The wager that will take 50 years to pay off

I can still see that wilderness road, sand and rocks to the horizon, as we drove south from Amman, Jordan, to the ancient Nabatean city of Petra. I was a college junior, wide-eyed at my first international travel, and four of my closest friends were along for the dusty bus ride and a few class credits. Along that stretch of road one of the guys was rambling about a bet he heard another set of roommates had made, and he said, “Let’s do it, too.” Right there, in the land of camels and kafiyas, I shook on it – completely naïve that I’d be the one paying the money!I can still see that wilderness road, sand and rocks to the horizon, as we drove south from Amman, Jordan, to the ancient Nabatean city of Petra. I was a college junior, wide-eyed at my first international travel, and four of my closest friends were along for the dusty bus ride and a few class credits. Along that stretch of road one of the guys was rambling about a bet he heard another set of roommates had made, and he said, “Let’s do it, too.” Right there, in the land of camels and kafiyas, I shook on it – completely naïve that I’d be the one paying the money! John was supposed to marry first, but that Christmas Eve when I proposed to the girl from AB Jacks Road my six “friends” had one remaining semester to constantly remind me of our wager: “Whoever marries first owes the others $50, each!” A deal’s a deal, but it was 1982, and I was looking at three years of seminary and what I knew would be a lucrative career in ministry, which is to say I’m not sure I had ever seen $300 in the same place at the same time! Jesus recommended being wise as serpents and innocent as doves, however, so I went to see another friend. He was a lawyer. (You figure out which of us was the dove and who was the snake!) I left an hour later with a two-page legal contract, spelling out in perfect, obfuscating lawyer-ese the terms of our agreement (which I proposed to my lawyer, there being no attorney present on the bus ride along the dusty King’s Highway). In plain language: my friends get their $50, one dollar per year, paid on the date of our anniversary. Signed. Sealed. Delivered. Inevitably, I’m a late on my payment and someone writes: “Dear Dr. Dean: Where the hell is my dollar?” It’s that time of year, and as I prepare to send a 30th installment I’m thinking about how much more those friendships are worth. All six of us are still married to our first wives, and we each have two happy, successful children. The 28 of us get together a few days after Christmas each year to be appropriately reminded that there is no gift like good friends. The more divisive and rancorous our nation becomes, the more grateful I am for these – and my many other friends. For a boy who grew up in Clinton my friendships may be surprisingly diverse. Once a month the clergy of six Park Road churches gather for breakfast. We’re Protestant and Catholic, liberal and conservative. And we like each other. The Reform Rabbi is a close friend, as is her Conservative Jewish counterpart – and though he can’t eat in my home because my dishes aren’t kosher, that doesn’t’ keep us from sharing laughter and l’chaim together. The Imams at Masjid ar Razzaq and Masjid Ash Shaheed are all the proof you need that if you think all Muslims are extremists, you need some new Muslim friends. Two Unitarian Universalist ministers are colleagues, and like so many of the best people I know, one of them used to be Baptist, too! One is comfortable talking about God, the other is more secular, but we have a common commitment to the worth and equality of the humanity we all share. And there are Baha’is and Hindus, Quakers and Greek Orthodox, New Agers and Wiccans, Democrats and Republicans and Libertarians, straights and gays and transgendered – and still some Baptist friends, too. Can you imagine? Friendships like these make the world a better, more peaceful place – so if you don’t have friends like mine, give me a call. I’ll loan you a dollar, and it’ll be the best money both of us ever spent. (Russ Dean and Amy Jacks Dean, both graduates of Clinton High School, have been the co-pastors of Park Road Baptist in Charlotte since 2000.) John was supposed to marry first, but that Christmas Eve when I proposed to the girl from AB Jacks Road my six “friends” had one remaining semester to constantly remind me of our wager: “Whoever marries first owes the others $50, each!” A deal’s a deal, but it was 1982, and I was looking at three years of seminary and what I knew would be a lucrative career in ministry, which is to say I’m not sure I had ever seen $300 in the same place at the same time! Jesus recommended being wise as serpents and innocent as doves, however, so I went to see another friend. He was a lawyer. (You figure out which of us was the dove and who was the snake!) I left an hour later with a two-page legal contract, spelling out in perfect, obfuscating lawyer-ese the terms of our agreement (which I proposed to my lawyer, there being no attorney present on the bus ride along the dusty King’s Highway). In plain language: my friends get their $50, one dollar per year, paid on the date of our anniversary. Signed. Sealed. Delivered. Inevitably, I’m a late on my payment and someone writes: “Dear Dr. Dean: Where the hell is my dollar?” It’s that time of year, and as I prepare to send a 30th installment I’m thinking about how much more those friendships are worth. All six of us are still married to our first wives, and we each have two happy, successful children. The 28 of us get together a few days after Christmas each year to be appropriately reminded that there is no gift like good friends. The more divisive and rancorous our nation becomes, the more grateful I am for these – and my many other friends. For a boy who grew up in Clinton my friendships may be surprisingly diverse. Once a month the clergy of six Park Road churches gather for breakfast. We’re Protestant and Catholic, liberal and conservative. And we like each other. The Reform Rabbi is a close friend, as is her Conservative Jewish counterpart – and though he can’t eat in my home because my dishes aren’t kosher, that doesn’t’ keep us from sharing laughter and l’chaim together. The Imams at Masjid ar Razzaq and Masjid Ash Shaheed are all the proof you need that if you think all Muslims are extremists, you need some new Muslim friends. Two Unitarian Universalist ministers are colleagues, and like so many of the best people I know, one of them used to be Baptist, too! One is comfortable talking about God, the other is more secular, but we have a common commitment to the worth and equality of the humanity we all share. And there are Baha’is and Hindus, Quakers and Greek Orthodox, New Agers and Wiccans, Democrats and Republicans and Libertarians, straights and gays and transgendered – and still some Baptist friends, too. Can you imagine? Friendships like these make the world a better, more peaceful place – so if you don’t have friends like mine, give me a call. I’ll loan you a dollar, and it’ll be the best money both of us ever spent. (Russ Dean and Amy Jacks Dean, both graduates of Clinton High School, have been the co-pastors of Park Road Baptist in Charlotte since 2000.)

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