Last week, I discovered a new obsession and, in the process, learned a thing or two about the new evangelization.
While the nation celebrated the Fourth of July with hotdogs and hamburgers, my Dad and I headed into the New Mexico desert to the San Juan River for our first fly fishing trip.
There is, of course, something romantic about the notion of fly fishing. Over the three and a half hour car ride from Albuquerque, I had visions of the film, A River Runs Through It, moving through my mind. Thinking of it even now I imagine a man standing in knee-high water, framed against the backdrop of resplendent sunlight, fishing line wafting gracefully through the air. That was me… except without most of the grace and beauty.
In there interest of full disclosure, I admit I must have done something right because I caught 15-20 fish over the two days I fished. It was, however and more often than not, anything but beautiful.
As a guy that tends to put everything into religious terms, I naturally spent a lot of time during my fishing trip thinking about what it means for Jesus to call us “fishers of men.” Now, I understand that, in Jesus’s day, there was not a lot of fly fishing going on. Peter and the other disciples did the kind of fishing that involved throwing nets into the water, catching a large number of fish to feed their families and to sell to others in their village. Interestingly enough, the motif of net fishing runs through the explosive growth of the early church, in which Peter first cast his net of evangelization over the crowd on Pentecost, catching a few thousand converts to the church.
Whereas this kind of evangelization is still possible, it seems that the type of evangelization you and I are called to in the reality of the twenty-first century world is more like fly fishing. It’s a sophisticated and highly coordinated ballet of movement. Without further ado, here is everything I learned about fly fishing and how it relates to the new evangelization.
Fish are lazy.
The entire point of fly fishing is to imitate what the fish are used to seeing. In an alive and vibrant river, insects and their larvae and constantly flowing through the river. Consequently, it takes very little work for the fish to get food. More often than not, they just casually sit and wait for choice meals to float by until they see something they want to eat. Fly fisherman are focused on putting their flies on/into the water in such a way that it floats downstream looking natural, like other food in the river.
As much as we’d like to think otherwise, people are kind of the same way. Not lazy, per se, but not motivated to seek out spiritual food. They’re accustomed to being fed with distractions of radio, television, internet,sports etc. etc. etc. While those tools for entertainment certainly don’t provide a lot of spiritual food, they do provide just enough junk sustenance to make many people feel good enough, satiated and unmotivated to seek better food.
The new evangelization, then, must be characterized by familiarity. It has to look interesting,engaging and similar to what people are used to seeing. It has to float by our audience, like everything else they’re used to seeing in forums like social media with the hope that they bite. It’s only in the bite that they discover that what looked the same in surface appearance was fundamentally different in substance.
It’s All about the Cast
One of the first lessons I learned about fly fishing is that casting is fairly simple, but very easy to mess up. The first day on the water consisted of about 50% fishing and 50% waiting on my guide to untangle my disaster of a line.
There are three motions essential to the fly fishing cast.
The pull back – Your first movement has to be quick and decisive, making a straight 90 degree angle with your elbow. In other words, you’ve got to know your plan and be confident in the direction you’re going.
The people who use social media for the new evangelization most effectively are those that seem to put the most of their own personality into it. They are confident in who they are and in the person that God has called them to be. They have discovered what message God wants them to share and have lent their own unique voice to the conversation. We all have unique voices to contribute. It’s just a matter of listening to God and responding to his call to step into the conversation. When we do, we must do so with confidence in the direction that God has called us to go.
The stop – I was never particularly good at throwing a baseball or a football. So, luckily for me, there is no element of strength involved in the fly fishing cast. A fly line is essentially a giant bull whip. The pull back gets everything moving in the right direction, but the biggest challenge is exercising patience for the stop. It takes a second to let all of the line unfurl behind you but over-excitement often causes newbies like myself to rush the follow through, usually resulting in casting a giant knot on the water.
When starting a new project, it’s easy to get excited and expect immediate results. I always want to jump out there and get as much content produced and ready to digest in as little time as possible. Of course, disappointment usually follows when I realize the entire world didn’t stop to pay attention to my new endeavor. This has taught me that, in the new evangelization, patience is everything. We’ve got to take time to stop, take stock of what we’ve done, pray, and listen to God’s voice. Patience has always been a challenge for me. Without it, however, I’ve learned that our efforts in the new evangelization become more about us and less about God.
The follow-through – When the pullback and the stop have been done performed to perfection, the follow-through comes naturally. This is the part that makes fly fishing look so beautiful and effortless.
Have you ever noticed that, when we look at the lives of the saints, they often make holiness, love of God and love of others look easy? A few years ago, in reading the personal letters of Blessed Mother Theresa of Calcutta, the world was shocked to learn that she experienced what can only be called a dark night of the soul. This revelation was shocking because, throughout her public life, Mother Theresa made loving others and loving God look easy. It flowed naturally through her and in everything she did. Why? Because despite what was going on with her personal relationship with God, she was confident in who she was called to be and the work she was called to do. She never lost sight of the need to pursue God in prayer and with patience. She understood that being a disciple of Christ is often a sophisticated dance of submission, obedience, action and patience.
I bet she would have been good at fly fishing.