Saturday night was a lovely evening so I headed with my kids to a popular part of town for dinner and a little shopping. We were walking from the parking garage when we heard a very jazzy rendition of "You Are My Sunshine" played by a trio of street musicians. It was the type of evening and street music that makes you put a little strut in your step. Even my teenage son was smiling and dancing around a little.
After a few minutes, we continued our walk down the street towards the restaurant. In front of a book store sat a homeless man on the ground with a sign that said, "Need Money and Work." We quickened our steps using care to ignore and not make eye contact with him. I could hear the man say "God bless you," as we passed.
As we approached the restaurant we could hear drums. There sat on the curb was another street musician. He was a scruffy young man who was in dire need of a good shower and some Right Guard. There he was playing drums on upside down paint containers of different sizes for the crowd of onlookers. So talented, but panhandling just the same. I started thinking of how the homeless and poor people were encroaching on this beautiful part of our city. Such a sad problem. Yet, here the dirty young man sat playing an amazing drum solo on simple paint containers.
A sweet looking older couple stood next to me and I smiled at the woman and nodded. I said, "He is really good." She agreed with a nod and sweet grandma like smile. She then handed me what looked like money. "It is a million dollars!" the old woman said. "Make sure to read it. It has an important message on the back!" she said in her smiley grandma voice. I laughed and graciously accepted the million dollar bill knowing good and well there would be some bible verse on the back, but that was okay. She was so sweet and kind.
My kids and I headed inside the Italian restaurant where I learned there was a 30 minute wait for a table. No worries. It was such a nice evening and we were in no hurry. To kill the time, I examined the million dollar bill I shoved into my jeans pocket a few minutes earlier. The front with a picture of President Hayes and on the back there was very tiny print that my 40 plus year old eyes struggled to read. I held the bill out at an arms length and squinted my eyes into little slits to read the tiny print. It said the following.
The million dollar question. Will you go to Heaven when you die? Here's a quick test. Have you ever told a lie, have you ever stolen anything, or God's name in vain? Jesus said, "Who looks at a woman in lust for her has already committed adultery in his heart." Have you looked with lust? Will you be guilty on judgement day? If you have done those things, God sees you as a lying, thieving, blasphemous, adulterer at heart. The bible warns that if you are guilty you will end up in Hell.
I failed the test. I certainly cannot say I have never told a lie and I am pretty sure I said "Oh My God" or "God D___-It!" at least twice that day. To top it off, I do not believe Jesus is Lord and I have several gay and lesbian friends which I am sure would be covered in more questions on the back if there were room. How could this sweet little old lady be so narrow minded? If there is a Heaven, what kind of place does not accept everyone with differences, flaws and all? There I sat on this perfect evening with a judgmental message in hand!
Reading this message made me think of an old Twilight Zone. It was one of the classic episodes where an old man and his dog arrived to the gates of Heaven. The gate keeper told him he was welcome to enter, but there are no dogs allowed. The old man decides that any place that would not allow his loyal hunting dog is no place he wanted to be. Later he finds to out it was not Heaven at all. It was Hell in disguise. Heaven was little bit further down the road and the pearly gates openly allowed his dog.
As I thought more about the message on the million dollar bill, I realized something very important. I was being as judgmental as the seemingly sweet old lady passing out the million dollar bills. Why should the homeless not be allowed in this part of town? Should they be banned from this area since it lowers the property values and makes me feel uncomfortable? I volunteer monthly in a soup kitchen, but cannot be courteous enough to acknowledge a homeless man as I pass him on the street? My appearance and economic status does not make me better, more important, more special or more worthy to be here. I was even judging the old lady for being judgmental.
Fortunately, we do not need to believe the words on the back of the million dollar bill. It is okay to be different. If someone does a wrong deed, we can believe in second, third and as many chances as needed. There is no reason to believe anyone will spend eternity in Hell. However, we can build our own Hell on earth by having preconceived ideas and passing of judgement on others. I realize at times I have create walls with my opinions--my own personal prison cell of sorts. The good news, it is never too late to start in the next moment to show more love, kindness, compassion and tolerance for those that do not act, think or believe the same as we do. It is key to remember all beings are interconnected. It should not matter if you are straight/gay/lesbian, Democrate/Republican, pro-choice/pro-life, poor/wealthy, Muslim/Christian--you get the idea. Look for the good in all beings and you will find it. This is what being open minded is really all about.
I end this blog post with metta practice.
To myself, may I be happy in all ways.
To you my reader, may you be happy in all ways.
To the old lady, may you be happy in all ways.
To the homeless man I ignored on the street, may you be happy in all ways.
To all beings, may you be happy in all ways.