Posts Tagged ‘skip’

Spring Thaw of the Religious Salesmen

April 14, 2011

by Thomas M. Pender

Lots of things changed in college when the snow melted and the mercury rose.  The clothes people wore got thinner and smaller, the music got louder because the windows got opener, and the once wintry and serene campus became inundated with soldiers from various religious armies.  In particular, the Krishnas and the Gideons wrestled for us students’ attentions and affections, with the occasional evangelistic twentysomething thrown in for flavor.

The Krishnas were for pure entertainment value, near as I could figure.  Humorous hairstyles and wardrobes, matched with unimaginative dance moves and song lyrics.  It seemed to be a bad roadshow musical without a decent manager.  When we’d walk by with our books, we’d hear “Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna,” and in the spirit of friendliness, I’d offer, “Merry Christmas to you, too!”  When approached by one particular fellow, I asked, “Have your parents seen a recent photo?”  The chap did not seem in the mood for conversation, so I went about my way . . . which was, of course, what I was doing when he intercepted me in the first place.

The Gideons, on the other hand, were well-dressed, well-groomed gentlemen, all in their early to mid-sixties.  Under rather intense new-spring sun, they stood on every conceivable campus street corner in their three-piece suits – without sweating, mind you! – offering tiny shrunken Bibles to absolutely everyone who passed their post.  Most of my friends ended “Gideon Day” with one carry-along copy, to wave at the other pitchmen to illustrate “Got one, thanks.”  One friend in my dorm, however, saw it as an opportunity to break some sort of imaginary world record.  He collected Gideon Bibles from absolutely every passer-outer he came across that day!  I don’t think this is the goal of the Gideons, as I’m sure the dashing hawkers are aware that each copy reads pretty much the same as every other copy.  Still, I had to admire my friend’s determination and dedication.  To this day, I don’t know what he did with all those Testaments.

Once the Krishna courtyard and Gideon corners were maneuvered, you would run into the occasional stranger with the glassy-eyed frozen smile who would approach you with an already extended hand, saying, “Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your personal savior?” before even “Hello.”  Quite an interesting conversation-starter in some circles, I imagine.  Without taking the hand – and thereby implying that I wished a conversation – I’d say, “Yep, thanks,” and keep walking.  It’s terrible when people can make you squirm about something that normally feels good.  Then there were the Campus Evangelists.  Those who stand on short brick walls in open areas, shouting fire and brimstone to a wide open space full of moving targets.  The show I caught involved one energetic lad pointing at as many people as he could find, shouting, “You’re a sinner!  And you’re a sinner, too!”  How instrumental can this tactic be in recruiting folks for whatever army he was representing?  Had I been more interested in controversy than simply making it to class, I would have challenged, “Did you skip over the ‘Judge not, and ye shall not be judged’ passage, there, Brother?”  Sure, it’s an easy leap to assume everyone in sight – who happened to be human – was a sinner, but how rude to scream it to the public, without at least an “I’m a sinner right along with you!” in there somewhere.

I try very hard never to judge people.  I word things carefully, so as not to even appear as though I’m judging.  To this end, I would not say that these sects are peopled with weirdos.  I would say that these sects have . . . unique! . . . ways of bringing people into religion.  Is that nonjudgmental?