The Best Theology Lesson I Ever Learned; concluded:
Exiting the bus are different shapes, colors, and expressions; folks who carry with them a variety of flavors, just like my kitchen cabinet when I open the door and everything tumbles out. The bus moves on, a spice rack with its containers bumping into one another, jostling along the avenue, making swift, competitive maneuvers for space like an elephant on a charge through the jungle with hips too wide to fit between the banana trees.
Across the street, I enter the park and shift my tote from one shoulder to the other. Inside, two books vie for attention. Neither will win. It is hot. I sweat. I feel itchy. I scratch. Snow falls.
It is summertime in Florida. Dandelions dance in the breeze. Everything is green beneath a blue sky. I take the path that leads through Hydrangea bushes. Magnolia trees echo the city’s sky line. On the green are players forming a team for American football.
A grey haired lady is sitting on one of the park benches facing the green, but she notices me. “Do you want to play?” she asks. “They need another player,” and she says “need” in a way that sounds as though the team doesn’t care who they get; as if they just “need” someone who can play temporarily until they are able to get a permanent player. One of the team overhears her, and motions me to join in. I dust the snow from my shirt and walk over.
“Is it okay that I’m a girl?” I ask. The players are all men.
“Do you know how to play?” is his response.
I shrug, “I played in college.”
He nods. “That’s my mum,” he says proudly, pointing to the grey haired lady sitting in the shade. He smiles. Hollywood teeth. Clean cut hair. Preppy.
“I don’t have my cleats with me,” I explain.
“That’s okay, we’re just playing for fun, and for exercise. Anyone is welcome to join. We haven’t had a coach, but we’re getting one at half-time.”
I join the team on defense. We score a few touchdowns, gaining the lead. We play hard, and the sun bears down on us until just before half-time when it disappears behind gray clouds. An audience has gathered. Picnickers. Football lovers. Pet-owners. A homeless man sits on another bench. He is less hungry than before. He is quiet. Observant. He smiles, and remembers better days.
I am an X in the playbook running along a line, preventing a square from being able to intercept when I slip and fall, scraping my hands.
“Just put some spit on it,” one of the team shouts with a wide grin.
I miss the joke, pool my saliva and spit a big one into my hand, rubbing it into the crevices to clean away the dirt as I consider the effect of healthy germ fighting bacteria alive in my mouth, alive in my spit, now alive in my skin. The team cheers, calls me “Spittles,” and declares me a MVP.
The gray clouds darken. We break for half-time. I lay in the grass with my team mates. Laughing at a joke. Hot. Sweaty. I smell. I’m hungry. I talk out loud to myself. I close my eyes. Thinking. Maybe, I’ll join the team permanently, but I have always hated the word “permanent”.
When I open my eyes, the pastor is lecturing. I am 27 sitting in a staff meeting. Ecclesiology. We write plans on a calendar. I hate staff meetings. I hate desks with computers. I hate all the “P” words in the dictionary. I raise my hand, “What should we plan to serve for the new family? They’re vegetarians.”
“Vegetarians,” he laughs; mocking. “Vegetarians with long hair!” He emphasizes the words as if they were script written in bold faced all caps letters, nodding his head to express disbelief. He is a long way from Alabama. The other church leaders and their wives laugh, too. I close my eyes.
When the new coach comes he details the faults he observed in our game. “And,” he finishes, “don’t EVER come here without your cleats! This isn’t a game!” He looks at me. Angry scowl. I am cleat-less, team-less, and wearing the wrong colors. “Practice will be here everyday at 3:00 PM.”
I raise my hand, “I work until 4:30 in the afternoon.”
“Well then, you can’t play. No loss – I’ve watched you. You’re incompetent.”
Sometimes, I think the best theology is the one that allows me to walk away. Sink, swim, or not, I didn’t belong in the boat.
We finish our game. I gather my things. I walk home through Hydrangea bushes, down asphalt paths. It begins to rain. Dandelions dance in the breeze.
In the foyer of my apartment building I wipe my feet, check the mail, and say “hello” to a neighbor. I enter my flat, drop my tote on the kitchen counter, and take off my shoes. I sort mail. Bills. Junk. More junk.
A shiny magazine is folded in half. I open it. Alumni News. On the cover is the Youth Pastor of the Year. I laugh. Staring back at me is the picture of one of the students who used to sit behind me in Theology class. I scratch my scalp and pull a scale from my hair. Good for him.
I read the article while running bath water, and phoning my girl friends over for dinner. We decide to try a new vegetarian dish. My Hindu friend promises to bring nan if I provide the wine. Deal. I pour salt into the tub. I add tar shampoo, and soak in the cool brown water.
Along with the article are pictures showing a lesson. Jesus walks on water. In the corner of the room sits a girl. The others do not seem to notice. She looks hot. She is itchy. I wonder what she will learn.