Wednesday, June 3, 2009
This Sunday evening church excursion was not turning out anything like I'd planned. Instead of ushers telling me, as I'd hoped they would, that I couldn't come into the church dressed as I was, I was welcomed by a hundred or more Jesus people, most of whom probably assumed I was one of them. I was chagrined I'd let myself get snookered into being part of this gathering of Jesus freaks. And now, to top it off, here was an old high school acquaintance calling me "brother." When I informed him I was no "brother" and that I'd just given someone a ride there and was not at all interested in religion, he looked genuinely surprised, but then, getting his evangelical footing gushed, "Hey man, you should really check it out--God loves you, Jesus proved it by dying on the cross for you. You know, the Bible says..." I cut this off immediately with, "Don't tell me the Bible says this or that or some other thing. That Bible of yours is full of contradictions and fairy tales--no one believes that stuff anymore." But before I could quote some Bertrand Russell for his enlightenment, he held out his big Thompson Chain Reference Bible toward me and said, "Well, show me one and we can talk about it." This so startled me I forgot my Bertrand Russell and just stammered, "Well, I know they're in there, it's well documented. I couldn't tell you just where they are right this minute, but I know they're there." At that moment I was blushing inside with intellectual embarrassment. I had prided myself on being an intellectual, someone who dispassionately looks at all the available facts, considers them very carefully, applies logic and reason and then follows the truth wherever it might happen to lead. In that instant it became blindingly obvious to me I had never even come close to doing this regarding religion, the Bible or the claims about Jesus. Oh sure, I'd gotten drunk with a buddy one time and we'd read Revelation and laughed it to scorn. That of course wouldn't really count as having read the Bible. I was intellectually busted and I knew it. Of course I was not about to concede that to this Jesus freak.
Next he tried another angle, asking me, "Well, who do you think Jesus was then? The Bible says..." "Yeah, yeah, I know what the Bible says about Jesus--I was went to Sunday school all the time when I was little, right here in this church in fact. You can't really expect me to believe any of that walking on water stuff or the virgin birth or the resurrection and all the rest of it. Besides, no one is really sure if Jesus even existed." For some reason, my declaration of unbelief didn't seem to faze him in any way for he simply replied, "Jesus was either a Liar if he said things about himself he knew weren't true, a lunatic if he believed all he said about himself and it was not true, or--or he was exactly who he claimed to be if everything he said about himself was true. He must be one of those and, as for me, I know he's my Lord and savior, praise God!" My only retort at this point was to try and brush it off by saying, "Well, his followers probably just made all that stuff up after he died." About this time Cher came up and wanted to introduce me to someone--which was a sort of salvation to me at that moment. As we began to walk away my friend called after me, "I'll be prayin' for you brother." "Ugh," I said under my breath and thought, "Yeah, you just do that. Whatever floats you religious boat buddy." Still, as satisfied and self assured in my unbelief as I was, it seemed a worrisome chink had been found in my atheistic armor. I'd have to see to that. Already I was determining in my mind to find at least a few of the many contradictions I'd referred to so that, the next time some Jesus freak button-holed me I'd be ready with better come-backs. I especially didn't like having to concede that I hadn't read the book I was rejecting. That just didn't look intellectual and would need to be addressed. OK, I'd have to read the Bible--at least once, at least the New Testament gospels with all their unbelievable fairy-tale miracles. It would be worth it in order to bolster my anti-Christian arguments. I could handle it, no sweat.
Thus was I drawn yet another little step into Gods loving and so well-disguised trap.
The mysterious young Jesus Person neighbor girl asked me--me--an atheist/agnostic/, seeker, rebel, hippy guy--for a ride to church. Going to church held absolutely no appeal to me, but spending time, even half and hour, with this girl did. Perhaps I could find a way to give her a ride but avoid sitting through a church service. A plan began to form in my mind and was, from my point of view, brilliant. I would wear my favorite very well-worn hippy bell-bottom jeans, the ones all faded and frayed and with the knees torn out. A white T-shirt would be good and, in spite of the sultriness of the evening, I'd wear that old army shirt emblazoned with Magic-Marker peace symbols--the one I'd sewn a large American flag,upside-down, on the back of. And, just in case all that was not enough to get me denied entrance, I went barefoot. Yes--that would do the trick! I had it all played out in advance in my mind: Of course, the ushers would deny me entrance, she would go to the service; I would take a walk and smoke a cigarette or two, Afterwards, we'd go for a coke and conversation and I would explain to her why I could not possibly be a Christian what with all the derss codes and regulations etc. At least that's the way I'd envisioned the evening unfolding. I was in for a rude awakening. As we pulled into the parking lot of All Saints Episcopal Church, I noticed something unusual--there were more than a hundred, perhaps two hundred, young people, most of whom looked like hippies, milling about on the expansive lawn of the churchyard. Something was seriously amiss, especially my plan for getting barred at the door of the church. Just then, as I turned my dad's station wagon into the parking space, Cher excitedly pointed toward the lawn and exclaimed, "There 's pastor Lonnie, he's really cool." "You mean that guy with the beard, in the muslin shirt?" I asked. "Yes, wait 'till you hear him--he's really anointed" she said in a low whispery voice which seemed one of admiration. I could see that my carefully thought-out plan was shot. I hadn't come up with an alternative as we got out of the car and headed for the lawn--she eagerly, me very reluctantly. Before I knew it we were seated on the lawn, everyone singing "cum-by-ya" and a guy to my left slings his arm over my shoulder in brotherly fashion. The muscles in my shoulders and back tightened, but I sought to look cool and unimpressed. "Oh no" I thought, "The Jesus people again--I can't seem to get away from them." As I contemplated this unexpected turn of events, Lonnie began to preach a gospel message with passion and plenty of happy hippy feeling. As I listened to the young preacher tell me how Jesus had died on the cross for me and was seeking me out like a lost sheep and all I needed to do was to open my heart to him and I'd be born again and have a whole new start in life because God loved me more that I could ever imagine, and loved me even no matter how many sins I'd committed and if I were to come to Jesus He would put a whole new plan for my life into effect if only I'd open my heart and invite Him to come in and be my Lord and Savior. I was unmoved and appeared, like I had for years carefully practiced appearing, aloof, skeptical and unmoved. I felt very out of place, here with all these Jesus People singing love songs to some Jesus I know had died two thousand years ago. The whole thing I considered to be completely absurd. I couldn't wait to get out of there. It wasn't to be. Someone who knew me from Poly High came up to me, threw his arms around me and exclaimed, "Denny, praise God!--it is so good to see you here brother!" That last statement irritated me greatly and I challenged him by informing him, "Hey, I just gave someone a ride here, I'm no part of this, I just happen to be here and don't know what in the hell all you people are so excited about."