So there I was just minding my own business, listening to Elizabeth Gilbert's book, Big Magic, on my headset and digging up baby tumbleweeds from the front yard of our project house on a sunny Sunday morning when some men came walking down the sidewalk with a grocery cart full of groceries. Hamburger patties were the most visible of said groceries. We cheerfully hello'd one another and they explained that they were from a local church who puts on a meal in the park down the street each Sunday, as a service to the community. They asked if I would like any groceries or if I wanted to join in the community meal in the park. I said thank you, but that I'd just eaten my oatmeal breakfast and that I am a strict vegan. They insisted that they had something for me and as it seemed more conversation was imminent, I tried to pause my audiobook. I pressed the wrong button on my headset and woke up Siri and couldn't figure out how to shut her up so, wanting to hear what the men were saying, I just pulled the earbuds out of my ears and let them hang.
For the next half hour we stood there at the front gate, talking about Jesus, and life, the Universe, and everything. I said I'd be glad to take the aging brussel sprouts and blueberries off of their hands, figuring I was probably just rescuing those items from the local landfill. I asked them which church they were from and if they had a good relationship with the local grocery stores who had donated most of the groceries. They talked about how their church was all about service, more walk and less talk. One of them quoted a lot of scripture and told how Jesus had changed his life. I shared how I had been to lots of different churches as a child and had been a very earnest seeker of the deeper truths. How I had waited and prayed and listened and waited some more for God to speak to me and tell me which of all those churches who all said their way was THE way was the right one and how when God never spoke to me in the way I had been led to expect, I kept searching, taking comparative religion classes and reading all about any and all religions and cults and ways of connecting with the "Big Magic" or "Universe" that I could find. I told them how I admired their dedication to service and the community, to walking their talk. I mentioned the quote I had recently been reminded of about the way to truly love our community which is to love the individual members of the community. When one of them said that service was what really made their church special, I quoted Rabindranath Tagore, a Hindu, who said, "I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted and behold, service was joy." My point was that service is wonderful and that many religious traditions share this idea and that deeper clues to how best to live this human life can be gleaned from noticing the things the religious traditions all share.
When one of the men said that he thought that churches go wrong by saying their way is THE way, I shared what I have long thought to be the case-- that when someone, anyone, gets a taste of the divine, an undeniable, indescribable connection to what some of us call God, that we mistake the circumstances surrounding us or the path we took to get there as THE way to get there, rather than viewing it simply as the way *we* got there and this is how dogmas and religions and religious wars are born. We know that the experience we had was beyond real and SO good that we want to share it and we mistakenly think that our way is necessarily everyone's way.
When it seemed our conversation had run it's course and they were ready to move on (the hamburger patties were defrosting there in the sun), one of the men, the one who had done most of the talking and had quoted a lot of scripture, asked if he could say a prayer for me. "Sure," I said, I don't like to turn down good wishes of any kind. He put his hand on my shoulder (after asking permission and making sure I wouldn't think that was "too weird") and said a prayer that God would make himself more known to me, whether in my dreams or various other ways, and help me to know Jesus.
When he was done with his prayer he asked me if that was ok, if it wasn't too weird and I said, "No, not at all," after all I have been to many churches in my lifetime and studied many religions and many spiritual paths, "But your prayer leads me to believe you may have misunderstood me when I said that I have been a deeply earnest seeker. I already have a strong connection to what you call God and I call the unknowable, unnameable, everything... for lack of a better word, "Big Magic." And I said that I would like to offer a prayer, for all of us. And he said, "OK" and that he had not wanted to belittle my beliefs.
I told him I took no offense and I offered a prayer that all of us with varied and many beliefs, Muslims and Buddhists and Christians and agnostics and yogis, etc, would learn to listen to one another and honor each other's experiences and interpretations of "God", really learn from each other, find our common ground, and lift each other up rather than fight over who has the one true way to God.
We said goodbye and they went on down the sidewalk with their grocery cart full of groceries and I went inside the house where Adam had been trying to continue to mind his own business all that time. I told Adam I thought I might have just converted a Christian to my way of seeing and he said he didn't think that sentiment was very nice. And that's when I noticed my phone, it showed that I had been on the phone with my good friend, Jeannie Lindsay for about 29 minutes. I figured I'd accidentally dialed her, but she didn't seem to still be there so I hung up. The phone rang immediately and it was Jeannie. She had been listening the whole time. We laughed and laughed. She said at the very start she was listening to find out if she was going to have to call 9-1-1 for me, but once she realized I was fine she just kept listening because she was interested. I asked her about her take-away from the conversation and she said that Sarah Silverman would be proud of me. Which means now I'm going to have to go watch more of Sarah Silverman's latest work.
Please chime in if you have anything to add to this or if you see a need for editing, my dear Jeannie.
Upon deeper reflection, I have to admit that my ego was feeling pretty good about this whole thing, particularly after I found out that I'd had an audience of exactly one agnostic/atheist(?) the whole time. But that doesn't mean any part of what I said was disingenuous. There is almost no chance that I will ever be converted to Christianity or Islam or Judaism or Hinduism or really any religion at this point in my life, but that doesn't mean I can't see value in them. The man who did the majority of the talking to me about Jesus, the man who said a prayer for me, told me that he had been an unrepentant drug dealer for a good portion of his life and that Jesus had saved him and reformed him and that he had seen Jesus help abused women and heal people's back aches. I shared with him that I had seen yoga and meditation and other somatic quieting practices help young, addicted, domestic violence perpetrators and convicted child molesters. I think the common theme in these two ways of doing service is the idea that we can change, that we can be forgiven, that we can find a way to belong, even if only to ourselves or our congregations. I think there is valuable wisdom in so many traditions and lenses through which we interpret the world. The danger lies in thinking that our way is the only way and treating those who see things differently as less than or worse, evil.
So, that's my Sunday morning yard work story. How was your Sunday?