Beaven and I went on a cruise once that had gambling as one of the many things you could do on the ship. I’m too lazy to play stuff like cards where you have to pay attention so I played the nickel slot machines. After a handful of nickels, I hit a $40 jackpot. Do you have any idea how much room $40 worth of nickels takes up? They gave me a plastic tub to put them in. And I started walking out of the room.
“What are you doing?” Beaven asked.
“I’m going to take these up to our room. We made $40.”
“Oh, no, you don’t do that. You keep playing with those nickels. You put them back into the machines.”
“The hell you say,” I told him “We just won $40. I’m taking it home. I’m going to quit while I’m ahead.”
At this point, we had been married to each other for over 25 years. Yet we stood there looking at each other for a long time wondering who this person was. If we had been in a movie the characters would have frozen in place while the other people in the room continued to move in the background.
We found out that while neither of us takes a lot of risks I am even worse than he is in the risk department.
Risk doesn’t make sense to me. The whole idea of putting something valuable in jeopardy and out of my own control just gives me the willies. But I also have learned something else in life besides how to pack $40 worth of nickels in a suitcase. (Fill socks with them.) I have learned that sometimes the sensible and safe thing isn’t the right thing.
And I decided I don’t want to die until I have risked something for a cause I believe in. I’ve come to the stage in my life where I feel the need to peek at my report card--a sort of Progress Report before the final exam. I found out I’m making a “C” in the risk category. I don’t want to appear at the Pearly Gates and find that I failed the Risk category of life.
I want to feel passionate about something. So passionate that I am willing to take a risk for it. The question now became how big of a risk and what kind of a cause.
I started slow with a peace march about 8 years ago. I posted about it on this blog afterward. It turned out that the march was really no more risky that a short walk in nice weather.
A couple of weeks ago when the Presbyterian church voted to change their rules and allow for same sex marriages I posted a fairly low-risk note on facebook. I said that I was happy about the vote but knew I had friends who would not be. I was thinking about one friend in particular that I’ve known over 20 years. He was moved to tears in a conversation we had the last time the church made a gay-friendly decision. I have loved this friend like a brother so our conversation wasn’t as much confrontational as it was pained and consoling. It wasn’t confrontational because I knew we would always love each other no matter what our politics. I am happy for this change, but I also know some people are pained by it. And I’m sorry for their pain. I did not do the happy dance on facebook. I did not spike the ball in the end zone. I did not even post this graphic.
However, for some people who share facebook with me, I might just as well have run naked through the church with a rose clenched between my teeth.
A few people read my facebook post and seemed shocked by my gay-friendly stance, mostly because it’s not a topic that ever came up in conversation. “What exactly did I believe?” they wanted to know. Then ANOTHER person who is a “friend of a friend of a friend” joined the conversation and in no uncertain terms told me I am wrong. I ignored her comments for a while then reminded myself that this was one of those risks I am inviting. I told myself, “Well, you asked for it Jane. Let’s see if you can handle it.” Anyone who posts on facebook takes a risk that others will argue with you.
And the whole thing went downhill from there. I eventually deleted the post. And I deleted it NOT because I didn’t agree with the lady but because it was going nowhere. All she was doing was filling cyberspace with negativity and lots of scripture in capital letters and exclamation points. She wasn’t going to change her beliefs and I wasn’t going to change mine.
This lady was dead-set that if I don’t agree with her understanding then I am wrong. I think in her eyes I was going straight to hell. There wasn't even concern in her attitude, only accusation.
Facebook is a pretty good low-risk endeavor. Sticks and stones can break my bones, but comments on facebook can’t really do too much unless I let them. Or unless readers with homicidal tendencies find out my home address
At the end of the day’s worth of conversations on facebook, I reached the conclusion that there is just a category of people who will never see anything from anyone’s perspective than their own. I had no choice but take her anger, let it bounce off my chest, fall to the ground and step over it.
I have an 87- year old friend who spent time in a concentration camp during World War II. She wasn’t Jewish. She was in the camp as slave labor when the Germans invaded Poland. But before the Germans came the Russians had already been to her home. They made her mother take down all the family’s religious icons and told her “Stalin is your God now.” The family hid their pictures of Jesus under the hay in the barn. Today Miss Sofie is an even more dedicated Catholic who has filled her house with pictures of Jesus and every pope in her lifetime.
I find it little odd that anyone thinks they can change your faith. Faith can survive more than being hidden under the hay because we hide it in a deeper spot: within our hearts, the safest, most low-risk spot. Nothing can touch it there.
I was having lunch once with four close friends. We were four Christians and one Jew. The Christians got on the subject of what would happen to Nancy after her death. Would she get to go to heaven with us? We love Nancy and didn’t want to see her go to hell for not believing the way we do.
And throughout the whole conversation Nancy just sat there somewhat amused by our agony. That’s when it hit me. My beliefs don’t cover Nancy. She lives and dies by her own beliefs. All she needs to do is be a good Jew. I can no more assign her to hell for her beliefs than I would want her to do the same to me. Faith is not a black and white mathematical calculation. Faith is not fact. It is an alive and moving mystery. It’s a matter of perspective. I was born to Christian parents and grew up in a Christian culture. My religion works for me. All I have to do is be a good Christian.
Faith is a lot like language. It is the way we communicate to our Creator and to each other. When I visit Guatemala we need translators. And we keep the translators busy. The only time they don’t translate our words is for a prayer. In prayer we are not speaking to each other. We are talking to God. And God speaks all languages. God speaks Spanish. God speaks the Mayan languages of Quiche and Kek’chi. And God also speaks Christianity and Judaism and Islam. Christ is the language that works for me. But that doesn’t mean you can’t speak to God in another language.
The Golden Rule covers how we relate to others. Faith is the way we talk to God. One person may talk to God in Hindu, another in Judaism, still another in Christianity. We relate to our world and our creator through our beliefs. One of the most gentle, compassionate and loving friends I have relates to others through the language of Buddhism. There was one moment in the 40 years I've known Barbara that will stay with me forever: her gentle conversation with the woman cleaning the toilets in a public restroom in Las Vegas.The compassion she showed a total stranger was more than I have seen in a lot of Christians. It made me want to have that compassion. I made me want to be able to speak to others in that language.
The risk comes in standing up for your beliefs in the face of other folks who might not be inclined the same way. For some, belief is a black and white matter; an un-moving rock. The person who holds that belief is simply right and all other beliefs are wrong. They can quote the bible in the places it says that. And for every word that says one thing there is another word that says otherwise. There is a wide range of ways to believe.
And I will probably get vicious argument for even suggesting this flavor of Christianity. But here’s the rub: your anger at me for my beliefs bounce off the shield of those beliefs. One of my beliefs, like Nancy Greenfield’s, is that I am entitled to believe differently than you. Like Nancy, all I have to do is be the best person my God has asked me to be in the faith I understand God best. It doesn’t make you wrong. It doesn’t mean I can’t be your friend.
And here lies the risk. I risk the loss of friendships and reputation. But what I don’t risk is the loss of the God in whom I believe.
And now, in the words of the great Rev. William Sloane Coffin:
Amen.May God give you the grace to never sell yourself short,
Grace to risk something big for something good,
And grace to remember that the world now is too dangerous
For anything but truth and too small for anything but love.
May God take our minds and think through them
May God take our lips and speak through them
May God take our hearts and set them on fire
For the sake of God’s love and justice and peace in this world.