Lately I’ve been on a strange and fascinating journey of visiting church groups that are quite different from each other to say the least. I may be the only person in Atlanta who has ever gone to an evangelical Baptist church and a Unity church on the same day. But this experience has taught me something priceless: If I set a goal of truly connecting with people wherever I’m at, I can have a deeply rewarding experience of connection with my brothers no matter where I am or how much our beliefs differ.
I’m sure you’re asking: Why the heck did I go to an evangelical Baptist church? Well, I have a new home health care client for whom I have one job: to take him to adult Sunday school at his church every other Sunday. So off I went last Sunday with my client, to attend a Sunday school class at an ol’ time King James Bible-thumpin’ Southern Baptist church. I would have prefered to be somewhere else on a Sunday morning, but I told myself that I was there to perform a service for my client and to be a loving brother to the people I encountered, regardless of whatever we might disagree on. I used the “being truly helpful” prayer to put myself in the right frame of mind.
And you know what? It went really well. Everybody was extremely friendly, and I returned their friendliness. I kept my mouth respectfully shut when I heard theology that rubbed me the wrong way, saying to myself, “I’m not here for theology; I’m here to connect with people.” Fortunately, no one asked me about my views; I suppose if they had, I could have finessed the issue and said, “I have a personal relationship with Jesus.” Not only did I connect with people, but the class presentation even turned out to be part of an important piece of guidance for my life – one of the “signs” that Robert has written about. The Holy Spirit really can work with anything.
Immediately after I brought my client home following the class, I zipped over to the Unity church. As the Monty Python comedy troupe used to say: “And now for something completely different.” There I got the second event of the sign I just mentioned, while in a room being worked on by a group of psychic healers fluffing up my aura and aligning my chakras. I was laughing inside, saying, “I don’t imagine these folks get too many clients from the Baptist church.” But the healers were just as friendly as the Baptists, and you know, whatever they’re doing does seem to be helpful. I have no doubt that the Course would classify much of it as magic, but the Course doesn’t tell us not to use magic and I can use all the help I can get!
I’ve been going to the Unity church for a few months now, because I wanted to connect with more people here in Atlanta. To be perfectly honest, I find much of the theory presented there foreign to the Course as I understand it – even (especially!) the theory presented at the Course group there, which I’ve attended several times. I hate to say it, but there are some strange views of the Course out there. For instance, today one fellow told the group that he had talked to a person this week about the Haiti earthquake. The person he talked to, who had no experience with the Course or metaphysical teachings, asked him, “How could God allow things like Haiti to happen?” This fellow’s “Course-based” answer was, and I quote: “God doesn’t care.” My mouth dropped.
But I held my tongue. In fact, I’ve made a decision that for now, I’m not going to challenge all the Course lore I hear in the group. I think it’s quite possible that I may be more outspoken once we get to know each other a bit better, but for now my sense is that I need to resist the temptation to walk into the minefield. I am not the teacher of that group, and I’m hopelessly outnumbered anyway. The phrase that kept coming to mind as I listened to one questionable assertion after another was: “I am not here for theory. I am here to connect with people.” And I did. This group is quite friendly as well, and I even got a lead on a possible home health care job. Sometimes good things happen when you bite your tongue.
I had to bite my tongue some more when I went to the service afterward. I actually like this church a lot; the people are wonderful, the services are usually quite nice (a great Christmas Eve service), and I liked the head minister they had when I first started attending. I even joined the choir, which performs once a month: my first performance is on January 31. But the head minister left the church at the end of the year, they’re in the process of finding a new one, and in the meantime they’re having guest speakers. The one they had this Sunday was one of those gung-ho types with a message straight out of The Secret. Not my cup of tea, to put it mildly.
But you know, I kept reminding myself: “I’m not here for theory. I’m here to connect with people.” And every time the guest speaker said something that made me groan, I applied Course practices to her like, “Let peace extend from my mind to yours, [name]” (W-pI.82.2:2). It truly did help. I still didn’t buy into what she was saying, but I felt genuine goodwill toward her arising in my heart. Afterward I had hoped to greet her and wish her well, but she was surrounded and I never got the chance. At any rate, I left with absolutely no desire to attend the workshop she was holding later, but I did feel like I had made a positive inner connection with her as a fellow child of God.
What’s my point here? I’m not suggesting, as so many do, that we should never express disagreement or that theory isn’t important. This isn’t a call to follow Bill Thetford’s advice to rip the page out whenever we have a disagreement about the Course. As anyone who has read my writings knows, I think graciously expressing disagreement when guided and making fine theoretical distinctions are crucial aspects of not only learning the Course but learning pretty much anything. I think these are actually strengths of mine, strengths the Holy Spirit can use when I place them in His hands.
Rather than being a global injunction to never speak up, I think the reminder that “I’m not here for theory. I’m here to connect with people” is meant to address a personal issue of mine in specific situations. For while I am gracious and kind much of the time, I have to admit that at times I have a harsh, judgmental edge to me. To my dismay, I have learned that sometimes this harshness can really hurt people. I really don’t want to hurt people, so it has become crucial for me to notice when I’ve pulled the sword out, and gently set it aside. While expressing disagreements has its time and place, my priority needs to be to make a truly kind and loving connection with whomever I encounter. At least sometimes, that means keeping my mouth shut and offering a silent blessing instead. Or better yet, opening my mouth and offering a friendly word and a smile.
I’m finding this very rewarding. Keeping your mouth shut can actually keep you out of a lot of trouble.:) Best of all, I’m finding that no matter where I go – the Baptist church, the Unity church, wherever – there are kind, good-hearted people who are more than willing to hold out a hand of friendship, especially when I am willing to grasp that hand and join them. We are all truly brothers in Christ, however different we may appear on the surface. And I can experience that brotherhood if I remember that I’m here to connect with people.
Next Sunday, it’s the Baptists again, God bless ’em! Good thing I have a personal relationship with Jesus.