Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Jesus draws a crowd

As Mike (campus staff at UNCC) and I walked towards Belk Tower on the campus of UNC Charlotte, the sound of “Hells Bells” by AC/DC drifted through the air. There was an international studies fair planned at the tower, and we knew that a controversial open-air preacher was there as well, but where AC/DC fit into that was beyond me. The answer became clear as we approached the tower, which has a small hill at its base. The preacher, Bible in hand and wearing a baseball cap that read “REPENT”, argued with a crowd of students, while above him on the hill, a student played heavy metal on his guitar, amp cranked to “11.”

It was a chaotic scene to say the least. The preacher hollered about homos, and the students hollered back and even videotaped his rants to post on YouTube. Some laughed, others seethed. Cell phones were out, snapping pictures and calling friends to come and see the show, and over it all, the student dressed in black whaled away, moving from Jimi Hendrix back into AC/DC, this time playing “Highway to Hell.”

Admittedly, it was entertaining in its circus-like nature. But it also broke my heart. Here were students that were eager to talk about Jesus, to engage religious ideas, but they were being taken to places of anger, cynicism and untruth. They were being yelled at and condemned and the beauty of Christ was being distorted into a crude caricature. Occasionally, in moments of calm, the preacher would say something that was spot-on, and he even said it with respect. But mostly it was a saddening chaos.

I tried to talk with some of the students in the crowd, and most of them professed to be Christians (not a surprise here in the South). One guy that I talked with attended church sometimes, kind of on an as-needed basis, and seemed reluctant to consider that his need might be greater than he suspected. He was much more interested in laughing at the preacher than talking with me.

This was the fourth day of the preacher-show at the tower, and I think that for many there, the novelty was wearing off. Besides, he was merely confirming their stereotypes of fundamentalist Christians anyway.

But what if someone had stood on that hill and yelled at people as they walked past, “You! Young woman – you are created fearfully and well by God! You have been made beautifully!”

“You, young man – you have been loved from the beginning of time. You have a good Father who adores you!”

“You, who struggle with sexual brokenness, there is healing and wholeness available for free!”

“Rejected, unloved, confused – there is peace and freedom and acceptance. It will cost you everything but will give you so much more than everything!”

“Hey, you who are burnt out on religion, burnt out on life – there is another way to connect with God, a way that is real and true!”

Would this draw a crowd? Would people stop to hear more? Or would they walk away, averting their gaze from the crazy guy with a weird message?

It seems that Jesus can still draw a crowd, but doing it in a way that is refreshing and surprising, filled with hope – that is a skill we need to learn, providing an alternative to the caricature.

1 comment:

Ashleigh said...

Crazy pit preachers are an everyday thing at UNC. Occasionally InterVarsity students stop to listen and chat with people, but for the most part, we just feel frustrated or apathetic.

There's so much BAD news being yelled around campus, sometimes I really wonder what would happen if we boldly proclaimed the gospel like it was Good and it was News, like you're talking about. If someone did just straight-up speak truth to people walking by, what would happen?

Regardless of how that would go, some days I feel like we (the chapter, including me) are way to focused on a relationship-based evangelism that is uber-slow, less out of sensitivity to the Spirit and more out of fear...

Thanks for making me continue to wrestle with this.