Like the young man yesterday, Muhammed, who is a native of Turkey, an electrical engineer by training, studying for an MBA at Rutgers (his employer back home is paying 100% of the tuition). He currently owns / manages a fleet of 10 small trucks that he rents out for extra income. In a year’s time here, he’s managed to teach himself English mostly by watching Netflix and by asking his American girlfriend to “not understand” his attempts to speak but to “correct him.”
Zampino’s piece reminded me of a conversation I had with a Brooklyn cabbie a few years back — eight years, now that I think of it! I was shooting a few episodes of In the Arena, and as usual the good folks at NET had arranged a car for the ten minute drive from mass transportation to studio.
Typically, the drivers were immigrants from the Middle East or India, and – with the exception of one cranky sort who seemed to have had enough of driving through pedestrians for one day – they were all soft-spoken fellows with genial natures.
One particular driver and I had such a good conversation that I jotted it down in my notebook. He had an ornament hanging from his mirror – a red-cube thing with a rose atop it and some calligraphy. I asked him what the writing meant and he replied, “it is the name of the prophet and of God and it is a blessing for the car, a blessing for travel.”
“Oh,” I said. “I have something like that in my car, too.”
He must have noticed the crucifix around my neck. “You are a Catholic,” he said, and added. “I try to bring God into everything I do, throughout the day.”
“I do too, as much as I can,” I said. “It’s not always easy; I don’t always come up to snuff.”
“God is merciful,” he said. “Many people, all kinds of people, try to live in this way. My people, some Christian people, some Jewish people, they all try, but it is not always easy, as some think it is.”
“No, but we try.” I mused. “We people of faith all try to live it, and we all believe, and yet we have no peace between us.”
He shrugged. I got the impression that this was a conversation neither of us would be having, if we were face-to-face. “Faith is good,” he mused. “But peace…is difficult. We all believe different things.”
Ah, the eternal struggle – the mobius upon which we all ride and cannot escape. Why can’t believers simply allow other believers their beliefs? Because they believe.
I teased the driver, “maybe, then, we believers should just stop believing, and that would solve everything.”
“No, no,” he answered very seriously. “Not believing is even worse.”
I was so struck by his answer, and his gravity, that I wrote it down in my notebook: “To not believe is even worse.” It’s wonderful. It acknowledges the fact that belief is imperfect, that faith cannot be perfectly communicated and lived within faulty and imperfect humanity; to believe is not the perfect good. It is only a way to search for and encounter the Perfect Good. If we fail in that (and we all do, in one way or another), then all that is left is grace. And mercy.
And of course, for believers there is the reality that our lives and our ways continually give scandal to “the faith,” no matter what faith. Jihadi give scandal to the Muslims; some televangelists give scandal to the Evangelicals; some priests have given scandal to the Catholics; the Hadassah lady sneaking a pork egg roll gives scandal to the Jews. My sharp answer to a stranger, while I wear the cross of Christ crucified, gives scandal.
Believers aren’t any better than anyone else, and belief – for all the good it does, and it does much – still serves as the impetus for so much that is bad in the world.
And yet…not believing is even worse.