I learned how to play poker in seminary. We played at least once a month, using all the loose change we had lying around the house. I knew how to play, in theory, before then, but regular play taught me a lot about the different ways people play the game. I was more interested in the friendship and the food, so the education was a bonus.
The way a minister approaches poker is not necessarily consistent with the way they approach religion, but it might say something about how they approach life. There are those who only play when they feel they are guaranteed to win and so they fold nearly every hand. There are others who can't help but stay in the game even when the odds are not in their favor and so they call at every turn. There are better and worse bluffers, and there are those who seem to always raise the stakes just to keep it interesting. There are the rule enforcers, the boisterous winners, and the sore losers, even among the clergy.
For the past five years, some of my non-clergy friends and I have gathered at one another's homes every other month to play Texas Hold'em. It costs $20 to play, and the top three place. Since our daughter was born, I haven't played as often. Friday was the first time I had been since January when I began the collar experiment. I honestly hadn't thought about the impact of the collar on this informal poker scene until I showed up and the jokes began."So does the collar mean you will always call?" "I guess you won't be bluffing tonight?" Some of the usual faces were there, and I was introduced to four new people. I am sure that meeting me for the first time in a collar at a poker game made for interesting follow-up fodder.
I was one of two women. And even though she knew the game way better than I do, she caught a bad beat and was the first one out. I was a bit rusty, so I started off pretty terrible. As the evening went on, I caught some good cards in good positions and won a few decent pots.
By the time we consolidated tables, I was in fourth place out of five. Then I hit several really great hands in a row and played them pretty aggressively, knocking out one player and taking a pretty significant chunk from the chip leader.
As the night wore on, my usual 8:30 bedtime long passed, I was getting tired and the hip folks had other places to be. I asked if we could just count the chips and call it. After the chip leader took a look at his stack, clearly thinking he had won, he agreed. After the count, I had won by a fairly minimal amount, much to the dismay of the most-of-the-night chip leader. The other two winners who placed 2nd and 3rd were Tom and Harry, which left me with an unfortunate new poker name.
I must admit, I was surprised I had won... but the chips don't lie. I do not believe wearing my collar had anything to do with my win. I do not believe that God was on my side or that my collar necessarily threw anyone off their game. As in life, on any given day, sometimes we are dealt a strong hand and sometimes we're not. On some days, it may appear our win is inevitable and then a single card can take it away. Poker is a harsh mistress and a good teacher. The more we learn to work with what we have, enjoy the people we are with, and keep showing up -- as long as we're all in --the better the game will be.