Iconic radio personality Casey Kasem is in the news this week. His family is in court suing one another over his medical care. His whereabouts appear to be a mystery to the judge. It is apparently a gigantic mess.
This makes me sad because Casey Kasem actually played two parts in my growing up. First, he was the voice of Shaggy on my favorite cartoon; Scooby-Doo. But more importantly, he hosted American Top 40. This show counted down the top 40 most popular songs in America each week. In our town, the radio show aired on Sunday afternoons. In fact, it was a Sunday afternoon in 1983 when I stumbled upon the show while sitting in the car listening to the radio as my mother did a little shopping. It only took a couple of songs for my life to be altered. This was my music! Where had it been all my life? American Top 40 immediately became a Sunday afternoon staple for me.
The show was sometimes my only chance to hear certain songs. I would sit, listening with anticipation, my finger hovering above the record button on my Jambox. When Casey announced the songs I wanted I would smash the button down and preserve the music on a Maxell tape. Now I could hear the song over and over again, always with just a smidge of Casey’s voice before and after. I treasured those tapes.
It is probably impossible to explain to kids today how much a radio show that simply counted down popular songs could mean. In fact, it is one of many things I can’t possibly explain to my children. The awe the first time I saw a video arcade game. The excitement when we got a VCR. My thought process after I watched the first episode of Miami Vice (only 6 days, 23 hours until that comes on again!) Actually rooting for a network during Battle of the Network Stars.
The only way for my kids to understand these things would be to experience them. And not just watching a clip on YouTube. To somehow go back in time, live during that era, and really experience it. I can tell them all I want, and they can nod their heads all day, but they still don’t get it.
I think that describes being a Christian. We try over and over to explain to others why they should follow Jesus. We talk about benefits, and love, and grace. And we are amazed when people just flat turn us down on our offer. Why would they not believe something that is so obviously wonderful? Why would they choose not to believe the greatest thing ever?
Perhaps because Jesus isn’t something you believe in, He is a person you experience. My faith is not based on what others have told me or even what I have read, but on experiences I have had.
Most of us don’t get married because we are sold on the virtue of that commitment. We don’t seek out just anyone willing so we can experience the ups and downs of marital life. Rather, we get married because we fall in love. It is our relationship with another person that leads us to the commitment of marriage. Following Jesus is the same. It is a relationship of experiences. That can’t be summed up, tied in a neat ribbon, and handed out.
Following Jesus isn’t something I can adequately explain or describe (even though that is kinda my job). I just can’t quite nail it down. You have to experience it for yourself.
Too often we try to sell Jesus, Church, Christianity, etc… as if listing their merits will eventually convince someone. The siren call of Jesus wasn’t “believe me” but rather “follow me.” Perhaps rather than trying to convince someone to become a Christian, we should invite them to experience it. Try some prayer. Join me for some acts of service. Attempt to love your wife the way Jesus would. And see what happens.
So we shouldn’t be surprised when someone doesn’t “get it”. Of course they don’t. Just as they can’t possibly get what it is like to be married to my wife. Or adequately understand the thrill of hearing “Mr. Roboto” come blaring out of my J during American Top 40. You kinda have to be there. You have to experience it for yourself.
P.S. This doesn’t just affect how we think about evangelism. If our faith is truly a relationship we experience, that ought to radically change how we view other Christians and the Church. Church isn’t a group of people who all believe the same thing, it is a group of people all married to the same person. So we are all on a journey, all at different places in our experience of and relationship with Jesus. This should make me more gracious towards my brothers and sisters in Christ since we are all at different spots on that journey. And maybe I should stop trying so hard to get others to experience and see Jesus exactly as I do.