great graffiti

As I travel and find myself in and out of peoples' homes in different countries, I've noticed something...

Generally speaking, Christian homes in 'the West' (for example, NZ, Australia, UK, and the USA) seem reluctant to adorn their walls with promises and texts from the Bible, or anything that is overtly Christian in its message.

Generally speaking, Christian homes 'in the rest' (around Asia, Africa, and Latin America) seem eager to adorn their walls with promises and texts from the Bible. It seems to be seen as an opportunity to make a statement that 'this is a Christian home'.

Why is this? Why this difference? What do you think?

Last month I was in a home in Indonesia. In the living area, where the traffic is greatest, my eye settled on these two verses. Beautiful. My heart was stirred by these reminders. What a simple little way to have a testimony as people from other faiths come and go.

My mind is often drawn to these sorts of issues. Other examples? Why are Christians so unwilling to say grace together in cafes and restaurants? Why are church-based, community-bridging ministries so persistently resistant to having a moment during their meetings where the gospel is spoken and shared? I don't get it - and I never have.

Too much salt; not enough light... Yes, I reckon it has something to do with an approach to mission that assumes that the strategy should be to go with the flow (ie minimise any differences), rather than to adopt the model more commonly found in the New Testament (and countries 'in the rest') where the strategy is go against the flow (ie maximise the differences) and do it with such grace and wisdom and courage and faithfulness to the gospel ... that people are intrigued. And then at that very moment comes the best opportunity to bear witness to Christ. Why don't we do it more like this? I don't get it.

As readers of this blog will recognise, I consider this area to be a gigantic blindspot in the way the church 'in the West' tends to be and do mission. It is where we most need the church 'in the rest' to help us.

I don't always get this one right. For years Barby and I committed to having birthday parties for our kids right through until they finished school. Do the maths. Five kids?! Throw in a 21st party and you are nibbling at 100 birthday parties. It was a time when we welcomed into our home lots of kids unfamiliar with Christian stuff. Often we'd see them every year on that same date! And yes, there was great graffiti on the walls for them to read. But it was also our tradition to pray for our child in the company of their friends. Sometimes this felt so awkward and it didn't fit the tone of the gathering. So when my youngest turned 18, I suggested that we not have the prayer this time. The response? My son's non-Christian friends would have none of it. They wanted to hear the prayer. Go figure. I'll never forget learning that lesson.

Plenty of salt and light, mixing in and being different, is what it takes.

nice chatting



Anonymous said…
In my experience, Christian homes in NZ do have 'graffiti'; it tends to be embroidery or other things that have been hand-made. No-one wants some mass produced thing with a bible verse reduced to cliche on it. I've often wondered who buys all those naff things that Christian bookstores are full of.

The prayer of Jabez is a favourite of the Church of Thyatira (health and wealth). I first became aware of it when it was addressed in 'Jesus and Money' by Ben Witherington III; after that I started seeing it everywhere.

Blessings in Christ,
not a wild hera said…
Thanks, Paul, I do love hearing concrete examples, particularly in family life, of salt-and-light, and the birthday party prayer is a good one.

I say grace in cafes!

I agree with Josiah that the graffiti question is mostly one of style.
Paul RW said…
Yes, Josiah - none of the cliche or the naff, please. I detest cliche so much that I used to teach preaching with a 'cliche coffin' at the front where people could bury them. Then later in the semester I'd dig them out and have students resurrect them with refreshed word and image.

I asked Barby (my wife) about this and she reckons it is often an issue of fashion - which is related to 'style'. She says people in the 'west' want their homes to look like they do in magazines and there aren't no texts/promises on walls in those magazines.[But that response just makes me want to write another post...!]

I remain unconvinced that it is 'mostly' a matter of style. My hunch is that there is more going on - related to the basic reticence over putting our convictions out there to be seen/read by others.

Adele said…
Hi Paul
This is a great question:
Why are church-based, community-bridging ministries so persistently resistant to having a moment during their meetings where the gospel is spoken and shared?

My instinct is to say we should always "take that moment" to speak and share the gospel. We do that during ESOL classes at our church - we run a short Bible study during the morning tea break of an otherwise secular lesson.

However, our decision to run an ESOL Alpha course recently has generated discussion as to whether our strategy is the right one.

We had felt there was quite a bit of interest among students in discussing the gospel further, so were disappointed that very few attended ESOL Alpha (the ones that did are already Christians, as far as we know). Of course, we were thrilled to have several non-Christians / people from other faiths show up from "outside"!

One of the teachers raised the question of whether we risk hardening hearts by giving a gospel message uninvited, week after week, year after year.

Though my first reaction is "surely there must be some hearts in the room that are softening", it seems a question worth considering.

I have been diving all over your blog this morning and finding tons of good stuff. Just ordered Darrell Johnson's "The Glory of Preaching", despite having no interest in being a preacher, because you made it sound so good. In particular this struck a chord with me:
he puts postmodernity (and the new atheism, I might add) in its place - pleading with the reader to open their eyes and realise that in the future inter-faith issues are going to be of far more consequence than lack-of-faith issues
I will be very interested to read more on this.
Thanks for so many great posts!
Eileen Taylor said…
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Eileen Taylor said…
I choose to say grace in my own home but in the home of my friend I refrained. She then asked me why, and I told her it was her home,then she requested I pray. A few days later,in a cafe, my Korean (Muslim) friend with another friend, asked me to pray before the meal.
Paul RW said…
Thanks, Eileen - good to read of your experiences ... and Adele, too.

Local churches need to think carefully about whether they are just another social service agency, or whether they are gospel-motivated enough to share the gospel regularly. It doesn't need to be offensive, or rude. It can be simple, gracious, affective, testimonial...with easy explanations of why you are doing what you do. It may lead to some people not returning - but is that the end of the world?

With ESOL students (from countries where religion tends to be taken more seriously), I suspect a lot of them half expect something Christian to emerge in activities they do at a church. If they choose to come to a church for an activity, how can sharing the gospel be 'uninvited'?

People seem to be more concerned about the 2-3 hearts that MAY be hardening, rather than the 1 heart that is clearly softening. Go figure?! I know in which direction the New Testament pushes me.

Glad you are enjoying the blog. Increasingly, I tend to be writing it for my own benefit - 'to write myself clear' and to keep my thinking sharp. So always pleased to read that someone else is enjoying it.

Bless you!
Ben Carswell said…
I LOVE that the non-Christian friends were asking you to pray! Good on ya!

Complete agree with both of these - we don't have enough verses around our house, but we have some. And as for grace in public places, I think sadly, it is because grace is being neglected in the private places too.

I learned the importance of grace in Communist Poland in a restaurant with about 30-40 young people in the mid-80s. We went along with them, fully expecting a possibly quiet prayer to be said on each of the tables in this rather public place (in times of real persecution), but no...they sang grace! Rom 1:16 in action.

Really helpful post Paul - thanks for your thought!
Anonymous said…
You didn't need to have 'graffiti' in your house, you wrote love letters on the hearts of anyone who entered your home; by your kindness, generosity and sincerity.
Paul RW said…
I hear where you are coming from, 'anonymous' - and I am sure you give voice to the response of others ...

My response?

I am all for writing 'love letters on the hearts of anyone who enters' but then, as I am doing so, having them stirred by some of God's graffiti on the walls. His writing provides a great context for my writing - and gives it some meaning too.

My prayer would be that they would put two and two together and realise that my 'love letters' are motivated by a commitment to the Living God - and that behind my love lies His love ... and through being intrigued by my love, they might be nudged towards His love.

I don't want my 'kindness, generosity, and sincerity' to stand alone and draw attention only to me.


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