I stopped at a convenience store the other day as I was on my way to teach Shakespeare to a passel of 7th graders. There, on the sidewalk in front of me, was a dog. And there, in front of the dog, were two men discussing what to do with the dog, which was obviously lost. I stopped to help. The dog’s collar told us her name was Spirit.
One of the men went to call the number printed on Spirit’s collar. In the meantime, I couldn’t stop petting her and telling her what a good dog she was. Spirit responded by leaning hard against my leg as dogs are wont to do. One of the men brought his car around and popped the passenger door open. I said, “Spirit, come on, let’s get in the car,” and she calmly walked ahead of me, hopped inside, and waited quietly. The man said he’d keep her for a day but then he’d have to take her to a shelter. I said goodbye and that was that.
I believe that each of us has a divine spark—it shines quietly when we offer each other the benefit of the doubt, when we apologize, when we’re generous and no one’s watching. After a brief affair with atheism in college, I joined the Episcopal church. (It’s not easy being Christian and liberal today without qualifying things.) I’ve never felt the need to debate my beliefs with anyone, because when you compare world religions, ethics, love, and generosity are valued pretty much the same.
This past Easter, a friend angrily told me Christianity is nothing more than a “cult of personality” and “idol-worship,” and that the idea of Jesus dying to absolve us of our sins is “a crock of sh*t.” Like I said, I don’t seek out debate regarding my faith, but here it was in my living room, picking a fight.
I was enraged. Now, I’d never really understood before how people could fight over invisible ideas. Color me naive, but I’d always somewhat smugly wondered Why can’t people just believe their own thing and go their own way? Why does one group of people need to hate another just because they worship differently?
And so, in that quickflash moment, I got it. I got it that you can go through your whole life taking your beliefs for granted, never finding yourself in a position where you have to defend them. I got it that if your beliefs are attacked, your instinct for self-preservation will take over because we are what we believe. Turns out, having your beliefs attacked helps refine what they are in the first place.
These are my thoughts of late as I’ve been sharing the finer points of iambic pentameter with 35 gangly tweens and doing a small bit to help a lost dog named Spirit.
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