"Come on! You can't be a Christian!" He laughed in disbelief.
"Well, I am." I laughed too, partly at the irony. I was in Wal-Mart, bundled to the teeth against the carnivorously frigid elements outside. It's not often I'm not identified immediately as a "church lady" because of my garb. I had just hit upon a CD of Handel... and another of some Bob Marley songs I'd been wanting... when the guy next to me noticed my selections and commented. We'd talked music for a little, then he had wondered who else I like. He had not recognized a few names, and I had said they were Christian artists.
"But you're not stuck-up enough. I can't believe it. All the Christians I know just go around thinking they're better than everyone else and voting Republican."
As his distaste for Christians poured out, so did a bit of his story. He grew up the delinquent, messed-up kid. Pain and subsequent anger colored his world in scenes of chronic estrangement from his class at school... and now from society. And the Christians in the scenes? They were the ones the furthest away from him, going about their lives with their own clean friends and programs.
I told him I was sorry. Really and truly sorry. I told him I'm not ok with how many people are hurt by religion, and that I'm trying to learn to live like Jesus did. "I guess you can just say I'm a Jesus freak."
He stood there. Quiet and looking at Wal-Mart's grungy tile floor. Then he laughed again. "That's the first time I ever heard someone call themselves that. Jesus freak. I mean, I've heard it used to mock people. But that's really cool. I'm cool with Jesus. If you're really trying to live like Him, I mean, that's really cool. I sometimes think that Jesus wouldn't be a Christian. But yeah, I don't want a part of this church stuff."
That was a mouthful.
Since our conversation, I've been thinking a lot. We church-goers cherish the notion that people will be drawn to Jesus by how we look or live our lives. Maybe. Looking like I march to the beat of a different drummer has given me opportunities to talk to people about Jesus. But maybe that's not enough. Maybe, just maybe, people need to feel respected as people. Maybe they need to be heard and loved. Maybe then they'll be drawn to Jesus.
Memo to Christians: we have some friends to make.