Sharing the stove

Posted by on 12.02.07 | 4 Comments
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“We don’t have to be each other’s cup of tea, but tolerance lets a variety of kettles peacefully share the stove.” NPR This I Believe essay: True Tolerance by Joel Engardio

This week I had an email dialogue with my oldest ‘surviving’ friend–the one that has never let my lapses in communication phase her. T. is an evangelical Christian, as we both were in our teens when we became friends. T. has had me on a list to which she regularly forwards emails. The content is usually pretty innocuous to me, and I’ve been spiritually lazy in letting T. know that I’d rather not get the info she sends, and for sure I won’t be forwarding it to others. But the forward she sent this week for some reason hit a nerve. The content wasn’t that inflammatory from my standpoint, but it was about ‘taking America back’ from those who don’t want Christians to say ‘Merry Christmas’ or pray at sports events, etc. The type was in bold face, big red letters, and seemed especially angry to me, and I’m supposing that’s what I responded to.

At any rate, I sent my friend an email letting her know that I didn’t wish to receive this type of forwarded emails, and that it didn’t have anything to do with my respect or love for her. I went on to talk a bit about my belief that the circle should always be drawn bigger rather than narrower, etc.

T. who is a level-headed, big-hearted midwestern grandmother, responded with an affirmation of love, an acknowledgement that we’ve always had different views on things and that that was ok with her, and let me know that she’d take me off the ‘list’ and only forward specific, hand-picked emails. I am grateful to her, as I remember in those long ago days of my own much more fundamental stance on life, knowing people who would have been so highly offended at my being offended that it could have caused a rupture in relationship.

But it didn’t, and so I have been thinking and praying the last day or so about why not.

I think it’s about the power of relationship. I just read an article in the Nature Conservancy magazine about bald eagles. The article talks about how juvenile baldies assume their adult plumage of the white head around 4-5 years of age, and at the same time end a period of exploration in which young birds have been known to roam half the continent. At their adulthood, wanderlust seems to be replaced by site fidelity and the bird responds to a strong impulse to return to an area within 100 miles of its first nest.

T. is part of that site fidelity for me. We now live half a continent apart, and worlds apart in our religious views. But the fact is that she’s stood by me through all of my metamorphoses, always sending me a birthday card and loving greetings. It’s like she’s the center post of my adolescent religious self. No longer what I identify with, but still a living, breathing part of me. T. stands like a signpost. She has gone through her own changes and is, of course, not the same person she was as an adolescent either.

The fact that I could not let her slip away as so many other friends have over the years and life transitions, because of her devotion to our friendship, has obviously been a beacon of some sort–still not understood by me, or probably not by her either.

The quote from the This I Believe essay that started this post is about a young man’s journey, starting in a family that belongs to the Jehovah’s Witnesses church. As he has found his way and his voice, his mother could have easily pushed him outside the circle, but she didn’t. Here are Joel’s words:

As a teenager, I decided fitting in at school and in life was worth sacrificing some principles. So I never became a Jehovah’s Witness. That was the first time I broke my mom’s heart. The second time was when I told her I am gay.

Obviously, I don’t agree with my mom’s belief that same-sex relationships are wrong. But I tolerate her religion because she has a right to her beliefs. And I like it that my mom doesn’t politicize her beliefs. She has never voted for a law that discriminates against gay people, or anyone who isn’t a Jehovah’s Witness. Her Bible tells her to love, above all.

My belief in tolerance led to a documentary film I made about Jehovah’s Witnesses, and my mom actually likes it. The message is about being open to letting people have views we don’t like, so in that sense, it could also be about Muslims, gay people or NASCAR race fans. The point is the people we don’t understand become less scary when we get to know them as real people. We don’t have to be each other’s cup of tea, but tolerance lets a variety of kettles peacefully share the stove.

I believe our capacity to tolerate both religious and personal difference is what will ultimately give us true liberty — even if it means putting up with an occasional knock on the door.

So, I start this holiday season with a heart-felt thanks to T. who constantly works to make the circle larger, to love more fully, to see more clearly. She and I are sisters, on different paths, with the site fidelity of love and respect. We’re on our way to true liberty. I honor being on the same stove–different teapots, with her, and many, many others.

Joyful Christmas season, T. and all my other Christian friends.

I’ll write a post honoring my Jewish friends next week…

Beth, VTH Host

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