Conversion: how to change hearts without losing your mind
I was having a conversation with an extremely smart, badass pro-life dude in Washington, D.C. a couple weeks ago. I had had a couple drinks, so I was being really honest. You know how it is.
I said to him something like, “I just feel really different from a lot of these people. Everybody’s a nun or a priest or super-Catholic or they have twelve kids. Either that or they’re 24 and extremely responsible with a degree in Pro-Life Organizery and they know everybody and do everything right. And I’m just this 33-year-old with no kids and unpaid medical bills who needs to go to Confession really bad and my nail polish is always chipped and the registration on my truck is expired and I never get anything done and I live in the middle of nowhere and don’t know anybody and have a weird brain. I’m a consummate underachiever. I’m the Bart Simpson of pro-life.”
And my friend said, “All these people are meant to run the pro-life movement. You’re meant to convert people to it.”
So that was, basically, a major epiphany. I couldn’t even speak for about ten seconds. (Rare for me.)
I don’t know if I’ve ever converted anybody to being pro-life. I wonder about that sometimes. I guess it’s possible that it’s happened and I don’t know about it. For one thing, I believe that God does that, not I. For another, I’ve always thought of myself as preaching to the choir, sort of. I write semi-amusing blogs about Ziggy the Zygote and Hannibal Lecter to make people who are already pro-life feel, like, more pro-lifey or something.
So what my friend said made me think pretty hard. If I’m not converting people already, how do I do it?
St. Francis of Assisi said, immortally, “Preach the Gospel at all times. If necessary, use words.” The same tenet should apply to the pro-life movement.
I was converted because my friend wasn’t trying to convert me. She didn’t present herself as a person who was going to Talk to Me About Abortion. She was just my friend – a sane, normal, smart young woman who happened to be pro-life. And because of that, I was drawn to her. I asked her about it. She advertised just a little – with a “CHOOSE LIFE” bumper sticker – and let me take the bait.
When you go around with megaphones and signs screaming, “HEY EVERYBODY LOOK AT ALL THIS ABORTION!” nobody cares what you have to say, the same way nobody cares if you go around saying, “I’M GONNA TALK ABOUT JESUS REALLY LOUD RIGHT NOW!” You’re just some jerk with a megaphone and some signs.
It doesn’t matter if it’s right that people ignore that approach. It’s just a simple fact. We can either deal with things the way they should be, where everybody pays attention because abortion is a Very Important and Serious Issue, or we can deal with the world the way it is, where if you talk about abortion really loud you are a dumb a-hole. If the world were the way it should be, abortion wouldn’t be an issue at all, would it?
I do not have all the answers, and I’m not here to condemn this approach or that. But I believe, deep down, that the best way to convince anybody of anything is to get them talking and thinking – and laughing.
I’ve heard people on the internet saying the pro-life movement is doomed unless we lead with the Gospel. Well, maybe they’re right, and maybe God is gazing sternly upon me even as I say this, but here’s the truth: if my friend had mentioned God when she converted me to pro-life, I would have stopped listening. I wouldn’t have become pro-life, which means I wouldn’t have become a Christian.
Would I have been misguided and wrong for rejecting God? Well, sure. But being pro-life got me to God, eventually. And using reason, ethics, and science got me to pro-life where an appeal to religion wouldn’t. So God wins in the end, anyway. Truth leads to Truth. Maybe your tactic doesn’t win, but Truth does. So who really cares?
Let’s talk about the movie Office Space. There’s this uptight dude who hates his job as a corporate drone, so he goes in for hypnotherapy. But right before he gets woken up, the hypnotist keels over and dies. So this dude walks around hypnotized into thinking everything’s cool and there’s nothing to be anxious about. He skips work if he wants to, plays video games on his computer, ignores his boss, wears jeans, and walks around like he owns the place. He is just totally, unapologetically himself. And he gets promoted.
It’s the same in life: when you are yourself, people are drawn to you.
I’m not advocating not caring about anything, but maybe not being so dadgum anxious is a good idea. I had that epiphany recently where I realized I don’t make sense, I’m a big weird mess, I’m full of contradictions, and I need to be okay with it. That epiphany was followed hard upon by this most recent one. I – we – are going to convert people to pro-life the same way you convert people to anything: by making them want to join you. The friend who converted me was calm, relaxed, and self-assured. She had the Truth, and she knew it. It didn’t make her hostile and loud. It gave her the quiet, untroubled confidence of the truly righteous.
So that’s how I’m going to convert people, if I convert them at all. Not by getting all up in everybody’s face, but by being a (somewhat) sane, (semi-)normal, (arguably) smart, young(-ish) woman who happens to be pro-life. That’s it. I won’t hide it, but I won’t scream it at you, either. I’ll put out my little flag and let you come to me – not with my signs and megaphones, but with my human self. With my scabby sunburned nose and my tattoos and my big ol’ butt and my crooked teeth and my messy human heart. And the Truth. And I’ll let you know it’s yours, too, if you want it.
This, I believe, is how we’re going to convert people: not by being loud, but by being right.