What’s the Deal with Evangelization?

10 Jul

Most people dislike the word “evangelization”. I, myself, get nervous around the word, kind of like how I get nervous around a lot religious people. Part of me wonders if Christian words are tired and overused. Have words been evacuated of meaning, no longer signifying anything of importance? Words are important–we name being and this naming is our shared access to truth. However, this naming both reveals and conceals. Words can encrust meanings and objects making it harder to gain access to what they originally revealed. Words especially fail when faced with myself and the selves of the others. I cannot name myself sufficiently nor can I name the ones I love. Fitting that God is truly the Un-named One.

This might be the beginning of some kind of exploration of reality, why can’t I name myself, why can’t I name my beloved, and why can’t I name God? Rainer Maria Rilke, an Austrian poet once wrote of his beloved “I want to utter you. I want to portray you / not with lapis or gold but with colors made of apple / bark. There is no image I could invent / That your presence would not eclipse.” For me, to love a woman means a yearning and inability to utter her in her “herness”. In a similar way, the presence of God both compels us to utter and impresses on use God’s un-utterablitity.

All of this brings me back to evangelization. Sometimes when I think of the word evangelization, I wonder if we should get rid of it. It carries so much baggage. Words resonate with past pains and joys; they are rarely neutral. Yet, they also feel like old friends, whom one cannot quite abandon. Old friends also carry baggage but they are hard to quit. I am a sucker for such old words; they furnish my world. Eevangelize is such a good old friend. What an etymology! euangelion: the good news of a messenger. Euangelion… the good news… the Gospel.

Yet, it might be time to part with old friends. I am not sure, maybe we need a lot of new words and some refreshed old ones. Then we can show that there is good news for everyone; that news is a Person. He wants us to gather around Him even if we are a bunch of mediocre sinners. The strange thing is that person is not a word, but The Word. Maybe the scandal of evangelizing is the scandal of uttering the Un-utterable. And yet He-Whose-Presence-Casts-Down-All-Symbols, sends us out to do just this, and gives us symbols to use. A paradox… maybe… but maybe also a start.

-Terence Sweeney

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