Monday, June 12, 2006

There is a fairly large Mormon population here around the University. The Mormon student association is a very large group in itself. So I am surprised to see so many Mormon missionaries hanging out in front of the Union talking to passers by. I don't know exactly what their system is, but I would think that the Mormon students here would be fairly capable of being the Mormon "presence", and evangelizing and all of that. But I am guessing that the church probably sends missionaries everywhere that they can, including those places that already seem to be thriving. How many missionaries end up going to (or staying in) Salt Lake City and that area? Hmm. I will be in SLC in July, and I may just have to find out.

There have been several times when I was walking home for lunch and saw two guys in the notorious white shirts and black pants, and a sense of panic would come over me when I saw them. I don't know if I really feel hostile to them, I just don't appreciate anyone coming up to me to try and sell me something. And of course I don't really think that I am worth their time, since I am fairly steadfast in my religious beliefs. But so far none of them have come to talk to me. There is a small part of me that wonders why not (do I look mean? do I look religious already? do they think I'm not worth the effort?), but for the most part I am relieved.

I have to say that it is really frustrating to see people try and advertise their religious beliefs in this way. A lot of Christians do the same thing, and to me it sends terrible signals. First of all, it places these faiths in the same category with Pepsi or with Bath and Body Works. Think about it- when you go to a concert or a sporting event, you're more than likely going to see a representative for Pepsi or some other brand talking loudly and passing out coupons to try and convince people to get that product. And if you've ever walked into Bath and Body Works, you know that you are instantly bombarded with some woman (or slightly effeminate man) in an apron telling you that lotions are to the left and candles are to the right. How much of a difference is there when someone is doing this type of thing with their religion?

This is what I have concluded: business can be a religious endeavor in some situations, but religion can NOT be a business endeavor. Sure, a parish should have organizational skills, and budget its money wisely, and all of those things, but it seems to me that the line gets crossed all the time into something that is more about business and less about worship. I make jokes about Orthodox organizations being disorganized and sometimes unprofessional, but in some ways I am glad that they generally stay on that side of the line (although I am sure that it gets crossed there too). But the megachurches and their mall-like establishments make my skin itch.

There is such a sense of urgency and do-it-yourself-ness in the churches that place evangelization above all else, and define evangelization as tracts and 2-minute prayers of repentance. I do appreciate the fact that if you believe strongly in something, you want other people to see what you see. I also understand that when it comes to eternity, it is important to try and show people the way. The thing to remember, though, is that none of us really knows the way, and none of us has got the golden ticket into Heaven. I can't say what salvation is, but I am fairly certain that I know what it isn't. Salvation is not a laundry list of rights and wrongs, and even the most pious of us all is a dirty sinner. I hope and pray that I would please God, but I am more concerned with doing my best than with telling other people what's best for them. They'll see it in me if they want to, or if I've even got it.

The most important thing that has happened in my life to truly help me understand what this evangelization stuff is all about was to meet a monk who lives in Denver. His monastery is just off of Colorado Blvd, in a typical suburban neighborhood. He has to deal with everyday life all of the time, unlike many other monks who live way outside of town. He wears his faith on his sleeve quite literally- he is in a floor-length black cassock even in the middle of summer- and yet he is one of the humblest people I have ever met. His personality, his genuine love for people, is entirely disarming.

I am digressing, but this brings me back to something I have heard several priests and monks speak about before. At the heart of all sin is arrogance. I really believe that. And I think it is of the utmost importance for those who find evangelism to be important, to keep in mind that arrogance has no place in it.

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