Way back before I became a Christian, my wife Catherine and I used to study and practice Zen. One morning we were walking toward our car after a night spent sitting zazen at a Zen center with a dozen or so other would-be Buddhas. (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 flinch if somebody harpooned your thigh.)
As we were approaching our car, we saw that a guy who had just pinned a flyer underneath our windshield wiper was now leaving a copy of the same flyer on the car parked behind ours. He gave us a friendly wave. “I hope you don’t mind me leaving one of these on your car,” he said cheerily.
I unlocked the passenger door so that Cat could get in. “No problem” I said. But what he somehow heard me say, apparently, was, “Please come over and talk to us.”
“It’s for a nearby church,” he said. He was maybe thirty, fit, and clean-shaven, sporting an orange baseball cap, a winning smile, and an ever so manic gleam in his eyes. “It’s called Calvary Chapel. Ever heard of it?”
“I haven’t,” I said. I closed Cat inside the car. 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. “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. 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 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.”
“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,” I said. He stepped toward me.
“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 a tight ball gathering in my stomach. With one hand on my door handle I smiled over the top of the car. “Well, that doesn’t sound like much fun. I hope that doesn’t happen to me!”
“Oh, it will. It happens to everyone who chooses any but the one true way.”
And then I made the mistake I too often do: I started talking too much. “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?”
Through the windshield I saw Cat, quietly looking straight ahead. I knew she could hear us.
I pulled open my car door. “Well, I guess I’ll just have to hope that you’re mistaken.”
“Oh, I’m not, buddy.” He raised his voice a little; I was getting away. “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.” I waved. “Thanks for sharing. Have a good day.”
As I closed the car door the guy moved to the front of our car. He held up his hand like he was halting traffic. “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 started the car. “I wonder if I’m gonna have to run this fool over?”
“You’re lost!” he cried. But he also demonstrated that he hadn’t lost all touch with reality by stepping away from the front of our car back up onto the curb.
“Repent!” he fairly yelled. “Accept the Lord! Turn your back on the devil! Rid yourself of your sin!”
I pulled our car out and headed down the residential street.
“Well,” said Cat “wasn’t that special?”,
“Can you imagine being God, and looking down, and seeing that?” I said. “I wonder what Jesus thinks when he sees stuff like that?”
“‘Maybe I should become a Buddhist’?,” said Cat. “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 showing that he had no respect whatsoever for our belief system, he showed that he had no respect for us.
Showing 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, he utterly broke the second part of what Jesus himself called the greatest law of all: to love your neighbor as you love yourself. (See 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.
Trying to “share” Jesus in the manner he did meant explicitly and directly disobeying Jesus.
To my fellow Christians: Remember, please, that the whole point of a witness is to answer questions someone has first asked you.