This is the logo for one of the open mic’s John attends. John wants to welcome any Chicago visitors to “The Catch,” and thank them for welcoming him into their community.
John Shirk is a missionary to Chicago … sort of. His actual job title is “ambassador.” Missionary is a complicated word that alienates some people. As an ambassador John represents Jesus in an unusual context: Chicago’s artistic subculture. Over the years, he has spent more time in bars than in churches, because bars are often where artists gather at open mics and poetry slams to build community and share their art. Art reveals the soul of the artist, so it’s a great place for a Christian not to be a missionary, but a person, a fellow poet joining the discussion — willing to bare his own soul in the process of understanding others, and joining in, as just another poet, albeit, a sacrificial one.
John has written a book on his experiences so far. It’s a revealing read, more about how the people he’s trying to reach have influenced him than how he has influenced them. The following is an excerpt from that book. We will be sharing more of John’s writing with you in the coming weeks along with some writing from his daughter, a millennial with a wonderful gift of expression.
Who wants to be a conversion project?
Lee and Susan wanted to know if I was trying to convert them. They made it clear they did not want to be proselytized. They were people not projects.
How is a missionary supposed to respond to that? I reminded them of our many conversations about politics and anarchism. I pointed out that I knew they sincerely believed their ideas would make the world a better place. I knew they would love to see me convert and embrace anarchism and join their struggle to bring about a better world where justice prevailed and people’s lives were improved.
In a sense I was their conversion project.
But I didn’t mind because I knew they respected me as a friend, and allowed me to make up my own mind. In fact, their belief in anarchism was inconsistent with manipulating or forcing people to change. I knew our relationship did not depend upon me changing my beliefs. So my relationship with them would have to be on the same basis.
I told them I was an evangelical from a right wing background, but living in Chicago God had been teaching me what really mattered was to follow the teachings of Christ to love God and love my neighbors. I sincerely believed that Jesus is the only way to transform people’s lives and bring about a better world, and I would love to see more of my friends (including them) come to share my beliefs and experience the life that Jesus offers, but love left no place for manipulation or coercion.
They commented that they had no problem with Jesus or His teachings. It was the church, hypocritical Christians, and organized religion they feared, distrusted and disliked.
A few days later Susan shared with me that she recognized her opinion of Christians was based on stereotypes. She realized Jesus didn’t fit those stereotypes and said maybe she would like to follow Jesus if she could do it without being a Christian.
– adapted from a sacrificial poet by John Shirk, available on Amazon.