A little PS. to my book review of Girl At the End of the World to pull out one facet I found particularly interesting. In more than one part of the book, Elizabeth highlights the fact that her upbringing in extreme fundamentalism left her totally unclear on how to authentically relate to people who didn’t share her faith. Example:
“I desperately want to make friends but am terribly unsure about how to do that. How do normal people go about it? I don’t know how to engage people without trying to convert them to Christ. I don’t know how to have a conversation without steering it toward Questions of Eternal Significance.“(p. 156)
In Elizabeth’s mind there are Jesus people – her type – or non-Jesus people, with whom she’s compelled to actively “make the most of every opportunity,“ whatever the cost. In essence, all she knows to do in conversation with non-Jesus folk is to fulfill a guilt-driven, knee-jerk sense of: “you gotta get Jesus in there somehow.” Wow.
Or how about this section where Elizabeth is navigating peer marketing for the first time in the form of a Tupperware rep?
“(I ask): ‘Were you just being nice to me in the store so I’d let you sell your stuff to my friends at a home party?’
‘Oh I genuinely like you,’ she exclaims. ‘And I hope we can become friends!’
‘But first I need to schedule a home party?’
‘Well. sure. Wouldn’t that be fun?’
‘Um, no. Not really.’
…It is suddenly dawning on me that I’d done the exact same thing to people: pretended to be their friend in order to get them to buy something. Instead of selling kitchen gadgets, I’d been a multilevel marketer for The Assembly.
I’d been an Independent Distributor of Salvation. How can I resent this woman for trying to sell me Tupperware? I’d done worse. I’d sold Jesus.” (p.159-160)
Key point: Elizabeth is still a Christian today and still follows Jesus; she’s not saying that Jesus is the problem in this scenario. The problem she’s pointing out is the “selling” of Jesus – the sense of peddling, of the manipulation that came with her discussions about Jesus. On this one it seems to me that Elizabeth’s in decent company, and wherever one sees it, it ain’t pretty.
I came upon this quote by C. S. Lewis not long about that kept bumping around in my mind when I was reading Elizabeth’s words:
“It is right and inevitable that we should be much concerned about the salvation of those we love. But we must be careful not to expect or demand that their salvation should conform to some ready-made pattern of our own. Some Protestant sects have gone very wrong about this. They have a whole programme of conversion etc. marked out, the same for everyone, and will not believe that anyone can be saved who doesn’t go through it ‘just so.’ But (see the last chapter of my Problem with Pain) God has His own way with each soul. There is no evidence that St. John underwent the same kind of ‘conversion’ as St. Paul. It’s not essential to believe in the Devil; and I’m sure a man can get to Heaven without being accurate about Methuselah’s age. Also, as Macdonald says, “the time for saying comes seldom; the time for being is always here.’ What we practice, not (save at rare intervals) what we preach, is usually our great contribution to the conversion of others…”