Ashley Taylor – Sunday School

“I’ll have the fish and chips,” Dad said at the counter of Long John Silvers.  We hadn’t eaten there before, but it was where Dad wanted to go after church. We hadn’t been to many Owensboro restaurants before, as it had only been a couple of months since we moved “back to Kentucky” (an expression that applied only to Dad) from New England. Mom and I got Fried Fish #1 and Fried Fish #2.

“What did you think of the sermon, family?” Mom asked, when we had sat down.

Dad cleared his throat and rested his chin on the tops of his large hands.

“Ah, well, I thought it was long.”

“Long,” Mom repeated.  “Anything else?”
“Oh, you know, Janice always goes into way too much detail.”  He put the accent on “tail.”

“You think so?“ Mom said.  “Too bad.  How did you like it, Molly?”
My mind turned back to the sermon that day:  “Many Gods, One Faith.”  The preacher, Janice, was short and stout, with bangs, hiking boots, and corduroys.

“Fine,” I said.   “And next week’s Beltane ceremony should be pretty exciting. You know what people used to do for Beltane?”
“What?”

“They sacrificed a deer, lit bonfires, and made love outdoors.”

“Sounds just about right for Owensboro,” Dad replied, chuckling.  “Well, the deer hunting part, anyway.  What did you think of the sermon, Olive?”
My mother took a sip of iced tea before answering.

“I learned some things.  I liked the hymns. I liked your playing.” I had played my violin to accompany the hymns that day.  She smiled at me.  She wore a light green blouse and capri pants.  All the Owensboro women wore capris in warm weather.

Thank goodness, she didn’t wear sweater sets or a round, silver pendant engraved with her initials, the way some women did.  People in Owensboro seemed to spend a lot of money to be ordinary.  Sometimes, I didn’t want to fit in.

Not to worry about that.  The first question anyone asks a newcomer is “Have you found a church yet?”  Say “No,” and the person invites you his or her church.  We hadn’t found a church, and we weren’t looking for one, because we didn’t believe in God.  We’d started attending the Unitarian church in order to be able to truthfully answer “yes,” to the ice-breaker question.  To say “no” was to step into a trap.  And to say “yes” without going to church was to lie, something none of us felt comfortable doing.

Speaking of lies, that night, we watched George Bush defend the Iraq war by conjuring up nuclear weapons.

The next day in the school cafeteria, I asked an acquaintance what she had thought of Bush’s address.

“I really like his faith,” Mary Jo answered.  “God is really important to him, and that makes him a good leader.   I mean, without God, how do people keep from lying all the time?”

We carried our trays of pizza casserole over to a table.

“Well, I don’t believe in God, and I don’t lie.  I’m a good person,” I told her as we sat down at a table.  “I just don’t need God to tell me what to do.”

“Hey, listen to this,” Mary Jo said to the group.  “She doesn’t believe in God.”  My friend faced me.  “I’ve never met someone who didn’t believe in God.”

I’d enlighten them.  They would see that I was just like them, minus God.

“You don’t believe in God?” a black girl asked me.

“Nope,” I said proudly.

“What? You have to come to my church next weekend..”  Her voice rose.  “I’m sorry, but this is really important to me.”  I wondered if she might start speaking in tongues.

“Do you know where you’re going after you die?”

“No.”
“’Cause without God, you’re going to Hell.”

I said nothing.  Then I got an idea.

“Actually, I can’t come to your church next weekend.”

They all listened.

“I’ve found a church already.  I go to the Unitarian Church. We have some important ceremonies coming up next Sunday.  In fact,” I added, “I’m supposed to play the violin during the service.”  This was all true.

“Unitarian?  What’s that?”
“Just another church.”
“Oh, okay, then.  So you do believe in God?”

“I go to church every Sunday.”

God came in handy after all.

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