Stone says there's an emphasis on relationships, but really the only one he talks about is relationship with God. There's no real focus on cultivating friendships with Pagans -- or people of any other faith -- without ultimately having conversion as the goal. He says, Pagans are people, just like us, and they appreciate a personable approach. You know what I appreciate more? Someone who is genuinely interested in talking to me, and not just trying to win a free toaster oven by converting me to their belief system.
There's also a slide show at the top, which I can only assume is designed as a sort of Field Guide to Pagans, to help readers spot Pagans in their natural environment. There are stock images of Druids at Stonehenge, people in robes dancing around fires, a half-naked chick, and a variety of Big Name Pagan authors. There is a glaring absence of Pagans doing things like balancing our checkbooks, changing the oil in our cars, feeding the dog, or priming the wall in the kitchen so we can paint over the spot where the kids spilled hot cocoa.
He tells readers, Your story is what makes the good news real, plausible, and hopefully even attractive. I gotta be honest here. I have tons of Christian friends, and every single one of them demonstrates their faith and belief by their actions and behavior. They can sit there and tell me how they came to accept Jesus, but the bottom line is I'm far more impressed by what people DO than what they say. And again, if the whole purpose of sharing your story with me is make conversion "attractive," then really, it's no different than if you had invited me to your house for dinner and then started pitching an Amway spiel at me.
Ultimately, while I think Stone probably had good intentions in writing the piece, it's still an article on how to be an effective salesperson. And again, it's condescending as hell, because if you have to tell someone "don't be judgmental, be nice, listen to what they say," then it's not a religious issue at all. It's about cultivating a decent relationship with someone, that is not based upon racking up a potential convert.
Nowhere in Stone's list is the notion of respecting the beliefs of the other person. There's the underlying assumption that if we're Pagan we must not be truly happy, and we're just waiting for the right person to come along and tell us about Jesus. It doesn't even cross Stone's mind that perhaps some of us may be quite familiar with the Bible, and yet have decided that we can form loving relationships with a non-Christian deity anyway.
Blogger Hecate points out, "I can't get over the notion that, in a different context, this same post could be called "How to Talk to Black People" or "How to Get a Women's Libber to Date You." And she's exactly right, because the entire article is written as though Stone is explaining how one should interact with stubborn kindergartners, not with real people who have feelings and thoughts and are worthy of respect.
If you're a Christian, and you want to sit with me over coffee and have a theological discussion, that's awesome, I'm all for it. I'll ask you how your kids are doing in soccer, you can tell me how much you love your new mp3 player, we'll kvetch about our taxes, and so forth. And then, we can drift into a respectful conversation about what you believe and what I believe, and then we'll both be on our way with smiles on our faces. Because "talking to Pagans" isn't anything special. "Talking to people," however, is the basis for any relationship of value.
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