My wife is an atheist. I wish I had that kind of faith.
My mother was an atheist until she joined A.A. and took up with a mushy, new-agey God and called her former atheism—the belief she brought me up with—"a bunch of intellectual bullshit."
My dad was a quiet believer who didn't believe in talking about God with children much because, as he wrote his parenting book A Child to Change Your Life:
"I think if you try to paint God too vividly in the mind of a child you only confuse him and create irrelevant questions about whether He wears a hat or not.
"I think a child of mine will have a better understanding about God if I reverse the order in which religion is usually taught. Rather than begin with God and work down to people, I'm going to start with people and go the other way."
When Scout first asked me what a church was, I told her: "It's a place where people go to talk about their feelings."
But I do like church—and I will take Scout to church sometimes—because church is where you are supposed to think about real stuff, instead of Twitter, New Jersey housewives or Rod Blagojevich. And as long as the minister is also interested in talking about real stuff (and not just reading Bible passages and spouting platitudes), I figure that, especially for non-golfers, church is a smart place to spend a Sunday morning.
That's why I'm happy that my old friend Suzanne Ecklund is becoming a minister. Because Suzanne has a hard time talking for more than five minutes about anything that isn't real. And she talks really well.
Here's the opening of her first sermon, the Sunday before last:
In the early morning of April 18, 2008, the bed on which I was sleeping shook me awake.
Having never had the experience of being awoken in this way before, I crawled through the rafters of my brain searching for an explanation for this bizarre bed behavior.
My first thought? Demon possession.
I remember thinking, "The movies make this look so bad. I mean, Linda Blair didn't appear to be having a good time during her possession. But I feel great."
Then I thought, "No. This is not possible. You are imagining this. The bed is not shaking."
And then the bed would stop.
And then it would start again.
I went back to the possession thing. Again: pleasantly surprised at how good I felt in my demonic state.
And then, I had my a-ha moment.
Someone had broken in.
Someone had broken in. And instead of ransacking my apartment and robbing me, he or she had crawled underneath the bed and was lying down there shaking it.
Then I thought, "OK. That makes no sense. This is clearly Satan."
And then came my second a-ha moment.
"It's the CATS. My cats are BIG. I've got 40 lbs of cat. And they're running around or they're clawing the bottom of the bed and that's causing everything to shake."
But it wasn't the cats.
My next thought was that maybe I was hallucinating.
I volleyed these ideas back and forth until I'd exhausted myself saying, "OK. I can't figure this out. No one needs to know what happened here tonight. I'm going back to bed."
It wasn't until I turned on the news the next morning that I learned that Illinois had just had one of the largest earthquakes ever recorded in state history.
* * *
After this experience, I was amazed that not once in my confusion did I entertain the possibility that the earth was shaking below me. I was trapped inside this bubble of limited understanding of my own experiences—and I was unable to break out of it.
Now, this particular story goes further to illustrate the depths of my own personal flakiness than it does anything of spiritual value. But I share it because I think we can sometimes relate to faith from within a kind of bubble, too. …
Last week Suzanne moved from Chicago to Atlanta to attend seminary school. I think she's going to be pretty good at this, don't you? She's got me thinking about real stuff already.