Accosted by a Christian
My wife Cat and I used to study and practice Zen. One morning she and I were walking to our car after a night spent sitting zazen with a dozen or so other would-be Buddhas inside a Zen center. (Zazen is Zen meditation: You sit; you close your eyes; you try to disconnect from your thoughts; you try like crazy not to sneeze, cough or itch; 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 pinned a flyer to our car was now leaving another one on the car parked behind ours.
He gave us a friendly wave. "Hi! I hope you don't mind me leaving one of these on your car."
I unlocked the passenger door so that Cat could get in. "No problem" I said. But apparently what he heard was "Please come over and talk to us," because that's what he 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 little alarm bell went off in my head. But I kept in Friendly Conversation mode. "Actually, yeah. It's been a really wonderful thing for both of us." I supposed there was a chance he wasn't crazy.
"But you must know that it can't give you what the Lord Jesus Christ can," said Mr. Orange Cap. Chance over. The little fire alarm in my head became a clanging that would have given Smokey the Bear a heart attack. "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 itself. So in a voice filled with nothing but calm warmth, 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 guess everybody has to find their own way, huh?"
"But there's only one true way, friend. And that way is through Jesus Christ."
I walked around the front of our car to the driver's side. "Christianity's a really sound option, for sure."
"It's more than just an option. 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 over the car at Mr. Orange Cap, 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."
"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?"
"Hey, I don't make the rules. 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 Cat, quietly looking straight ahead.
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 sinful idolatry.
"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." I got into my car.
As I closed my door the guy moved around to the front of our car. "Stop what you're doing! 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. I starting the car. "I wonder if I'm gonna have to run this guy over?"
"You're lost!" called the Christian. He demonstrated that he hadn't lost all touch with reality, though, by stepping back onto the curb.
"Repent!" he said. "Accept the Lord! Turn your back on the devil! Rid yourself of your sin!"
I pulled out and headed away. "Well, wasn't that special?" said Cat.
"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' ? Or maybe, ‘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?'"
"Or maybe he'd just go, "‘That's it. I give up. Time for the Apocalypse.'"
That the Christian in the orange cap meant well isn't in question. Of course he only wanted what was best for Cat and me. But he only repelled us from Christianity, because his evangelizing effort was grounded in what all such efforts must be, which is a lack of respect. By proving that he had absolutely no respect for our belief system, he proved that he had no respect for us.
Proving that he had no respect for us proved that the evangelizer did not love us, since the best that love without respect can be is patronizing. And by not loving us, that brother utterly broke the second part of what Jesus himself called the greatest law of all: to love your neighbor as you love yourself. (See "The Greatest Commandment," at Mark 12:28-31.) Another reason he absolutely could not love us is because he drove us away from him. And you can't love someone with whom you have no relationship at all.
That Christian purposefully, explicitly, and directly disobeyed Jesus. How can that possibly be good?
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