“Are you a man of faith?”
I’m out front of the public library this morning, circulating my referendum petitions. This big guy, healthy verging on burly, comes out, and I ask if he has time to sign a petition.
Ah, curiosity! Willingness to talk! Second nicest words I hear all day. I start with Senate Bill 177, the youth minimum wage. That’s the easier sell—most people have heard of it, and I don’t need to alarm, confuse, or bore them with a lengthy explanation. Mention 177, remind the voters of the uniform minimum wage we voted for in 2014 and the cut the Legislature imposed, and most of the time, the pen hits the paper.
This guy doesn’t reach for the pen. He doesn’t offer an economic argument about the relative value of 16-year-old Suzie’s labor at Twist Cone. He looks at me, the noonward sun gleaming in his eyes, and asks:
“Are you a man of faith?”
If I were on top of my game, I’d say, “I’m a man of supreme faith in the will of the voters. Now sign the petition!” But that probably would be too glib. And I’m thinking a line like that means this conversation is done.
But he asked, so I answer, plainly, straight to his face: “No, I’m not.”
I wait in the pregnant pause for my neighbor to declare that he can’t trust an earthly campaigner who doesn’t acknowledge the truth of God.
But surprise! he does not quit. Instead, we’re off to the races. Historical Jesus, disciples’ sacrifice, more evil happening daily, Blood Moon prophecy, predestination… I feel like I’m back at SDSU, 25 years ago, when I crossed friendly swords in conversations like this daily.
But somewhere in the conversation (and people are passing by, and I’m missing signatures, but I’m sticking with this guy), I say something about how whatever we believe, we have to get up every day and do the good. We have to seek the truth. We have to help all of our neighbors get knowledge so they can seek the truth. We have to empower them to participate in earthly politics, in earthly terms, so they can exercise their understandings of truth and steward this earth the way their beliefs guide them.
Maybe we’re all predestined to Rapture or roast. Maybe there’s nothing we can do to forestall the Anti-Christ or hasten the Kingdom come. Maybe on the earthly level, the rich and powerful are destined to run everything, to hoard wealth while they cut our pay, to rig our election laws to make sure their guys win and box us out (and yes, I point Senate Bill 69). Maybe one guy signing a petition on a sidewalk won’t stop the rich and powerful any more than one little toot turns the prairie wind.
But we have to try. We can’t live not trying. And if we try, maybe we’ll find that prophecy and fatalism are wrong. Maybe we can change things for the better.
My neighbor thinks about that. We talk about a few other things. He says it churns his insides to know someone doesn’t believe (that’s probably Big-B Believe) and that he can’t bring that person to Belief. I say take that burden from your shoulders, brother, because your duty is to speak your faith honestly, and you’ve done that, but as you said earlier (yes, my guy said this), it’s up to the Holy Spirit to move someone to belief. Don’t worry: we’ve both got bigger fish to fry.
Words, words… and finally he comes back and says he can feel his philosophy changing. No, not his Lord, not his faith—I’m not going for that, and I never would. He just feels a little shift that says, yeah, we need to try, even in this earthly stuff.
We’re both men of faith, in very different things. But we find a little island of working agreement in the civic space we share.
And he signs my petitions. Both of them.
Signatures! Go get ’em!