In my latest reading of Courage to Stand, Tim Pawlenty tells funny stories about his campaigns for public offices. Like Michele Bachmann (another Minnesotan Republican), Pawlenty presents himself as an underdog going up against significant odds, and yet Pawlenty narrates that he wins through hard work and reaching out to the voters. I enjoyed Pawlenty’s stories about when he went door-to-door and contended with ferocious dogs, as well as explained his policy positions to people who answered the door in their underwear. As someone who used to go door-to-door to raise money for causes, I could identify with some of Pawlenty’s stories!
I’d like to focus on a story that Pawlenty tells on pages 90-91 about a man named Lafayette, whom Pawlenty knew when he (Pawlenty) was an attorney. Lafayette’s job was “to keep the underground parking ramp clean and to assist people if they needed it.” Lafayette consistently had a positive attitude and was kind, energetic, and joyful, and Pawlenty asked Lafayette why this was the case. Lafayette was pleased that Pawlenty asked, and Lafayette responded that it was due to his faith in God. Pawlenty writes: “In all the years I’d known him, he never said, ‘I’m a believer.’ He never handed me a Bible or a pamphlet. He simply demonstrated through his actions, through the way he conducted himself, what it means to be kind to other people, what it means to be generous, what it means to be thoughtful, joyful, helpful.”
I have a variety of reactions to this story:
1. Some of my relatives believe that those who jabber on about their faith probably have not experienced the real thing. I think that’s rather judgmental, myself, but I know that I am not especially keen on sharing my religious beliefs with people. I feel more authentic when I simply try to live the right way, without attempting to sell people religion.
2. I’ve known people like Lafayette, who are joyful on account of their faith. At one school that I attended, I regularly saw a man at one of the school libraries who checked bags at the entrance, and he radiated joy. I later saw him at a Pentecostal church that I visited. I’m puzzled as to how Christianity can give anyone joy—-with its message that so many people will burn in hell forever and ever. Moreover, I do not understand how conservative Christians could believe that and feel comfortable with a lifestyle evangelism that does not entail explicitly sharing the Gospel. But there are conservative Christians who are happy.
3. I admire and am inspired by the example of Lafayette and people like him. But I don’t think that I should judge Christians who are not as sunny, nor do I believe that people should judge me for not radiating as much “joy” as they think I should radiate. I struggle with the first, considering the number of Christians who are flat-out jerks. But I know that I do not like being judged, and so I should not judge others.