How do you sell God?

At the end of 2016 I was cold calling strangers and meeting them (in dark alleys) at coffee shops. Those who know me even a little bit would be drop their jaw at this maneuver because I hate talking to people I don’t know. It is no secret that I can be socially awkward and standoffish and I hate chit chat. I like to get down to the nitty gritty: tell me your hopes, dreams, failures, brokenness. It also doesn’t help that I suffer from a rare case of RBF (resting brat face), making finding new friends a challenge. But I’m really nice, I swear. I went to school to provide Anesthesia. That’s how much I like talking- I prefer my clients asleep hah! I’m not a total jerk, just an introvert. Socializing, smiling, complimenting, empathizing- those all take energy. Lately I’ve been trying to cultivate more energy through yoga and thyroid booster pills. 🙂Back to my story: I received word of a new pyramid scheme that was a startup in my area. I found out I would be getting in on the ground floor only three spots away from the founder. I was very intrigued because knowing how these things work: you have to start out at the top of the pyramid to really reap some rewards. So I took the financial risk and decided I could get on board with selling (magical) herbal supplements and vitamins. Because what the world needs now is magic, sweet magic. In the months to come I got my packet in the mail and slipped into an organizational coma. I loved keeping track of EVERYTHING, including a scale I came up with to rate where people were at between no-maybe-yes on “drinking my koolaid.” Every day I would check my pyramid. Slowly it started to grow- I got one person to sign up. Yassss! And then more people started appearing under them. Then finally I was one more person away from the first promotion: getting MY products for free. After that happens, my sponsors claimed it was all downhill from there. Now I was excited. I dreamed of having a side hustle that would allow me to one day to quit my job. I imagined having freshly manicured nails, wearing my Lululemon outfit having brunch with the other stay at home yoga moms with perfect lipstick. In the meantime, life (God) was moving things. Sometimes I picture him playing chess where the different parts of my life are the pieces. We found our dream home at the perfect heaven-ordained moment. Five days later I was laid off. A rare thing in healthcare but I worked for a small company and business is business. So I sadly was forced to abandon my new dream since we were on high alert financially until I found a new gig. I might have been able to continue it financially and have made it work but I could never get that last person to sign up. In addition to being introverted, I am also a recovering people pleaser. I say recovering because I don’t want that to be something I identify with any longer. My new mantra is “I act according to my values and integrity.” I care deeply at times what people think of me and my actions and that is not ok with me. It keeps me from being my true self instead of I’m just that “nice, quiet girl.” This is one reason I have historically struggled with sharing my faith with others. I don’t want people to think I’m a freak walking around praising God! (Amen). But somehow I can muster up the (fake) courage to call people I don’t know and try to get them to buy my (magic) pills?! That’s when I realized, holy cow,religion is a pyramid scheme! Think about it, there are so many parallels!

For one, there’s one dude at the top.

That’s how a pyramid is shaped- pointy. Otherwise it would be a plateau. That big honcho is the MAN. He is getting more perks, more praise than anyone below. Everyone is working for him and all their efforts multiply as it goes up the chain. He gets all the glory and fame. Sounds familiar! All those workers below are out (hopefully) giving it their all to recruit more people. More people=more glory. They are all there for HIM, not the other way around.

If you don’t work at it, your side of the pyramid atrophies.

Whether you think of it as a tree or a pyramid, everyone is part of a side to maintain its shape. It gets bigger and bigger as you go further down and people recruit more people. But if you’re a slacker your side doesn’t look as fruitful. It takes everyone doing their part to make it grow.

“Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” Matthew 28:19

There are still those who join but decide it’s too much work.

You get people psyched up and everyone’s losing their minds at the possibility of all those blessings- so they’re all in. And then life happens. They lose their jobs or their marriage falls apart and they decide it’s no longer worth the risk. They (me) go back to what they know, what’s familiar, what’s safe. They bow out, sometimes unnoticed, leaving a gaping hole in your tree, in the pyramid scheme and the body of Christ.

You’re not accepted by your homies.

