“I was a minister for a long time,” I say, “but I left because I don’t believe in God anymore.”
Inevitably, this happens in the polite “getting know you” part of the conversation. If I try to avoid saying it, it just gets it more awkward, so I come right out with it.
I thought about inventing a different backstory: I was a pirate… Or I’m in the Protected Witness Program… Or I bumped my head and don’t remember anything… by the way, are you my mommy?
I guess not.
People are gracious about it, even if they’re shocked. No one has challenged me to fisticuffs, pistols, or dueling Bibles. However, they really don’t know what to say and I guess I still don’t either.
I remember one guy I encountered at the library. We’d had just gotten into the introductions when he asked what I did for a living. He became so quiet when I told him that I could almost hear the gears whirring in his head as he considered his words: Don’t blow it! This is my big chance to reclaim one of God’s lost lambs. Is there a verse I can quote?
I suggested he relax and tell me about his work (he was a minister).
Some will invite me to their church, assuring me that theirs is different from all the others, which I doubt is true. In any case, I’m not going to go, but I usually respond with a quiet thank you.
A lot of people ask me if something happened, perhaps a loss or illness, etc. I consider the loneliness, depression, and confusion I’ve experienced. One thing…?
“Not really,” I answer.
Some have said, “Maybe God is not through with you yet.”
This is where a flash of anger goes through me and I want to say, “Let me be clear. If your God exists, I’m through with HIM!” But they didn’t intend to be hurtful so I offer a nod and a pleasant smile.
One guy lit up when I told him I no longer believed. He took it as a challenge to win me over, and so he “witnessed” to me, telling what God had done in his life. I don’t think he took a breath for two hours. He nearly wore me out before I could get away.
Some people feel guilty, like they’re responsible for my “fall.” Again, I have to tamp down the initial angry response. “I didn’t fall and I’m not lost. You didn’t cause this. I make my own decisions.”
I usually just say, “It’s okay. It’s not anyone’s fault.”
Then there are those who become afraid after I tell them. Mostly, their fear is wordless but they say enough to indicate they’re frightened about all they would lose if I’m right and they’re wrong. I feel bad for them and I try to reassure them. I might reach out to pat them on the shoulder like I would have when I was a minister. “It’s okay,” I say, “I’m not trying to win you over to my side.” But most of the time I can’t be reassuring enough and they slip away out danger.
This discussion makes us all tense. I haven’t found a smooth way to get into it, even when I’m simply introducing myself. I guess the first lesson is for me to get more comfortable with myself. Then maybe I’ll be able to help others feel more comfortable around me. Even if I can’t, I’ll still feel be more relaxed.