At the Smithville Methodist Church

It was supposed to be Arts & Crafts for a week,
but when she came home
with the “Jesus Saves” button, we knew what art
was up, what ancient craft.

She liked her little friends. She liked the songs
they sang when they weren’t
twisting and folding paper into dolls.
What could be so bad?

Jesus had been a good man, and putting faith
in good men was what
we had to do to stay this side of cynicism,
that other sadness.

OK, we said, One week. But when she came home
singing “Jesus loves me,
the Bible tells me so,” it was time to talk.
Could we say Jesus

doesn’t love you? Could I tell her the Bible
is a great book certain people use
to make you feel bad? We sent her back
without a word.

It had been so long since we believed, so long
since we needed Jesus
as our nemesis and friend, that we thought he was
sufficiently dead,

that our children would think of him like Lincoln
or Thomas Jefferson.
Soon it became clear to us: you can’t teach disbelief
to a child,

only wonderful stories, and we hadn’t a story
nearly as good.
On parents’ night there were the Arts & Crafts
all spread out

like appetizers. Then we took our seats
in the church
and the children sang a song about the Ark,
and Hallelujah

and one in which they had to jump up and down
for Jesus.
I can’t remember ever feeling so uncertain
about what’s comic, what’s serious.

Evolution is magical but devoid of heroes.
You can’t say to your child
“Evolution loves you.” The story stinks
of extinction and nothing

exciting happens for centuries. I didn’t have
a wonderful story for my child
and she was beaming. All the way home in the car
she sang the songs,

occasionally standing up for Jesus.
There was nothing to do
but drive, ride it out, sing along
in silence.

-Stephen Dunn

Two years ago, a student of mine wrote to me to tell me about the wonderful person that his friend had been. His name was Ryan Clark, and he tried to intervene in the early morning shootings and was killed himself. I’m sorry that I never had the chance to meet him.

In less serious but related news, the subject on yesterday’s run was whether it was ethical to race the memorial run. It isn’t.

The school had the day off, so I went with PDW and his friends to Devils Marbleyard. It’s like an opportunity to be back in college for one day. PDW is almost the only person I still stay in touch with from high school, and he is definitely the only person from there that I can talk to with complete honesty about our shared experiences. Sometimes I get upset when I think about all the things that have happened at RVCS, but when we talk about things that we remember, it’s just funny. Like the time that a teacher told us that the strong nuclear force was a result of Jesus holding the atom together AND backed it up with a Bible verse. I think that even his Christian friends think that our experiences were a bit over the top.

That group reminds me of the good parts of my own time at college. It was the first time I’d been to the top of the Marbleyard- there are three plateaus and I’d never been past the first. At the top, the rocks thinned out and there was a fire pit. After the hike, I hung around PDW’s place for a while and then we played Catan while his friends wandered in and out- which is also markedly like my life in college, only they had an expansion pack, so I had to learn a bunch of new rules. I may not exactly be the fast learner that I claim to be in my cover letter.

There are brief moments when I wish that my life could still be that way. It’s hard for me to tell whether the religious aspect changes things, or if things could be that way with any group of college aged friends. It does give people a sense of commonality that they might otherwise not have. It’s the sense of community that I miss, although I know that hanging around the college isn’t how I would regain it. I wonder if Christian youth ministry is the only subculture that actually excuses that sort of failure to move on. At some point though, friendship has to be based around something besides a few musty past memories, and it is true that PDW has more interesting things going on than just being from RVCS.

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