Revelations: God follows me to NYC
BY JENNIFER PREYSSWhen I accepted the faith reporter position at the Advocate, I knew my weeks would consist of interesting factual and philosophical exchanges on religion. And since I've been here, my knowledge of worldly and domestic gods, both ancient and modern, has stretched considerably. As a believer in God, that's like chocolate on a stick.
But when I took this job, I never considered that my hours outside the office would be inundated with random, and thoughtful discussions on God.
It seems wherever I go, and whomever I talk to, God discussions follow me.
Without a doubt, I've considered that perhaps I'm more attuned to spiritual conversations because my reporter's nose (and ear) is always seeking the next best story. But I've also considered there's a reason I'm engaging (and being engaged) in God conversations, seemingly on a daily basis. I've considered that maybe God himself is seeking my attention.
Last Thursday, for example, I ventured to New York City to visit my cousin for a couple of days over my birthday. I planned the trip on a whim (something I've been trying to do more of lately) and thought, "This will be a great way to leave my job behind for a few days." Followed by, "It's my birthday. Woot, woot! Going to NYC. Woot, woot!"
When I departed the plane, I went to find a cabdriver. After negotiating a fair price from Newark to NYC, I followed the well-dressed Middle Eastern-looking cabbie to his car, and quickly realized he was not a cabdriver, but a limo driver.
I tried to play it cool, but inside I was tickled to death that my 40-minute ride to the city - for my birthday - would be in style.
"Nice," I thought, smiling. "Relaxing has begun."
Of course, as chatty as I am, I soon learned the man's name was Max, and he was originally from Egypt.
When I asked him about the recent unrest in Egypt, and whether he was worried for his family there, our conversation quickly transitioned to religion.
"Are you Christian?" he asked me.
"Yes," I answered.
"Good, me too," he said pointing to the dangling hand-carved crucifix necklaces hanging around the rear-view mirror.
For the duration of the drive, we spoke of his discontent with the rioting in Egypt, his dislike for the teachings of Islam and the "tricky" Muslims who corrupt women and disingenuously represent themselves based on the teachings of the Quran.
I softly informed him my experience with Muslims had always been positive, but it was clear his mind was unchangeable. And his meter was, more or less, running.
When I arrived at my cousin's house, it occurred to me what a powerful God conversation had unexpectedly landed in my lap. My cousin insinuated I looked tired, but really, my brain was spinning with all the things I wanted to say to Max about Christianity and Islam, but simply wouldn't have the opportunity to express.
Friday came, and once again, religious conversations followed me throughout the day. I walked all over the city, and it seemed at every city block, someone was ranting about God. And, if no where else in the world, in New York, you'll see and hear many interpretations of God because the demographics are so diverse.
By dinnertime, I felt charged up about God, and wanted to tell my cousin all about my eaves-dropping experiences.
For the second night in a row, I entered into a lengthy conversation with her - an openly homosexual Christian woman - about God, Christianity and eventually, homosexuality. We talked, we cried, we laughed (uncontrollably), we hugged, we drank fine wine. And once again, I was surprised our talk became so defined by worldly and personal views about God. It was an amazing dinner, to say the least.
After drinks, we headed to a few gallery openings in Chelsea. Most of them were interesting and curious in a good way, but one exhibit was so religiously provocative, my cousin told me she needed to leave. Once we passed the front gallery where the artist's oversized paintings hung, we moved toward the crowd in the back room. Almost immediately, I heard my cousin say, "Don't look to the left!"
I looked. Sitting on the floor was a fully naked, Jesus-looking man with his arms roped to a wooden cross. A gutted pig carcass hung above him. In the back of the room was a replica of the "Lord's supper," complete with animal intestines and organs spread across the table with vegetables doused in blood. Video rolled on a nearby television screen of people performing animal sacrifices. Meanwhile, a lovely four-piece symphonic band played in the corner, and attendees of the gallery stood around drinking wine and chatting merrily.
I stood and stared, slightly horrified, slightly intrigued, slightly wanting to know what happened to the artist for his mind to perceive religion in this way. But as my cousin was growing increasingly uncomfortable, we decided to leave. And for the next hour, we discussed the exhibit in great philosophical detail.
About a half hour later, we found ourselves at a sports bar across town, and wouldn't you know it, another religious conversation started up next to me.
A Bronx-born Catholic man, commenting about my cousin's and my geographical origins, said something like, "All you Southerners are Southern Baptist goodie-goodies."
Ding, ding, ding! Round 4 began. This time, we discussed Catholicism vs. different denominations of Protestantism. But after a long discussion with the openly guilt-ridden Catholic man at the bar, I felt generally satisfied with my ability to tweak his presuppositions on Southerners, Protestants and Christianity in general.
I left New York the next day, feeling strangely invigorated about my weekend, like there's a reason religion and God keep following me around. I don't think I have all the right answers, nor do I think my voice is necessarily important to consider. But I do know that God's voice is. And with so many interpretations and conversations floating around in this world, I decided I'd better stay on my game.
Jennifer Preyss is a re porter for the Victoria Advocate. You can reach her at 361-580-6535 or firstname.lastname@example.org.