I remember my Uncle Walt greeting us kids with this question, grinning from ear to ear with his teeth clinching the soggy end of a big, fat cigar. “What’s the good news?” He wasn’t looking for a deep discussion of the state of affairs, just seemed to want to set the proper mood for a gaggle of kids growing up in the 1950’s/60’s.
The tradition of the church has been wrestling with the question for a long, long time. We’ve called it ‘evangelization’. And I think we’ve gotten it wrong.
God is about Good News. And the faith community’s best poets and prophets have been clear about what that means: Hearts transformed to love and compassion, community transformed to justice/righteousness.
What is evangelization? Check this four-part criteria out that I gleaned from Leonardo Boff’s New Evangelization: Good News to the Poor :
Four Meanings of Evangelization –
1) Respect/Accept – Good news first of all is accepting and respecting people where they are. Boff says, “None evangelize without first committing themselves to life, to the productive forces of the culture they seek to reach.” That means listening, and being absorbed into the story of the other.
2) Give Witness – Acknowledge and affirm the work of God already evident in the other and their culture. God is already at work. When the world reacts to disaster in Haiti with love and compassion, God is at work. When voices cry out about third-world debt, God is at work.
3) Produce Good News – “Human beings want to live, and live endlessly, not as a mere prolongation of life in their mortality, but as the actualization of their potentials…”, says Boff. John Wesley said if you want to be about good news to the poor you have to be in their midst. Wesley did. As relationships build, opportunities multiply. And darkness become a little lighter, and brokenness becomes a little more whole.
4) Celebrate – “They will come and shout for joy on the heights of Zion. They will rejoice in the bounty of the LORD.” (Jeremiah 31:12-13).
What’s the Good News? Evangelization is about setting a proper mood for a change of heart, starting with ourselves, and a change in the way we relate to each other in community.
Peace – Bill
Note: New Evangelization: Good News to the Poor was written in response to Boff’s experience of the disaster of empirical missionary efforts in Central America in the 1980’s. It’s an old book but seems to have new relevance in our multi-cultural, globally connected world of the 21st century.