It’s apparently common knowledge in the multilevel marketing world to get more fruit from people who barely know you compared to those closest to you. Jesus experienced the same thing when he went home to Nazareth. Those he knew growing up didn’t accept his message:

“Then Jesus told them, ‘A prophet is honored everywhere except in his own hometown and among his relatives and his own family’.” Mark 6:1-6.

Self help is like finding a new religion. –Amy E. Smith.

Likewise, finding a new religion is like a multilevel marketing (MLM) scheme. You have people who hear your message and are totally stoked (do kids still say that these days) and jump on board full speed. Or you have those that let you doyou but don’t want any part of it. They unfollow your insta, annoyed that it’s all you talk about anymore. They mostly just think you’ve gone cray cray. Meanwhile you’re looking at them thinking, wow you could really use some of my magic! You would love it if you would just give it a try! Come back here and let me love you!”

There are some major fruits to be had.

At my first meeting I went to a lady’s house who was 2nd in line in the company that hadn’t even launched yet. She had mahogany bookshelves, pristine furnishings, lush carpet, and (clearly) a maid. Neither her nor her husband worked- they jumped on the MLM bandwagon with a different product started by the same millionaire who was now starting this new company. They talked about “their first million” and “leaving their careers.” I thought to myself, “I want that- what they have.” Similarly in Christianity, when you tell your “story”- how God has worked in your life- other people want that. Other people want the peace and direction and self control and gratitude and joy that comes with it.

Sometimes it requires cold calls.

That random person at the grocery store, the bus stop, the movie theater. People you don’t even know might be your best recruit. You never know what people are needing until you present it.

The payout (blessing) can be a bit of wait.

Some people see immediate change in their lives when they become a Christian. The blessing just flow. They get a promotion or a clean bill of health, or the guilt just falls off. Others may struggle for years without seeing change. Just be patient and stick with it. You’re only out of the game if you quit.

Help a sister out.

Like in MLM, in Christianity there is strength in numbers. Two are better than one. Ten is stronger than two. Hold “marketing meetings,” encourage each other, take up the slack of the weaker members.

You have to meet them where they are.

If you’re wanting to sell magic pills (God) to people you’re going to have to go out of your way. You meet them on their schedule near their work/home. Just like God meets us where we are. If you’re drunk on your kitchen floor crying out for help. If you’re locked out of your house. If you’ve just lost all your money at the casino. If you’ve just signed divorce papers. If you’re in the bathroom talking yourself into getting the courage to tell your parents about your pregnancy. Wherever you are Jesus will meet you there and show you the way. For me, it was sitting on my bed saying “God if you are there you have to help me or I am going to give up on life.” And He kept saying “leave.” And so I did.

Don’t be pushy.

The best evidence that a product works is how it has changed the lives of those who use it. “Girl your lipstick is always on point.” “Oh it’s this new stuff I found you gotta try it.” But flip it where the lipstick lady shoves it in her friends face and claims it will change her life- that’s not very appealing. Likewise, if we are always shoving Jesus down people’s throats it’s less palatable. But if they see how we have changed as people- the fruits that are budding- they will want some of what we got!

“Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.” James‬ ‭4:8‬

How Shame Keeps Us From Loving

Something happened in the 7th grade that was pivotal in mapping out the rest of my life. I grew up middle class in the nice part of a smallish town in the Midwest. I moved from a private Christian school to public schools in the 4th grade and was lucky to have made a few friends that made the transition easy. Good thing because a few years later I was an UGLY DUCKILING. The end of the ugly duckling story results in a beautiful swan but sometimes that swan still feels like the frizzy-haired, braces wearing, awkward, insecure, acne-faced, unfeminine giant. I would look at the beautiful, outgoing, popular, skinny girls in my class with admiration and envy. Their skin was clear, their teeth were strait, their hair was Disney princess and they all wore Abercrombie. Their picture perfect families would get together on the weekends, the dads playing golf and the girls painting each others toenails like a Ralph Lauren commercial. The handful of them had gone to school together their whole lives. For two years in a row they cheered together on a community squad for the football team of all the popular boys in the school. Some of the girls were in gymnastics, making them highly valued in the cheering community. And then there was me, trying to find where I fit in. I was a smart and my favorite class was band.

