by Bil Aulenbach

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How’d I Get Away with It?

howd-i-get-away-with-itIt was sneaky, not planned. It just happened that way. After that fire engine whapped us and killed my friend Brad in October 1958 and that priest asked me what we had done to deserve this horrendous accident, I wasn’t interested in working for, serving, or even hanging around a god who would punish people this way.

But getting away from this god wasn’t easy because I was in seminary. It seems that all the prayers and much of the theology in the Episcopal church are directed at such a god. We keep asking him to do all these unbelievable things or telling him what he has to do until we return to church the next week. Then we return and repeat the process.

The Book of Common Prayer (BCP) has some 1,001 pages, and on many of the pages we’re telling God to do something. I just picked up my BCP and opened to page 80: “Office of Morning Prayer II.” As the officiant, I have to say, “Lord, open our lips.” Here’s one thing I know for sure: No lord is going to open our lips. We have to open our own lips of our own free will. We can choose not to open your lips.

I flipped to another page and found the prayer “For Knowledge of God’s Creation.” It starts, “Almighty and everlasting God, you made the universe with its marvelous order.” But I know and most of you know that the universe was not made by God. It has evolved over 4.4 billion years and will continue to evolve for quite a few billion more. I could provide many more examples from the BCP, but that’s not my objective. I’m simply asking why Episcopal seminaries and churches keep perpetuating this idea of a master puppeteer who lives Up There pulling strings to make the world work.

I saw this as a big issue in finishing seminary: I didn’t believe in this anthropomorphic god who supposedly killed my buddy Brad, yet I felt a great urge to serve my fellow human beings through the church. I felt that Jesus had great solutions to many of the world’s problems. What a dilemma! But I found an answer by mistake.

Remember that priest who walked into my hospital room and asked that horrible question? Unfortunately, I had to take another class from him about ecumenicity—the idea of unity among Christian churches—one of my favorite subjects because I believe we should all work together! At the end of the course, there was an exam, and much to my surprise the priest failed me. I hadn’t failed a class since my sophomore year in college.

He then assigned me twelve books to read during the summer, all on ecumenicity. I wondered if this was payback for my telling him to leave my hospital room and never come back. I developed a plan. I decided to check out one or two books at a time, depending on their thickness; keep them in my room for a week; look quickly at the table of contents; and then return them and check out two more until I had “read” all twelve. At the end of eight weeks I took a re-exam and passed with flying colors, never having read a page.

Now I understood how to graduate from seminary without believing in Up There. I just had to write what the professors and examiners wanted to hear, not what I believed. I knew that was wrong, but so was making seminarians believe in a god that they all knew didn’t exist.

Have you ever told someone what he or she wanted to hear even if it went against your beliefs? Let me know in the comments section.

 

The image in this post is in the public domain courtesy of Unsplash.