We took the bus to New York City this past weekend to visit friends. It wasn’t until the bus slowed and stopped in a traffic jam on I-95 North heading home that I realized how blissfully religion-free the last few weeks have been. Sure, I have been keeping up my daily zen practice, walking labyrinths, studying and practicing reiki, reading books on theology and spirituality, but all this has been a mostly interior journey or a journey with a few select companions. The outward presence of religion, especially contemporary American Evangelical Christianity has been absent from daily living. It wasn’t until the bus ride home from New York that I realized how omnipresent the outward manifestation of other people’s religion is in my daily life in Texas.
There it was, towering above the interstate, as if you could reach out and touch it – a castle-like enormity of an Assembly of God church with a huge cross, calling out to people to join them. Then I remembered that shortly before leaving for New York, I had seen a display window sized poster in the Christian Life Center (housed in what used to be the Leominster YMCA building) proclaiming “Nothing is too difficult for God.” These two experiences, one on the highway in New York and one while on foot in downtown Leominster, MA stand out so vividly because they are anomalies of my daily experience for the last few weeks. Other people’s churches and other people’s religions, and other people’s beliefs do not intrude into your field of vision, into your conversation, into your mailbox, onto your television screen while you’re trying to find the station for the Red Sox game the way they do in Texas.
I sat on that bus, stuck in traffic yesterday and thought about just how ubiquitous the presence of American Jesus is in my life in Texas. You can’t drive to the Post Office without passing a megachurch, you can’t pick up your daily mail without picking up an invitation to get saved at one of the dozens of local houses of worship, you can’t open a newspaper or read one online without reading about religion (usually Christianity, not always) or seeing ads about churches.
There I was – a minister sitting on a bus stuck in traffic – giving thanks, prayerfully giving thanks, for a vacation from religion. How about that?