On Tuesday, while waiting for the SEPTA R6, I had a conversation with a man about god. I didn’t intend to, but suddenly there it was with me caught in the middle. What probably did it was telling him I don’t go to church and wasn’t a Christian. (He asked.) Most people would attempt to get away as quickly as possible. I actually sat and listened to him, though, and the conversation provided some food for thought. (No, I have not been saved.)
This man spoke of god as being…what was the word he used? Amazing? I can’t accurately recall. The tone in which he spoke is more important, though. It was reverential, as if faith did live behind it. I got the impression that this man was a true believer, and he apparently believed in much of what faith seems to require.
Acceptance of duality is perhaps one of the hardest of these requirements. God is kind and cruel. This man spoke of this cruelty, and did so by making reference—at first oblique, then explicit—to Hurricane Katrina. In other cases, I have heard and read words to the effect of, “Well, God must have a plan, and this is part of it.” After this disaster, it seems there has been more commentary along the lines of, “Well, they deserved it.” The hurricane becomes a demonstration of god’s power and his wrath towards the wicked. “How can anyone make plans to avoid god’s power?” the man asked.
More than any other city, New Orleans has a reputation as a place of sin, a modern day Sodom and Gomorrah, and it was exactly this comparison that the man on the platform used. I didn’t ask him, “Well, what about the children living there?” I wish I had. I want to know what he would have said. At the time, though, it seemed like there was too much to digest, too much to try and remember. I felt ill equipped to engage in a dialogue with him.
This platform preacher also made passing reference to evolution. “What good is evolution if it can’t give you eternity?” he asked. What good indeed?
I have related what this man said, but I would also like to consider, as well as I am able, who this man is.
Though he did not identify himself as such, the man could be called a born again. He apparently had been saved, lifted up from some low place. He did not tell me any details. He is black—African American if you prefer—spoke with a rasp suggestive of vocal damage, and did not look affluent. His stated profession was coach of professional sports teams: all sports, he said upon my asking. He had an agenda but was polite and appeared respectful, if not necessarily of my beliefs, then at least of me as a person. He did not seem drunk, dangerous, or crazy. He did however, have a certain energy that I suspect would be very persuasive to someone who was desperately seeking meaning.
I don’t know if I will put myself in the position of being preached to any time soon. However, should I find myself there, I think I would like to engage in a dialogue. This man is someone I need to understand. There are millions who are this man in lesser or greater degree. When I meet them, I would like to do so with civility, with respect, and with a greater ability to speak my own views, to engage in dialogue.