This morning I went with my wife to get a massage as part of her last days of her twenties. She will turn thirty tomorrow. It was not one of those couple’s massages. I am not against those, it is just I wanted my wife to have her own thing.
We went to a national chain and were greeted with a marvelous deal. We endured the mild pressure tactics to supersize our experience with momentary and fleeting deals. It was almost like being on Deal or No Deal. We managed to escape in to the calmly lit relaxation waiting room. There were comfy sofas and a large plasma TV acting like a digital fish tank full of exotic fish.
My wife is called back first and than me. I go back to my room and take off my shoes and t-shirt. I lay on my stomach and the massage begins. My masseuse engages in a bit of small talk. “How are you today?” “Is this your first massage?” “What do you do for a living?”
I answered the first two questions honestly and with no haste. I wavered on the third. I thought do I really want her to know what I do? I weighed my options and calculated the risk and answered. I answered, “I am a minister.” I was fully hoping that would shut down all conversation and I could get in to the relaxing part of the massage.
It got quiet after my response. A couple of minutes passed by and I hear her say, “May I ask you a question.” If you know me you know I love to talk to people. I rarely turn down a conversation. Better yet meeting new people and holding court is my favorite pastime. So without hesitation I respond, “Sure. Go ahead.”
She asks me, “What do you think about Revelation? Are we in the end times?” BAM! I was floored by her question. So long relaxing moment. Hello, Mr. Lecture. I asked her if she wanted my opinion, beliefs, or what the church taught about it? She said, “I guess I want your opinion.”
I shared with her my past engagement of Revelation as a Conservative, Fundamentalist, Evangelical, and Charismatic Christian and how I literally interpreted scripture and sought to live it out militantly. Back then Revelation scared me and fashioned me in to a sin counting zealot responsible for everyone’s sins and had to “save” as many folks as I could to do right by God.
Then I told her how I see Revelation now. A book that describes a particular moment in time describing the horrors of Nero and the hoped destruction that would befall him and the empire he represented. I no longer felt responsible for everyone’s sin. Rather, I held on to the idea of corporate sin and worked to fight injustice and build relationships with a diversity of people.
She was sort of taken back by my answer. She inquired as to what sort of religion I practiced. I told her I was Christian, like her. She did not care for that much. She started in with an Apologetics trajectory. It brought me back to those days when I argued for people’s souls, wrapped with my Sword (my Bible), and cloaked in the unrelenting truth of God. I tensed up.
She shared with me her story. She had lived a tough life and found peace and salvation in Jesus. She left her spouse in Las Vegas to return to Oklahoma and that peace that God was calling her to.
I listened to her seeking to affirm her. She weaved in to her story solid truths and started to pick what I shared with her apart. She then blatantly offered I am not sure what you believe but I know it’s not the Christianity that I follow.
I tried to counter with, “There is room for many ways of being faithful in my understanding of God.” Then I offered up the story of the blind men and the elephant. The blind men focusing on their particular experience with the elephant in their declaration of what an elephant is. They were unaware that they all shared a particular glimpse base in their particular experience with the elephant that when shared together offered the vision of the whole. She would have nothing to do with it. She rejected my story as sounding Buddhist. She was Christian and not letting the devil tempt her with that sinful knowledge.
I lay there quiet, trying to relax. She struggled with words but she maintained the massage. She seemed to channel her frustration in to the knots on my back. I was not hurting; it actually was a good massage.
I remained quiet, determined to enjoy the waning portion of this experience. I was quiet for sometime and hoped she would be too. She returned to Revelation and what she thought about it. She expressed her desire to one day be a missionary and go to the “Third World” to save folks for Jesus. I did not want to challenge her paradigm any more. I just listened.
She went on for about ten minutes. I lay there and listened, trying to fill my peace. As I did I noticed in her words courage and a sense of daring. She and I were really saying the same thing but could not agree on the definitions, let alone the parameters of conversation. I would offer something and she would counter me with her perspective, unable to hear what I was saying.
I did the same to her. I heard the Conservative, Fundamentalist, Evangelical, Charismatic Christian buzzwords and I shut down. I was not really listening to her. I was trying to figure out how to “fix” her. I pitied her and her backwards, folky ways and beliefs. I thought myself to be better than here, more educated. I felt as if I was beyond this poor, simple woman’s capability to understand who God really is.
I really started to listen and not figure out a way to change her. As I listened this time her words sounded much like Gustavo Gutiérrez. She did not say the words “preferential option for the poor” but she spoke of it in her experiences and hopes for herself in the hyperpatriarcal religious world she was in. Her words begged for liberation. Her hopes called for justice.
I listened to her and when there was a silence I asked her if she liked to read. She said she did and was always looing for a good book to read. I told her about Gustavo Gutiérrez and my favorite book of his “The God of Life.” I gave her a quick synopsis of it and tried to relate what she had been saying to what I felt the book was speak to. She did not say a word.
The hour had passed my knots were sufficiently undone. Her “healing hands” had blessed me with health. I put on my shoes and t-shirt and proceeded to leave. She stopped me with a pen and asked me to spell the name of the book I spoke of and the name of the author. She wrote it down on the prescription she was supposed to give to me for the front desk.
We settled our debt and left. I sort of chuckled when my wife asked me if it was relaxing. I told her my masseuse and I talked theology the entire time. My wife smiled and said, “Only you would go to get a massage and turn it in to an opportunity to talk about God.” Yup, I learn a lot about God from everyone I met.