One week ago last night I wrote this word in my datebook. I use my datebook for more than just appointments and work records. I make notes of my activities when I feel like it. Sometimes I wonder when I saw a certain movie or had dinner somewhere and I can page back through the datebook and find out.
Last Wednesday’s box has ‘suit in for alterations’, ‘Jack Grad party’, and ‘– crisis –‘.
The crisis was Sepi telling me that she could not marry me because I was an atheist and to for her to marry an atheist was to turn her back on God. Her suggestion was that I ‘accept Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior’.
For those who don’t know, I was raised as a Catholic and was active in the Church throughout my high school years. I went to Mass regularly, sang in the church choir, and was active in the parish youth group. I had attended parochial school through the 6th grade.
In the late ’60s, there was a requirement for all American males to register for the draft, which was a mechanism for teh government to populate the armed services. One could argue that service in the military was an essential part of citizenship but that’s an argument for another day. The Vietnam war was a real thing and the draft and the military was in the thoughts of every young American male at the time.
With this background, I began to draw parallels with the military command structure and the hierarchy of the Catholic Church and not in a positive way. I felt that the reasons for the US to be waging a war in Vietnam were not good enough to commit such wastage of blood and treasure. And I felt that the requirements of the Mass were similarly arbitrary.
I avoided the military by the simple expedient of having a high draft number. A draft lottery had been introduced the year before I turned 18. My number was around 175 and the highest number that was going to be taken was around 50. My friend Bruce had a number of around 35 and was able to enlist and choose to go to Germany instead of Vietnam. Actually, I’m not sure of the mechanism but that’s what happened.
As for the Church, I just stopped going after I graduated. I went away to college and was obsessed with music so it didn’t seem important.
In our early conversations, I related some of this to Sepi and at one point used the word ‘atheist’ to describe my beliefs. We have had a lot of discussion about this in the last week and one of the questions was ‘When did you turn your back on God?’ My answer is, ‘I don’t know.’ That is to say, I can’t pinpoint an exact moment when I no longer felt there was a God. A more complete answer is that I did not turn my back on God. I did hold with the belief that there is ** something ** connecting everything in the Universe. All knowing, all seeing, etc. It has some similarities to what is commonly referred to as ‘God’ but I reject the idea that this ** something ** has human qualities. For instance, God, or this ** something **, does not ‘talk’ or ‘listen’ or have ‘will’. Those are human qualities. By assigning them to an omniscient being we diminish it (or Him, if you prefer).
Sepi wasn’t much impressed with my hair splitting so we talked late into the night without resolution. I had made an earlier commitment to meet with her pastor to discuss these issues but had been finding ways to not call him. That night we called him and he agreed to meet us the next morning.
Pastor Steve welcomed us to the conference room at his and Sepi’s little church. His first question to me was, ‘If you died today and had to stand before God, what would you say to Him?’
My answer was that I saw so many cognitive disconnects there I hardly knew where to begin. Our conversation was civil and respectful but Pastor Steve believes in the Bible as the literal Word of God, that Jesus is the Son of God and He died to forgive our sins and that we have to ask God’s forgiveness to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. My apologies to Sepi and Pastor Steve for paraphrasing. I hope I am fairly representing the gist of it. In any case, I could not agree with all of that.
We went around and around but there was no resolution. In the end, I agreed to do some reading of the Bible and Pastor Steve generously gave me one to keep.
After we left, Sepi and I continued our conversations. I said I would talk to other people who were Christian and try to find a way to reconcile my beliefs with hers. I did that, but it always came down to belief, the leap of faith, and it wasn’t there. Somehow, the core of my being was not able to buy into the concept of God as someone to ‘talk’ to.
We went through our weekend, doing things and continuing to talk, but all the wedding plans were on hold. The joy that I had felt thinking of my impending marriage to this woman was muted. how could I find a way around this difficulty. I had made it clear at the beginning that this was not something to take lightly and say the words just to get through the wedding. Sepi recognized at the beginning that there was a danger of resentment developing on my part if I felt I was compromising too much.
We were happy with each other in pretty much all of our day to day activities but this ultimatum, as I was beginning to think of it, was driving a wedge between us. It was on my mind constantly. Sepi at one point asked me how I was doing and I said I was unhappy because I was facing two bad choices: compromise what I thought was integral to my identity or lose her. This was all complicated by the fact that we had already chosen a date for the wedding and it was fast approaching. I was beginning to especially resent the deadline aspect of making this momentous decision.
Then early Wednesday morning she asked the question again and I responded in much the same way. Then she said, ‘I don’t want to lose you and I don’t want you to become someone you are not happy with. I will marry you as you are.’
I was stunned. Just like that? Well, not really. She hadn’t been just sitting back waiting for me to have a revelation. She saw my torment and was affected by it. She wanted me to be happy so she decided to break the log jam.
Now I felt bad. I want her to be happy too. We talked and talked. My love for her took a quantum leap as I understood what this was costing her. She has been born again since 1982. I promised to continue talking to Christian people trying to find her faith within me. I have a copy of the Bible on my tablet now and I have been reading it. But I can do all this without the tension of getting it done immediately.
I still see it as a tall hill to climb. I looked up the story of Saul and his conversion, though. He didn’t expect anything like that. One of our friends commented that finding God through revelation is all well and good, but most of us have to make the leap of faith without it. Too true.