If you didn’t read the previous five reunion posts and would rather not, here’s a synopsis: One time, at a reunion, I was in a picture with four women who were very close to forty eight years old.
Soon after the photo with the beautiful women I had a conversation with yet another fetching woman, whom, judging by jewelry she was not wearing, appeared to be single. Upon learning that I was available she took interest in finding someone who would consider me a suitable suitor. I decided to be flattered at her claim that I was “a catch” rather than focus on the fact that she left herself right off of that list. She had a suggestion. I knew that woman. We had become friends, in the Facebook sense, sometime earlier. She seemed attractive and what she presented on Facebook piqued my interest. Further, I had interacted with her In Real Life the previous evening. I was hoping to talk to her some more this evening, especially now that the Cutest girl had passed up her chance. “Yes,” I told my matchmaker, she seems quite like someone with whom I might click, but, here’s the thing. I don’t believe in God.”
“Oh, that could be a problem,” Matchmaker replied.
I was pretty darned religious earlier in life. For three summers I worked at Camp McDowell, run by the Episcopal church. For two years I was head counselor. While my staff was tending to the kids in their cabins, I interviewed priests about how they were called, what it was like to be a priest, and whether they liked it. After many heart-felt conversations with over a dozen priests, I thought that I too might be called to do the work of God.
As my time as head counselor was coming to a close, I had a conversation with our bishop, a man whom was literally awesome. When I was with him. I was filled with awe. He said he wanted to talk to me, I assumed about matters having to do with Camp. In the course of that conversation he asked what I was planning to do after college. I explained my plan to apply to jobs at independent schools. “After you have done that for a few years,” the Right Reverend Stough inquired, “where were you thinking of going to seminary?”
I was supremely flattered and excited. Even the memory of the conversation still makes my heart swell.
For a number of reasons, however, I never made it to seminary. Today, as I look at the number of problems in our world caused by religion, I have a hard time thinking that religion is good. Still, I embrace lots stuff that I taught and learned at church camp, and a lot of who I am is due to the values and love that I got from the Episcopal church. In other words, I live my life the same way that I did when I believed in God, but for me, I do not need God to do it.
One day, years ago, when I was a professor giving advice to someone about how he or she should move forward with academic life it occurred to me that I would have been a good priest. I like helping people live better lives. I like public speaking. I like building communities and throwing parties. These seemed like the skills that would make a good leader of a church. After all, we know that Jesus liked to party, what with that water into wine stuff.
So, in spite of my not believing in God I thought that perhaps a religious woman could see the spiritual part of me and could gloss over my not believing in God.
Then I thought some more. I think I might be amenable with some versions of God, say “God is Love.” I believe in love. I think it is a really good thing. I think that we should all love each other. If you want to call that God, then I can go with that. The notion that there is some omniscient omnipotent being that is calling the shots, however, seems patently absurd. Like Gandhi, I like Jesus; it’s Christians I have a hard time with. I honestly like to think that I follow the example that Jesus set, but I have a hard time believing that one night he sat down to dinner with his best friends and said, “Hey guys, I’m pretty sure I’m going to get killed tomorrow. I am really happy that we are all together tonight. Here’s what I want you to do. From now on, when you eat, pretend that what you are eating is me, my flesh. You know, because, really, cannibalism is totally hip. And when you drink wine, pretend that it is my blood, because, well, vampires are awesome. Sound good? One day you guys should write this stuff down.”
Even if I live my life no differently from when I believed in God enough to devote my life to her, I suspected that my holding these beliefs could be a problem for someone for whom these beliefs are very important. Bummer.
Nevertheless, I wanted Ms. Devoted to know that I thought that I found her both attractive and interesting. She replied that she thought that I was cute and was somewhat interested. “But I don’t believe in God,” I felt obliged to add.
“I can’t save you!” she replied.
Save me? From what? I thought, I’m happier and healthier than I remember being. Sure I don’t have a house or a job, but only because I do not want or need those things now. My life is fantastic. I am not a guy who needs to be fixed in order to be a warm and loving person. . . oh, “save?” as in “I once was lost and now I’m found?” I never needed that. I was baptized as an infant. Sure, my belief in God may have abated, but if I were to believe in God, I would also know that I was always part of the tribe. One day when I was an infant, a couple hundred people stood before God, me, and a bishop. They all took an oath that I would grow up knowing how to follow the ways of Jesus. I think they succeeded. I thought it better not to say any of that, though.
“Wow. That’s too bad,” she said. “I thought that I could like you.” With that she gave me a hug and a chaste, but sweet, kiss on the lips and disappeared into the crowd.