After dropping my car off for an oil change, a kind old man from the service shop drove me back to work (15 mph under the speed limit, but that's neither here nor there.) We had a pleasant chat about Wyoming, the construction industry and his grandchildren. Later that day, after getting news that my car was ready to be picked up, the same man came back to get me. I thanked him again for the ride and somehow the topic of religion came up. Now, I pride myself on being able to easily engage with most anyone. I even welcome provocative topics and differing opinions, but there's a time and a place for everything. And as a general rule of thumb, shuttle rides with strangers are NOT appropriate forums for hard-hitting debates, which is why I was completely unprepared for what was to come.
The man asked if I was religious and I told him I was raised Catholic but now I'm much more "spiritual" and less "religious" (please excuse the vastly over-used cliche).
This is when things got weird.
Without skipping a beat, he asked, "But are you 'born again?'" I couldn't help but smirk at his shameless assumption that I was in need of "a rebirth" based on my previous answer. He must have sensed my shock because he immediately began reciting scripture to explain how badly Jesus wanted a place in my heart. Over the next 15 minutes, the man carried on about how, if I didn't give my life over to Jesus Christ, I was destined to hell for eternity. "I'm not saying you have to do it right here in front of me. But maybe tonight when you are at home, just tell Jesus that you are a sinner and beg to have Him in your life. And you'll be saved! It's that easy!"
Oh heeeeell no.
I felt like David after his dentist appointment, struggling to get a grip on reality.
Is this real life?!
Why is this happening to me?!
Is this going to be forever?!
The conversation was wrong on so many levels and I couldn't think of anymore ways to scream I'M UNCOMFORTABLE! and THIS IS INAPPROPRIATE! with my body language. I tried changing the subject and tuning him out, and when both options failed, I considered how much doing the tuck and roll from a moving car would hurt.
After what seemed like an eternity of agony, we finally made it back to the car dealership."Well Ok! It was nice meeting you," I said, as I quickly gathered my belongings and opened the door. As a parting message to me, he explained his words weren't his at all. He was merely a vessel through which Jesus spoke. "There are no accidental meetings, you know. You needed to hear this."
I'm pretty sure I was running from his car by this point.
I thought about reporting the incident to the car dealership but I didn't want him getting in trouble. He was a grandpa after all and I'm sure he had the best intentions. I should have just asked him to stop since he was making me uncomfortable, but I hate confrontation so I kept hoping he would get the hint.
News Flash: He never got the hint.
I thought about this bizarre encounter for the rest of the day and became increasingly offended. I had been a captive audience for a man who made some pretty audacious assumptions. He assumed he had all the answers and that there was only one right path. He assumed he knew my relationship with my Creator, and from that, gathered that I was in desperate need of saving. All of this because I didn't give him the answer he was looking for. He made me feel judged, isolated and bullied.
His approach was harsh and unsettling, but ultimately, his approach was badly flawed. What if it had been a Jew or a Hindu or a Buddhist or a Muslim or an Atheist riding in that car instead of me? All of whom were kind and loving beings? The belief that one group of people is right or good and everyone else is in need of salvation is disastrous. I have a hard time believing that God would create the whole human race just to damn more than half of them to a fiery eternity based on the region of the world they were born in to. Someone born in South America will probably be raised Catholic, whereas someone born in Pakistan will likely be Muslim. And what about those who are never exposed to religion at all?
I refuse to believe that a person's fate is determined by happenstance.
The truth is, religion was created by man. Man is flawed, and so religion is flawed. I think we make things more difficult than they need to be. Our purpose in this life is simply to Love Above All Else.
If we are busy loving our neighbor first, how would we have time to judge them?
It's funny, of all the Bible verses the man from the shuttle spewed at me, none of these happened to be included.
1 John 4:7
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.
1 Peter 4:8
Above all, love each other deeply because love conquers a multitude of sins.
Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.
and so it is...