Monday, October 13, 2008

TELL ALL THE TRUTH BUT TELL IT SLANT

—By Emily Dickinson

Tell all the Truth but tell it slant---
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth's superb surprise
As Lightening to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind---

One of the first books on fly fishing I know anything about appeared in the late fifteenth century. It was written by Dame Juliana Berners, an English nun, of all things, and entitled A Treatyse of Fysshyng Wyth an Angle.

Dame Berners’ book covered all aspects of fly-fishing from the crafting of equipment to fly-tying. One of her flies, the “stone flye,” remains a popular pattern on Idaho streams to this day.

“It is a very great pleasure,” she wrote, addressing the reader in a true angler’s spirit, “to see the fair, bright, shiney–scaled fishes deceived by your crafty means and drawn to land.”

It is a great pleasure to put it all together: to read the water and see the seams and other places where fish are likely to hold; to select the right pattern; to make a well–placed and delicate presentation; to time the strike; to play a large trout that “bores and sulks” (her words), that “springs from the deep and tries aërial ways”; and then to bring it to net. To fool a wild and wary trout “and draw it to land.” “Crafty means” is the name of the game.

When it comes to our presentations of the gospel, however, we’re often anything but crafty. Bumper stickers, turn-or-burn tee shirts and other in–your–face techniques are largely ignored and serve only to depersonalize and trivialize the gospel, or so it seems to me. “The best thing you can do for your fellow,” George MacDonald said, “is not to tell him, but to wake things up that are in him; or to make him think things for himself.”

It impresses me that Jesus was so oblique in his witness in contrast to our directness. He often used indirection, plying his listeners with puckish, unexpected comments that surprised them, subverted their minds with the unexpected and unaccustomed and went straight to their hearts. To use Kierkegaard’s marvelous word, He “smuggled” the gospel into their hearts.

I have a friend. Matt Prince, who got himself invited to a dinner party in which he discovered he had been set up: brought in to witness to a belligerent unbeliever who loved to bait Christians.

Throughout the evening the man hassled Matt mercilessly about the evils of Christendom, citing the Crusades, pogroms against the Jews, Apartheid, colonialism, the Ku Klux Klan, the Inquisition, the Aryan Nation, churchmen burning one another at the stake, and all the other atrocious and ungodly things so-called Christians have done throughout history to the greater glory of God. In each case Matt calmly replied, “That’s an interesting point of view. Tell me what do you do in your spare time?” or some such thing, showing genuine interest in the man and deflecting the discussion away from each dividing issue.

As the two men were walking out the door at the end of the evening the non–Christian fired his final salvo, at which point Matt put his arm around the other man’s shoulders and replied. “My friend,” he said with a chuckle, “all night long, you’ve been trying to talk to me about religion. Tell me. Are you some kind of religious nut?”

The man’s animosity dissolved in a burst of laughter. Matt made a friend that day and had other opportunities to show him the love of Christ, I’m told. I don’t know the end of the story, but then we rarely do. God only knows each finale.

Evangelism is not mugging people, but befriending them, loving them and telling the truth “slant.” I’m reminded here of Jesus’ words: “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.”

DHR

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