Saturday, as I was finishing up my brief shift at the Tucson Festival of Books, I came across a sidewalk preacher, outfitted with a wireless mic and amplifier. The horrible thing is he’d set himself up near a long line snaking its way to the book-signing table of of R.L. Stine, one of America’s most popular children’s’ book authors. Thus, dozens of parents and their 4th to 8th grade children were being evangelized right out of belief by this lunatic.
My reaction to the preacher’s “work” was strong: I wanted to walk up and explain that I’d have to spend the next month or so attempting to reverse the damage he was doing by spewing a gospel of hate. “You, sir,” I would say, “give one very demented picture of Christianity, and now I’ll have to explain how your limited, incomplete, superficial interpretation of Scripture is limited, incomplete, and superficial. It is exhausting, I tell you.”
But I refrained because I didn’t want to cause more of a scene and because I knew – since these traveling crazies visit the university frequently – he wouldn’t listen to me. He doesn’t care. He is on a mission that he’s convinced himself comes from the Almighty. Like Islamic fundamentalists with their panties all in a twist today because Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad hugged the mom of recently deceased Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, he and his ilk are the Pharisees of our time — so focused on judging others they cannot see God’s mercy.
I have a zillion theories on why these people are the way they are, but they all boil down to this: They have not had an experience of God. Period. No exceptions. They have read – even memorized – parts of the Bible or the Quran or the Torah and they have their literal interpretation of those certain parts and cling to them thinking knowing the words is the same as knowing the Person. They are dead wrong.
If they knew the Person, they’d be preaching the parable of the Prodigal Son, which, ironically, was the Gospel reading on Sunday. I doubt street-corner preacher man was in Mass that day, but if he had been at say, St. Cyril’s, he would have heard the priest explain how this parable is about the “lavishness of God’s love.” You screw up in the worst way and God takes you back anyway. He interrupts your apology to call for the fatted calf to be slaughtered. He brushes away your attempt at explaining your sinful ways and says, in essence, “I don’t care. I only care that you are here with me now.” You are always welcome. Period.
If only the sidewalk preachers could put down their mics and amplifiers long enough to hear that message. Then they wouldn’t have to fret so much about trying to save everyone – they could trust in God’s mercy to handle that instead.