Thursday, December 3, 2009

When Christ is a cudgel

Excessively enthusiastic Christians keep doing things that get in the way of me enjoying Christmas.

And by the aforementioned sect, I don’t mean the good people who believe in Jesus, love their neighbor, attend church regularly and pray for forgiveness for all their earthly sins.

You know, people like me.

Unlike the zealots, I don’t profess to have all the answers. But I’m comfortable practicing a Lutheran-accented Christianity because of its emphasis on love and forgiveness, two qualities I need in spades.

But if on the day I’m dispatched to meet my maker I learn he’s one of those wacky alien deities that Tom Cruise worships, I won’t slap my forehead in profound betrayal.

Once we leave here, it’s a long leap into the great unknown. We can all believe, but no one can know.

That goes for the born again bunch who -- hallelujah -- testify the day they found Jesus was more momentous than the day Columbus discovered America (which is a fable of another sort, but let’s not get distracted here).

I was an unwitting party to a glancing encounter with one this morning at the grocery store where someone careless stocks the soup shelves. The previous day I’d inadvertently picked up a can of Campbell’s Cream of Asparagus from the dispenser designated Campbell’s Oyster Stew. I didn’t notice until I got home.

I didn’t thunder indignation over the error or urge eternal damnation for the poor hungover stock boy. I just went back this morning to make an understanding exchange.

In its own little way, it was a very Christian reaction.

The middle-aged woman manning the exchange desk was distraught from a phone call she'd just concluded.

I asked what was wrong.

“Oh, this sales woman from Overly’s called to ask if we’d sell tickets for their Christmas display,” she said, referring to a popular drive-through light display at the Westmoreland County fairgrounds. We take the kids every year.

“Well, I explained our store policy and told her we can’t do that and she said, ‘Well, I guess you’re not a very good Christian then, are you?’”

Nobody likes to be told they’re going to hell, but to hear it at your minimum wage job from an anonymous telemarketer was clearly upsetting to this sweet, unassuming woman -- let’s call her Mary.

Using Christ as a cudgel never goes out of fashion, but it’ll always gall me.

I’m ashamed to admit -- and I hope I’ll be forgiven -- but my first instinct was petty revenge. I thought I’d call group sales at Overly’s and ask if they give discounts for church groups.

What good Christian could refuse?

Once enthusiastically assured, I was going to make Christmas Eve reservations for five busloads of reverential brothers from the Greater Pittsburgh Muslim Community Center.

I’d tape the backpedaling reaction and use the audio to choreograph a YouTube puppet show. The short would go viral and have even conservative scolds like Bill O’Reilly tsk-tsking the narrow-mindedness over a county fairground display that tilts toward the gaudy secular aspects of a holiday meant to celebrate peace on earth, for the love of God.

But I didn’t do that. I just told Mary to forget about it.

But I’m pretty sure she won’t. I’ll bet she will tell 10 friends who’ll tell 10 friends who, like me, will feel their blood pressures rise the next time Christians bray about being persecuted when someone innocuously wishes them a cheerful “Happy Holidays!”

For me, it’s yet another life lesson that’ll give me pause if I’m ever in the bleacher seats and forced to pick a rooting interest if the Christians ever face the ecumenical lions again.

Really, it’s sort of a coin toss for me.

Both can be vicious and say what you want about the bloodthirsty lions.

At least they don’t discriminate.

No comments: