“It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or the other of these destinations…. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations–these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit–immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.” –C. S. Lewis

So while I was at the World Fantasy Convention 2005, a group of us were walking back from dinner only to be accosted by a contingent of Campus Crusaders shilling tracts and asking if we knew Jesus as our Lord and Savior. Well, let me clarify: everyone else got a tract. Either I had an aura of Saved! about me (despite my “you laugh now … but will you be laughing when I crawl out from under your bed” T-shirt) or they didn’t want my kind (I’ll be generous and say that my kind is a “horror guy” rather than repeat the “they don’t want black people in their heaven” joke that I made at the time).

Apparently I can’t be pleased. “Witness” to me and I’ll lecture you about the limited effectiveness of this approach, especially in a postmodern age. Don’t witness to me, and I’ll complain about you not wanting me (much like I did when my gay friend told me that even if I were gay, I wasn’t his type). Anyway, this got me to thinking about God conversations again, and how we go about having them.

The lesson that I keep relearning is that many times, people don’t so much have a problem with Jesus Christ, but more with some of the knuckleheads that run around in his name. Something I try to remember, though I don’t always comport myself as the best ambassador for Jesus. Behind the hostility I often see vented in some of the “non-Christian” circles that I run in is frustrated hope. Many people are open to spirituality, open to God, open to Jesus as a matter of fact, it’s the fanatical followers of religion that they have a problem with.

I think there is a bit of fear at the idea of becoming a Christian in the first place. Part of it is that people feel personally threatened when it comes to challenging their worldview/spirituality. You are essentially talking about the source of their identity and validity. Then there is the pain that many have experienced at the hands of the church. Beyond political systems using Christianity to further their own ends, there is a very real fear that becoming a Christian means becoming bigoted and brainwashed at worst; or people they are no longer able to unrelate to at best . I’ve spoken to people who say how they don’t want to become “Christian” or “Born Again” for fear of “living by faith” in place of common sense. Or, that they’d only learn how to hate others. Let’s face it, sometimes it seems that many Christians are mean-spirited, racist, afraid, bigoted, withdrawn into their ghettos. In fact, it seems that the longer they clock church time, the more of those things they become. How sad is that, that hate becomes our calling card?
Judgmental, insulting, stuck up, these have too often become the identifying markers of the “truly” Christian. What happened to “they will know we are Christians by our love”?

Or as my friend Kuroshii points out, “there’s a deeper problem with people like this … if you (not you Maurice, but a rhetorical you) find some flaw in my character or my life’s choices, and immediately set out to “correct” me (save me, change me) for the better…you are demonstrating your own inability to relate to anyone different than yourself. and this behavior rarely limits itself to just one (for example, spiritual path) aspect. so you’ll likely next try to “convert” me into someone that will sit down and be a good childbearing wife, and stop playing that wicked D&D;, and stop being friends with gays … Here’s a radical thought: Christ did lots of good things for many people who weren’t followers…and the MAJORITY chose to follow him by his actions, not by him saying ‘follow me or you’re going to hell.’ I seem to recall him going for the reward angle not the punishment angle anyway.”

Let’s listen to the “outsider” with the same respect and dignity that we give the “insider”. Matter of fact, we could stand to be silent for a while. Silence does three things: allows us to more clearly hear God, listen to others, and allow our good and loving deeds to speak for us. Donald Miller, in his wonderful book Blue Like Jazz, tells the story of the time he and his small band of Christian friends built a confession booth on the campus of Reed College, “the college where students are most likely to ignore God.” The story picks up like this:

“We are not actually going to accept confessions.” We all looked at him in confusion. He continued, “We are going to confess to them. We are going to confess that, as followers of Jesus, we have not been very loving; we have been bitter, and for that we are sorry. We will apologize for the Crusades, we will apologize for televangelists, we will apologize for neglecting the poor and the lonely, we will ask them to forgive us, and we will tell them that in our selfishness, we have misrepresented Jesus on this campus. We will tell people who come into the booth that Jesus loves them.” … I wanted so desperately to apologize for the many ways I had misrepresented the Lord. I could feel that I had betrayed the Lord by judging, by not being willing to love the people he had loved and only giving lip service to issues of human rights … “There’s a lot. I will keep it short,” I started. “Jesus said to feed the poor and to heal the sick. I have never done very much about that. Jesus said to love those who persecute me. I tend to lash out, especially if I feel threatened, you know, if my ego gets threatened. Jesus did not mix his spirituality with politics. I grew up doing that. It got in the way of the central message of Christ. I know that was wrong, and I know that a lot of people will not listen to the words of Christ because people like me, who know him, carry our own agendas into the conversation rather than just relaying the message Christ wanted to get across. There’s a lot more, you know.”