“Is this the church, hollering into culture—earnest, but shrill—connected to a Truth but disconnected from an audience?”
I play memories like movies, changing recollections as readily as I navigate channels. I fast-forward through extraneous moments, then pause on a scene to play it and replay it. That’s how memories work.
Today, I cue up a memory—a downtown street scene. It could be L.A. or D.C. or Chicago. I have similar memories of each. This must be Chicago, though, because I hear the clackety-clack of the elevated train a half-block away. I am enveloped in the kaleidoscopic swirl of midday traffic and the cacophony of engines and road repair, horns and airbrakes, the murmur of voices, the belch of exhaust and the suffocating press of midsummer humidity.
To my left, the signal turns from green to amber, then red. As the traffic slows and the volume drops, a tinny amplified voice rises from the background above the static of the street. It pulls my attention toward the corner opposite me. There on the sidewalk, an earnest preacher pleads with pedestrians, yelling into a portable PA, striving to be heard above the din of the city.
I wait for the light to change. “Walk,” it tells me. So I cross the street with the hurried herd. I’m curious now. I want to feel what they feel as they pass the preacher, close enough to touch. Close enough. People brush past him, some even bump him in their impatience, off to lunch or shopping, a medical appointment or the afternoon’s work.
They touch him. No eye contact. And he touches them, his arm swinging wide to gesture with his open Bible. An intent man with, it would appear, anger issues.
I stand next to him now. But his voice, though loud, treble and metallic, is somehow distant. Lost in the traffic. Swallowed in the sonic blur.
Is this the church, hollering into culture—earnest, but shrill—connected to a Truth but disconnected from an audience?
I used to preach on the street—LA and Hollywood, mostly. I like to think we did so with more finesse and audience awareness than the stereotype. Just saying: I’m not gunning for street preachers or interested in death by metaphor. But there’s something on my mind, and the scene from Chicago’s street reinforces three aspects of one overarching idea: The Message.
Evangelism is on my mind; I’m aware that despite our disinclination to preach at people, we still need to preach. Enthusiastically proclaim. Or calmly discuss. We’ve got to find constructive ways to engage culture and earn a hearing, but bottom line: It’s not good news until you tell it. Apologetics is on my mind, because how we think and what we say must be fortified with reasonable answers. Life is on my mind. I’m preoccupied with how we live and how we love, because what we say only has power when it is authenticated by how we live.
Anything less is just static in the streets.