Recent Excerpts from God’s Diaries - V
Thomas B. Woodward
Everyone here knows my policy of refusing to exclude groups just because they irritate me; but I am close to reconsidering on the matter of statisticians. Now there is a profession for people with time on their hands!
Someone had contracted with a group of these people to do a survey on new arrivals – and the preliminary report took up a whole staff meeting. The big question was “Who or what is the first thing you want to know when you arrive?” The winner, with 37.5%, was “Will my husband/wife be here?” The second, with 22.5%, was “Will I see my pet, ___, again?” The third (and most disturbing) with 12.5% was wanting to know the results of a recent sports event (men) or soap opera crisis (women) -- and in sixth place was “I want to know what God is really like.” Sixth place! Give me a break!!
Matthew said I was just upset that I was not the first person the newly arrived wanted to see. I disagreed with him, of course, but that is what it is all about, isn’t it? I put on a good face for the old timers, but I feel a major depression coming on. Jesus all but ensured that the depression would be deep and long lasting with his cheap shot: “I can’t imagine how anyone so infinite can be so small.”
I stayed in my room all day today.
I stayed in my room all day for the second day in a row. A new record.
I did it. I made it to lunch and I did the right thing. I asked for help in dealing with the depression. I don’t remember much of the discussion and very, very little about the advice – except for John. John took my hand in his, looked me straight in the eye and said, “God, get over it. You created all these creatures for your pleasure and joy; so why shouldn’t they feel towards one another the same kind of affection you have for each of them? If anything, you are a victim of your own success in creating such a lovable creation.”
In better spirits I ate two desserts, drank a rare cappuccino and smiled for the first time in four days. I think if I ever had the opportunity to take a sabbatical, the guy I would have in charge during the interim would be John.
With much trepidation I went to Jesus to ask him how he saw Monday’s report by the statisticians. Jesus saw right past my disappointment and hurt. He asked me what it was that the new arrivals most wanted to know about me. I told him I didn’t hear that part of the report – I was too upset about being sixth on the list.
Jesus said that two things stood out. The first, he said, “was that they wanted to see your face, especially the lines on your face. They wanted to see what the accumulation of thousands of years of compassion and hurt and love look like.” I told him I thought that was really lovely – and that I could not have asked for a deeper appreciation. I am a great believer in the lines on people’s faces. It’s the first thing I look for in the elderly, the lines on their faces. There are sad lines and there are compassionate lines. There are also lines of anger and bitterness. The lines on our faces tell our stories. In a way, we work hard for the lines on our faces (I remember reading somewhere that we earn the peculiar lines on our faces). How touching that others want to see mine.
What a great image that is – the lines on my face. I know I’m often worried about the way I’m perceived. The worst is that old dichotomy between “the God of the Old Testament” and “the God of the New Testament.” Whoever dreamed that up should be grateful not to have divulged that disgraceful thought anywhere near my hearing!
Glee in creating . . .passion for justice . . . generosity of the holiness code . . . the compassion for the widows and the victims . . . the rescue of the oppressed . . . having to work with (to be honest with myself) pretty substandard leadership – I think I’ve been pretty consistent all the way through eternity.
After yesterday, this would have been a wonderful day for quiet meditation and reflection, but when Jesus sensed that I was more myself and (I hate the jargon) that my boundaries were once more intact, he sought me out to tell me the second thing the newly arrivals wanted to know. He said, “They want to know if you really are male.” I should have guessed, known.
Then, Martin Luther said he wanted to challenge Buddha to a debate. The Buddha said that he would be honored to share a platform with the great pastor; but, he said, he would probably not be doing much of the debating, himself. He was hoping, he said, that Herr Martin would allow others to share that burden on the Buddhist side. I am looking forward to seeing who Martin will choose.
How many times have I written this: thank Me for Sabbath time. I will use the day fantasizing about “The Great Debate,” as Martin is advertising it.
The great night finally came. The place was full. And Brother Martin, bless his heart, had recruited several friends to join him at the Christian table – Peter, representing first century Christianity, himself representing Reformation theology, and St. Augustine as the “closer.” Martin and Augustine started the debate off to much applause and enthusiasm from the crowd. Augustine outlined the case for Christianity and detailed some of the more important Scriptural references. Then Martin took over. Martin had obviously been working with some of the more effective Black American preachers in preparation for the debates, because he was constantly interrupted with “Preach it, Brother Martin,” and “You lay it down and we’ll pick it up” as well as more “Amens” than most Lutherans have heard in a lifetime.
When Martin finally sat down, Gautama slowly approached the front of the stage, sat down, closed his eyes for several minutes and then, simply, stared at those sitting in front of him with such love and compassion and caring. That was it: no words, no gestures, no explanations. Sitting at the back, I could feel the tension for the first half hour. Then it melted away and it was like all the doubt, all the confusion, every bit of the need for explanation or information was sucked right out of the auditorium. We were all just there.
When the timer waved the yellow card, Buddha rose, bowed to the crowd, bowed to the Christian table . . . . and returned to his seat. Not a single person clapped or whistled. There was just respectful silence. It seemed clear to me that, at that point, the debates were over.
Peter did his best. He really did. If anybody can preach the resurrection, Peter can. And he did. It was clear to me, though, that Brother Martin had made a mistake by calling on Peter, not John. John would have shared his reverence for the great Buddha and then, quite humbly, would have spoken about the quiet and powerful presence of the Risen Christ as companion to the great Buddha, not his competitor or superior. Peter did his best, though; it just was not sufficient for the evening.
The final part of the program was the best. One of Buddha’s staff asked the crowd’s indulgence to accept, as the Buddhists’ final offering, a presentation by an adult and a children’s’ Buddhist choir. Then out came a mixed adult choir, followed by a large children’s choir, all dressed in lovely saffron robes. None of us was prepared for what was to follow.
“Rather than more words or silence,” the young choral director said, “we have prepared a short program – not for your edification, but for your entertainment.” The adult choir then sang a haunting, a capella version of Gershwin’s “I’ve Got Plenty of Nothing (and nothing’s plenty for me),” and then a knock-your-socks off Gershwin parody, “Porgy and Less,” with saffron robed baritone and soprano pouring their hearts out to one another. If that was not enough, the children’s’ choir (introduced as “Gautama’s Guys and Girls Junior Choir”) ended the program, and any remote semblance of dignity to the evening, singing, to a familiar tune:
Buddha loves me, this I know;
for the Buddha-book tells me so.
When I hear that great big gong,
I know I’ve been gosh-darn wrong.
Yes, Buddha loves me!
Yes, Buddha loves me.
Yes, Buddha loves me:
The Buddha-Book tells me so.
The Buddhists were right: the only path to humility is through silence or the ministry of the fool. They had given the gift through both. After many hugs and embraces, we all left in a spirit of reconciliation and joy. Peter and Augustine seemed crushed. I will speak with them tomorrow. Brother Martin was the only one that evening who laughed louder than me.
There can be no debates between us, only rejoicing in one another’s truth and laughter at our common folly. Like a fool, I jumped up and shouted, “I’ll drink to that!”