see, the meaning of that story, the joke of it, is only clear if you are part of the family.  If you didn’t know why they did what they did their actions seemed weird or even offensive.  It is the same in the family of God.  Our assurance does not rest of some empirical post-enlightenment physical proof; it rests in a more metaphysical concept – faith.  As a result, how we act and respond seems strange or even offensive to others.  We need the grace to understand that their reactions to us stem not from hatred but from not being able to understand us.

Frankly, I think it works the other way around too.  We seek to witness or evangelize and can’t understand why they don’t see the “obvious” need we are presenting to them.  This happens because we are communicating from our family to those outside and there is a gap in common assumptions or even language.

My atheist acquaintance didn’t get me because he didn’t take time to know me; he simply set up his terms and I failed to meet them.  I can’t be mad because we Christians do that all the time in evangelism.  We make our pitch without taking the time to understand and get to know the person we are talking to and are mystified when we fail.

 I think that sometimes Christians are so eager to evangelize that they become more zealous for the act of witnessing than they do about caring for the person they are talking to and then people become nothing more than objects of our witness. This is why I almost never use “evidence” books when I talk to atheists or others.  I know we have good arguments for our faith, but we don’t want to point people to the evidence, we want to point them to Jesus.

But the lesson of Harold and Bill is that when you go outside the family you always need to explain yourself; you need to take time to understand them and to let them want to understand you.  This is a favorite verse for evangelists:

“Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.”  I Peter 3:15.

But we often overlook that Peter makes the other guy the lead figure in the discussion.  Do we have the patience to wait until they ask what is going on in the weird and mystifying family of God?


From → Christianity

One Comment
  1. Great analogy.

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