by Bil Aulenbach

My Life Changed in the Blink of an Eye

my-life-changed-in-the-blink-of-an-eyeI’m going to share a story that I don’t remember—I have retrogressive amnesia. I do remember that it was a beautiful October afternoon in 1958. My friend Brad and I were getting on our motorcycles to drive to Tilden Park in Berkeley. The rest is hearsay until I woke up in a hospital, hurting all over and not knowing why. No one would tell me.

They moved me from critical care to a room with three other men. Man, was I sore! My right hand was in a cast. So was my right leg from the knee down. On my right thigh was a huge bandage, from above the knee to my groin. My ribs hurt with every breath. I felt nauseous, with a very foggy head. People kept coming and going, pricking, sticking, and asking me questions.

At about 10:00 a.m. four of my friends from seminary came, but the nurses said they could only stay for five minutes. They sort of told me what happened: about three blocks from the seminary, a fire engine was answering a brush-fire call and hit us broadside. That’s all they managed to tell me before their five minutes were up, and they started to leave. The last man out was my Hebrew professor, and I asked him, “Hey, Bob. What happened to Brad?” I really caught him off guard and he told me, “Brad was killed.”

Killed! That couldn’t be. Brad had three young children, and his wife, Annette, was pregnant with their fourth. My good buddy Brad. We had served at Kaneohe Marine Corps Air Base, went to the same Episcopal church, were both lay readers, preacher’s kids (PKs), showed up at seminary in 1957, and were very good friends. Now he was dead! I asked myself, “What do I do? I’m in this hospital and not going to get out for a while. What is Annette going to do? Is this a bad dream?”

The next morning one of the professors from the seminary showed up. He taught a class called “Prayer Life,” and I had found him strange—not someone with whom I would want to go have a beer. His question was the one that changed my life forever: “What did you and Brad do to deserve this?”

I couldn’t believe my ears. Had I heard him correctly? I was furious. The shock of this horrendous accident was still fresh in all our lives, and this man has the nerve to ask me that stupid, insensitive question.

What would you have done? Was he right? Was God punishing us for something we had done in the past? Why would I ever be interested in worshipping such a god?

Here’s what I did. I ordered him out of my hospital room and told him to never come back. I then called the dean of the seminary and told him what this priest had said. The dean assured me that the professor was wrong and that’s not the god the seminary worships.

Thus, began my fifty-eight years of studying theology in a quest to find out who God is. Here are my findings: I have no idea! But I know who He’s not. He’s not an anthropomorphic man, sitting up there, pulling strings to make bad things happen to good people. Unfortunately, for the most part, the institutional Christian Church continues to worship that god, the one that supposedly killed my friend Brad as part of his divine plan. He’s the same one that listens to and answers prayers and supposedly won’t give us more than we can handle. I can’t stand that guy.

I do believe in some sort of creative force in the universe—but it’s a very big universe. What’s your take?

 

The image in this post is in the public domain courtesy of Monoar Rahman Rony.