Why should I let you into heaven?

What would you say if you were to stand before God and he asked you why he should let you into heaven?

That question can be found in a lot of Christian witnessing literature. It’s one of the questions you’re supposed to ask to make sure someone understands salvation. And I hate that question.

I was first asked that question when I was in elementary school. I was talking with the pastor of my church about being baptized. He wanted to make sure I truly understood Christianity and asked me that question. I was left speechless. What would I say if God asked me why he should let me into heaven? In my elementary school mind, the answer was simple. If God didn’t want to let me in, he didn’t have to. Groveling or trying to explain my way around God wouldn’t accomplish anything. What a foolish question.

The answer, of course, is that I was supposed to explain the plan of salvation to God (as if he forgot) and if I really knew my stuff, then my explanation would be so air-tight that God would have no choice but to let me in. It’s a nice device to see if people really understand something, but it’s always struck me as deceptive. God knows all about his plan for salvation. He knows if I know it or not, so why would he ask? The only reason I can think of is because he doesn’t want to let me into heaven. And if God suddenly decides not to let me into heaven, what I am going to say? “That’s not fair!”? Yeah, I’d probably say that, and I’d be right, but what would it accomplish?

The whole scenario seems flawed to me because God would have to keep contradicting himself. At best he’s simply testing his subjects, which seems like the last thing God would do when you first step before him. It’s almost casting a legalistic image on God.

4 years

Today marks four years of these pseudo-daily thoughts. For those keeping score, I believe that pre-dates Blogger and the recent flood of web-based journaling. Of course I can’t act like I’m that original; in the true nature of the Internet, I stole the idea from someone else.

One of my favorite things to do when I’m looking for inspiration is to read the archives. It sounds rather conceited to say that I’m my own best inspiration, but it’s really just a matter of remembering what inspired me on some random day in the past four years. Sometimes you’d be surprised. It’s also fun to see how many typos, broken links, and inconsistent styles you can find.

Gone

And just like that, it’s over. A life is snuffed out before it began. There’s no one to blame, no one to question, no one to answer. That’s life. It’s your cross to bear. These months of preparation and anticipation are now bittersweet. For the rest of your life they’ll be with you, reminders of what could have been, reminders that life is precious and short. It’s a nameless, faceless wonder.

To better times.

My Dad, early 1970s

My Dad.This is my dad, smoking a pipe and reading a magazine, sometime in the early 1970s. Those sideburns are an essential part of Hendricks family history, and I’m proud to say they’re now electronically preserved.

But seriously, for Thanksgiving my wife and I traveled to the flat state of Kansas for turkey dinner with the fam. Part of the holiday included rummaging through a box of family history stuff, including photos from the 1920s-70s and two journals from my great-great grandfather, dating 1908-1910 and around 1920. Very interesting stuff about going to market and the “elegant fine weather.” I’ll have to go into more detail later. The sideburns and pipe photo will have to tide you over for now.

Christian Environmentalism

Last night I mentioned a new ad campaign attempting to link religion and environmentalism, What Would Jesus Drive? It’s a slick idea, and about time. In my experience the church has been pretty anti-environment. Christians often mistrust tree-huggers as whacked out new-agers who care more about plants and animals than people.

But those fundamentalist ideas are dying. A casual poll of my youth group shows that pollution and environmental problems are seen as the biggest issues in the world today. The next generation cares about the planet, and it’s about time we returned to Biblical values. Psalm 104 reads like any nature writing from the 20th century: “You make springs gush forth in the valleys; they flow between the hills, giving drink to every animal; the wild asses quench their thirst. By the streams the birds of the air have their habitation; they sing among the branches. From your lofty abode you water the mountains; the earth is satisfied with the fruit of your work,” (Psalm 104: 10-13, NRSV).

Environmentalism is also getting another boost, from nationalism as well as from simple human compassion. I’m eager to see if in the next 50 years or so we’re forced into caring about the environment or if it’s more of a gradual shift that comes about because people want it to. It’s a lot harder to say you love your grandchildren and have gone the route of the first option.

What Would Jesus Drive?

Why are people so dumb? It’s a question I have to ask myself a lot. Almost as much as another question I ask a lot, why are Christians so dumb? Some Christians get so worked up over the evil in the world. They see bad things happening and they go through the roof. They want this movie canceled, that commentator fired, this book burned–when all those things are really just mirrors reflecting the evil in society. That’s not a justification, it’s a simple fact. Rather than run around trying to break mirrors, why don’t we do something about the reality?

It seems to me that’s what Jesus did. He didn’t go for the smoke and mirrors of pop culture, entertainment, or politics. He didn’t go for the cover of Time magazine or a spot on prime time. He didn’t try to get elected to a political office. He just went to where he was needed the most–the people.

He didn’t picket, riot or complain. He didn’t wring his hands, join a commune, or pull out of public school. He didn’t write a letter to the editor or have a discussion over coffee or write a book about how things should be done. He just did what should be done.

The world is sinful. We know. So are you. Knowing how bad we are isn’t the solution. And telling someone that Jesus is the solution doesn’t cut it. It’s what writing teachers always say: show, don’t tell. You have the solution, just live it. Stop your pissing and moaning, because that’s not the message you’re preaching.

So I’m pondering about the stupidity of Christians, and just when I think I’m done, I decide to go off on another tangent and check out the What Would Jesus Drive campaign. If you haven’t heard of it, it’s a pretty interesting approach to promoting efficient vehicles. It’s something the church should be promoting. It’s obviously not as important as spreading the Gospel, but it’s better than picketing homosexuals. Lots better.

