I’ve decided that it is time to go to work. For the last couple of years, I’ve been able to pull off wearing cargo shorts and flip-flops most of the time. I know it makes me look like a youth minister from 1998, but I feel comfortable. In some ways, too comfortable. When I am that comfortable in how I dress, I can get comfortable in how I think. One might even say complacent or lazy (not that seminary leaves much room for laziness.)
Today, I’m intensely aware that we have work to do. We have work of discernment. What is the truth when it comes to disaffected communities, people under threat, and the relationship of our past to our future? As we come to see the truth, we must tell the truth. We must talk about who we have ignored and about who we have been blind to. Maybe we can work on reconciliation, but we must first be honest about the degree of our separation. We have lots of work to do.
Now is not the time for me to be lazy. Now is the time for me to show up for work, wearing the proper clothes. That includes appropriate footwear. Closed-toed shoes. I put on my old Clark’s chukka boots this morning. They were old when I started seminary two years ago. They are really old now. And kind of frumpy. But then again, I’m planning on wearing a lot of black in the near future. Is this a time for buying new brown shoes?
As I sat in Noonday Prayer and pondered such things in my heart, I realized two ideas at the exact same time. First, I’m thinking about shoes and shoe shopping. Yes, our world still needs healing and no, buying stuff is not the way to heal it, but the sun did rise in the east this morning. Tonight it will set in the west. While we are working on some big challenges, the little joys of life persist. (I’m open to considering that formulation in reverse, but the challenges don’t seem little in this moment.) Second, I’m ready to get to work. I’m excited. Not so much because I think we can get it all done (or at least not easily and quickly) but because I get to do it with you.
It’s possible, I suppose, that the universe could conspire against one person. That seems unlikely though. The universe is a big place, and whoever or whatever is in charge must be hands full with management tasks. Getting innumerable suns to rise over innumerable horizons, for instance, must be a piece of work. And that’s just for starters, so it’s hard for me to sustain an argument that I’ve been targeted for special punishment.
Mounting said argument is, however, surprisingly easy. I’m particularly susceptible to such sophistry in the midst of an attack of cranial rectal syndrome, the symptoms of which leave me like Billy Crystal’s character in “Forget Paris,” kicking Kareem Abdul Jabaar off the basketball court in the midst of his farewell tour (along with all the other people on the court.) Far from being insane myself, I am simply trying to restore sanity to a world gone mad. Folly, for sure.
Whether this folly is entertaining or depressing is the balance in which my mental state hangs. To my chagrin, my innate qualities tend to tip the scales to the anxious side, and I don’t hold out much hope that this state of things will change. I do, however, draw hope that a supernatural thumb can and does come down on the other side. Sure, there is no reason why the universe should stack up for me any more than it is bound to stack up against me. But for lack of belief that it stacks up at all, I’ll hold out in the hope that it’s on our side.
Last weekend, when I was gallivanting around parts of Middle and East Tennessee, my ladies had a day at the salon. Like women with beautiful, wavy hair everywhere, they got it straightened. I understand the impulse. Early in high school, when I found I could not get my hair to go into my eyes like Robert Smith, one of the members of the Cannon County Speech and Debate team showed me how to blow my hair straight. I did not do it very often, mostly because it was more work that it was worth (this was prior to the invention of the straightening iron) but I also did not want to run the risk of being labeled a poseur. In the alternative / punk / whatever-we-were culture of late 1980’s suburbia, there was nothing worse than being a fake, inauthentic person.
So the first thing I think when I imagine being an atheist, if just for one day, is that I’m a total poseur. I can’t really imagine being an atheist any more that I can truly imagine being a woman or being black. It’s not how I am built, which doesn’t make the way I am built any better or worse (although it does give me tons of privilege in this society.) The best I can do is a polite bit of fiction, a suspension of belief.
Except it’s not. Lack of belief is agnosticism, which is the end of logic as well. We can’t rationally prove the existence of God, nor can we rationally prove a negative (such as “God does not exist.”) Atheism, then, is the belief that God is not here because there is no God. This day, the day between the remembrance of the crucifixion and the celebration of Easter, is as close as Christians come to atheism. God is not here today.
So where does that leave us? Without God, how do we build a life of meaning? Even on a day without God, my life has meaning. If nothing else, I’ve got a wife that I can partner with and a daughter I can care for. That doesn’t mean nothing. Then there are the other people. Do they have dignity and deserve respect because God told me they did? Not today. Maybe not ever. Maybe they have dignity and deserve respect because they are. And they are all we have. Today, we don’t know if we’ve got God, but we know we have each other. What do we do with that?