Thursday, September 23, 2010

Selling Jesus

I couldn’t’ help it. The refrain rang in my head like the tale of Paul Revere’s ride: The Mormon’s are coming! The Mormon’s are coming! In all fairness, the two young women in floral nylon skirts and short-sleeved sweaters walking past our house on a warm Saturday in September might have been Protestant Christians or Jehovah’s Witnesses or PETA members (on second thought, PETA probably doesn’t carry small leather-bound books under one arm).

I pulled into our driveway just as they were passing our house and on to the next one. Running inside, I proclaimed, “The Mormon’s went by! –Or Jehovah’s Witnesses!” to my husband. “Did they stop here??”

“No.” He looked puzzled.

“Oh,” I answered, a bit crestfallen, “maybe because we have the sign up on the front door.” Nap Time. Please do not ring bell. (At our house these days, it’s always naptime.)

Usually, I am mildly intoxicated from my encounters with door-to-door proselytizers-of-faith (POFs). There’s something anomalous and quaint about the idea of peddling citizenship in heaven from door to door, the way the girls and I are peddling popcorn balls these days. Not that I’ve ever been close to helping one of these POFs close a deal, so to speak, but I find the theological discussions fascinating (assistant pastor and religion major, here), and it’s nice to rub shoulders out of the blue with others who share concerns about faith and eternity.

Yet, (I speak as one completely ignorant about conversion rates from this type of proselytizing when I say) I don’t imagine it a very fruitful endeavor. In spite of my initial delight in encountering POFs, at some point my enthusiasm turns to dismay when I realize that they want something from me—a conversion, a profession of newly found faith, a commitment to show up at the neighborhood ward on Sunday. I begin to think that they find my shaved head suspect. I can feel their disappointment, maybe a hint of judgment. I let them down easy. I thank them. I reassure them that I pray. I smile encouraglingly and send them on their way.

In selling popcorn balls, part of my discomfort is that we’re asking people to take a risk, to shell out two dollars for a product with no consumer testimonials or FDA approvals attached to it. (For all they know, we’ve shellacked the balls with cat urine and rolled them in a litter box.) We’re asking them to give us something—two dollars—without a guarantee of getting something good in return. It’s the same with the approach taken by some POFs, and it’s the reason I don’t do what those young ladies in the floral nylon skirts were doing. 

I do talk with people about my faith in God. But I’m not into random propositions of salvation. I prefer people get to know Jesus via consumer testimonial or free trial offer rather than door-to-door, sign-on-the-dotted-line sales. My inexpert opinion is that people are more likely to make a move toward faith, toward God, when they have a sense that there’s something good God wants to do for them. With door-to-door sales, however, there's a lot of energy spent on merely leveling the social awkwardness that has arisen between them and a travel-weary, nylon- or suit-clad POF.

If I could, I’d bring some sights and smells and sounds along on our popcorn ball sales trips—a video, perhaps, of marshmallows warming into melted butter; the pop and crunch of yellow corn kernels fluffing into white; and the aroma of caramelized sugars. In the same way, if someone asked me about my faith, I would tell them how God healed me a few years ago of a 17-year-long affair with asthma. About how my eyesight was miraculously restored and I no longer needed the glasses I’d been wearing since tenth grade. I would talk about the love that has lifted off torment from mistakes I've made, and I’d talk about the peace that sometimes—often, even—I am able to tap into during the worst kinds of trouble. Also: the quiet voice I hear as the voice of God that lays so many fears to rest.

But then I’d probably just shut up. And live. And pray for their blessing and their good. And be a good friend. And let them decide what, if anything, they want from me and what, if anything, they need from God.

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