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Saturday, March 19, 2011

Fishing for God

Back in the early 90s, I was the pastor for a small, country church in Noel, MO. On the same district, I happened to have a good friend who shepherded a congregation not too many miles away, named Tom. Occasionally, we'd get together and go trout fishing at a trout farm in Cassville.

The first thing you need to know is I'm not much of a fisherman. I did it a few times as a kid and teen, and even caught an occasional fish. First one was a small perch when I was in Jr. High School. And after filleting it, making batter and deep-frying it, it was a one-bite meal.  More like one popcorn fish. By the time of Tom's and my first outing together, I had caught a total of five fish in my life. Aside from that one small perch, some nine inch bass at a local lake in Austin, TX.

And because I had caught so few fish in my life, despite having spent hours tossing a lure into the water and reeling it in, I had decided I didn't like fishing. To much work, very little reward, and long boring hours of doing nothing.  I figured I had things I really wanted to do rather than spend hours sitting by a lake or river accomplishing nothing in most cases other than wasting time.

Before I get responses about how great fishing is for others, I recognize for many it isn't a waste of time. We all have our priorities, what we enjoy doing. But for me, fishing isn't one of them. Because of that, I've probably deprived my children. I've never taken one of them fishing. But that's another story and post.

So the first time I head out with Tom, because I figure at least it will give us a chance to spend time together even if I didn't catch anything, we arrive at the trout farm. I'd never been to one of these before. We walk in and this small stream runs through the place, and the fish! Yes, lots and lots of fish filling up that small stream. I couldn't believe it. It appeared there was at least one trout for every cubic foot of water.

Well, my hopes shot high. I figured, "If I can't catch a fish here, I can't catch one anywhere." I knew I would grab me several before the day was over. How could I miss when there were so many fish?

I plunked my lure in and reeled. Nothing. Did it again. Still nothing. I did it over and over again. I began to wonder if the fish had just been fed or something. So I tried other spots. Meanwhile, Tom's catching some. I don't recall how many he had that day, but by the end of the fishing trip, he had several. I had zero. I couldn't catch a fish if it jumped into my hands and surrendered.

At a later date, I agreed to submit myself to the same torture. We went back to the farm, and after an hour or two of Tom catching some fish, and I still couldn't get even one measly fish to pay attention to my lure, Tom checked it out and determined that my line was too thick. It was scaring them off. So he pulled out some of his line, cut off a piece, and tied it to the end of my line, then attached the lure to that.

I started tossing and reeling again, and after a few minutes, I had a bite! Yes! Reeled in my first catch in who knows how many years. By the time we left, I had two or three. Not great, but much, much better than zero. And I at least felt maybe I could catch a fish, if I had to, I guess.  All I needed to do was use the right line.

Most Christians know the the phrase Jesus used to Peter when he called him to be a disciple, "Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men." And then He proceeded to show them how it was done on numerous occasions. And the approach Jesus had was to speak to people where they were at. He used their language. In other words, He used the right line to fish with so as not to scare them away, but instead draw them to Him.

As a Christian writer, I have stories that have Christian themes to them. Sometimes it is obvious as in my Reality Chronicles series, or other times not so obvious, but there nonetheless, at least a basic worldview where God exist, even if He doesn't enter into the story or religion is never mentioned. Concerning my more subtle Christian themed work, one could make the claim that I'm trying to hide my Christianity so as to slide the Gospel in undetected into impressionable minds.

Two thoughts to that. One, I'm not hiding it, I'm simply presenting it in a manner that a non-Christian can digest and understand. It's not like I'm intentionally trying to be evangelistic in my subtle writing, but simply present good stories that are based upon a Christian worldview, even if no character ever prays, worships, or talks about God or religion. I don't call that hiding, I call it using the right line, by presenting my worldview in a way that my target audience will comprehend and understand. It has nothing to do with hiding, but how it is presented. Exactly what Jesus did. He spoke to the person, not according to a man-created formula of "how to save a soul." If I'm writing a story for the general market, the last thing I want to do is have a bunch of preachers saving a horde of people, or using a bunch of Christian jargon. It will scare them away. It sends up too many red flags and won't fly in the general market, by and large.

This is not to disparage folks who are writing primarily to a more Christian audience, and use such jargon, and have people regularly finding God and getting saved. If you're writing to that group, more power to you. But don't assume because another author writing to a different audience who would be put off by that same kind of story, writing a story where Christ isn't mentioned, not having anyone pray or get saved, is by default "hiding" their Christianity. Or not doing God's work, what He's called them to do.

Likewise, secular readers shouldn't assume because of that, that such a writer is trying to slip Christianity in unnoticed so that we can ultimately save someone from hell. Sure, we'd love for that to happen. But it also may simply be we want to tell a good story on our hearts, and do it from a Christian worldview so that we are represented along with everyone else. You can't claim tolerance and deny Christian artist their place as equally as anyone else. Otherwise, you are being bigoted and discrimiatory.

Which leads into point number two. For those secular folk who do decry, as one reviewer who sent back my book with a note that said, "I don't review Christian propaganda," that the Christian worldview is being hidden and slid in unaware by such books, look no further than your own backyard.

How many secular science fiction promotes a purely secular worldview, often a very anti-Christian worldview, where God is derided and humanism promoted? How many fantasy books are mere propaganda pieces for pagan religions? Why do they get a pass on this litmus test applied to writings from a Christian worldview?

It boils down to simply because you think you're right and we're wrong. It is cultural arrogance. It is tolerance to everyone except those you can't tolerate. But if it is okay for shows like "Star Trek: The Next Generation" to promote a secular worldview without God, and even that man will eventually become like God, and be accepted as not trying to influence people to a particular belief system, then neither should stories from a Christian worldview be singled out and labeled as trying to trick people into Christianity. No more than secularist are trying to trick people into secularism.

So I'll keep fishing, attempting to use the right line, the right lure for the right fish. Naturally I hope that by presenting Christians fairly, both the good and the bad, I hope to break down some walls of preconceived, caricatured ideas of what Christianity is about, and hopefully allow some to give themselves permission to move beyond those and see what we're really about. Just as the secularist wants to promote their worldview in their writings. And it isn't hiding it, it is presenting it differently for a different audience, in a way they can receive it and understand.

How would you go about presenting Christianity to a secular audience?

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