At the end of spring semester were cheerleading tryouts. Despite how much I hated the cliché valley girl persona cheerleaders were associated with I was considering it for a few different reasons. For one, my mom was a cheerleader in high school. She was very different from me. She was outgoing and I was painfully shy. She, too, played the saxophone, and to follow further in her footsteps I,too, became a nurse. I was motivated to compete and do more and be better than my mom. I’m sure Freud would have something to say about it. But I also just really wanted to show those snobby brats they weren’t the only awesomesauce in the school. I wanted to prove to them and myself that I could do it.

So I showed up. I went every day to learn the routine and practiced it at home until it was flawless. The final tryout day was Friday. I felt ok about my performance despite my voice being shaky and nervous.

The results were posted on a piece of paper in the window of the front door at the school later that night. I searched desperately for my ID number on that list. I found it. There it was. I made the squad. Take that snobs.

Then reality set in. I was going to be forced to spend 3 days a week and multiple games, pep rallies, and events with these girls I had little in common with. I ended up making friends with two other girls and we became inseparable through high school. To this day I still think it was an important year of growth and putting myself out there. It gave my self confidence stretch marks and gave me the courage to go after bigger things later in my life.

As part of my conservative Midwest upbringing it was expected that we would attend every church service and event offered. Just like any other Sunday evening we went to church, but this particular day I decided to bring my fundraiser for cheerleading in case any of those giving Christian ladies needed any chocolate or Fancy Christmas wrapping paper. I was not a salesperson so my best tactic was a sweet smile and asking if they had a moment to take a look at my pamphlet. Didn’t always work but that was all my shyness could muster. I made the rounds and then approached my Sunday school teacher. This woman bravely took on the task of teaching hormonal and emotional middle school girls why exactly boys and short skirts are not everything in life. I walked up to her and said “Hi Mrs. J would you like to see what I’m selling for my cheerleading squad?” She didn’t smile much and this was not one of those times. She looked at me and replied, “I don’t support cheerleaders.”

I’m sure my body and face coordinated the visible deflation of shame. I don’t recall if I gave her a dirty look before I walked off but I said “ok” and retreated out of the pews. I was so hurt and not emotionally equipped with handling rejection or shame or oppression based on false stereotypes. Am I something bad? Did I spend so much emotional and physical energy to be something Christians shouldn’t be? Is my mom bad? What is so bad about cheering?

I’ll never forget what happened a few minutes later. A woman who overheard the encounter came up to me and told me to forget what my teacher had said. This was odd because they actually were good friends. She smiled and gently said,

We need disciples in every corner of the world.

Wow I went from shamefully wrong to a called disciple!

I’ve thought about that moment a lot. What would happen in this world if we looked at whomever we deemed as not “Godly enough” and just left them alone to stay in our perfect Christian bubbles?

“You are the light of the world. A city situated on a hill cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and puts it under a basket, but rather on a lampstand, and it gives light for all who are in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:14-16

So that they may see your good works and give glory to God. Are people won over through oppression and judgement? NO! We are won over through love- good works. Being treated with love, dignity, and respect, especially in the presence of controversial opinions and bias, is what makes undeserving sinners feel worthy. I love Brené Brown’s quote from her book Braving the Wilderness: “It’s hard to hate people from close up; move in.” We are all unworthy of every good thing based on our deeds. But it is not through deeds that we have won the kingdom of God. It was an unmerited gift.

“A creditor had two debtors. One owed 500 denarii, and the other 50. Since they could not pay it back, he graciously forgave them both. So, which of them will love him more? ” Simon answered, “I suppose the one he forgave more.” “You have judged correctly,” He told him.” Luke 7:41-43.

Perhaps those who have experienced oppression, or been shamed for their identity are more likely to extend invitations of belonging to others because they know what it feels like to be rejected for being human. Humility is the birthplace of acceptance. Acknowledging that we are all broken, all struggling, that we all have had to overcome something difficult is what binds our humanity. To deny this is to deny true love for one another. Once we can grasp this concept then follows true empathy, compassion , and mercy.

If we do not go into all the world looking for disciples then who will? We sit at home and pray “God send someone to save the people of the world” but we forget it’s up to us.

“What the world needs now is love, sweet love.”