Peter absent-mindedly walked into my office and sat down.
“Hello,” I said.
“Oh,” he answered. “I meant to ask, may I come in?”
“Thanks,” he replied.
We looked at each other.
“Did you have something to discuss, Peter?”
“Oh, right,” he answered. “In a minute. You go ahead with your work. If you don’t mind I’ll just sit here, and, ah, compose my question.”
I returned to the essays I had been grading. As I graded, he fidgeted.
“Do you have a few minutes?”
I set down my marking pen. “You know, Peter, you’re doing this all wrong. The usual procedure is first to knock, then to ask whether the professor has a few minutes, then —”
He half-rose. “I can knock.”
“Peter, sit down.”
“Now. Tell me your —”
Before I could finish, he blurted, “Do you think Christianity is a girlie religion?”
I must have shown my surprise. It only made him more nervous than he already was.
“You know,” he said nervously. “Effeminate.”
I shoved the essays aside. “How does this come up?”
“Do you remember the conversation in your classroom the other day, just before you arrived?”
“If I hadn’t arrived yet, then it would be difficult to remember.”
“Right. Sorry. Well, the girl with the blue hair, I think her name is Cleo, was on a tear.”
“She was on a tear about Christianity being girlie?”
“No, about Christianity being ‘patriarchal.’ You know, down on women. I don’t know how the subject came up, but she was going on about a male God, male Messiah, male Apostles, and how the whole religion is a male conspiracy to keep women in their place. And about body parts. Lots about body parts. I think she thinks Christians think that since we call God ‘Father,’ he’s biologically male. I’ve heard all that stuff before, and it just makes me tired. I wasn’t really listening.”
“But you said —”
“I’m getting there. The Nathan guy — is that his name? The one who carries around all those big black notebooks?”
I smiled. “It doesn’t matter, but yes, Nathan is the one with the notebooks.”
“Well, he was listening. When Cleo paused for breath, he said ‘I don’t see what you’re complaining about. It’s the other way around.’ She gave him a cross look and asked, ‘What do you mean?’ He came back, ‘Christianity isn’t a patriarchal religion. You’d have a better case if you called it a girlie religion ’cause of all that luhhhv.‘”
“What happened then?”
“I think she was going to say something else, but then you came in and started class, and all the interesting stuff ended.” He stopped, confused. “I mean, the interesting conversation ended. Class was, uh, really, really interesting that day.”
“You don’t have to butter me up, Peter.”
“Anyway,” he said, “that’s not the point. Like I said, I’d heard Cleo’s line before. But I’d never heard Nathan’s. So I got to thinking about it. After church on Sunday I thought about it more. Maybe Christianity is sort of girlie.” He paused. “But —”
“But I was afraid to ask you.”
“For heaven’s sake, why?”
“I thought you’d be offended and throw me out of your office.”
“Is that why you’ve been acting so strangely?”
“Have I been acting strangely?”
I laughed. “Why don’t you just tell me why Nathan’s remark worried you so much. What is it about Christianity that troubles you?”
“It’s a lot of things, Professor Theophilus. Things I’ve picked up on but hadn’t thought about before. Feelings I’ve had but that I hadn’t analyzed before.”
“I don’t know where to start.”
I shrugged. “Start anywhere.”
“Well, take last Sunday.”
“All the music was so sentimental and touchy-feely,” he said. “And it went on and on as though the musicians were trying to work us up into a sugary trance. One more refrain of ‘His Banner Over Me is Luhhhv’ and I think I would have passed out. You know that song?”
I shook my head. “No, but I understand you well enough. You’re saying that the music is sentimental and the worship is emotionally driven. Is that it?”
“Wait, I’m not finished. It’s also hard to sing. I used to think that’s just because I’m not a great singer, but I can sing other songs. This time it hit me. The problem is that most of it is pitched way too high for male voices. Wouldn’t you call that girlie?”
“It would certainly raise questions,” I answered.
