The summer before my eighth grade year, I gave my heart to Jesus. I won’t go into the details, but it was a defining moment for me. I’ve always grown up in the church, but it was that summer where my life changed.

Over time, things changed, and while I never stopped believing, I did stop acting. I grew away from God, and did my best to distance myself from “Christians.”

I put “Christians” in quotes because to me, they’re not really Christians. You know who I’m talking about – the guy that screams at you that you’re “Going to Hell” and that you need to change the “error of your ways.” When someone is quick to point out that you are living a lifestyle that will send you to hell, that’s not winning hearts. That’s making true Christians look like idiots.

Last November, I came to a point where I made a decision to realign myself with God. It’s the normal story – the footprints in the sand. Since that point, I’ve learned that it’s in our weakness where God is most powerful. That’s a pretty amazing statement, because none of us want to be weak. But it’s at that particular moment, when we reach out for help, is when we get it.

What I’ve noticed most is the way people treat me. In general, I haven’t gone around singing the praises of Jesus, but I have made certain lifestyle changes that are way more apparent than I’ve realized. People that I’m around behave better – mostly. For instance, a friend of mine was really cursing a lot, and he apologized for his behavior. I appreciated it, but told him it was fine. We all get to that point where we just need to vent, and sometimes dropping a profanity is just the way to make us feel better.

I’ve also used it as an opportunity. Another friend of mine mentioned that he was basically accosted by a “Christian” who was definitely not preaching love and tolerance. To me, that’s not Christianity. That’s being judgmental. And that’s not bringing people closer to God. It drives them away. It’s like trying to get people to hang out with you when you’re pointing a stick at them. And that stick has poop on it.

Who’s going to join your group if you are out there crapping on people? No one. I’m not going to join a Star Wars club who keeps telling me I’m stupid for liking or not liking Jar Jar Binks. I would, however, join a group that encouraged me to like Star Trek, despite my lack of knowledge of all things Star Trek.  (By the way – Star Wars and Star Trek are not diametrically opposed. It is possible to like both)

When I was in the Air Force, I was blessed to be given the opportunity to work with some real leaders. My supervisors were hands on, and they never asked their charges to do something they wouldn’t do or hadn’t done themselves. Even my flight officer was out there loading and unloading equipment during an exercise. (I told him I’d get it, and he said “It’s okay, I was prior enlisted!”) But what I took to be the rule, was only the exception. Other places I’d gone in the Air Force proved that it wasn’t so. It was more of a “do it because I said so.” Needless to say, those people weren’t on my list of ‘best supervisors.’

I took that example of leading by example (My shop chief once policed cigarette butts with us once,) in most aspects of my life. When I was managing at Starbucks, I did my best to not only do the managerial duties, but all the other stuff as well. It goes a long ways when your people see that you’re out there taking the trash out and cleaning the machines. Sometimes that does backfire, because few people would take out the trash… but I digress.

I try to do that with my religion. I know I’m not going to convert you or even gain compassion by telling you how wrong it is for you to do this or that. But if I can show you compassion and love and attribute it to Christianity, maybe you’ll think about it. “Maybe Christians aren’t bad. Maybe I’m just seeing the wrong ones.” I think this is more the case.

Take, for example, Westboro Baptist Church. These are the guys out there protesting soldier’s funerals and declaring to the world that “God hates fags” and “Thank God for dead soldiers.” Something is completely wrong here. God does not hate anyone, and he does not punish people. Sure, He does allow things to happen, but it’s much the same way that your parents would allow you to do things that could hurt you so that you’d learn. Think about it – what teaches you more? Having a bad thing happen? Or having a good thing happen? Chances are, you’ll remember getting shocked by an electric fence more than hearing your dad tell you not to touch it.

I use that example, because when I was a kid, my dad put up an electric fence. I was curious and he told me to touch it to see what it was like. Sounds odd, right? But he specified that I touch it only with the back of my hand. And I did. I learned a lot that day. First, what it feels like to get shocked by a fence. Second, that muscles contract and grabbing an electric fence might mean not letting go. Third, that despite my dad’s odd sense, I knew that he wanted to satisfy my curiosity without getting hurt. That lesson has stayed with me for a long time. Obviously, since I’m writing about it 25 years later.

What can you do when you’re faced with one of these “Christians?” I’m not completely sure. On one hand, I would inform them that they are not true Christians and that the message they are spreading is hate, not love. But that isn’t necessarily the best way to handle things, because it could just turn into some sort of shouting match with both people and on-lookers thinking worse of both of you.

Maybe the best way to deal with it is to ignore it and  move on. If it bothers you, talk to someone about it. Like me – talk to me about it. I’m not the greatest Christian in the world, and I am far far away from being Jesus-like. I’m just a man. Tell me about your experience. I’d love to get the chance to help put Christianity in a positive light for you.

The main thing that I want to do here is show you that the basis of Christianity is that it’s about love and tolerance. Jesus loved all people, and he tolerated people’s lifestyles. He talked to the prostitutes, the murderers, the ‘evil’ people. He talked to them because they were the ones that needed help. They were the ones who did not know about Jesus and God, and needed to make those changes. He didn’t chastise them and tell them they were going to Hell. He knew better. He comforted them and showed them what was right, and that Christianity was about love.

That’s all I want to do. I don’t want to tell you what you’re doing wrong. I want to show you love and tolerance through Jesus. I can’t make you follow Jesus or convince you to become a Christian, but I can show you the light and hope that you make that choice for yourself. That’s all I can do – show you the path.

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