Every year as the football season progresses and the season comes to a close, the high school staff reaches out to discuss a Christmas piece at my former school. This year, with reference to the annual Brian Brian family Christmas play, I said the following:
“This year is going to be like last year, so many kids are going to be begging us for something they want. Last year it was the crown, this year it’s Santa Claus.”
With this, I had a sense of what it was going to be like to tell them that my favorite line was going to be their most disliked line. The teachers, who had all watched the first half of the season plan too, looked at me in surprise.
The front desk clerk looked especially red with fire, knowing full well what this episode would mean to the kids.
As I said the line, I could sense their hearts sinking. My energy was leading them right to that that meeting room where they had all been waiting. A man in a suit came up. He wore a black tie. He asked,
“Excuse me, I just want to speak to God.”
“God” ran out of the room. I had to grab an entire bag of popcorn. God asked, “Why are these kids crying?”
“Because you’re taking your shoes off.” I choked back a huge, audible sob. The man behind the desk called me out to the office for a moment, and another teacher had me sit down.
And for the next five minutes or so, we talked about it. We talked about politics, about climate change, about living in a world that can’t wait another five minutes. He told me that if I could make peace with himself, that I would make peace with everyone I knew.
“What does he mean?” I asked.
“Nothing.” He walked away.
I’m an Orthodox Catholic. All my life, my faith has been a strong magnet for me. It won me many friendships, many relationships, and it has given me the confidence and strength I needed to move and operate in the world. The Catholic faith, in this sense, was what made me whole.
As an atheist, I’ve always seen religion as useful to people who live a life that’s complicated and shrouded in ambiguity. I’ve always thought that it would be unwise for me to sacrifice the power of my intuition and follow on a request that I am uncertain of.
Throughout the second half of my life, I did only that: I did make peace with myself.
While I was practicing Catholicism, I did so on my own. My teacher taught me to be kind, to laugh, to offer service to others, and I am proud to say that I did all of those things. But I also learned how to know my God, and I learned how to do just that. And as a Catholic, I learned that that faith is actually much more powerful than we would like to admit.
I had given a million reasons why I could not accept that request, and that story is proof that my intellectual understanding of God might be ready for change.
I’m still not ready to accept it, but there is no need to be ashamed of God any longer. I can still be gay and Catholic. I can still believe in equality and equality for all. I can still be black and Catholic.
The most important thing to me in life isn’t the magic of the epiphany, but the fact that every day, through these choices and choices only, I am making my life better.
It’s all because of the magic of God, and I don’t think that magic is going anywhere.
Take the kids. As a teacher, the main thing I hope they feel when we’re not looking at each other over the chimney in our boots is hope. They know me. They know where I come from. I mean, I have the eighth grade religion teacher who’s on my email. He’s been in the classroom now for eight years.
For the time being, I’ll remain an atheist. But if one day I am ready to consider conversion, it would be to share in the joy of life in our country that has not faltered in the face of the terror of the 20th century. And it will never lose me.
Because for the Catholic faith, I think what’s exciting about Christmas is that we all get a little bit of it.