“It sure raised questions for me. Then, when the offering was collected, a woman from the choir crooned a solo.”
“Not like that. More like Jesus was her boyfriend. I was actually embarrassed.”
“And the sermon was gooey. Do you know what I mean? Lots of sweet sentiments about luhhhv, just like Nathan said — but nothing uncomfortable, nothing challenging, nothing that forced you to think, nothing that made you want to go out and do hard things.”
“Then I looked around. Most of the people in the church were women. Most of the men looked asleep. Those who didn’t were looking at their watches. I started thinking about the Sunday School classes — most of them are taught by women. And I started thinking about the ministries — most of them are run by women.”
“When it was all over and we were going out, I was handed a copy of the weekly church bulletin. There were the usual calendars and announcements and things. In between the items, though, were pieces of computer clip art. You know the kind I mean?”
“I’m not sure.”
“Little kids with big eyes. Angels who looked like little girls. Saccharine rhymes and sayings that would have been more at home on a gift shop greeting card. If she’d been there, my mom might have liked it — nothing against my mom. I know my dad wouldn’t.”
I nodded again.
“On the wall by the door was a painting of someone who was supposed to be Jesus. It’s always sort of bothered me, but I’d never analyzed my feelings. Now I did. In the painting, he looked like a pansy. No muscles. Rosy cheeks. Not like He’s healthy and active and there’s blood in them. More like He’s a teenage girl using blush. If He really looked like that, you wouldn’t be surprised that He got out of the carpentry business. He wouldn’t have been able to lift the —”
“Yes, I get it.”
“Do you see what I’m saying? I don’t blame the church that some painter imagined Jesus that way. People imagine all kinds of weird things. But why did the church put up that painting? It’s not like there aren’t good paintings of Jesus around. Why choose this one?”
“I read an article the other day about how the church is losing young men,” he went on. “Ghetto churches lose them to mosques. Other churches lose them to — I don’t know what they lose them too. They drift.”
“Until something else captures them,” I said.
“Yeah, maybe. You see why what Nathan said got me thinking?”
“But I got to thinking about what Cleo said, too. When she was going on about the church being a conspiracy against women — you know what that was actually like?”
“Like you’re on a ship during a gale, and water is pouring over the deck, and you need to save the ship from sinking, and someone is yelling ‘Fire! Turn on the hoses!'”
“You understand that I’m not saying religion should be down on women, right, Prof? I see how someone listening to me might think I think that, but I don’t. God made both men and women in His image. I know that. I like women. Christianity has to be able to speak to women. Jesus came into the world through a woman. But doesn’t Christianity have to be able to speak to men too?”
He expelled air from his lungs forcefully, as though he were trying to purge poisonous fumes. “Does religion have to be cute? That’s all I wanted to say.”
After a few moments he added, “I suppose I’ve made an idiot of myself.”
After a few more moments, with curled lips and contracted brows, he uttered a final drawn-out word. “Luhhhv.”
I let him marinate while I considered what he had said. Shut up in his juices, he wouldn’t mind. After a few minutes, I spoke.
“I don’t blame you for being fed up at your church.”
He said, “I am fed up. But I didn’t know I was fed up until —”
“There would be something wrong with you if you weren’t fed up.”
“You don’t blame me?” His face looked less despondent. His shoulders straightened.
“Understand, Professor, I’m not against love. At least I don’t think I am. It’s just —” His shoulders slumped again. “It’s just that I’m a little tired of hearing about it right now.”
“I’m not so sure you’ve heard anything about love.”
He looked up. “Huh? Isn’t that what we’ve been talking about?”
“No, I think we’ve been talking about luhhhv.”
“I only said the word that way to be sarcastic.”
“My point isn’t about pronunciation.”
“No? But —”
“Pull your thoughts together.”
“They’re pulled. I think.”
“Just what do you think love is?”
Copyright 2010 J. Budziszewski. All rights reserved.