We all know the walk through Turlington Plaza. It’s a veritable minefield of distractions. People handing out pamphlets, students trying to get you to join their clubs, doughnut sales for the nexus of evil: the Alachua County Humane Society. But there are also those who have a less-than-appealing message. Some of the Turlington heralds preach a very religious message of fire and brimstone, and some go way overboard on the rhetoric. The next time you walk through Turlington try to keep an open mind and listen to what they’ve got to say.
This thinking comes from a recent experience I had walking through the Plaza of the Americas, another one of our beloved free speech zones on campus. A man in a Yankees baseball cap approached me. He wanted to talk to me about if I had given Jesus Christ a chance to enter my life. Normally, that would be my cue to say something like, “Sorry, I’m late for class, I gotta go,” or some other half-hearted utterance to excuse myself. But I wanted to hear what the man had to say. So, I introduced myself, got his name (Freddy, by the way) and we struck up a conversation about science, evil, omnipotence, forgiveness and Christianity’s place in a world that was growing increasingly atheistic.
I learned quite a lot from Freddy. I learned about his personal struggles. I shared some of my own experiences with him. We bonded over passages of the Bible, which I had learned from going to church with my mom. We learned that we shared many of the same values on patience, love, kindness and being neighborly.
That was all well and good for a while, until things took a turn for the hellish. Remember, like I said, you should only make a best effort at listening. I had a few more conversations with Freddy, up until near the end of one of our mobile, transient chats, I asked him if I was going to heaven. After all, I was an Eagle Scout, had gone to church, gone through my communion, confirmation and even though I wasn’t religious in the slightest, tried to do right by everyone in my life. He replied that if I hadn’t accepted Jesus into my life, I wouldn’t be going to heaven. I probed him further about the issue. Apparently, neither would my mother, as a Catholic. Neither would the tribes in the Amazon. Neither would babies who passed from the world without a chance to know Jesus.
It was at that point I stopped listening to Freddy. But I heard him out, and I did learn from him. The Dalai Lama once said, “When you talk, you are only repeating what you already know. But if you listen, you may learn something new.” So go ahead and listen, but if you stop learning, or start getting lambasted and told you’re going to hell, you can keep on walking.
Stephan Chamberlin is a UF political science junior. His column comes out Tuesday and Thursday.