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Saturday, November 7, 2009

A Proselyter's Zeal (2)

My wife and I were commenting on how well-maintained his Avanza taxi was.  He said his boss bought it early this year.  We could tell he  was a careful driver — no sudden lurches, no reckless swerves, no racing with other cars. And he was neat.

Just as we thought our conversation had ended, he handed out two calling cards bearing the name of his church with its weekly Bible study or worship schedules.  Then came his five–minute sermon which, judging from his smooth delivery of it, he must have shared countless times to his passengers and just about anyone he met.  He is from this so and so church, he says, and, as I remembered it, he preached in a mix of Tagalog and English which went  something like this:

This [his church] is not a religion, it is a relationship. I am a born-again [sic]. And as a born­–again Christian I am responsible for preaching the gospel.  The gospel is simply a three-point message: Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection.  We are saved by the gospel. How do we get saved by the gospel?  Well, three things ­­ actually — three keys to the Kingdom. The first key is repentance. This corresponds to the first part of the gospel message, the death of Jesus Christ. The second key is baptism in the name of Jesus, which corresponds to the second part of the gospel message, the burial of Jesus. And the third key is Gift of the Holy Spirit, which corresponds to the resurrection of Jesus.

Despite being interrupted several times by my wife's instructions for him to turn here and there, he plowed on with his soul–winning sermonette right to where we got off, confident perhaps that he could get a quick harvest out of the "Seed" he earnestly sought to sow in our fertile heart.

Frankly, the last thing we wanted after a whole day’s  work is to listen to a sermon at night in a taxi. But we had to be polite, so we just responded to his fervent speech with ah-huh, okay, hmm while wishing we'd get to our destination in a jiffy.

"You were once like that," my wife kidded after we got off his taxi and were out of earshot. I looked back and saw the taxi still not backing up. "Oh yes, and perhaps much more so,” I replied. "And he is probably pausing for a five–minute prayer beseeching God to touch our hearts so we could finally feel the need to be saved from our terrible, terrible sins — just like I used to do after giving out tracts in the streets and preaching in classrooms or to strangers in a bus."

Years ago as a new convert to a new religion (depending on which church doctrine one uses refers to, I was actually “saved”  four times — when I was christened a Catholic in preschool, when I prayed the sinner's prayer in Grade six, when I prayed another sinner's prayer in a more conservative Baptist church in college, and when I was baptized specifically "for the remission of sins" into the Stone–Campbell Church of Christ).  I had such a “fire in my bones” that every occasion became an opportunity for my "New  Christian" testimony, and everyone outside my church was a "prospect" for evangelism.  For after all, we had a unique message of salvation, we were the right church, and we better be busy before the Day of Judgment comes to damn people who did not get to hear our message. "...No one has the right to hear the gospel twice until everyone has had the opportunity to hear it at least once," we'd chant with Peter Barnes as we marched on under the Star–Spangled Banner of the Baptistic/Restorationist Cross.

In reality though, we were simply proselyting most of the time — converting people to our church, our particular theology, out pet doctrines, and not to the Jesus who would have nothing to do with our misguided zeal and sectarian bent.

Still, I can say my stay with fanatical Christian groups was not a waste at all. It was simply a leg of this lifetime journey towards maturity.  When we truly commit ourselves to political, social, and religious ideologies, we will have to go through the passage from Cloud 9 Idealism to Ground Zero Realism during which we initially, like the boy in James Joyce's Araby, "Gaz(e) up into the darkness [and see ourselves as creatures]  driven and derided by vanity... [with] eyes burn[ing] with anguish and anger."  It was also a time to witness how the message of the Cross can change a person for the better.

And, back to riding a taxi, I think I prefer being preached to by the driver than having to wildly scramble for a missing seatbelt and to choke to death in a taxi driven by one whose closest experience to being spiritually high is enveloping the car with his cigar smoke while racing along the city's narrow streets like a man possessed by legions of demons who, moments before,  had just driven thousands of pigs into the sea.

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