There wasn't much that could have distracted me on the way to the train station on a recent Saturday evening. After two days at an outdoor music festival—in the rain one day and under the blazing sun the next—I wanted nothing more than to return to our apartment for a long shower and some blessed quiet. Lollapalooza was a blast, a great opportunity to see some new bands and observe Chicago's diverse youth culture. I might have stayed for the day's final acts, but I'm a pastor and my ringing ears and tired legs needed a good night's sleep before Sunday morning.
Before I'd walked even a block from the festival, I bumped into a small crowd whose attention was fixed on two men speaking loudly to the bedraggled onlookers. One held a handmade sign that read—I kid you not— "TURN OR BURN!" He spoke into a bullhorn, warning the young people of God's coming judgment and listing in vivid detail the sins that would lead them to an eternity burning in hell. The other man held an open Bible and vigorously debated anyone who disagreed with his companion's portrayal of God.
For the past two days, I'd watched these young people pursue beauty and friendship and community. Groups of sunburned 20somethings had made their way from one stage to the next, avoiding mud puddles and speaking with awe in their voices about their favorite musical experiences of the weekend. And now, as they left the safety of the festival grounds, they were immediately confronted with Jesus. Or at least two of Jesus' representatives.
A few in the crowd poked fun and tried to fluster the preachers. What really caught my attention, though, what overruled my fatigue, was another response. Despite this generation's reputation as cynical and sarcastic, many of the young wore visible sadness on their faces. Some pleaded with Bullhorn Man for a different portrayal of Jesus. A few people asked Bible Man if his God had any love for them. One young man was on the edge of tears as he tried to convince the men to lower their voices, to show kindness in their words about Jesus.
Ten minutes of this street theatre was enough and, quenching my desire to punch Bullhorn Man and Bible Man, I continued toward the train. As I often do after encountering this version of Christian witness, I angrily questioned why these men did what they did. How could they possibly think their language and posture was helpful? Is this what Jesus had in mind when he felt compassion for the harassed and helpless crowds—sheep without a shepherd—and asked his disciples to pray for more workers for the harvest? My irritation only increased as I thought about how the irreligious and marginalized of his day were attracted to Jesus. Whether or not they would have accepted his easy yoke, certainly these festival goers would have been intrigued by the alternative life Jesus proclaimed and demonstrated.
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