By Marcia Hotchkiss

My husband and I began playing pickleball (America’s fastest-growing sport) with a diverse group two or three times a week during the pandemic. Because this activity was outdoors and people were socially distanced, it was safe and a great way to get much-needed exercise.

As is often the case, in short measure, we were outed as an Episcopal priest and “the preacher’s wife” (their words). This led to some funny moments when Tom was designated “Father Badass” after his pickleball skills improved. And it also led to some honest conversations about our friends’ struggles with religion and the church. These were often directed at me because I was “the safe one.”

Two of the other women ended up coming to church with me a couple of weeks ago to hear Tom preach. They said that Good Shepherd Episcopal Church in Dallas was beautiful and they were moved by the music of the small choir (due to the lasting precautions) and the liturgy. The two even said they would like to come back. So far, relational evangelism was working.

Just one week later we were all back at the courts when one of these same friends became insistent that COVID was really not a problem and the vaccine caused more issues than the virus. Suddenly, I jumped in to refute her. I said that my cousin’s healthy, robust 37-year-old son died of COVID last spring, and that in 2021, I believed in medical science. Of course, she came right back at me with her beliefs, and finally I had the good sense to reply, “Well let’s just agree to disagree.” Still, I felt some damage had been done.

I told my husband that evening that I was kicking myself for entering into this heated discussion. That prompted me to thinking about why I had felt the need to jump in at all. Was it my need to be right? Was it my tendency to play devil’s advocate when someone takes an extreme position? Was it my arrogance that I know how others should lead their lives?

As I reflected on this, I had to honestly admit that it was probably some of all three. It made me think of Dr. Phil’s words, “Would you rather have the relationship or would you rather be right?” But even more than that, it made me think of how that type of prescriptive condescension never draws people in. There was certainly no evidence of the fruits of the Spirit as described in Galatians 5: 22-23: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.”

It seems the pandemic has only made the toxic political and culture wars worse. It makes me sad that we Christians have all too often participated in this mud-slinging public dialogue. Is that really the face we want to show to the world? Will that bring anyone to Christ?

Bishop FitzSimons Allison used to say “original sin means that human nature is evenly distributed.” Personally, I have found this to be true in my life. That’s why sometimes I just want to be right, and I can’t believe others don’t appreciate my wisdom.

But then I remember Jesus. As Zach Williams sings,

Oh Lord help me be

A little more like mercy, a little more like grace
A little more like kindness, goodness, love, and faith
A little more like patience, a little more like peace
A little more like Jesus, a little less like me.

That is the best evangelism I know. Jesus is still attractive, even in the midst of conflict and hate. Oh Lord, help me be a little more like Jesus and a little less like me.

Marcia Hotchkiss is a spiritual director, speaker, and author who is a parishioner at Good Shepherd, Dallas, where her husband, Tom, is the vicar, and a cofounder of The Abbey on Lovers Lane.