The Neighborhood Witch, Toxic Evangelism and the Bible

How do you explain the bible and its interpreters, all the filters layered over it, to a 73 year-old gay witch sitting down to take a read through it for the first time because she’s curious about Jesus?

by Bill White

After part 1 of this story, that initial conversation at the local brewery with our neighborhood witch, when I refused to talk about the bible – she finally wore me down. The following week, we met at another of our church offices (this time, my kitchen table), and I came with a stack of bibles and an even bigger stack of reservations.

To reiterate what I stumbled upon writing that last blog, I had thought that this whole arrangement was about Jesus using me to win Ari to the faith. It wasn’t until later that it became clear how Jesus was using Ari to win me to the faith. 

She wanted not only a bible, but a study bible.

Our conversation about bibles that day started with me exasperated right out of the gate. She wanted not only a bible, but a study bible. I love the bible, but wow, the bible is a complicated book. There may be more than a touch of patriarchy woven into it from the start, and it may have been leveraged in the colonialist enterprise since say, about Constantine, so it’s not like we just come to it with a clean set of lenses.

Then study bibles are even more complicated because they add so many interpretive notes that layer so many more filters to look through when trying to understand scripture. So how do you explain all that to a 73 year-old gay witch sitting down to take a read through it for the first time because she’s curious about Jesus? 

We opened a few bibles and talked about a few different translations. Then something inside urged me to jump into the deep end. So the very first passage we looked at was Romans 1 (why not hit a clobber passage to start the day?), then a sci-fi passage in Revelations about the end of the world (everyone loves a seven-headed dragon and a lake of burning sulfur), and then the creation story in Genesis (creation vs. evolution seemed like a nice way to land the plane).

I was facing my own fears.

I figured if that overview didn’t dissuade her from reading more, nothing would. Honestly, I think it was me subconsciously facing my own fears about the bible and trying to get out ahead of how it’s been used against me and others – the clobber passages as weapons, Revelations as a crystal ball, and Genesis as a science textbook.

Somewhere in there Ari said something to me about wanting to know enough about God to get it right. Oh, so triggering for me. This was the invitation to seal the deal! You see, a big part of the toxic evangelism I’d learned earlier in my faith was that this type of comment was the perfect invitation to lead her down ‘The Romans Road’ and to ‘pray the prayer’ of conversion… and to force her into the box I’ve been trying to climb out of for so long.

I’m sure I rolled my eyes and uttered a judgy word. But somehow I resisted the temptation to be the (over)confident expert instead of a fallible guide, to end the conversation instead of opening it up, to pronounce answers from on high instead of inviting her further along the journey.

Journey she did.

That afternoon I recommended she read the Gospel of Mark. She texted me the next morning to say it was pretty good and what should I read next? I wasn’t used to that kind of enthusiasm.

Ari proceeded to consume the bible, page after page, reading so fast I couldn’t recommend enough new material. Then she tried praying. And she listened for God. On top of all that, then she came to church. And all the while she asked questions, really good questions. And she met Jesus. 

About three or four weeks into this whole process, I asked her if I could anonymously share some of her spiritual journey as a Wiccan with an online group of pastors I met with, and I was warmed by her response. Here’s a snapshot of her text:

The story continues.

There’s a whole lot more to Ari’s story, and I only know bits and pieces of it. But she has just kept on growing, helping out around church where she can, connecting to people and loving God.

And then there’s me. I’ve had to keep on growing, too. I’ve had to keep rethinking the religious training I received, dismantling any approach to people that turns them into a project. I’ve had to expand my notions of how my God is at work in other religions. I’ve needed to look inside at my thinly veiled motivations, my need to achieve religious goals, and my desire to appear in control. And Ari keeps on helping me.

I want to close this story with a text she sent me not long after the one captured above.

“I’ll figure it out eventually.”

I love the humility and wisdom in her approach and her willingness to hold tension. Those are the very things I’m needing to learn myself, so I’m so grateful God brought us together.