Today, while I was at a local street fair, I found myself in conversation with a man who considers himself a devout Christian. He was wearing a t-shirt with the name of his church emblazoned on it. He met my eye as I was walking by and I spoke with him about a project I am involved with called Bucks County Kind. We encourage people to do random acts of kindness and since those who profess to follow the One who came to teach love would ideally be all about kindness, I gave him cards with our information on it. I guess I should have been prepared for what was to follow.
He asked me what I believe. I told him that as an interfaith minister, love is my religion and God’s too vast to fit in a box. He went on to quote the New Testament about the only way to reach God is through his ‘only begotten Son,’ who died on the cross to redeem us from sin. I inquired if he knew the origin of the word. He did. It comes from the Hebrew word, meaning ‘to miss the mark,’ like in archery. I told him I believe in do-overs. He reiterated that we are all sinners and have to face God’s judgment. This, after I told him that I was God loving and not God fearing. I shared that if fear of God or Hell is all that keeps people from causing harm, then perhaps they needed to re-evaluate their choices. Some of the most altruistic people I know have no particular religious faith, they just go about caring for the planet and all who dwell on it.
In this man’s mind, all religions are not created equal. He believes that Christianity was designed by God, while all others were from man. We did agree that people should walk the talk of what they believe to do good in the world.
I reminded him that Christianity was not the religion OF Jesus, but the religion ABOUT Jesus and that he was a ‘nice Jewish boy,’ who was called Rabbi.
I asked a lot of personal questions as they relate to God’s love and living as a good person even if someone has no religious faith. He parroted the company line at every turn. I asked how he knew what the Truth was if the gospels were scribed by various men with their own agenda. He tap danced around it. He asked if I believe in Heaven and Hell. I told him that they were states of mind, rather than physical locations. I listened, smiled and nodded a lot. By his standards, I am destined for the latter. I should have told him that I live in Heaven every day.
To me, Heaven is all about perspective. I have what I call an ‘Opti-mystic‘ point of view, as I see the world through the eyes of possibility. I am not oblivious to the horrors that occur on a daily basis. I do a lot of God wrestling, questioning everything. I call them God-versations .
I am still not clear if prayer is about an intervening deity or if the merged energy of prayer is what makes a difference. I ask often if God is running the show or if things happen at random and wonder how it is possible for violence, war, murder, hatred, bigotry, abuse, and political upheaval to occur if a benign Force is in charge. I didn’t go there with the man. I also didn’t approach him with the question about a certain political figure who is the polar opposite of what Jesus would have taught, but who has captured the minds, hearts and pockets of those who claim to be Believers. So much cognitive dissonance happening.
I also didn’t tell this man that I was raised Jewish and learned about Jesus through attending church with Christian friends, reading the New Testament at the recommendation of a high school friend, and the dark side of Christianity through a boyfriend in my college years. He had been raised Catholic and rarely spoke about religion until he met someone who invited him to his Evangelical church. Curious, he went and in a short period of time, morphed into someone I didn’t recognize. He began quoting the New Testament regularly and encouraging me to become Born Again as he had. At every turn, I listened, but told him that it wasn’t going to happen. Everything came to a head one night as we were returning from a trip to NYC. The bus was dark, except for one man across the aisle who had his light on. “T” leaned over and whispered, “Do you see that man over there?” I said that I did. He continued, “He’s the devil.” Sighing, I asked why he thought so. He responded, “He’s the only one with his light on.” Exasperated, I answered, “He’s reading.” At that moment, he pulled a few pieces of paper that he had in his pocket and folded them into crosses, gave me one to hold and insisted that we recite The Lord’ Prayer over and over until our bus came into the terminal where his father was waiting for us. I pulled his dad aside and told him what happened. His response was, “Don’t worry, we’ll take care of it.” Apparently, their influence was limited since T’s proselytizing continued and expanded to conversations with my father who was raised as an observant Jew. You don’t attempt to convert Moish Weinstein. It didn’t go well. Soon after, I told T that I needed to end the relationship since his overzealousness felt intrusive and I had attempted to set a boundary that he stepped over one too many times.
A few weeks later, I was at my job at a health club where I worked as a lifeguard and I happened to look out the window of the office and saw his easily identifiable circa 1970s-80s VW mini van where we had experienced some lovely interludes. Interestingly, I don’t remember that changing after his conversion. I wondered where he was headed. I called the crisis intervention center where I also worked and was told that he had been there and dropped off several bags of clothes and left without saying much. An hour or so later, I called his house and he answered. I asked why he dropped off clothes and he told me that he was going to end his life and go to Heaven so he wouldn’t be needing his clothes. Holy sh*t! I caught my breath and dove right into my suicide hotline training and attempted to talk him through it. I also challenged his spiritual beliefs and reminded him that his church community would consider it sinful if he indeed followed through. When that didn’t work, I asked to speak with his mother. He hung up. Each time, I called back, he hung up. Desperate, I remembered the last name of his parents’ next door neighbors, called Directory Assistance, got their number and called, insisting that they get T’s mother on the phone and that it was an emergency. When she got on the phone, she began yelling at me, blaming me for her son’s breakdown because I broke up with him. I reminded her that he was in crisis and needed help. His father then got on the phone and apologized for what happened and asked me if I could retrieve his clothes and hold onto them until he could come to pick them up and assured me that they would get him help. Bless my roommate at the time, because she kept his clothes in her trunk, since it was too traumatizing for me to have them.
A few years went by and my father received a lengthy note from T in which he apologized to him for proselytizing and telling him that he had become a missionary. While I was glad that he had a come clean moment with my dad, I was a bit miffed that he had not attempted to make amends to me. All these years later, I wonder whether he has come to a sense of peace with the God of his understanding.