The miscreant had gathered quite the crowd. Even though it seemed it would start raining again any minute, people gazed up at him curiously, not seeming to notice the wet chill in the air or the occasional crack of thunder from the clouds. The young man stood in the parking lot of the old, out-of-service 7-Eleven that was scheduled to be knocked down next Thursday. His handsome head was tilted against the insistent wind, but he kept his eyes on the people in front of him. He wrung his black gloved hands together as he spoke, and every once in a while, his face flushed bright red before he swallowed and went on with his sermon.
I was running late, very late, but still I stopped to stare.
“Jesus doesn’t care about political correctness!” he was saying, his voice clear and convicting despite his blatant discomfort. “Everyone keeps saying that his message and anything that has to do with the Bible could be offensive to people, and that’s why Christmastime is no longer Christmastime, but the ‘Holidays’. It’s why they teach Evolutionism in schools and universities, and not one word can even be mentioned about the true creation of the universe and everything in it!”
My eyes went wide, my mouth dropped in shock. Who was this nutball?
“I don’t care about the nasty things you might be thinking about me,” he went on, making me blush. “It’s not about me, and it’s not about you, either. If just one of you will listen to what I’m saying and realize the error of your popular belief, it won’t matter one lick what anyone else thinks. If I could help Jesus to get just one of his little lambs back…” He stopped, here, imploring everyone with his eyes, before they finally fell on me, still gaping on the sidewalk. He spoke louder. “Some people don’t believe because no one really told them what Jesus is about, so I figured I may as well tell you. He is about love, and not giving up, and going forward even when it’s really, really hard. I so don’t want to be up here right now. You have no idea. At the same time, I know He will be pleased with me at the end of the day. And for me, not a whole lot else matters.”
He glanced down at his gloved hand, as though he had written notes there, before continuing.
“God is not called Allah, or Zeus, or whatever else other people might call Him. He is His own person, and no other name will change that. At church today, Pastor Theodore said that the Word wasn’t meant to only be spoken where it’s safe, but to be shouted from places least expected, because people who haven’t heard don’t normally go to these ‘safe places’. Like church. So here I am. Please, take what I’m saying seriously. God doesn’t want you to go to Hell, but if you don’t want to be with Him, Hell’s the only other option.”
Now, just who did this young man think he was? I am sure my face was as red as his as I bristled in barely controlled infuriation. I thought of my beautiful friend Sarah, who was a Muslim, and all of my other friends who had religions I hadn’t even heard of. Sure, I didn’t believe in the things they did, but they were wonderful people. They hadn’t killed anyone, never stole, were always willing to listen to my problems. Surely they wouldn’t go to Hell just for not believing in God! There were mumbles and uncomfortable shifting all around the stupid little preacher wannabe, and yet, no one left in angry silence like I was waiting for so I could leave too, without feeling too badly. The crowd was upset, but still they listened. I began to inch away. Maybe if I just kept on like I hadn’t even noticed…but his eyes came to rest on me again, and they held me in my place.
I glared back, but did not move.
“Being a Christian isn’t just about being a happy-to-do-good-things, always-at-peace-with-the-world, they-have-something-we-can’t-have person. It’s also not I-know-everything, you’re-going-to-burn-in-Hell-you-dirty-sinner, either. It’s about fortitude, and perseverance, and remembering why you get up in the morning. People ask why God lets bad things happen, but keep in mind that it’s not just God out there, there’s Satan, too. God doesn’t restrain people, because He wants them to love Him freely. He can talk to us, plead with us, but He knew before He even created the world who would repent and who wouldn’t. If any of you wanted to attack me right now and beat me up, God probably wouldn’t use His powers to keep your hands to yourselves just because He loves me. We have free will, but we often abuse it. Much too often. Sure, being a Christian might be summed up in words like ‘submission’, ‘faith,’ and ‘obedience’, but the rewards are much greater than any sour feelings we might have.”
I swallowed, trying to tell myself again that this guy was a nut job, and he was right; somebody might very well knock him around once they got the chance. I almost hoped that didn’t happen, since he did seem like a well-meaning boy, but he shouldn’t expect people to take his condemning words with a cheerful countenance.
“What’s more, Christianity isn’t a solitary thing. God wants us to help each other, lean on each other, back each other up. So we are never alone. One big family.” For a moment, his stressed-out look lifted, and he smiled brightly.
I looked at my watch. My agent was probably wondering where I was by now. The fashion gala was starting in half an hour, and I still needed to have my makeup and hair done, and get into my dress. My boyfriend Matthew had wanted to wish me good-luck before I went on, also, but at this point I didn’t think I would have enough time. Despite my anger, I had to admit that the young man’s words reawakened my memories of saying prayers as a kid, really feeling that God was listening. Going to church with my parents every Sunday and listening to the pastor’s words that made such good sense. But I was too busy for religion now. Maybe later I would think about the young preacher’s words again, but for right now, I had to go.
As I turned away from the 7-Eleven parking lot, the young man stopped mid-sentence, startling me so that I turned around to see what had happened. He was staring at me again, and everyone else’s heads turned toward me as well. The young man took in a deep breath, looking a little hurt, but went on. Flushing from the stares of the other people, I continued on my way, the click-click of my heels racing the pounding of my heart.
I was just about at the fashion house when the city block lit up in sunshine before me. The stormy wind died down to a slow, even breathing. The newborn light struck the wet buildings and the pavement and made everything sparkle. Rolling my eyes but smiling a little, I glanced up at the sky before I opened the door. The sun was out, at last. Jesus, indeed!