The county fair

The smells of sweat and fried dough hung in the air, mixing with the burned oil of the tractor pull. He was sitting with hands clasped, wearing a plaid shirt with the sleeves rolled up and a challenge on his deeply lined, leathery face. She was standing, looking all the world like a Grant Wood painting, and thrusting matchbook-sized pamphlets into the hands of passersby. I walked by out of reach, but I couldn’t help looking at the booth, one of many at the county fair. “How sure are you of going to heaven? Are you 50% 75% 100% sure?” read the banner. My friend wondered aloud about how one arrives at a 75% surety of heaven. I chuckled, but I was unable to keep walking by the booth. On the table, a wooden contraption with three small doors read: “Do you know the three things God CANNOT do?”

I stopped. The Grant Wood painting saw my furrowed brow and handed me a pamphlet. It looked like a doll’s magazine. A smiley face decorated the cover along with the words: “Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior?” I closed my hand around the pamphlet and pointed to the three doors. I tried to keep the incredulity out of my voice, but I failed miserably: “So, what are the three things God can’t do?” I said.

She opened the first door: “God CANNOT lie.” She opened the second door: “God CANNOT change.” She opened the third door: “God CANNOT let people into heaven who have not been born again.”

We talked for fifteen minutes. I told them I did not disagree with the first door, but that I preferred to state the sentiment in positive terms: “God always tell the truth” or “God is trustworthy and faithful.” I said that a “lie” is the absence of the “truth,” and that I’d rather talk about God’s goodness shown in God’s truthfulness than to try to hook people with the trappings of sensationalism. After five minutes, the man commented that I was very intelligent. I took that as a compliment, but I have a sneaking suspicion it was not meant as such.

As our conversation continued, I realized we weren’t conversing. We were sparring. I’ve never had a taste for theological pugilism, but I was already three rounds deep, so I kept jabbing and blocking. I’ve had this same conversation with county fair proselytizers, but never as an ordained person. After the man commented on my intelligence, he asked me what I did. I said, “I’m a priest.” Without another word, he thrust another pamphlet in my hand. It was about how Roman Catholics aren’t real Christians and are going to hell.The same thought kept jumping to the front of my mind: “People like these, no matter how pure and ardent their intentions, make my job harder.”

It didn’t matter that I wasn’t a Roman Catholic. It didn’t matter that I agreed with the man and woman several times during our bout. The only thing that mattered was that I didn’t buy into the way they framed the Christian faith–as a bottom-line venture whose only goal is to “save souls” by following the instructions in the smiley-face doll-sized magazine. Surely, there’s more than that. Surely, the abundance of what God has done and is doing is more important than a “what’s behind door number 3” marketing scheme concerned with what God CANNOT do.

As I walked away, I wondered what had been accomplished during our boxing match. In the Gospel according to Matthew, Jesus says that when two or three are gathered in his name, he will be in the midst of them. Were we gathered “in his name” or in our own names, intent on KOing the other’s theological stance? Was Jesus there? Was I 50% 75% 100% sure of his presence? Looking back, Jesus was there, but he was not in my corner and he was not in their corner. He was there trying to get us to leave the ring.

7 thoughts on “The county fair

  1. These sorts of people always frustrate me and you know I’m pretty belligerent, but usually don’t engage them. First of all, they believe their salvation is predicated on their ability to convert others to be “born again.” Secondly, they believe they are being persecuted for Jesus’ sake when people disagree with them or interpret the Bible in a non-literal fashion.

    Frankly, these born again types who proselytize vigorously in the public square and are anti-Catholic bigots are either brainwashed or mental dwarfs. There’s no sense in engaging them because Catholics and those of the Catholic tradition have an arsenal of tradition and knowledge that they reject outright. There are several quick ways to torpedo their arguments and they’re so easy it’s not even worth doing.

    The fact that they recognize the Bible as the sole authority for belief is a recognition of the Catholic Church’s authority. The Bible was pieced together by the Church. The Bible doesn’t even support the notion of Sola Scriptura. Next, point out to them the fact they’re religious ideas and theories are innovations and nobody believed them prior to the 19th Century. They should shut up, but inevitably they won’t.

    I was in New York this weekend and on the subway a group of “born again” Christians piled on handing out Jack Chick anti-Catholic pamphlets and saying that we were all sinners (true). However, one young woman said, “Did you know, if you steal ANYTHING, you’re a thief? Even if you accidentally take a pen from a waiter at a restaurant, you’re guilty of disobedience to the commandment to not steal!” How wrong she was! I thought about explaining the components of act and intention, but realized this is a subtlety that would be lost on her.

  2. hey brotha! Love the blog … and the entry. I look forward to reading more. I didn’t see the link to my blog on your website … I’m still really new to blogging but after I figure out how to do more than post I’ll put a link to yours … keep up the good work. I look forward to reading more.

    Peace!
    John

  3. It’s truly amazing how you can have a conversation and not know you’re arguing until 30 minutes in! Been there many times.

    I enjoyed this greatly!

    Of course, I wonder sometimes if God even tells the truth all the time. I used to be one of those drive-by evangelists and it was a whole-hearted (inerrant, blush)belief in that first precept that did me in.

  4. I appreciate your sentiment of wanting to put #1 in positive terms, but I’m tempted to disagree with his the notion that he always tells the truth. He cannot tell a lie. He doesn’t always TELL the truth. He doesn’t lie, but he doesn’t reveal everything…doubt we could “handle it” if he did! (ha ha!) May seem like hair-splitting, but not an insignificant split end, I wonder? I like the rephrase though of God is always trustworthy and faithful to his original phrasing..

    Anyway, enjoying your blog!

  5. Hey Adam,
    I somehow managed to stumble upon your blog through facebook this morning and have been perusing a few entries. I am actually going to the Mississippi State Fair in a few hours with my sister and was drawn to this article in particular. I have frequently been drawn into these quasi-conversations and wondered on a large scale how effective they actually are as a form of evangelism. If the majority of people find their methods so offensive is it more for the one who evangelizes than the one being evangelized to? Anyway, hope life is going well!

  6. WOW – I know this is a really old post, but I thought I would take the time to correct yours’ and every other commenter’s assumption here. God CAN NOT LIE – this person told you an unfailed an unfathomable truth. GOD CAN NOT LIE! He is TRUTH, the antithesis of UNTRUTH – simple and yet incredibly complex – GOD IS TRUTH.

    Titus 1:2 In hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began;

    Hey, I checked the greek, looked at the ESV, NIV and the NASB – All agree – GOD CAN NOT LIE!

    All the best!

    Todd.

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