[Please note: ACIM passages quoted in this article reference the Foundation for Inner Peace (FIP) Edition.]
As most of you know, I’m moving from Atlanta to Sedona in early August. This past Sunday, for the last time, I took my home care client to the fundamentalist Southern Baptist church he attends. While there, I had an experience which has caused me to reflect once again on Mrs. Albert. Mrs. Albert was an acquaintance of Helen’s whom Jesus said was “working miracles every day,” in part because she was willing to tell people what she believed “without embarrassment and without hostility.” On Sunday, I found that I still have a little ways to go to live up to Mrs. Albert’s example. I hope to make progress in being as lovingly forthright as she was, for I too would love to work miracles every day.
I’ve been taking my client to this church because this is the church he wants to attend. We’ve been going to the adult Sunday School and then the service that follows. It is the most conservative, Bible-thumping church you can imagine: Adam and Eve were real people; the earth is six thousand years old; hell is literal and that’s where most people will end up; getting to Heaven when you die is the goal; the way to Heaven is “nothing but the blood”: believing that Jesus died for your sins and accepting him as your personal Lord and Savior. “That old-time religion” would be too newfangled for these folks. It’s all pretty hard for me to stomach.
But I’ve kept my queasy stomach to myself. While I’ve been friendly to everyone there, I’ve been quiet as a mouse when it comes to sharing my own beliefs. After all, I’m a professional who is simply taking my client to the church he wants to attend. He’s not paying me to get into theological debates. And no one at the church has ever asked me anything about my religion. So, I’ve been quite content just to sit in the corner and silently do Course practices to restore inner peace and extend love to everyone around me.
That brings me to this past Sunday. The Sunday School class ended and I breathed a sigh of relief. In a few seconds, I would be out the door, never to return. (Yes, I still had to attend the service, but it was much easier to disappear in the crowd there than in that small class.) My client had already gone out. But as I was turning to leave, there was the pastor standing in front of me. Dang! I was seconds away from escaping for good! But here he was, and he had a few questions for me. I had a feeling I had been a little too silent and probably rolled my eyes a few too many times. Something in me said: Busted!
Sure enough, here’s how it went:
Pastor: “Good to see you again, Mr. Mackie. So, is the man you bring here your father?”
Greg: “No, I’m just helping him get to church because he can’t drive.” (Dang! Now he knows I’m not here for his great fire-and-brimstone sermons.)
P: “Mr. Mackie, I’d love to hear more about your own religious background.”
G (Holy Spirit, don’t fail me now!): “I went to a Baptist Sunday School when I was a child in Louisiana, but my parents kind of dropped away from it after that” (all of which is true, but I had a sinking feeling my weak Baptist credentials weren’t sufficient to avoid what I knew was coming next).
P (Wait for it…): “Mr. Mackie, are you saved?”
G (Why yes, I’ve been saved from the illusion of sin, because I’m the guiltless Son of God. Now I follow a spiritual path that came from a Jewish psychologist who channeled Jesus — oh, and her gay psychologist friend who was into Edgar Cayce typed it for her.): “Yes, and I have a personal relationship with Jesus.”
P: “And how long ago were you saved?”
G: (Billions of years ago: The instant that belief in the illusion of sin arose, God created the Holy Spirit to heal my false belief that sin had ever occurred.): “For quite some time now.”
He stopped questioning me at this point and politely said goodbye, probably because he needed to get ready for the service. I had a feeling, though, that he wasn’t too convinced that I was really saved. He probably made a note to himself to work on me a little more later. But of course, unbeknownst to him, there isn’t going to be a later.
As I attended the service with my client, I couldn’t get that exchange out of my mind. At first, I was a bit proud of my technically true but cleverly evasive answers to his questions. But the more I thought about it, the more I wondered if I had done the right thing. Ironically, the Sunday School lesson had been about the prophet Elijah, and a major theme was how Elijah stood up boldly for what he believed, risking his life to do so. The teacher spoke about how Christians, too, should be willing to stand up for their beliefs boldly and without apology, regardless of the personal cost. After all, they had the good news and people needed to hear it! While of course I don’t share their brand of Christianity, there is something about that honesty and boldness that I respect.
Then I thought of Mrs. Albert. In my answers, I was dancing delicately around what the pastor believed, because I didn’t want to rock the boat. But Mrs. Albert was “quite unembarrassed” to share her spiritual beliefs with Helen, and wasn’t at all worried about whether her beliefs might be contrary to Helen’s. I started to think: Should I have followed Mrs. Albert’s example when the pastor questioned me? I have roughly the same role that he does; I’m a teacher of my path just as he is a teacher of his. Should I have simply told him what I believed, without embarrassment and without hostility?
Maybe, maybe not. I did ask the Holy Spirit what to say, which I think we should all do in these situations. I thought to myself that perhaps it was right in this particular instance not to tell him what I believed. I was, after all, still in my professional role of caregiver for my client. There were good reasons not to say anything at this time.
Yet I have to admit that a big reason I didn’t say anything was that I was just plain afraid of sticking my neck out. I knew I had to go to the church service afterward, and I dreaded the prospect of being a newly out-of-the-closet “unsaved” person surrounded by a hundred Southern Baptists. Nightmares of hungry evangelical piranhas descending upon me swirled in my head. I just wanted to escape. Whatever my logical reasons for being evasive, on an emotional level I definitely didn’t follow Mrs. Albert’s example there.
I’ve been thinking about this ever since. I still think I probably did the right thing, but in part for the wrong reason. And that wrong reason, that fear of sticking my neck out, is something I’d like to undo. As I said, though I don’t share these people’s brand of Christianity, I have some admiration for their willingness to share their gospel, their “good news,” so unabashedly. I wouldn’t want to emulate some of their techniques, but there’s something refreshing about their wearing their hearts on their sleeves so openly. That pastor didn’t pull any punches with me, and frankly he was a lot more honest than I was in that exchange. And his demeanor was kind and welcoming. He was able to share what he believed without embarrassment and without hostility. Why couldn’t I?
Why, indeed? I have such glorious news to share with the world, yet I keep it to myself most of the time. I share with fellow Course students all the time, but practically never with non-Course students, even when people ask me what I do. Why am I so afraid to stick my neck out? Why am I so reluctant to openly share my good news, especially since my news is a lot better than that pastor’s? (Surely the news that all of us will certainly waken to Heaven is better than the news that most of us will spend eternity in hell.)
Yes, I should primarily share the good news of A Course in Miracles through my example. Yes, I shouldn’t place an inordinate emphasis on “preaching,” as Lesson 37 (W-pI.37.3:1) reminds us.
Yes, I shouldn’t try to aggressively convert people (though if I had converted that pastor, I would have finally been convinced that there is no order of difficulty in miracles). But why leave evangelism, in the best, most benign sense of that word, to the conservative Christians? Why not (metaphorically at least) shout the good news of the Course from the rooftops?
I don’t know what form this is supposed to take, but above all I simply want to get over that crippling fear of sticking my neck out. I want to become more like Mrs. Albert, someone who can share the joyous message of God’s infinite Love without embarrassment or hostility. A Course in Miracles is good news that the world so desperately needs to hear. Perhaps if I can get over my fear of rocking the boat, I too can, like Mrs. Albert, work miracles every day. It’s something worth aspiring to.