My wife Catherine and I used to study and practice Zen. One morning she and I were walking to our car after a night spent with a dozen or so other would-be Buddhas inside a Zen center sitting zazen. (Zazen is Zen meditation: You sit; you close your eyes; you try to disconnect from your thoughts; you try like you wouldn't believe not to sneeze or cough; you try not to panic about the fact that after about a half hour your whole lower body is so asleep you wouldn't know if someone harpooned your thigh.) As we were approaching our car, we saw that a guy who had just left a flyer pinned beneath our windshield wipers was now leaving another flyer on the car parked behind ours.
"Hi," waved Mr. Flyers. "Hope you don't mind me leaving one of these on your car."
I unlocked our car's passenger door so that Catherine could get in. "No problem" I said. But it must have come out, "Please come over and talk to us," because that's what the guy did. He was a youngish, fit-seeming fellow sporting an orange baseball cap and a truly winning smile.
"It's for a nearby church," he said. "Calvary Chapel. Ever heard of it?"
"I haven't," I said. I opened the car door; Cat silently took her seat; I closed her inside. Tucked under my arm was my zafu, the round pillow Zenners use to sit upon whilst trying to merge with The Great Nothing/Everything. The guy nodded toward it.
"You folks study Buddhism there in the center?"
"We do," I said. "We like Zen. Been at it for a pretty long time now."
"Oh, is that right? Do you find it helps you with your life?"
A feint little fire alarm bell went off in my head.
I went into Friendly Conversation mode. "Actually, yeah. It's been a really wonderful thing for both of us."
"But you must know that it can't give you what the Lord Jesus Christ can," said Mr. Orange Cap. My feint fire alarm turned into a clanging that would have sent Smokey the Bear into seizures. "The only way you can ever find what you're really seeking is to open up your heart to the fact that Jesus Christ is your personal lord and savior."
The thing about sitting zazen -- especially if you've just done it for ten hours straight -- is that it leaves you feeling like Lake Placid. So in a voice infused with warm calm, I said, "That's great. I mean, I know that for a lot of people Christianity is perfect. We've chosen Zen. I've got a friend who's a Hindu. My wife's dad is Catholic." I shrugged, as if to say it's a big, wide world full of valid options. "I guess everybody has to find their own way, huh?"
"But there's only one true way, friend," said the guy. "And that way is through Jesus Christ."
"Yeah," I said, walking around the front of our car to the driver's side. Definitely time to move on. "Christianity's a really sound option, for sure."
"It's more than just an option, guy. It's the only way. Anyone who doesn't repent of their sins and declare the Lord Jesus Christ as their personal savior is lost to the flames of eternal hell."
I felt gathering in my stomach that tight ball I get whenever I'm wondering just how crazy someone might go on me.
With one hand on my door handle I smiled, and said lightly, "Well, that does sound bad. I hope that doesn't happen to me!"
"Oh, it will. It happens to everyone who chooses any but the one true way."
From across the top of my car I spoke to the Christian in the soft, supportive tone I'd use with a friend. "I understand that Christianity works for you, and I think that's outstanding. Your life must be so rich because of your faith. But must Christianity be the only way? Can't there be other good ways for people to know and experience what you call God? Does everyone who chooses any other way but Christianity have to be wrong?"
Even while saying it, I knew I was driving straight off a cliff.
"Hey, I don't make the rules," the guy answered. "You can fight against it all you want, but the fact is that Jesus Christ died on the cross for your sins. The cost of not accepting him as your savior is the eternal damnation of your soul."
Through the windshield I saw Catherine making her "I'm totally expressionless, yet wondering if I'm going to have to kill someone" face.
I pulled open my car door. "Well, I guess I'll just have to hope that you're mistaken."
"Oh, I'm not, buddy. But you are. Both you and your wife are condemning yourselves in the eyes of the Lord by engaging in the sinful idolatry of Zen." He spat out the last word like it was something foul in his mouth.
Climbing into my car I executed a friendly little wave, and said, "All right; I'll bear that in mind. There aren't actually any idols in Zen, but I see what you're saying. Thanks for sharing it. Have a good day."
As I closed my door the guy moved around to the front of our car. "Stop what you're doing!" he called. "Let the Lord into your heart! You please the devil with your sinful ways!"
"Jesus," murmured Catherine.
"Or one of his ambassadors, anyway," I said, starting the car. "I wonder if I'm gonna have to run this guy over?"
"You're lost!" said the guy loudly. He demonstrated that he hadn't lost all touch with reality by stepping safely back onto the curb.
"Repent!" he said. "Accept the Lord! Turn your back on the devil! Rid yourself of your sin!"
With a resigned smile on my face, I gently waved to the guy as we pulled out into the street and drove away.
"Well," said Catherine, "that was pleasant."
"Can you imagine being God," I said, "and looking down, and seeing that? I wonder what Jesus thinks when he sees stuff like that?"
"‘Maybe I should become a Buddhist'" ? said The Funniest Woman Ever. "‘I need to get some new salespeople? People who aren't totally rude and intrusive? People who don't think the way to attract people to me is to scream insults at them?"
"Right," I said. "Either that, or he'd just go, "‘That's it. I give up. Time for the apocalypse.'"
That our Christian friend in the orange cap meant well isn't in question. Of course he only wanted what was best for Catherine and me. But he failed to interest us in Christianity because his evangelizing effort was grounded in what all such efforts are necessarily grounded in: A lack of respect on the part of the evangelizer. He didn't respect us, or our belief system.
By disrespecting us, the evangelizer proved to my wife and me that he did not love us, because love without respect is no love at all. And by not loving us, that brother was breaking what Jesus himself called the greatest law of all: To love your neighbor as you love yourself.
I'm a Christian, and proud of it. But unless I'm missing something so huge it'd be like a car parked in my living room, that Christian was violating Christ's most important and explict directive to all Christians. I'd like that not to be true, but I just can't see how it isn't.
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