Thursday night we headed up to Reading for Winter Jam, a Christian concert that comes around every January or so. Our mission: to challenge Christians to live consistently with the dark holocaust of our nation, and Jesus’ commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves.
“But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’
“Jesus replied, ‘A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead…Which of [those who passed him] do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?’
“He said, ‘The one who showed him mercy.’
“And Jesus said to him, ‘You go, and do likewise.'”
It isn’t really that complicated. I’ve spoken to so many Christians on this topic, and it’s remarkable the places we’ll go – how much energy is spent trying to justify our inaction rather than simply repenting in humility, and doing what Jesus says. This concert was no different; there were a few softened hearts, and plenty that need more tilling.
Whatever the results, we certainly got the word out. We distributed over 2,000 quadfolds and dropcards to the people standing in line (I actually brought 500 philly dropcards with me, thinking that was plenty, and ran out!). In addition, all 8000+ people had to walk down a sidewalk lined with abolitionist signs to get in the building, and people were certainly impacted by them. Even after the concert, one of our guys who went back overheard a group of girls talking about our signs.
Liz and I forgot to wear our body cameras of course, which is a shame because there were several conversations that would have been great for the website. And of course we all forgot to take pictures; fortunately Conner did grab this one as we stopped on the way back to the cars:
It was an impactful event for me personally, and for everyone in the group. We’re starting to work really well together, each of us bringing our own gifts and talents to bear on the task of practically loving our neighbors. Would you like to meet them? Here’s a quick intro to the people who came out last night:
The group mother. She has five children – four beautiful daughters, and one insanely wriggley son. With all of that, she somehow finds time to mother us, to ask everyone if we’re warm enough, to make sure we all have what we need to be effective abolitionists. And in a way, she’s the mother of abolition in eastern Pennsylvania; she and Allen were the first of us, and many of us came to abolition through her encouragement and exhortation.
Liz has something of a Deborah personality, and is something of a puzzle. In the ordinary affairs of life, she is one of the most discombobulated and flighty individuals I have ever met :-). But put her in front of an unbeliever, or someone who isn’t thinking correctly about scripture, and you will not find a more clear, concise, logical answer to everything that gets thrown at her. When I see her in battle I often think of her as a student-warrior – one who has studied every scenario, and knows exactly which weapon will most effectively defeat which false idea when she is confronted. As a conversation progresses, you can almost see her sheath her sword to pull out the throwing daggers, then reach for a grenade; it’s uncanny.
In ancient Rome, soldiers would wear footwear (Caligae) into battle with hobnails on the bottom for traction, much like modern day cleats. This would allow them to plant their feet on a piece of ground, and never retreat a single inch. That’s a lot like Allen. He’s a Shammah-like character, that guy in 2 Samuel who defended a field of lentils against a host of adversaries. Whenever Allen sets his mind to make a stand, he DOES NOT BACK DOWN.
This is incidentally very different from my default approach, which seems to favor the art of a tactical retreat (give ground to gain a better striking position). When we were at Kutztown University this fall for example, a restaurant owner asked if I could stand across the street so that people wouldn’t be driven away from his business. Noticing that the other side of the street was more favorable anyway, I decided to be gracious and not insist on my first amendment right. This ended up granting me favor with a police officer later in the day, and generally demonstrated that we’re not a group of unreasonable people, just Christians trying to love their neighbors.
Yesterday however demanded a stubborn set of cleats, and I am very glad that the police were speaking to Allen and not me. Producers of the (Christian!) concert threatened to call the police if we wouldn’t move off of the sidewalk and across the street, and also claimed that we were not allowed to “solicit” by distributing literature and dropcards to the people in line (not true, and also not soliciting). The place where we had planted ourselves was highly strategic, so I am very glad that we had a man who dug in his heels to calmly inform the concert venue and the police that we were acting entirely within the bounds of the law and our constitutional rights.
The empath. The ability to experience and identify the emotions of other people is turning out to be a very useful skill in abolition. I find myself doing a lot of crowd profiling, working to get the right message to the right person by observing his/her reactions to our signs and to our presence. When going out with signs, I take several with me and position/reposition them as needed for different people/groups. When handing out literature, I take a variety and distribute it selectively, as a conversation or expression gives light to a person’s inner workings. When he was here, T. Russell Hunter actually complemented my profiling :-). Made me proud :-).
One of the things I’m not too good at is thinking on my feet. Most of my development as an empath has allowed me to spend time observing a broad set of emotions/actions in a person, and thinking about them until I have a useful explanation of the situation. With this however, you often only have a split second to observe people and ask, “Do I give this person a graphic card to shake up his apathy, is she broken and in need of a gospel tract, should I give this one a picture of an adorable baby to be more attractive and winsome?”
Last night I had an epic fail in this area of thinking on my feet. We were at the concert largely to challenge Christians with regard to our apathy, not so much to address people out in the culture facing the temptation of abortion. So my focus in conversation was on waking up the church, talking about loving our neighbor etc., and I think I missed the signs of a child at risk.
She looks really sad, I noticed, making eye contact with the girl. I had started to take out a quadfold comparing abortion to slavery, but at the last second decided she needs one with the gospel. “What is it?” her dad asked as I handed it to her.
“It’s just some free information about what’s happening in our culture as we’re descending into further darkness, and what we as Christians should be doing to love our neighbors in the midst of a holocaust.”
The parents grew very quiet. While I was speaking, the girl opened the quadfold, scanned the information inside, then opened it again to find a graphic image of a child killed by abortion. I had been hoping to duck out of there before she got that far; now she knew that I was one of those jerks who goes around handing out pictures of dead children. Oh well, I wonder where the conversation will go next.
