Apocalyptic Cheeseburgers

March 2, 2009

Christians fall into two categories-those who relish talking about hell, wrath, and sin and those who beg one’s pardon for having any opinion whatsoever. We’ve probably all had experiences with the bible-thumping street-corner evangelist whose inflammatory rhetoric would make Jonathan Edwards proud—God dangles nonbeliever over an open fire like spiders on the end of an existential thread.

I was sitting on the outside patio at Urban Bar in the Old City one night, and watched as a thirty-something preacher screamed, “You are wicked!” at a group of young men. In response, one of the men hopped up on another, wrapped his legs around his waist, and the two started kissing to the applause of many passers-by and the indignation of the preacher.

Granted, I don’t believe offering one intentional offense for another opens up lines of conversation and moves both parties towards better understanding and deeper compassion, but what happened at night was a colorful example of what often happens in Western culture as a result of fire-and-brimstone tactics on the part of well-meaning Christians. They wouldn’t expose themselves to the type of harassment that the preacher did in his knee-length overcoat and tasteful tie if they didn’t believe they were making a contribution to the betterment of their communities. However, they can’t chalk it up to a costly faithfulness and taking up Jesus’ cross if nobody is listening and those people who do hear react with firepower of their own.

Too often it seems that a negative response, or even open hatred, convinces certain Christians that they are on the right track. They are being good disciples. Jesus came to bring a sword and division, right? A double-edged love? If it doesn’t make people angry then it’s not the gospel, right? Up to a point. The Pharisees certainly found Jesus difficult to stomach; they wanted him dead long before they succeeded in bringing off the charge of treason.

Yet, many other people, especially the dregs of first-century Palestine, flocked to Jesus like he was a cold beer on a muggy day. They listened to him preach then invited him to dinner, introduced him to their friends. They offered him gratitude and felt deep gladness.

Jesus did cause division in that his followers often became outcasts in their own families. More particularly, he polarized people along religious lines. Those religious fat cats who enjoyed positions of wealth, prestige, or power in the then status quo saw him as a threat to their long-established traditions and their status. They could lose their jobs if they let this nut from some podunk town in Galilee have his way.

Jesus always offended people who stood to gain from the religious cash cow, people whose livelihood often necessitated brushing aside the spirit of the law safeguarding humanity and dignity in favor of the law’s letter, rules and regulations they themselves generated and enforced. So, who are the contemporary Pharisees? Who continues to bring home a regular paycheck and maintain a good reputation if churches worry less about meeting people’s daily, concrete needs and more about tradition, propriety, or “the way things are”? Certainly not two gay men in the Old City.

I’ve heard most of the arguments suggesting that sermons on damnation are a kind of tough love. Rubbish. I have a hard time believing that Jesus’ idea of loving people included killing them, I find it hard to believe that loving them includes elaborate arguments about their filthiness and fiery future. People must ultimately make a decision about whether or not Jesus is who he says he is or was some charlatan with sensational genius and an acting troupe willing to die excruciating deaths so that the show could go on, enough to make Shakespeare envious.

How many people leave off destructive behaviors on account of the consequences anyway?

Life is a destructive behavior, and if human beings have been creative in anything, they’ve found myriad ways to hasten their own demise. From whiskey and cigarettes to automobiles and firearms, we’re really good a coming up with ways to kill ourselves.

Despite the research, statistics, and warning labels, cigarette companies make billions year after year. Don’t these people realize cigarettes are bad for them? Of course they do! And you know what, they don’t care!benandjerrys

That’s the funny thing about being human. Despite the size of our brains and our invention of opera and chewing gum, our “progress” has never taken out of us the tendency peculair to humankind of sabotaging the self-preservation instinct in all animals in favor of some fleeting pleasure.

We continue to develop quantum physics and particle theory while eating McDonald’s. Don’t these people realize that cheeseburgers are bad for them? Of course they do! And they’ll dedicate most of their time to amusing themselves to death, quite literally.

Rational arguments move very few people into more wholesome lives. You don’t get people to stop eating apocalyptic cheeseburgers by reminding them of the fat content. You get them to stop eating unhealthy foods by giving them something that tastes better and by helping them change what they wanted out of food in the first place.

Faith is the same way. These days, people just don’t respond well to warnings or reasonable arguments. Tallying up an audience’s apathy as yet another token of one’s own uncompromising faith is ignoring the fact that people have difficulty listening when they’re hungry, or angry, or maybe they dislike the speaker’s nasal monotone, his hair, or his posture.

You want people to come to Jesus? Pointing out their bad habits isn’t convincing most of the time. If people recognize the danger in having no faith, the danger is rarely enough to spark a catalyst. A lot of Christians love pointing out the danger, and that’s a safe way to put a lot of distance between themselves and people who make them uncomfortable.

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3 Responses to “Apocalyptic Cheeseburgers”

  1. Austin L. Church Says:

    Thanks for the encouragement, Anna. The true Gospel… I’ll spend the rest of my life learning to live it out.

  2. Erin Says:

    Yes. Absolutely. Your last line is now going on my list of all-time favorite quotations.

  3. annaldavis Says:

    What a great post! Sinners gravitated toward the real Jesus, and He responded with love. His only harsh words were for the self-righteous religious leaders of that day. Oh how I wish we could more effectively spread the true Gospel.


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