If you’ve been a Brown student for any period of time, you’ve probably heard about sin awareness day. For most of us, this inevitable part of the semester boils down to a few days each year when everyone’s Snapchat stories are full of videos of a couple guys yelling indistinguishably atop a box outside Faunce arch. Sometimes they pass out papers to the more unsuspecting students, but for the most part they are relatively easy to ignore. These disorganized, but undeniably motivated individuals can represent anything from a minor nuisance to a meaningful (or at the very least, interesting) interaction. Thankfully, which one of those it becomes more or less falls on you — both when interacting with sin awareness day speakers and any member of the community on College Hill.
Over the summer I worked at the CareerLAB, and as such got a chance to walk past Jose — the guy who sells various handmade goods by the bookstore — on a regular basis. During the semester, not only am I generally more in a hurry, but he is also usually more occupied. The summer presented a bit of a perfect storm of boredom for both him and me, and we wound up talking for nearly ten minutes each day. We told each other about our lives, discussed the importance of learning other languages and even began to teach each other different words in Russian and Spanish every day. Once the semester started again, our routine was disrupted, but we chat back and forth as we can. His presence has completely shifted for me — what was once just a table to walk around has become a friend whose hellos contribute meaningfully to my day.
On the other hand, it is worth engaging not just with those whom you like and appreciate, but also with those who may seem to more negatively impact your day. As a second semester senior, there aren’t too many things I’ve always wanted to do at Brown that I’ve never really gotten around to, but for some reason a big one of those is interacting with the sin awareness day people — an opportunity which has unfortunately come and gone for me. Not to suggest that these people could become my friends like Jose, but they likewise present an opportunity for interaction outside my daily routine — the kind of interaction that can become a story to tell your friends. When it comes to the sin awareness day folks, the extent to which they attempt to use guilt about lifestyle to drive people to Christianity always manages to get under my skin. Ineffective as it might be, guilt has no place being used as a weapon against members of the Brown community. As such, I have some ideas about trying to beat them at their own game that I have never been bold enough to use, but that I suggest anyone with the time and interest give a try.
As someone who was raised in the church, nothing would satisfy me more than to make these people feel bad about their actions on their own terms. I would be very curious, for example, to hear their response to 1 Corinthians, in which Paul asks the question “What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside.” Or what would they say to Matthew, who directs Christians to “not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged.” From a Christian perspective, the idea that God hates all sin is true. But what God expects of Christian communities is not to hold non-Christians to their arbitrary moral standard, but to guard against hypocrisy among themselves.
Even on the grounds that these people might consider themselves “missionaries” to an unreached community, they fall far below the standard set out by the Great Commission. God does the work of saving, and merely asks that his followers plant the seeds; surely there is a more effective place to introduce the idea of Christianity than in the middle of a Western-educated, originally Protestant community? Jesus called his followers to demonstrate their transformation by stepping out of their comfort zone and taking the message of the gospel to the ends of the earth. Paul himself boasted about facing horrible abuse and danger in the name of reaching the unreached. In Matthew 7, Jesus explains that only those who really pursue this calling will reach heaven. If I were them, I would not be so confident that driving a few minutes to yell about sin into a microphone was what Jesus meant when He said “Faith without works is dead.”
Since sin awareness day this year has passed, I wanted to share these thoughts in the hope that someone will be able to get the satisfaction out of an interaction that I never had. Sure — it takes a lot of time out of your day, and might seem like more effort than it’s worth, but these kinds of encounters are what make life interesting, and what breaks us out of the routine that so often gets us down. Meeting people, conversing with them and engaging with their experiences (whether positively or negatively!) are what make up the stories we will take with us from Brown into the rest of our lives. Brown is about learning even when you are outside the classroom; our community attracts some of the most interesting, and certainly unique, people you may ever get the chance to meet — don’t miss out on the chance to learn from them in whatever ways you can!
Benjamin Bosis ’19 can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please send responses to this opinion to email@example.com and op-eds to firstname.lastname@example.org.