Friday, September 05, 2008

What Are You Selling?

It was a loose wind, the kind of late summer/early fall breeze that swept across the street in cool gusts, with no pattern or consistency, just the occasional burst of air bringing the promise of rain, and perhaps, a change in seasons. I was sitting on my stoop, sipping my coffee and reading, when he approached me. He was thin, dressed in casual beige pants with a white collared shirt and tie. I knew what he was doing, and I resented him immediately. I'd never liked salesmen.

"Good morning, sir. How are you today?"

In his hands were a couple of pamphlets. I sighed and put my book down but didn't answer. He didn't seem to notice.

"I was wondering about something the other day." He said. I wanted to tell him that we all wondered about some things, but not all of is put on a shirt and tie and went to strangers' houses. I thought it might be rude though, so I kept silent.

He took my silence for an assent to continue.

"If God rules the world, then why-"

"I'm sorry. I'm a Seminary student. I study theology." I said. He stopped and frowned because I'd interrupted his pitch. He recovered nicely however, and painted another smile on his face. I felt sad for him. I felt sad that he thought God required him to do this to be loved.

"Well, that's great! But this question-"

"Listen, I'm reading. I don't mean to be rude, but I'm not interested." I smiled to try and take the edge off my words, but it was difficult. I wanted to say more. I wanted to say that God was not a commodity, and that so long as he was selling God, people would be less likely to look for Him. I wanted to tell him that if we could reduce the knowledge of God to a pamphlet, then it really wasn't God at all, by definition, was it? I wanted to say those things but I knew he wouldn't understand them, and that made me even sadder.

"Sure, sure. I just have one thought to leave you with, before I go-"

"Listen, I think it's great that you are committed to your faith. But if I believed in a God who required me to do what you're doing, I wouldn't be a Christian. What you are doing is offensive to me, and maybe just a little, to the God you claim to serve." I said gently.

If he took offense he didn't let it show, painted the smile back on his face, and wished me a good day. I tried to get back to my book, but could no longer focus.

Everyone is always selling something, I thought.

Including me. The second thought shook me a little, although I knew it was true.

I sipped my coffee and watched a fresh burst of wind shake the large tree across the street. Marshall McLuhan once wrote that the medium was the message, a sentiment I tended to agree with. If that was the case, what did it say about God that we felt the need to sell him door to door. When I was younger I would have argued that it was a form of evangelism, but what kind of evangelism was it to use the same techniques as someone selling vacuums? Wasn't God more than that? Didn't the idea of God prompt us beyond good marketing (or bad marketing) sessions?

It was a funny thing about Scripture, but reading the gospels was a study in the impossible. I'd listened to a sermon a few weeks ago that had yet to leave me. One of the main themes of the talk had been this idea of impossibility, that what Jesus called us to do was impossible, which was why we needed God in the first place. Loving your enemies sounded like a great teaching, until you tried to apply it. Forgiving the unforgivable sounded noble, until you really thought about how many people you'd forgiven. To narrow this down and package it in shiny lights and neat brochures was simply an effort to take the mystery and greatness of the pursuit of Yahweh and turn it into something "more manageable." I guess I just didn't believe in the idea of making Jesus, "manageable."

A few drops of rain skittered across my face, and I couldn't help but smile as they danced lightly along the stoop. I slid my book under the overhang, picked up my coffee, and strolled slowly to the end of the driveway.

I was a salesman too. Everyone, to some extent, was always selling something. The nature of humanity was very much about convincing one another of this or that, from our smallest conversation about sports and makeup and clothes to ideas about politics and people and religion. The question wasn't whether or not we were selling something, but what we were selling. And why.

The rain picked up, bigger drops now, but it felt good as it washed over me. I leaned against my car and listened as the wind whistled through the leaves. The human experience incorporates such a diverse range of experience, the more we study it, the more difficult it becomes to believe in narrow doctrine. If God is who we say He is, would he not, then, God understand us for who we are and what we have gone through? Would he not judge us by the words we memorize or the creed we confess, but by the state of our heart? Would he not, if he is a perfect judge, look at two lives differently? Two million? Two billion?

I sipped my coffee and slowly headed back up the driveway. I was a salesman too, we all were. My hope was that I would love, that I would remain humble, even as I sold my own ideas about God. These days, I find it easier to sell than listen. I find it easier to scoff at new ideas and wave aside the things I see on the market. The humanity comes, I think, when we understand who we are, and go beyond that to see who people really are and why they sell what they sell. On many levels, this is an impossible task. But that is what God has called us to, isn't it? An impossible life... with an improbable Saviour.

This fall, as the season changes, remember that we are all selling something, no matter how pure our motives may seem. So long as we understand who we are and what you're doing, maybe it will give us a little insight on loving those around us. I am convinced that the more we understand ourselves, the more we understand the people around us. And the more we do that, the easier it becomes to read Jesus' words, and with God's help, do the impossible.