I used to save loose change throughout the year, and then bring the bag of coins to the Salvation Army at Christmastime. As I migrated to digital money, which resulted in less loose change, I began carrying dollar bills during the holidays. I’d put a dollar in the kettle whenever I would pass a cold Bell Ringer. My dollars always made me feel more connected to the Christmas season, a little more grateful for my own abundance.
Earlier this month, I learned about the Salvation Army’s uncompromising view of same-sex couples. And I had to remind myself that due to the unexpected and miraculous path my life has taken, that includes me. Great, I thought with deep disappointment, now I can’t give my dollars to the Salvation Army any more.
Dismay followed me for most of a day. Was I supposed to shop for the rest of the holiday season and callously walk past the kettles? Could I really ignore the countless people who benefit from the Salvation Army’s core mission: the kids who get coats, the families who otherwise wouldn’t have gifts, and the many people we ignore most of the year.
I wrestled with the contradictions. Black/ white, good/bad, true/false, us/them—our minds are hard wired to label. Mostly, however, I just felt bad about not smiling at the Bell Ringers and putting my dollars in the kettles. Everything about that felt off. It was all so confusing.
But did I have to lump everyone in the Salvation Army into one big red bucket because of the cruel and sloppy comments of some of its members—or because I disagreed with its theology? Somewhere in the middle of my inner turmoil, it occurred to me that organizations, like people, are a complex mixture of darkness and light, stinginess and generosity, limitations and love. They mirror our contradictions and inner struggles. And they include jerks who sometimes say and do mean-spirited things. (Does that really need any proof?) But they include good-hearted and decent people too.
Personally, I’ve embodied traits of all of these, and sometimes all on the same day. How is that possible? In that very confusion, I realized that I couldn’t resolve these contradictions—or facilitate larger conversations—by clinging to my own judgment and stinginess.
I’m not trying to change your beliefs or challenge your faith. What I’m saying is that how my life has unfolded has completely challenged mine. Miraculously, I’m lucky enough to have someone who loves me in all of my own ridiculousness and contradictions. Equally surprising, some of the same people whom I should never (ever) engage in political conversation have been some of most decent, welcoming, and personally accepting.
While my mind still can’t figure out that paradox, my heart seems to have no problem with it. Had my life turned out any differently, I wonder if I’d be able to say that. The very relationship that could have placed me on the outside has, in fact, opened my heart. And from that spacious place, I have discovered that I can disagree with some of the beliefs of the Salvation Army while simultaneously acknowledging the good it does for a lot of people.
If people are transformed from the inside, then organizations probably are too. With that hopeful thought, I have concluded that my dollar has a greater chance of reaching people from within the kettles than outside of them. So, as cheerful Bell Ringers have greeted me over the past few weeks, I have gratefully greeted them back. And this Christmas Eve, I’m appreciating how the universe continues to find the most unlikely ways to open my heart.