The other day, I was riding the city bus with my daughters in Washington, D.C., when I noticed a heavy-set, middle-aged couple sitting next to us wearing shirts that appeared to read “MILLION MAN MARCH FOR BIBLES” in hot pink. But I wasn’t totally sure that’s what it said, because they were leaning forward looking at their phones, and it made it hard to read their shirts.
A part of me wondered if they might try to convert me to the faith, and I involuntarily found myself getting defensive, even though I’m a Christian. But I didn’t have a lot of time to think about that before my daughters started spontaneously singing “The Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round.”
I expected some of the folks on the bus to erupt into applause at the end, but only the couple in the t-shirts clapped for them. Then they asked the girls’ ages and talked about how much they loved being parents at that stage. My defenses naturally lowered, and I found myself liking them.
“Where are y’all headed?” I asked, trying to get the scoop on the Million Man Bible March.
“Down to the Mall for the Million Man March for Peebles,” said the woman, proudly stretching her shirt so I could read what it actually said. She explained that a “peeble” is slang for “pit bull” in the pit bull loving community.
“We’re just here to raise awareness about them and how safe they really are,” she said. “They’re completely misunderstood.”
I stared blankly at her, hoping my face wasn’t somehow communicating how idiotic her words sounded to me.
“Pitbulls are actually very sweet animals,” she continued, showing photos of her two dogs. “It’s just a few bad owners out there who make the rest of them look so mean.”
Right, I thought. And I’m sure crocodiles would be much sweeter if they were only raised in more loving homes.
In a desperate search for something agreeable to say, I brought up the fact that the prosecutor’s office where I used to work had successfully convicted some guys who ran a pit bull fighting operation. This seemed to encourage the woman and her husband, who then talked about how safe their pit bulls were around little children.
I couldn’t bear it anymore at this point, so I said, “You know, I don’t blame people who love their pets, but I gotta tell you: when it comes to my kids – beasts are beasts, and I’m not going to let them around a pit bull, cross my fingers, and hope this isn’t one of the ones that will bite their faces off.” For some reason, the woman saw this as a perfect opportunity to remind me – one more time – how the innocent pit bull population has been unfairly demonized by society.
I was tempted to argue with her, but I knew I wasn’t going to change the mind of someone who loved pit bulls enough to travel to a pit bull march in DC. So I just checked out, listened to her talk, waited for the bus ride to be over, and appreciated how kind she was to my kids.
The whole experience made me wonder how many times I’ve talked about my faith to someone who’s listening but thinking, You are such an idiot. I mean, that actually doesn’t bother me so much – there are a lot of folks out there to whom religion sounds as foolish (and dangerous) as letting toddlers play with pit bulls. But that couple taught me a couple of lessons about how to handle myself when I’m being open about my faith.
First, if I want credibility with folks, I need to be primarily interested in what they care about (in my case, the couple was interested in my kids). It helps people relax, feel valued, and avoid the fear of being treated like some object for conversion. At the same time, I have to be attentive to the people to whom I’m talking – if I’m sharing my faith and the person’s eyes are glazing over or they otherwise appear to be getting defensive, I’m probably not going to ignite their interest in Christianity by continuing to talk.
Seriously, I know this is hard to swallow for folks like me who like to talk about the things we care about: but like it or not, whether we’re sharing our love for Jesus or pit bulls – it’s going to take a miracle to change people’s hearts. And that’s why we’re in such desperate need of Jesus when we’re sharing His story. Without His divine intervention, we’re just another person with a cause – a nice, overzealous pit bull owner who doesn’t know when to give up.