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8.07.2007

This one's for Bisch

Today's UPI column

So there I was

Having one of my regular conversations. There are certain situations that seem to occur with some regularity in rather random places in my life. These situations tend to produce some very regular conversations. I have learned to see them coming. I have learned to enjoy the permutations.

This week I was having regular conversation number seven:
I don’t go to church, but I still think I am ok.

It is a good one. I know my part well, and I relish it. This conversation usually starts when someone finds out that I am a pastor. I think this often provokes in people a premonition of judgment. They apparently think that I will tell them that they need to think differently or live differently, or at the very least that I will try and get them to come to church. I don’t know if this comes out of experience or not, but it is a predictable event for them. They pre-parry the expected thrust. They volunteer some form of information about how they don’t go to church, or don’t believe X, Y or Z, but yet they live morally, ethically, and feel pretty good about themselves. Then they step back and wait for my best attempt to poke holes in their defense.

So I don’t.

My job is to tell them that I think that they are just swell. That if they were supposed to be in church they would probably know that, and that I think highly of them and that I am sure that God does too.

Sometimes this confuses them. Mostly they just relax a bit and then we can have some normal people time.

It’s not that I think that everybody and everything is just hunky-dory, I don’t suffer from any such illusions. But if they are not OK, they know it better than me, and do not need to be told. If they want to tell me about the not-OK parts they will eventually get around to it. It’s not my job to provoke it.
This week’s permutation was interesting.

A father of a friend of mine, a dignified gent of a certain age flew out from the Midwest to spend some time with his daughter and grandchildren. I had been able to perform a small service or two for the family this year, and so I was invited out to dinner at a very nice place. A thing I don’t like to miss.

While spending time on a restaurant waiting list that had Einsteinian time-bending capacity, we had a chance to chat. After he told me that he loved me, he told me that he hadn’t been much of a churchgoer – that in fact he used to consider himself an atheist, but had recently considered softening that to agnostic. He told me that he had been deeply involved with the Rotarians and that he generally just tried to do the right thing. He waited to see if I was going to do any God-talk.

I was ready.

I told him how much I loved him. That the evidence of his good life was all around me in the faces of his family, and that I was sure that God didn’t have any problems with him. Then we talked about the Cubs. Job done.

Then I went home that night and Wikipediaed
Rotary International.

Here were my biases. Boosterism, I was sure, based on one Kiwanis meeting I had spoke at early one morning, years ago – Boy were those terminally sunny morning people! I presumed that it was a dwindling group of post-war business people. I presumed that they would be Americans, mostly male and probably Republicans. I presumed that they were nice people – do-gooders, but probably not much of substance.

Boy was I wrong – nothing new there.

There are 1.2 million Rotarians in 200 countries of the world. That’s four Rotarians for every Quaker in the world. They are gender inclusive and inclusive of all religions. You can be gay and be a Rotarian. They are non-political. The Nazi’s and the Soviets didn’t like them and banned them – always good for the resume.

And get this! Since 1985 they have been responsible for vaccinating TWO BILLION children against polio. The Mother’s Union approves.

When I was in Africa this year, there were kids in my house, they had not been vaccinated against any of the things that my children have no fear of – except one – Polio – that they were safe from.
Now I know who to thank.

Like Quakers, Rotarians like to ask Queries. This is their list of questions for deciding if a course of action is a good idea.

Is it the truth?
Is it fair to all concerned?
Will it build good will and better friendships?
Will it be beneficial to all concerned?

I want sincere Rotarians in charge of our foreign policy!

I know that they do not consider themselves religious in nature, but it would make a fine religion.

Dallas Willard says that the test of a good religion is its benefits to its non-adherents. I think this applies to all communities and organizations. I mean even the KKK has some benefits for its members. But the alphabetically superior AA benefits a lot of people beyond the drunks. By this measure the Salvation Army and the Union Gospel Mission are doing ok. The Untied States government, I am not so sure of.

Here’s an idea. What if every Christian church that baptizes babies gave vaccinations with every baptism, worldwide. I am sure that the Mother’s Union would approve of this. I am sure they could afford it; some of them have paid out more in lawsuits. Never the less, though benefiting billions, this would still be benefiting the adherents and so would still lag behind the Rotarians.

I have decided that my friend’s father does not need to check in with me, spiritually speaking. He has decades of good religious seniority on me, I need to keep checking in with him.


Comments:
It is thanks to the Rotarians that I was an exchange student in Colombia, that my whole life changed to be more aware and appreciative of cultural differences.

In my new home town, the Rotarians keep partnering with a local affordable housing developer to build more affordable housing.

And in my old hometown, they not only built the Little League field (mostly with their money, but also with a fair amount of sweat and technical support), they annually provide the largest scholarship to a college-bound kid from our small mill-based town.

Yeah, I like Rotary. And my dad used to be one.
 
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