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Thursday, February 8, 2018

THE GAMBLER [R, 2-8-18]

CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith and Life for the Years of Winter…

“You’ve got to know when to hold em, know when to fold em, know when to walk away…” [1]

I was just standing there, minding my own business, when the woman came up and took a rather solid position beside me. It was at intermission at “Sound of Music” in the IU auditorium.

We sit in the balcony, because it’s cheaper. The “room” behind the balcony--which is more like a hallway--is very crowded at intermission, especially since they started selling booze. On one end is the women’s rest room. It has a line that stretches from Bloomington to Terre Haute. In the middle is the elevator, with people standing and waiting and getting on and off to go up when they want to go down and vice versa. Also in the middle is the booze counter, surrounded by people who are having trouble figuring out how to form a line. Down at the far end is the men’s rest room. It has no line, but guys come and go frequently. Guys go in and try to form a line to wait for an opportunity, but it’s crowded and since it is against the man code to talk to anybody in there, nobody can form a line there, either.

So I stand in the corner, across from the men’s room, looking pensive, but I’m actually counting. When twice as many men have come out as have gone in, then I go. At that point, there’s no line to worry about. That’s when the woman came up and took her stance beside me.

She looked normal for a Bloomington woman. Probably in her 50s, neat hair, no tattoos visible, nicely dressed but not overly dressed—A “Sound of Music” type of middle-aged woman.

I had no idea who she was, but she said, “How are you?” like she knew me. I have always been fairly good with faces and names, but I’m getting old, and I figured we had met some time when I was distracted and just didn’t remember her. Not so.

“It’s so hectic out here,” she said, “and you look like a calm person. I thought I’d just stand beside you and absorb your aura.”

That was sort of complimentary, but it did make me lose count. That wasn’t the biggest problem, though. She said, “Are you a professor?”

A reasonable guess. We live where there are a lot of profs, and I do look like one, at least from the era when all profs were bald men with white beards. I wanted to say “Yes,” because that would short-circuit the conversation I knew would come if I told the truth about my so-far hidden identity. But that would be a lie, which is counter-indicated in case someone does find out what I used to do. Also she would ask what I had professed, and I would have to say “Jesus is Lord,” which would bring on that dreaded conversation in spades. So I hedged. “I’m retired,” I said.

It didn’t work. She kept probing. She was clever, didn’t go at it directly. “I’ll bet you were good at what you did,” she said. I could not deny that. “You have a nice voice. You must have used it in what you did.” I had to acquiesce to that, also. I finally admitted that I had been a preacher.

Then it started, the way I knew it would, the way it always does: why she is spiritual but not religious; what is wrong with the church; how someone in a church once did something she didn’t like and so she has never gone back again; what the Bible says about several things about which the Bible says nothing. Numbers 1, 2, 3, and 4 on the list of the subjects preachers want to avoid in five-minute settings.

Finally, I said, “Sorry, but I’ve lost count. I have to go.” I escaped into the men’s room. There was no line. I was the only one there. But I stayed until I heard someone singing about a problem named Maria and wondered if that were the name of that spiritual but not religious woman.

She is probably still wondering what I was counting. And I am wondering what lie I can tell the next time I’m asked that question, when there’s no time to respond adequately to all the responses it provokes.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m proud of being a preacher-pastor-theologian. I’m delighted to have conversations about faith and life if there is enough time to do them right. But a two-minute conversation just throws out too much chaff with no time to wade through it.

From now on, I think I’ll say, “I was a gambler.” Which is accurate, in its own way. If she says, “Did you win?” I can truthfully say, “You bet!”

“You’ve got to know when to walk away, and when to run…”


1] This song is usually associated with Kenny Rogers, but it was written by Don Schlitz, in August of 1976, when he was 23 years old.

Spoiler Alert: If you have read this column in the last 3 months, all that follows is old news:

I tweet occasionally as yooper1721.

I stopped writing this column for a while, for several reasons. It wasn’t until I had quit, though, that I knew this reason: I did not want to be responsible for wasting your time. If I write for others, I have to think about whether it’s worthwhile for you to read. If I write only for myself, it’s lector emptor [which I think is Latin or Esperanto or something for “let the reader beware.”] If you choose to read something I have written, but I have not advertised it, not asked you to read it, and it’s poorly constructed navel-gazing drivel, well, it’s your own fault. Still, I apologize if you have to ask yourself, “Why did I waste time reading this?”

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