Monday, October 13, 2008

Would you like to play a game?

What are your favorite hobbies? My top three are playing basketball, reading, and ascertaining whether total strangers are charismatics. This weekend, I successfully played two of the three.

Saturdays I routinely go to a local coffee shop to finalize my Sunday School lesson and to engage in some casual reading. This particular Saturday I found myself having completed my lesson on Jesus’ link between love and obedience found in John 14. Wanting to relax, I pulled two books out of my bag: Martin Lloyd Jones’s lectures on biblical doctrine, and Nietzsche’s The Gay Science.

After wending my way through The Gay Science for an hour or so, I put it down to pick up Jones’s tome. As I was taking notes on a passage about our condition of original guilt, I noticed a young man, in his mid-twenties it appeared, walk in. He was well built, dressed in the requisite Birckenstocks, khaki shorts, and grey T-shirt, toting a backpack and a smile. He approached the barista and, in an effete manner, with a wide smile, and a voice dripping with fulsome sweetness, he ordered a latte.

"Charismatic—tongue-speaker," I said to myself. He had a penumbra of glossolalia as he walked about the cafĂ©.

Plainly, the most difficult aspect of the game, "pick the charismatic," lies in the scoring. The only way to chalk up a point is to ascertain certain religious beliefs held by the subject. It seems poor form to sidle up to someone and ask him whether he’s been slain by the Spirit, although that could be fun, in and of itself. Another option would be to walk up to the person and say, "‘Twas brilling, and the slithy toves did gyre and gimble in the wabe; all mimsy were the borogoves and the mome raths outgrabe,’" and see whether he tries to translate Lewis Carroll into English. Still, a third option would be to simply ask what church the person attends. Although the last manner of determination seems a quick and easy way to score my game, it turns out to be not that useful as most people have no clue what their church believes.

Therefore, as a steady-headed Calvinist I let Providence be my guide. I continued reading, and I waited. A student of human psyche, I decided to bait the trap. I continued reading my Jones and placed Nietzsche coyly on my table. Our friend walked by once or twice, and I was certain he would take notice of the scandalous philosopher in front of me. I was partly correct. What he noticed was not the author, but the title of the little book, and, like most charismatics, didn’t actually read what he thought he’d read.

He stopped and said, "Interesting reading. You have the Reformation Study Bible (which was by my side) and The Gay Scene." He had misread the title, and apparently thought I was a homosexual engaged in reading the Bible. I must say, if that’s what he believed, I do respect him actually approaching me, probably to witness, rather than keeping such a thought a mere velleity.

Nevertheless, I explained that I was reading some philosophy for fun and education. This seemed to mollify him, as I think he was a bit embarrassed for having been cullied by his eyes with regard to my book title.

Still, though, I couldn’t bring myself to ask the question at hand. His demeanor and mannerisms continued to confirm my suspicions. However, I knew that if I asked the question I’d do so tactlessly, and I figured discretion is the better part of valor.

The conversation ended, but hope was not gone. As my new friend was leaving, he saw a fellow charismaticish person, walked up to him and said, "Hey, glad to see you here. I didn’t realize that you worked at Teen Mania too!" Booya!

Chalk another point up for Shane in the "pick the charismatic" contest.

I only wish that my skill was communicable. Perhaps all heresy could be driven out. Hal, is the ability to pick out a charismatic by looking a spiritual gift? I’m going with yes.


Hippie Fringe said...

I believe your "skill" is communicable,if not highly contagious, but I would not call it a gift.

Hal Brunson said...

Hilarious . . . and . . . no it's not a spiritual gift . . . even an agnostic or an atheist worth his intellectual salt should be able to identify certain religious types. I am somewhat personally chided by my own conscience for laughing at your essay and seeing the cruel truth therein. I'm reminded of my favorite seminary professor's admonition to me when I was a fiery twenty-eight-year old regarding my brutal rhetoric towards dispensationalists: "Don't deride them," said the Dear Doctor Barnard. There's truth in that. I also reminded Matt over the weekend who, like his father and cousin, is also oft inclined to ridicule the ridiculous, that one of the qualifications of a bishop, and thus of the individual Christian, is to "have compassion on the ignorant." At the same time, I must remember Elijah who mocked the prophets of Baal, Paul who called for the castration of the Judaizers, and Jesus Christ who castigated the Pharisees. Real spiritual discernment is evidenced by righteous indignation without cynicism, somehow yet speaking the truth in love, a difficult grace.

Shane said...

Admonishment taken. As alluded to in the essay, I was impressed that he approached me thinking I was gay with intent to witness, rather than caustically engaging me with regard to my reading habits. There’s much to be said for the boldness exhibited by many charismatics.

Displaying wit sans cynicism (as opposed to writing witless cynicism) is difficult, and that trouble is exacerbated by my inability to properly convey tone in writing. It’s an odd thing, really, the whole of my work encompasses doing the following three things: (1) reading; (2) writing about what I read; (3) speaking in support of what I wrote (which often means refuting the things I’ve read, unfortunately).

I’m sure the fellow I met the other night is pleasant and sincere. What struck me is the ease with which one can say with near certainty that a person is of a particular religious bent by mere observation, without ever speaking with the individual. I tried to put into words what I saw in him that gave the impression, but ultimately there’s just something—an indescribable quality that is simply there.

The trouble, I suppose, is when you start picking people out, the temptation is to place yourself above them, thus the admonition not to deride. I imagine that when we deride others, we puff ourselves up in the process, and perhaps that’s the main goal of derision anyway.

Hal Brunson said...

I did not conclude that your writing tone was cynical, or that your attitude in themoment of the actual experience was cynical; I just meant to point out that, when we encounter sterotypes, although our judgment and opinions may be right on, we always teeter on the brink of cynicism; again, I'm not saying that was the case with your post; as much as anything, my response was a caution to myself and a tacit admission of my own shortcomings.