If you follow this blog, then you know I had a guest in from out of town this past weekend. If you don’t…well why don’t you? *stares around*
It’s fun to live in this part of the country (DC) because there are so many touristy things to do and places to see. My friend and I spent a day in Annapolis, a cute little town I’d never been to before but am now in love with. First, there’s water. Lots and lots of water. What with it being right on the Severn River and all. Next, there’s fun little shops and amazing restaurants to peruse at leisure. Then there’s the boat cruises which take you around parts of the river and over to the bridges and lighthouses. I love the water, have I mentioned that?
And of course, there’s all the Navy cadets (do they still call them that?) in their uniforms strolling around streets that seem lost in time. Don’t you just love a man in uniform?
Anyway, my friend and I purchased treats at one of the many ice cream/fudge/cookie shops (seriously, I think I counted at least five) and claimed a small table on the sidewalk to relax and soak up the fresh air and, truth be told, people watch. Life strolled past and we absorbed it, letting it fill our senses as we filled our tummies with the best cookies ever. Snickerdoodles. Get some!
While we sat there chatting, a young woman approached me with a shy smile and asked “Would you mind if I talk to you for a minute?”
*danger danger warning warning ding ding ding*
While she looked harmless, that phrase sets off instant defenses doesn’t it? What did you think when you read it? That’s right, someone ringing the doorbell so they can thrust religious literature in your face. While you’re at home you can simply keep the door shut.
Out on a public sidewalk, it’s not that easy.
I smiled. Since I thought there was a small possibility that she needed help in some way (car won’t start, needs to call someone to pick her up, needs directions…the possibilities were endless), I said “What do you need?”
See what I did there? I trusted her. And I wanted to help her.
Her response? She handed me a card that shouted “Jesus” and asked me something about my soul and heaven and blah blah blah. Yes, that’s what it sounded like, because the instant she started preaching, I tuned her out.
Here’s the thing. There’s a time, a place, and an audience for things. For me, while I’m relaxing on a sidewalk and chatting with a friend is not the time to approach me about religious intentions. I’m not receptive. I’m not in the mood. I’m not going to listen no matter how cute you are. I suspect it’s that way for a lot of people. I was already connected with nature and life and, dare I say, faith…right there in the moment. I didn’t need religion butting its ugly head into my business. And I wanted to finish my cookie.
So I said: “I’m not going to have this discussion with you. But thanks for your concern.” I turned back to my friend. I can’t think of a stronger dismissal than that. It’s not only “no”, it’s “no, get away, leave me alone” with a slammed door and possibly a few hidden curse words.
Doesn’t no mean no?
Apparently not. She continued, louder, pushing harder for her point to be heard. She’d obviously been taught to do it, though she hadn’t yet mastered the art. I stopped her, and said “I’m not going to discuss this. Period. However, I’m wondering if you’ll do me a favor?” I then told her I’m a photographer and that I’m working on my portrait skills, and would she be so kind as to pose for me.
She backed away a bit, immediately defensive. “Why?” Her eyes narrowed.
“Because I think you’re beautiful and that you’d make a lovely photo, if I can get my settings right. I’m still learning, and I need the practice. Therefore I need models. Do you mind?” I picked up the camera to show it to her. It’s a professional camera, though a lot of tourists carry those these days.
She shook her head. “No. No, I don’t want to be in a picture.” She backed away another step, and tried once more to say the lines she’d clearly memorized with regard to her religion.
I held my hand up. “No. If you won’t listen to what I need, then I won’t listen to what you need. If you want to tell me about your religion, then I want a photo in return. That’s the deal.”
The girl looked at my friend (who, by the way, kept looking at her phone and never made eye contact, which is where I went wrong in this whole scenario), then at me, shook her head, and said something about how special and loved I am, and walked away. The conversation was fine when she directed it and when she got her agenda in the forefront, but not so much when I interjected something I needed or wanted, or when I tried to interject my own point.
That’s probably why so many are turned off from religion. It was all about her, all about her religion, and nothing about her audience. It was selfish. Nothing in her approach was to help me (no matter how much the words are twisted about saving my soul), while my original intentions for the conversation were just that…to help her. I’m just wondering, why is this type of approach even attempted? How is it ever successful? Why not try helping someone else purely for the sake of doing it, with no other agenda. Show them you are kind and that your viewpoint is solid by action, not by words shoved into their face while they eat cookies on a sidewalk. It’s the writer’s creed: show, don’t tell. And know your target audience.
On the plus side, the next time someone wants wash you in their religion uninvited, whip out your camera (smart phone, any recording device) and ask to take their picture. See if the conversation dies after that.