The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.
– Proverbs 18:21
What is the talk of the town in your town? By “talk of the town” I don’t mean the movie star spotted walking down main street or the guy running through your neighborhood hootin’ and a hollerin’ with a lampshade on his head at 2 AM.
What I mean by “talk of the town” for this article is what do people you run into talk about the most? People you don’t know on an intimate basis, like folks you see occasionally or people you run into regularly when at the local coffee shop, store, or gym. Maybe even friends who don’t go “deep” in conversations. Let’s call them acquaintances.
If I was writing this same blog two years ago, I would say that the two most common topics of conversation with acquaintances were the weather and sports. In Colorado, favorite recreational activities are big too. The conversation surrounding these topics can be easy, friendly, and usually non-political. “Small talk” as the saying goes.
The talk of the town has changed though, as much has, in the last two years. While sports and the weather are still up there, maybe rounding out the silver and bronze, the most talked about subject in my experience is COVID-19. Everybody has a statistic to share or a story about their experience. It has even infected intimate relationships with friends and family with feverish conversation that used to be a passing sneeze when discussing sports or the weather.
This new talk of the town is not wrong, per se. In some cases, it can even bring temporary healing and comfort for those struggling with a death in the family due to the virus or some permanent issues surrounding it. Even a shared common ground of sorts with others who have been sick or are dealing with loss. However, over time, it can cause extreme fear, despair and anxiety. The conversation combined with a non-stop media barrage is ushering in a dominant culture narrative of fear in this age. Instead of life, it is bringing a kind of death to our hearts and souls, as it steals our time and joy. (Proverbs 18:21, John 10:10). Yet Jesus came so that we may have life and have it to the FULL. (John 10:10, Emphasis added).
Despite the downside, the prevalence of these conversations also got me dreaming a bit. What if anywhere you went people were talking about the God of the Bible?! What if we could change the narrative? Living full lives as Jesus intended and not afraid to talk about it. Anytime you check the news, a story about his work and how he is coming soon. His battle against evil and our place in it. His power, beauty, worth, forgiveness, and healing! Wouldn’t that be awesome?
“Hey, nice to see you! I’ll take a French roast, black, and one of those Boston cream donuts, please. You know, the robustness and effect of the coffee remind me of God’s strength and power!” “Yes!” replies the barista, “Those donuts remind me of how sweet his word is and the joy he brings the faithful.”
Now I know, I know—I’m a bit of a dreamer. Despite a deep yearning for it, I don’t actually expect these “small talk” conversations to happen anytime soon. But, in the meantime, what if there were something of a “middle ground” with the talk of the town and our faith?
What if followers of Jesus could somehow make the small talk of COVID, something much bigger by intentionally inserting God into the conversation in a relevant and easy way? By attempting to change the narrative one winsome conversation at a time? I think we can.
The ancient Greeks had a word they used—Parrhesia—which means the courage to speak the truth. They knew that society could not function very well without enough people to speak the truth. The ancient Greeks also knew that speaking the truth was very dangerous because the truth is often in conflict with the dominant narrative in a society. Some people will ignore you or try to shut you up when you don’t accept the dominant narrative by acting and speaking accordingly. Others, however, will start to see the truth and wonder if there is more.
The dominant narrative surrounding COVID-19 in our culture is based in fear, chaos, and control of others. You’ll hear that narrative in the news media, social media, and most of your conversations about the virus around town even when those words aren’t actually used. Christians, on the other hand, know that Jesus came, and will come again, to bring peace, order, and freedom. We base our narrative on these truths which are the exact opposite of the dominant narrative. Cautious about the virus, yet calmly courageous in how we approach it and others. Wanting to help and heal rather than hurt and hinder.
If you’ve been sick, maybe you mention how close you felt to Jesus during the suffering, perhaps even feeling his tender love and care like never before, and how grateful you were for the ordeal. That was certainly my personal experience—joy in suffering—a Biblical concept that will throw most people for a loop!
He also took away my personal anxieties surrounding the virus and in general while I was sick with the virus. Imagine that! I didn’t realize it at the time, however, after I began to feel better, I remember some anxiety creeping back in and thinking, wow I never felt that during the very time I should have—my bad sickness, it’s been 15+ days without thinking that way—thank you God!
Tell others about God’s narrative and friendship. Especially religious people who may even attend church regularly but seem to get squeamish, or change topics, when you talk about your intimate walk with Jesus. They are often religious out of fear or shame, fire-insurance if you will, and buy into the dominant cultural narrative. Free them from it. Talking about the intimate friendship of Jesus in a conversation they normally have (COVID-19) in a unique way they don’t experience (Joy in suffering and a supernatural sense of fearlessness) may help break those chains.
You could talk about your belief in God’s healing and grace and what these terms mean in our faith, if you know someone, like my mom, who was on the verge of death due to the virus yet survived. Or tell others if your small group rallied around you or someone else during sickness with provisions, prayer, and encouragement that helped heal both body and soul. To someone who expresses fear or worry to you about it all, don’t dismiss it; you’ve probably experienced it yourself at some point. However, you could somehow talk about the spirit of fear in this age like we’ve never seen before and that the spirit God gives is much different—the spirit of power, love, and sound mind (2 Timothy 1:7). How did he powerfully change your fear into something else? Listen first and then be prepared to tell your encouraging story. It may be life giving to someone!
What are some ways you could make the talk of the town bigger than small talk? How can we change the mass acceptance of the dominant narrative into a conversation about the God of the Bible who isn’t surprised by any of this yet has a very different narrative? Discuss with your small group. I would also love to hear your thoughts and stories.
Looking forward to talking with you,
Director of Small Groups