You're my favorite.

No, really - you are.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

He does what, now?

The people on the 16th Street Mall in Denver are a diverse group. You get your businessmen and women, swinging a briefcase as they speak firmly into their cell phones. You get your teenagers cutting class staring with disdain at the kids on school fieldtrips. You get the homeless and the tourists, the dealers and the sports fans, the artists and the elderly, all together, pushing past each other, waiting for the shuttle, sitting on a bench, playing chess. And you get the Jesus Saves guy.

He’s a middle aged white guy who dresses casually but not too casually – no t-shirts but maybe a polo shirt or a button down, Docker-type slacks. He carries a big yellow sign that says JESUS SAVES. He stands on the street, exhorting people to devote their lives to Jesus, to open their hearts and let Jesus in, to accept that Jesus died for their sins and what have they done for Jesus lately, hmmmm? People look away as they walk by, or smile briefly, or cross the street, or occasionally glare or snap at him. I often feel like snapping at him myself. Not so much because I disagree with his proselytism, although to some extent I do; more because I feel like he could so easily be more effective.

Proselytism is a big part of Christianity, and that’s fine with me. I’m not particularly religious myself, despite being raised Lutheran – I’ve never been too into the whole thing. (When I was 13, I took confirmation classes at my church. It was a two year process, I believe, and I made it…..oh, maybe 18 or 20 months? A few months before my confirmation, my mother and I met with our pastor to discuss the confirmation. It was more a formality than anything else, or at least it should have been. We sat in Pastor Johnson’s office, and he said that the confirmation was when I would stand up and declare my faith in the tenets of Christianity and Jesus Christ before the whole church. I said that I couldn’t do that, because I didn’t believe in the tenets of Christianity or Jesus Christ as the son of God thing. Pastor Johnson looked at me. My mother looked at me. They looked at each other. I never had another confirmation class. But I digress.)

But despite my own disinterest and disbelief in Christianity, I understand that conversion is an important part of the religion, and that many of the people who attempt that conversion honestly believe they are doing it to save you from the fires of hell and eternal damnation. Which, okay, nice of them to try, very friendly (very Christian!). I do expect that if I ask them to stop with the lectures and the prayers and what not, they will stop. I expect them to respect my wishes, and if they don't, then they've moved from a good natured attempt to open me to something new to being rude, and I will feel no compunction about being rude right back.

But that's not my issue with this guy. The Jesus Saves guy has never actually approached me. My problem with him is that I don't think he's ever converted anyone either. Because honestly, if you’re having a personal crisis of some sort and are prepared to finally consider a higher power or are looking for forgiveness or just want some deeper meaning in your life, is some guy with a plastic sign going to be the one you look to for spiritual guidance? Frankly, I’m skeptical. And I think there are so many opportunities for him to actually help someone concretely and then perhaps spiritually as well. The man obviously has a fair amount of free time. Well, there are hundreds of organizations in Denver that could use his time. He could peel potatoes at a soup kitchen. He could spend time with troubled teenagers. He could offer his time at homeless shelter. He could sort food supplies at a food bank. He could help teach people to read. And in the process of helping people, he could eventually talk to them about Jesus and being saved and life after death and forgiveness and understanding and mercy. He could offer them more than two words, all in caps, in black ink on a yellow background. He could actually do some GOOD and not just annoy the crap out of the vast majority of the people who are just trying to get to lunch or a meeting or the other end of the mall. To me, his efforts seems like he's just paying lip service to the whole thing, kind of phoning it in, not really interested in offering any help to anyone, just trying to look like the sort of person who loves Jesus so much that he can't stand that anyone might not believe in Him too.

But I suppose suggesting that’s not very Christian of me, now is it.