Sunday, August 26, 2007

What a Difference a Lifetime Makes

I know I get people of all age groups reading these little columns of mine. I think, but don’t know for sure, that most readers are middle aged or older, but I know there are some high school students who are regular readers even if they’re not exactly fans.

So to that broad spectrum of readers, especially the older ones, it should come as no surprise that getting older changes your perspective on things. At least I know I’ve changed my viewpoint about myriad issues since I was in college, and even more so since elementary school.

For instance, when I was in college, I was a big tree-hugging liberal environmentalist. I even sent a long telegram to Pres. Richard Nixon (much to the dismay of my father who had to pay the phone bill for the telegram) urging the president not to approve the proposed Alaskan oil pipeline because it might hurt migration routes of the caribou herds.

I still like trees, of course, and I think we all should be environmentally aware. But I’m no longer an activist. Some of my youthful idealism has been replaced with a little conservative pragmatism.

I’ve become more pragmatic in my religious conviction, too.

Way back when I was in elementary school, there was this bully who confessed to a group of us, his rabble of victims, that he didn’t believe in God. He was moved to make this confession because the kid he was victimizing at that moment uttered a two-word curse at him, the first word being “God.”

Now, those of us standing around watching the mayhem were shocked and awed that one of us, even if it was our most dreaded bully, did not believe in God. To me, and most of my cohorts at the time, God was a given.

Now, of course, as I near the middle of my sixth decade of life, I realize the bully was probably not alone in his opinions. Or perhaps he was just way ahead of his time. A small but significant number of Americans, and an even larger number of Europeans, don’t believe in God at all and many more are open to the possibility that there may not be such an entity, and that even if there is, we can know nothing about him/her/it. I’m part of that second group.

As it turns out, surprisingly, so was the woman who spent most of her life taking care of the poor and hungry in Calcutta, India. Letters written by Mother Teresa, and recently published in a new book by her close friend, Rev. Brian Kolodiejchuk, indicate that she was suffering from a huge crisis of faith that spanned four decades. In her letters, about 40 of them, she admitted to having serious doubts about the existence of God and heaven. Her public exuberance for her religion, she admitted, was a façade.

Mother Teresa started her work in India around 1950, about the same time she started having doubts about God. She is being considered for canonization by the Vatican. A British newspaper says that the Vatican indicated the newly-published letters will not hamper progress toward her sainthood.

Ironically, years after my elementary school experience, I happened to see this same bully at a funeral. I didn’t run away as he seemed to be dressed appropriately and was acting civil. As it turned out, he had become a born-again Christian. I recognized the symptoms when he started thumping his bible at me.

Yes, things can sure change when you get older, sometimes in very unexpected ways.

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