Is This the Hill You Want to Die On?


The year I was trying to decide whether to leave a particular church in Denver, whether to take the bold step of seeking another appointment, a pastor friend of mine asked me, as I wavered, “Is this the hill you want to die on?”


What a startling question this was, as if I were charging up San Juan Hill, or standing on a hill in the Little Big Horn Valley, or dragging a cross to Golgotha?


I was at the beginning of my ministry, and here I was being asked where and under what circumstances I wanted to die. I did not want to think about dying. I wanted to think about living.


I understood, and was comfortable with, the faith of the patriarch Abraham, who twice passed his beautiful wife as his sister in order to save his own life. He would have obediently killed and sacrificed Isaac, his only son by Sarah, if God had not relented at the last moment and provided a ram as a substitute. I understood the kind of faith based on the conviction that “God will provide.” After all, weren’t we–Joan and I–like Abraham and Sarah?


When I decided to leave my job and move to Denver to attend seminary, God provided when the seminary offered me a scholarship that not only paid my tuition but also included a stipend. I was chosen, and all I had to do was keep my grades up and complete my course work. It was Joan who had to follow and give up her business community, her church community, and her home. It was Joan who had to find work in a strange community in a professional area inhospitable to maturer women.


I don’t mean to make light of Abraham’s faith. It is no easy matter to give up one’s only son, even if one does live in patriarchal times and it is God’s immediate command. But my pastor friend did not ask me: Do you believe that you are chosen by God and that God will provide? He asked me: Is this the hill you want to die on? My pastor friend’s assumption was that a hill does exist, upon which I will choose to hand myself over to die. My pastor friend was referring me not to the God who commanded Abraham to kill his own beloved son, but to the God who sent his only Son, the Beloved, to die on the cross.


As I struggled with my pastor friend’s question, I realized that I did not understand the kind of faith upon which his question was based–a faith based on the suffering of the cross and the joy of the empty tomb.


Is there a hill upon which I would gladly die? I asked myself. My answer was: Yes. I know what this hill looks like. It looks very much like the hills on the windward side of Oahu, where I grew up. On these hills there were empty World War II bunkers facing the ocean, and as I imagine myself once again climbing one of those hills, I see an old bunkers, with a web across the entry way. I pass the old fort that my friends and I built, where we played cowboys and Indians, war. I come upon the wooden rifle I made with my father’s tools. As I climb higher, I can see far below the old barracks with the beehive from which we gathered honey. And here are the rocks at the top of the hill, where my homing pigeons loved to rest before flying home.


Standing among the rocks I feel the wind in my hair. I wonder: will I know the things unseen that I long for? Yes. Will I see a world of justice and peace? Yes. Will I see myself and my friends as children playing games we never knew existed? Yes. Will I hear singing and a wonderful music? Yes.