So anyway, I went to check out the What Would Jesus Drive site, and I typed in whatwouldjesusdrive.com instead. It’s a rather whacked site, but the guy does make one point that I thought was priceless: “So remember, when you’re driving around in your SUV… I don’t care if you have a Jesus-fish on it… [you’ll] still be flipping each other off…” Which really sums up my point nicely. It doesn’t matter what pseudo-Jesus bandwagon you’re jumping on, it’s a wash if you’re just like a Pharisee. The guy may have some strange pictures on his website, but he makes a good point.

And now, thanks to the whatwouldjesusdrive.com guy, I have seen the most sacrilegious website ever: jesusdressup.com. And you thought jesusoftheweek.com was bad.

Begging for CDs

I hate begging for money. Yet I work for a non-profit organization and it’s part of the job. It’s not my job, thankfully, but we always have to keep donations in the back of mind. I can’t tell you how many times we’re reminded that the organization is supported by thousands of little old ladies who send in one dollar every month. The freaky thing is it’s no exaggeration.

For the first time in their history the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association has put out a gift catalog. It’s basically one more way of begging for money, with the added bonus that you can decide where your money goes. You support whatever you want to support, assuming it’s in the catalog. It’s similar to the humanitarian support where you donate $50 to buy a goat for a family in Africa. Only with the BGEA, you’re giving money to evangelism projects.

One of those projects is the passageway.org Backstage Pass CD-ROM. passageway.org is the teen Web site of the BGEA, and the main focus of my job. This year we made these CD-ROMs to give to teens at BGEA events. The CD has a video presentation of the Gospel from a number of different Christian artists. They explain salvation in simple language, and teens can pray at the end. The CD also has the entire NIV Bible, a Bible reading plan, an introduction to the Web site, and exclusive access to a special “backstage” section of the Web site that includes more videos and articles.

passageway.org Backstage Pass CD-ROM
It’s a cool project and a powerful way to extend the Gospel at a Billy Graham Mission. All these teens are wearing these CDs around their necks as they listen to the music and the message. For the kids who don’t come forward at the invitation, they can go home and pop this CD in their computer and hear the message again on their own terms. And for the teens who do come forward at the event or who already are Christians, it introduces them to the perfect follow-up tool, a vast discipleship resource that’s updated weekly. It also gives those teens a cool and hip way to share the Gospel with their friends.

My point in all this is that the BGEA put the passageway.org Backstage Pass CD-ROM in their gift catalog. For the suggested donation of $1 per CD, you can help put these CD-ROMs in the hands of teens. Despite my dislike for fundraising, I think this is something worth supporting. So if you like what you’re hearing, please donate some cash for these CD-ROMs.

You can hear a report on the CD-ROMs (listen to the first segment, “Billy Graham Youth Web Site”) from Decision Today (the BGEA’s daily radio show), which includes some quotes from my coworkers and I.

Pretentious Literary Snot

Sometimes I’m a pretentious literary snot. Unlike most debt-ridden, almost-newlywed, post college twenty-somethings, my wife and I have a library of nearly 800 books (and the number swells monthly). Now we justify it by picking up the books cheap at the used section of Barnes & Noble, where I balk at paying anything over $5 for a book. The 88-cent paperback table is my favorite gold mine.

But sometimes I think all these books make me a bit of a snot. I ride the bus to work and read quite a lot, and I take great pride in telling people how many books I read. Last year I read around 35, and this year I’m on a pace to break 50. I keep a list of the books I read each year, and every time I finish a book and need to select a new one from the shelves, I go over that list in my head and try to find a writer I haven’t read lately. I’d like to say I do this to have some literary diversity, to give myself a broad spectrum of influences, to hear voices from many different cultures, races, genders, societies and times. And that may be true, but I also like having an impressive list of authors I’ve read.

I’ve already read an Anne Lamott book this year, so I pass her up for Barbara Kingsolver, whom I haven’t read since last year. I’ve actually read a few Frederick Buechners, so I better stay away from him. I haven’t read Maya Angelou yet, and I should be able to say that I know why the caged bird sings. Apparently just knowing isn’t enough.

And all this week while reading Maya Angelou’s famous book I keep hoping people notice what book I’m reading. I want them to see this uppity, suburban white boy reading some black literature. I understand your pain. I feel the sting of racism and stand by you in solidarity. That’s what I think. But my actions betray me. Some relative will make a remark about coons and rather than speak my mind I stay silent. I may be seething, and will later consult with my other solidarity-minded relatives and quietly condemn the racist among us, but I never extinguish the hot spark of racism like I probably should. As I walk to my wife’s work in what some would call the wrong end of town I watch my back and pay more attention than I should to each passing car, each African American pedestrian.

I’m as sorry as the rest of them, and it makes me sad.

The other day I was contemplating writing a book about riding the bus and reading books, yet another of the book ideas that cross my mind and slowly slip away unwritten. But the idea of appearing a pompous literary ass who quotes books to sound important soured me.

I like to think I read books because I like to read, not because I want to be important. And I think the best evidence for that is the fact that I’m so quickly swept into the rhythmic plot of a book that I quickly forget to underline witty passages or pay attention to the arrangement of words and sentences the way most writers do. I just read and read, as fast as I can, barreling toward the end of the book to find out what happened.

And maybe that’s how it’s done: being so wrapped up in humanity and discovery and holiness that we don’t realize the passage we quoted is Shakespeare, or the man we befriended is black.