I’m working this weekend at a Christian festival/concert called Celebrate Freedom. It’s put on by the Luis Palau association, and includes a couple dozen Christian bands, BMX shows, and lots of fun stuff for families. I was invited to set up a booth in the Family Fun Zone to introduce people to Chinese Juggling Sticks (remember my friend Lance?). I needed some help manning my booth, so invited my friend John to join me. He is slightly better at the sticks than I am. He is also a Buddhist. (I don’t think the two are connected.)
I didn’t tell him much about the festival for two reasons. First, I didn’t know much about it in the first place, and second, I wanted to see how he reacted.
At the end of the night, I asked him what his overall impressions were, and he said, “It’s just a big show…a production. I thought Jesus was about serving and helping other people, not about lights and loud speakers, and trying to act like Britney Spears. I’ve spent many years investigating all religions, and tonight has convinced me further that Christianity has nothing I want.”
Isn’t that the saddest statement you’ve ever heard? And it comes from one Buddhist observing a Christian “evangelistic” festival.
As soon as he showed up, the first thing he said was, “I didn’t realize this was only for Christians. Am I welcome here?” Ironically, this was an “evangelistic” event, but every single person I talked to was already attending a church somewhere, while John, the Buddhist, immediately felt unwelcome. I think it had something to do with all the Christian music blaring everywhere, the Christian symbols on every square inch, and everybody wearing Christian t-shirts.
The booth we had been assigned to was right near the Family Fun Zone Stage, and I wasn’t paying much attention to what was happening on the stage, but John sure was! After about half an hour, he came up to me and said, “So…uh…do most churches do Britney Spears impersonations and sing her songs…except change the words to be about Jesus?” Since I don’t listen to Britney Spears, I didn’t recognize the tune, but I glanced up at the stage and immediately saw what he was referring to. The girls were strutting around the stage in Britney Spears fashion singing a pop song about her love for Jesus. When the song was over, John turned to me and said, “Well, I can never listen to that song again. She just ruined it for me.” (I didn’t realize Buddhists listen to Britney Spears, but I guess some do.)
It was boiling hot out (nearly 100 degrees) and we both went through all our water in about an hour, so John went to find more. We were told there was going to be a hospitality booth for volunteers to get free water and food. The booth did not exist on Friday night, so he had to go buy water. He came back with a 12 oz bottle a few minutes later and wryly stated, “I now know how they can give tickets away for free. This bottle of water was $4.” (I had also noticed on my way in that there were numerous signs all over the place stating that outside coolers were not allowed to be brought in to the festival for “security reasons.” When I learned that they were charging $4 for water, I began to suspect that the “security reasons” were financial security.)
Anyway, about this time, the evangelist lady got up to give her talk to the kids, and so our booth had to shut down so there would be no distractions. Ironically, fifty feet away, another stage (for high school kids) was just getting jumping with a Christian rap group (more on that in a bit). Since our booth was shut down, we got to listen to the evangelistic talk. She began by having all the children repeat after her that they were sinners and God hates sin. She had them all raise hands if they had ever sinned. John got upset. “These are kids!” he said. “They don’t need to be told that God hates them!” (Notice that this is not quite what she said…but I didn’t try to correct him. The inference was definitely there). She went on to talk about the gap of sin that separates us from God and how the cross of Jesus can bridge that gap if we just believe that Jesus died on the cross.
Then there was a prayer time in which the kids were asked to repeat after her a prayer to ask Jesus into their heart. Then those who had repeated the prayer (i.e., all the kids) were invited to go to a counseling booth to fill out a response card and have someone talk to them more about Jesus. John rolled his eyes, but didn’t say anything. I can only imagine what he was thinking, but the whole talk reminded me of brain washing: Get all the kids excited, then get them scared, then tell them to repeat things after you to make it all better.
Now back to the rap group. When they got up on the stage, John thought it was funny that our booth was asked to shut down to avoid distractions, but their rap almost made the evangelist on our stage impossible to hear. But he was more intrigued at the idea of “Christian rap.” When they first started he said, “Is that rap?” I told him it was Christian rap. He looked at me with a bewildered look, and said, “What does gang banging and gun running have to do with the gospel?” I laughed so hard. I explained to him that they are probably not rapping about gang banging and gun running, but about Jesus. He shook his head.
There were many more such incidents during the night, and I hope John comes on Saturday too. It is so refreshing for me to see the Christian production through new eyes.
Have you ever tried so hard to do something for people who are not Christians, only to find out that only Christian come, and those few non-Christians who do come don’t stick around long? Maybe you should step back and take a look at what you are doing and how it might look to someone who has not grown up in the church. It truly is a bewildering spectacle.