My phone rang while I was on a Zoom call. It was my cousin … seven years younger than I and living in South Carolina. I asked if I could call him back in 20 minutes.
Several year ago the lottery became a topic of conversation at a family gathering. Apparently I responded saying, “I don’t play the lottery. It is against my values.” Mike asked me, “What are your values, Linda.” Taken aback by his question, I didn’t have a ready answer.
He suggested that we begin talking regularly on the phone. Both of us were interested in bridging the disconnection and distance in our family. Knowing that Mike’s beliefs are very different from mine and not wanting this to come between us, I suggested that we share experiences rather than talk about beliefs. Mike accepted this and we had several conversations over a few years. Eventually our calls tapered off.
Let’s Talk Beliefs
When he called me this March, he indicated that he wanted us to begin talking again. He reminded me of the lottery conversation. I reminded him of our agreement to talk about experiences vs beliefs. This time he wanted to talk beliefs.
I responded, “Mike, we have very different beliefs and I don’t want that to come between us. There is so much polarization in our country. I’m not interested in changing you and I don’t want you trying to change me. I’d feel better if we stuck to sharing experiences.”
I am still hurting from a cousin on the other side of the family who stopped having any contact with me after I shared myself authentically with her. I didn’t want to risk that happening with Mike.
Mike acknowledged that he knew we had different beliefs and said something I never thought I would hear from a family member. “Linda, I love you more than our differences.” That was the beginning of my COVID 19 gift.
The Gift Deepens
And so I agreed. After hearing about Zoom, he got excited that we would be able to see each other. On Palm Sunday, we had a two-hour conversation. I used the listening skills I learned and taught my clients when I was a practicing Imago Relationship Therapist and have honed in my association with Better Angels (now known as Braver Angels.) I brought my curiosity to the call.
We started the conversation talking about COVID 19. Then Mike went on to quote a Bible verse from Revelation, saying things were going to get a lot worse. For me, this Bible verse conjures up a harsh, punishing God very different than the loving, forgiving God of my understanding and experience.
I said, “I want to ask you a question, but I don’t know how to ask it. I’m a person who looks for meaning, so the only way I know to ask it is, “How is this verse meaningful to you?”
That is not a question that Mike could relate to. He began to quote the verse again. I stopped him and said you’ve already told me that. Then he recounted a conversion experience he had several years ago at a time when his faith meant little to him. He said that ever since then “I just want to be fed. I want to read the Bible and listen to preachers preach the word. I just love being fed.”
I said, “Now I know how to ask the question. How does this Bible verse feed you?”
After telling me that he has made peace with the possibility that he and his wife may get COVID 19 and die, he said, “This verse comforts me.”
What I found interesting is that we came from totally different perspectives/directions and arrived at the same destination. I, too, have made my peace with the possibility I might die. Here we are in agreement.
At some point, Mike referred to God as “he.” And so I referred to God as “she.” That took him aback a bit. He threw out some Bible verses were God is referred to as “he” and I cited a couple where Jesus used feminine metaphors to describe God. Then I went on to explain why the way we refer to God is important to me.
I shared with Mike that it grows out of my seeking-ordination experience and that of my female seminary classmates. In the 1970s and early 80s, we were treated badly by our denominations. Even in 2020, I’ve heard more than one declaration about Joe Biden’s statement that he will choose a female running mate. “Oh no, a woman can’t be vice-president.” I think limiting God to all-male language results in women being denied the opportunity to fully share our gifts and respond to our calling.
To my utter amazement, Mike attempted to change his language. We laughed about how difficult it is, and I shared how hard I had worked to accomplish this when writing my memoir, A Long Awakening to Grace … how I used the word “God” when telling how I looked outside myself for answers and how I used “Spirit” or “The Divine” when recounting my inner journey and search for inner wisdom.
The conversation moved on to God being “in control” about whether or not we personally get COVID 19. I said to Mike, “That’s a place where we differ. I don’t believe that God will give me COVID 19, but if I get it, I do believe God will be with me during whatever I have to endure.”
He agreed with parts of what I said, but God being in control seems to be another belief that gives him comfort. I can understand how that would also be comforting.
Just this week a seminary friend shared with me an image for God expressed by the Rev. Dr. Margaret Mayman’s. It beautifully expresses the image I find most meaningful:
For me ‘God’ is a way of naming the impulse toward love and justice that is at the heart of life. More akin to a subatomic particle than a celestial being. Hence deeply natural rather than supernatural. And yet Mystery beyond knowing.
Prayer, and songs like this, name the Sacred in much the same way that a poet addresses a tree or a mountain – with awe and gratitude. So this song is not about being saved by an interventionist deity, but an expression of trust in the accompanying divine presence; solidarity with the earth community; and hope for a future in which all are known and loved. That God is with us no matter what may come. ~Rev. Dr. Margaret Mayman
After the call, I sent Mike an email: “Just want you to know how touched I am that you were willing to try to speak without using “him” or “he.” That means a lot to me … your willingness even if you aren’t able to do it. It took me a long time and a concerted effort to accomplish it.”
And I received this from him: “Thank You Linda, One of the things I admire about talking with you is your humility and the way you try to understand.”
As one of my friends said after hearing me relate this story, “Almost makes the pandemic worth it, doesn’t it.”
Indeed it does. 🙂