Striking Up a ConversationTo read the intro to this retrospective series of posts, go here.
Original post date: May 7, 2008
I should know better than to strike up an innocent conversation with a stranger. Any more, it seems to get me in trouble. I'm just trying to be friendly, but I keep running into people who have agendas...often religious ones.
Take yesterday as an example. My wife & I had just returned home from running errands. I noticed the sound of mowers coming from behind our house. This struck me as a bit odd since no one lives behind us. It turned out that the woman who owns the abandoned turn-of-the century home (catty corner from our back) asked two local guys to keep the yard mowed.
I went out on my deck and yelled to the older fellow, "Have my dogs kept you entertained?" (I asked this innocent question because one of my dogs is an incessant barker. It drives me crazy. We had left the back door open so the two dogs that had stayed home could get out to run around the backyard and handle their "business".)
The guy laughed and said that the black one had been quite animated at their presence. I smiled and was just about to go back into the house to make myself some lunch when the a-g-e-n-d-a arose.Fellow: Lived here long?I then explained what a Taoist was and thought that would be that. But, oh no, the conversation continued.
Me: Not real long. My wife & I bought this house about 8 months ago.
Fellow: From around here?
Me: We moved here from Aberdeen and, before that, from Salem, OR.
Fellow: (Drum roll, please) Do you attend a local church?
Fellow: Why not?
Me: Because I'm a Taoist.
Fellow: A what?
Me: A Taoist.
Fellow: What's a Taoist?Fellow: Have you been a Taoist your whole life?I went on to explain that, after my undergraduate studies, I had given serious thought to enter seminary to become a minister. I came to realize though that I really didn't believe in most of the tenets of the Christian belief system, so I became a social worker.
Me: No. If you must know, I grew up in the Presbyterian Church.
Fellow: What caused you to turn away from God?
Me: I realized that believing in an invisible "father" was wholly irrational and asinine.
Fellow: Sounds to me like you must have had a bad experience with your church.
Me: Not at all. I simply decided that Christianity, like all religions, was nonsensical to me.Fellow: So how did you learn about this Tao thing?At this juncture, Mr. Youth Pastor adopted a weird stance, one that seemed to fly in the face of rationality.
Me: One day I was walking by my favorite book store in Salem and noticed one particular book in the window, "The Idiot's Guide to Taoism". Something caused me to go in to buy the book -- maybe it's because I'm idiot. As I read the book, I realized I had been a Taoist my whole life; I just didn't know it.
Fellow: In the ways of God, we're all idiots. My name's (I've already forgotten his name). I'm the Youth Pastor of (one of the local churches). Would you be interested in coming to our church one Sunday?
Fellow: Why not?
Me: Because I'm not a Christian.Fellow: Do you have a lot of friends?The conversation lagged on for another 30 minutes because this fellow wouldn't take "no" for an answer. He kept trying different gambits to get me to agree to attend his church. Finally, he started to get the message.
Me: I don't know what you define as "a lot". I still don't know that many people here, but I've got a lot of friends all over Washington and Oregon.
Fellow: Well, if you came to our church, I bet you'd have a lot more friends in the area.
Me: That's a very poor reason to go to church. I mean that's not the point. A person should go to church if the particular religion speaks to them in a deep and sacred way.
Fellow: That's true, but if you decided to come, I bet God would make himself known to you.
Me: I don't believe in God, so I think that's highly unlikely.Fellow: Sounds to me that you're against religion.I don't want to make it sound more negative than it truly was. We shook hands and he mentioned that we could pick up the conversation next time he came to mow. That's not very likely as I won't make the mistake of venturing outside when I see him next.
Me: Ya think?
Fellow: Why is that?
Me: Taoists don't run around telling other people what and how to believe. They don't nag at complete strangers to attend their meetings. I came out here to be friendly and all I've gotten for my trouble is to be harangued by you for not believing as you do.
Fellow: I'm sorry. I didn't mean to push you. I just wanted to share the Good News.
Me: If it's Good News for you, fine. You're free to believe how you want, but it's blather to me. I don't find it compelling nor of any interest.
What ever happened to conversations about the weather?