Friday, January 16, 2009

my short-lived career as an evangelist

In case anyone doesn't know, I grew up Evangelical. Particularly, I was very involved in a very active youth group. It seems that our primary metaphor was that of spiritual warfare, so we spent a lot of time and energy on how much the world was against what we were doing, and how much we needed to take a stand for our faith. There's a lot of truth in this idea, but I'm not sure I always got it right.

I did not live in the same school district where I went to church, so as far as I knew, when it came to defending my faith, I was mostly on my own. My Christian witness in high school consisted mostly of carrying a Bible wherever I went and arguing with teachers and classmates about certain pet issues (biological macro-evolution, the age of the earth, abortion, Christianity in American history, etc.). It gave me a chance to stand out as different and show off my intellectual abilities all at the same time, without much spiritual investment or love lost on the people around me.

The culmination came when I had to give the valedictory address at high school commencement. I had no idea what one would normally talk about for such things, and since my life had revolved more around church than school, I had no particular sentimental feelings about the event itself. Someone in the school office made the mistake of telling me I should just say whatever I wanted to tell my fellow students. I figured, since we were going our separate ways anyway, this was my chance to do what I had always lacked the courage to do and present the gospel. (As much as I acted like friendships didn't matter, when push came to shove, I was always worried that I'd offend someone and lose their friendship. Note that, for all my courage in these side issues, I was still scandalized by the cross.)

I was required to write out my speech and submit it beforehand for approval. This resulted in a conversation with the school superintendent, who tried to persuade me that I could take my faith seriously without offending. This was just the sort of advice I needed to steel my resolve. He would not forbid the speech outright, and I would not reconsider. Although in hindsight I'm not sure what it really meant, I felt vindicated by the applause-o-meter. Naturally, I have no idea what impact it really had on anyone's life.

My parents recently had the VHS converted to DVD and gave us a copy. As I was watching it last night, I was surprised how familiar the speech felt. I don't think I'd re-visited it in the past 15 years, but I recognized just about every word of it. Here, then, for your enjoyment is a blast from my own past. I take you back to the summer of 1993 . . .

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