I went to Market Street the other day to grab some groceries. The lady who works behind the coffee counter, the one who is always chatty and smiling, stops me for a bit. Where have I been? How are the kids? Did I know she’s finished with Bible school? (Oh joy.)
Yes, sometimes I listen to her tell me about Bible school. She’s been taking classes now for two years. Did I know, she tells me, that I can be a minister, too? (Is that right?) I don’t need a divinity degree. I can minister to people every day by spreading God’s word and being a good Christian. Any one can. Did I know that?
Of course my husband is staring at me, wondering why the hell I don’t tell her to bug off. I bit my cheek so as not to bust out laughing at the irony. This is a woman who is so excited to be on Team Jesus and so clueless, that I wondered, What’s the point? Why not let her talk? Who is she hurting? She’s just trying to do the best job for Jesus that she can. She’s not a threat to me. I thought about the time I worked in a courtroom, and the DA and judge let a man just rattle on and on because the more he talked, the more he incriminated himself.
I ask myself this question a lot. I mean: A LOT. What’s the point? We’re all going to die. Every one of us. Our species will die off. Our sun will burn out. So what’s the point in anything any of us do? Shakespeare won’t matter. Neither will Newton. I sure as hell won’t.
So it seems to me the point is only what we’re doing in the moment. Am I doing my part to make this a good ride for those around me?
Now. I’ve known this woman for years. Probably five or six, maybe more. I don’t know. Time runs like one, big river. This lady has always been so kind, so sweet. She’s so excited to be around people and to help anyone. She seems simple and means no harm. So I smile and tell her I have to grab some groceries.
But as I’m on my way out of the store, she calls to me again from behind the coffee counter, on a crowded Saturday afternoon, right there by tables of customers drinking their Joe, and she says, “Hey! What church do you go to?” She’s wide-eyed and expectant, ready to show me how the ministering thing works. I hesitate for a bit, wondering if I should even answer. This might change things between us.
“I don’t,” I said. She really starts to get excited because now she knows that I am a free agent.
“You don’t?” And I laugh, “No, I don’t.”
She’s really watching me, and I realize that perhaps I’ve underestimated this woman because she picks up on something and lowers her voice a bit as I’m walking by, “But you’re a believer, right?” I stop, with my back against the door, facing her. Here’s my moment of truth. I always say be honest. I teach my kids this. I tell them, don’t volunteer information, don’t be confrontational, but be honest. So I tell her, “No, I’m not.”
“You’re not a believer? Then what do you believe in?” Several customers have stopped what they are doing and are watching me. I laugh uncomfortably.
“I believe in people. That’s it. I believe in just doing the right thing, and I believe that most people are good.”
“I just can’t believe it. I never knew,” she said. She looks a little confused or surprised or maybe both. “Really? I just never knew,” she repeats.
I thought about telling her, “Well, you never asked, did you?” But that would be cruel. She’s just like so many other Stepford Christians I’ve met along the way, assuming that their way is the only way. Then she says, “Well, you act just like a believer. Did you know that? You really do.”
I’m not sure if she was trying to convince me or herself. Or maybe she was wondering, like I was, if she was giving me a compliment or an insult. Of course, I want to tell her, “Well, you act just like a nonbeliever. Almost. Except for the evangelizing part.”
She follows after me to tell me that a lot of the Christians she knows don’t act like one. “They don’t have Christian behavior.” She gives me examples. I don’t tell her, “Yeah, we (on this side) already know that. It’s old news.” I just listen to her because this lady just came to a realization on her own that is so much more powerful than me telling her: nonbelievers are okay. You cannot differentiate from the outside who believes in God and who doesn’t. Maybe next time she strikes up a conversation with someone, she won’t make the assumption that everyone is a Christian.
She’s been desensitized a bit. She’ll go home and tell her husband and her kids and maybe some of her teammates. Not believing in God isn’t so scary after all.
So that’s the point.