I recall the letter was lengthy, handwritten, and contained charming phrases like, "The blood of your children is on your head." The mother explained that she couldn't allow her children to visit lest we try to convert them to our brand of idolatry but that my children were welcome to visit any time.
"But," she said, "We will not hide the Truth from them." That's right, truth with the capital T.
She kindly assured us that she would be praying for our salvation.
I vented with my friends for a bit before I responded, not wanting to do so flippantly or in the heat of anger. My children would continue to be in school with hers, and I felt that it was important to be careful in how I handled this.
I started by affirming her right to believe and raise her children as her conscience dictates. I stated that I also was doing the same, and assured her that I did not feel it was my job or place to try to convert her children and that I had therefore made no effort to do so. Further, I said I did not discuss religion at all with her children and that they all simply played together outside.
I said that I took my children's spiritual welfare as seriously as she took hers, and that I was endeavoring to the best of my ability to make sure they had a solid foundation of values.
I indicated that with some regret, I could not send my children to her home to play because she had essentially indicated that she would try to tell them about her beliefs, and pointed out how confusing this would be. If she could not respect my rights as I had respected hers, then I could see no way that our children could play together outside of school.
I pointed out how Jesus Christ associated with all manner of people that the leaders of his day considered low class and not to be spoken to, and I suspected that he would not approve of her choice to judge us in the way that she was doing.
I thanked her for her offer to pray for us, indicated that I wished her well in her own spiritual life, and hoped that there were no hard feelings.
I encountered her numerous times during the years my children attended school alongside hers and we were always cordial. It is too bad we could not have talked openly about our beliefs because in my experience, once you get past the superficialities of cultural context, many religions have a great deal in common. One of the things that holds us back is this notion that we are "saved" while others are most decidedly not. If you saw someone on the brink of a precipace, you would try to pull them back. In our mind's eye, that is what we see if we hold to a view of damnation for unbelievers. Once I thought that way. I now believe in a loving Goddess (or God) who gives us many chances to turn to Her. I can relax and know that everyone else will make their own choices about matters of the spirit and eventually they will find a path that works for them--one that allows them to grow closer to their own vision of the Divine.
It is sad to encounter those who won't offer me the same benefit of the doubt. It's impossible to have any sort of deep friendship with someone who believes you are doomed by your spiritual choices--even trickier if you once shared the same path and you have taken another fork in the road.
How can you be friends with someone who thinks, essentially, that you're an idiot who never understood the philosophy that you lived by, deeply studied, and passionately believed in for fifteen years? I would like to think that it's possible but I am filled with foreboding and saddened that I am seen through such a lense. I can't share anything about my spiritual life with such a person (since it will not be respected) and what once drew us together now drives us apart. While I passionately support this old friend in following his path, he's said outright that he'd like to re-convert me back to his. I can't see how this can work.
I hope that I'm wrong and that we can find a way. I find that Aretha Franklin's song Respect is running through my mind.