Interestingly, it didn’t go anywhere. The parents weren’t angry; they were more scared and ashamed. But they weren’t saying anything, just listening, leaving many awkard silences whenever I would pause in my monologue. Whatever, I thought; I just kept talking about the Parable of the Good Samaritan, faith without works, and loving our neighbors.
Finally, the girl spoke up, “Well I would never go through with it.” I gave her a confused look. It was a very odd thing to say given the context. I decided that she must have been trying to say the common Christian response, “Well I would never have an abortion myself, so I agree with you [but I’m not going to do anything to help my neighbor].”
It wasn’t until later that night, as the conversation’s awkwardness kept eating at me, that I put the pieces together. Best explanation I have, this family was actually facing the temptation of an abortion (which happens a -lot- more than you’d expect in the church). I was trying to convey what God thinks about abortion apathy, but they needed to hear what God thinks abortion itself. I wish I would have caught that sooner so I could have switched gears, but it sounds like they received what they needed to hear. Please pray for the young woman; I’m just glad that God had me give her a graphic quadfold rather than the lighter one I’d selected at first.
Thinking on my feet: an area to grow.
“Crap! I think I’m an abolitionist now!” My favorite Angie quote. She’s the latest member of Absoc Philly, and according to her was quite reluctant at first to even speak with a bunch of crazy people holding pictures of dead children. I can’t imagine why. However, after a two-hour long conversation with Toby Harmon (one of the key figures in modern abolition), she came to understand that there are very good, biblical reasons behind why we do what we do.
I’m still getting to know Angie, so there will be many aspects of her gifts that come to the fore as we move forward. So far, I’m starting to think she’s going to be one of our heavy hitters. It was great watching her and Liz tag-team on several occasions. Liz would do her thing, presenting the clear logic surrounding abortion and abolition, and Angie would drive it home. “Hey, I had an abortion. You think it’s too mean for people to go out to clinics with this stuff? I wish I would have had somebody there sharing the gospel with me, and showing me what I was about to do.”
She has a strong emphasis on grace, which is awesome. There were several points when Liz was speaking with people about the stark, life and death reality of sin and judgment, and Angie would follow up to highlight that there is forgiveness for sin and hope in Jesus. She came to know Christ about a year ago, even though her husband isn’t quite there yet, and is growing leaps and bounds. Definitely looking forward to working with her more in the future. Here’s one more Angie moment that I enjoyed from Thursday, while we were discussing theology and walking back to the cars:
[Liz]: “The point is to stay close to scripture. Like with Calvin – there’s a lot of things in his system that I would agree with, but there’s also some things that I think are really off.”
[Angie]: “Oh don’t get me started with Calvinists. Those guys are so full of themselves!”
[Nate] barely able to contain his laughter, as she is surrounded by approximately three and a half Calvinists: “Well, as someone who kind of sort of considers himself a little bit of a Calvinist in his soteriology, I can say with full experience that that is so TRUE!”
We had a good chuckle over people who take their theological systems too seriously. Who would have thought – Calvinists and Arminians working together in grace to abolish evil from our culture. If God can do that, then abortion doesn’t stand a chance.
Man of courage. Before Conner I’d never met a fifteen-year-old whose boldness for Christ challenged me to be bold myself. We met briefly during Project Nineveh this past July, and reconnected when he contacted me a few months ago to ask if I’d like to take a road trip together. …And we’re doing it, this February :-)
Conner is very good at coming up with ideas of things to do as a group, and initiating them. He’s the one who suggested we go to the Thanksgiving Day Parade in Philly, he initiated our gathering at Winter Jam, and gathered abolitionists to stand against a group of students advocating abortion. I’m looking forward to standing with him again in a couple months, if not sooner.
All in all, we worked very well together. We were somewhat broken up for most of it, to cover more ground in teams of 1-3. But at the very end we were all together, and the Lord gave us an opportunity to minister as a group to a young man named Tim.
As we were walking back to the cars, Tim saw one of our signs and exclaimed, “Yo, that’s messed up!” (at the sign, not at the fact that we were holding them, which was encouraging). At that point, another man was walking by, also saw the signs, and stopped to engage us in a debate. He was a moral relativist, so much of the dialog surrounded the source of morality – showing that those few morals that he did want to uphold (such as us not murdering him) had no foundation apart from the Bible.
At various points in the debate, Tim would interject with comments about how he’d done murder-for-hire for some local gangs, and offered homosexual services for money, even though he considered himself straight. It was a very bizarre dynamic, because his comments had very little relevance to the high intellectual discussion happening with the relativist. But we took opportunities to share the gospel with him, and the other guy, until finally they both left.
As we were discussing the encounter, somebody suggested that we pray for them, so we all huddled together and reached out to God on behalf of these two men, and all the others we’d spoken with that day. We prayed for humility for ourselves, boldness, revival, and when we opened our eyes again, there was Tim, listening to everything we were saying.
Something struck a chord in him, and as a group we all began to share the gospel with him, and what Jesus had done in our lives. I was a pornography addict, Angie had an abortion, and Liz and Allen had a child out of wedlock. The amount of grace extended to the sinners in our little fireteam was more than enough to show that even Tim, in all of his brokenness, could turn to Jesus and live. We prayed with him, and he came very close to accepting Jesus, but decided he wasn’t done with his sin yet. Please pray for him, that the Lord sends others to speak truth into his life, and that we see him again in eternity.
All in all, I am excited to see what the Lord does with this movement. Haters gonna hate; let us never stop working to see God’s will done on earth as it is in heaven :-)
P.S. Happy birthday, Mom :-)