Leaving Salem

It was one of those perfect mornings for doing nothing. No one had to be at work, a soccer game, baseball practice, or the football field. The weather outside was wet and cold. The thermostat was set just right. The bed was soft and cozy. The entire McBrayer clan was sound asleep. Well, almost the entire clan. I was up to watch the news, read the paper, and have a cup of coffee. I was also occupied with a secret hobby of mine, a hobby that requires me to rise early or stay up late long after my three boys have gone to sleep: Playing video games on their Xbox. Oh, how I love it!

Madden, shoot-em-up target games, baseball – I play them all. My aspiration is to become as proficient at these games as my children. See, children born in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries have a genetic predisposition for video game excellence. I find myself stuck in the world of Pong and Asteroids, so it takes a lot of practice to keep up. On this perfect morning I was furiously engaged with Xbox mastery when the door bell rang. My first thought was the guest at our early morning door might be a neighbor; or a delivery truck driver; or even the neighborhood lawn guy looking to drum up business on a slow morning. I was wrong on all counts. When I opened the door to find a smiling couple with a handful of colorful religious materials, I knew exactly who had interrupted my video game sanctuary.

Don’t get me wrong. If people want to knock on doors early in the morning and attempt to have meaningful conversations about religion with scantly clad, sleepy eyed men and women, that’s fine with me. I’d simply prefer not to be the one caught in my pajamas. There’s not much I love more than a stimulating, theological conversation. You would think I might welcome the opportunity to have such a dialogue on my own front steps. But, there’s little I dislike more than someone’s attempt to sell, push, commoditize, or convert me. Such attempts are rarely conversations at all. They are crusades. Crusaders tend to care little for the other person. Their concern is for completing the mission and delivering the news, whatever news they are carrying.

Some of my resistance to these kinds of methods stem from my own experience. As a teenager my church sent my peers and I out to do this same kind of door-to-door evangelism. It was awful. We were threatened, cursed, argued with, and in no uncertain terms told to buzz-off, though “buzz” was not the verb employed at the time. Our leaders consoled us with the fact that we had done our part. We had sowed the seed. We, gloriously, had been ridiculed for Christ’s sake. The responsibility for the message was now on the hearers. If they rejected our “good news” it was their own fault, and we couldn’t be held liable.

Looking back, no one seemed to be troubled over the negative consequences of our actions. In the words of Tim Downs, “We had found a way to make a plane crash look like a scheduled part of the air show.” Do you want to talk to me about issues of faith? Let’s talk over a cup of coffee and I’ll sing like a canary. Do you want to know where I am spiritually? First, get to know me. Do you want to converse on the subject of religion, belief, and the divine? Meet me at your favorite restaurant and we’ll chat for hours.

But please – please – do not show up at my doorstep before breakfast, treating me like an assignment, a target, or a training mission. That’s not good for you, for me, or my sleeping family. Next time, I may not even leave the Xbox; unless, of course, you want to join me in a game. I can’t think of a better way to get to know you.

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