I Have a Call for Bitey, Will You Accept…
When I was, oh, about a year or so from heading off to college, my pastor, and my best friend’s dad, Vern Miller, told me that he wanted me to set aside some time and talk to him about something important. I don’t recall how much later it was, but we got around to talking fairly soon thereafter. The Millers lived only a few doors down, and I could not have avoided him if I wanted to. I didn’t want to.
I always called him Mr. Miller because I knew him from before I knew what a reverend was. The man was the model of humility, so he never minded. I know because it suddenly dawned on me when I was a teen that I had always used the wrong title, and I apologized, and vowed to correct it from then on. He said, no biggie. Whichever you prefer is fine. So, I kept the mister part instead.
So, on this day, Reverend Miller said that he wanted to discuss the clergy with me…and for me. This is a man I saw just about every day of my life as a child. His youngest son was my best friend, and we went to school, and did the vast majority of our activities together. I knew of the conversations that he had with his parents, and he knew of my conversations with mine. Part of learning about the world was bouncing ideas and conversations off of one another, including what our parents asked or demanded of us. As far as I knew, Mr. Miller never asked one of his two sons to become a clergyman.
As we discussed the life of a clergy, Reverend Miller said, I want you to consider studying theology, and to pursue a career as a pastor. I said, “what about the calling? I can’t recall ever hearing some voice, or having some experience which moved me towards even considering such a move.” Then he said, “this is it.” “The calling” is not what you might imagine. It isn’t mysterious or magical. It can be as ordinary as giving it some thought, and making the choice. Then I said, “Mr. Miller, I have my own ethical challenges, and concerns. I worry about whether or not I am doing the right thing. (I need to toss in the word “sin” here. I am not sure how I expressed the concept, but it was part of the conversation.) I am FAR from the person who should be telling people how to live their lives.” Then he said to me, “Billy, that is exactly the type of person who should be in the profession.”
I had not considered such a counter-intuitive idea at that stage of my life, and it was thought provoking. I still think about it…but not about doing it. I never gave that serious consideration. The idea followed me around a bit, kind of haunted me, but I was never going to do it. To give you an example of what I mean by “haunting”, it went kind of like this. I wasn’t a person who used a lot of profanity, for example. Probably not as much as the average person. I didn’t know it, or notice it, I just didn’t do it. The people who noticed it were usually the people around me. I was also clean cut, no earrings, and definitely no tattoos. Beyond that, I can’t tell you why, but often, the subject of divinity school kept being raised with me by various people. Random people. Once, I recall being in line in my dorm cafeteria. It was called Women’s Commons at the time. (Today it is called Kennedy Commons). So, I don’t know what I asked for over the cafeteria line, let’s say it was meatloaf. As the woman on the other side handed me my plate, she asked me, “are you a divinity student”?
At that point, I think I was still undeclared. I eventually studied English. But this sort of question kept being repeated…by people who did not know one another. I didn’t wear a cross, I wasn’t quoting bible verses, I wasn’t walking around holding a bible. It just kept coming up. My mom wasn’t any help when I would ask her about it. I’d tell her about these conversations, and how they kept repeating. Her response was usually, “of course they would”…or something to that effect. I was curious why this idea seemed to follow me, and she was just glad that it did.
Today, I am an agnostic. I dislike the term agnostic because it seems to imply lack of conviction, but it is not about that. It is about certainty, and it is not something that I can be certain about. Christianity has a lot of good in it, but it has a huge flaw, in my estimation. That flaw is the Messiah. And since that is the point of the religion as a religion, it kind of leaves me out. Actually, I should say, that is where I chose to leave. I opt out of that which devalues the concept of making an ethical choice on the pain of death. “An ill-favour’d thing, sir, but mine own.” Value of the principles taught require being willing to lose, and not choice based upon the expectation of reward. Mortality is the point. Immortality essentially ruins it.
So much of what we chose as adults seems little different from choosing a kickball team in 3rd grade. I see smart people make choices all the time that are as unchallenged as a playground deliberation. It disappoints me. Bill Maher, the late-night comedian, has an often repeated notion that police officers are people who are “making up for high school.” The notion is a ridiculous as “step on a crack, break your mother’s back.” It is, for lack of a better term, childish bullshit. I could say reductio ad absurdum, but would you listen to that? Nah. You’d likely have some weird notion about that too. Bullshit serves here. It is bullshit. I don’t want to spend a thousand words saying why it is bullshit. I’d rather you just accept that it is. Goodness knows, I wish Bill Maher would accept that it is bullshit because…it is bullshit. He repeats it with all the cocky confidence in the world, and it isn’t helping anything.
If I had any sort of calling at all, it was about chasing questions. I have done that a ton, and it is driving me a little crazy. I have been a lot of places, and talked to a lot of people. A lot of it has been good, but I tell ya, the bullshit is wearing on me. Smart people indulge bullshit that I know they are smart enough to avoid. That shit is everywhere. Smart people I agree with believe bullshit, and smart people I disagree with believe bullshit. This, I do not understand. I do believe that subscribing to certain unexplored notions can reduce the unnerving effect of bullshit, but you’re only managing to self delude yourself into a ditch, rather that to avoid the ditch. Even thought the road seems to go away from where you want to go, and the ditch seems to be in the direction that you want to go, it is still better to stay on the road. Neitzsche eventually lost his mind, and Socrates drank the hemlock. I get it. People will drive you nuts.