Neither the village idiot nor the village atheist escaped being socially marginalized in nineteenth-century America. Both distinct minorities, both pariahs, each faced discrimination, but where the village idiot was a gormless figure, the village atheist was often an intelligent threat to the religious status quo. The village idiot was gullible and harmless, the village atheist a sword in the side of Christian dogma. The idiot originated from bad genes, a simpleton often cruelly treated; the atheist hatched from choice and fiercely unwelcomed in American society.
They had been married for 47 years, raised two boys and two girls, and seven grandchildren. High school sweethearts, married at age 20, and now, all those years of love, family and life had come down to this: she was in a Critical Care Unit with cancer. Nearly unconscious except for the slow, painful moans that forced their escape from her parted lips, she sought relief from her body’s agony. Cancer, like an evil spirit, was speedily consuming her from the inside out. Her name was Josephine. Only days before, though sick, they believed she had more time.
We were standing in the Sacramento train station waiting for our train to Reno. Not counting Disneyland or Knott’s Berry Farm, I had never ridden a train. It was a 5-day get-away that offered us a break from stifling humdrum. We were with my cousin and his wife and were busily chatting about the joys that lay ahead. Suddenly, through a crowd of standing passengers all waiting for their train, like peering through a clump of trees, I saw her.
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Just as God knew Jeremiah in the womb, so he knew me. He knew I was going to be a vegetarian before I saw the light of day. One problem—nothing is perfect in this world—I was born into a meat-eating, steak-and-potatoes family. As early as I can remember, meat disgusted me. I remember gagging at the fat on the side of my lamb chop, praying that God would make it disappear.
Raised in contradiction, my father was a drunk and my mother was a saint. My dad not infrequently disappeared for days, sometimes weeks, taking his paycheck and leaving us wondering how to pay for groceries. When you are a child of an alcoholic it is not uncommon for you to internalize feelings of unworthiness and abandonment. The self emerges hobbled. The mind of a child cannot articulate his feelings; nevertheless he feels something is wrong with him.
I was one of some 400 delegates who attended the Special Constituency Session of the Pacific Union Conference Sunday in Woodland Hills, CA. After approximately 130 years of the Church engaging in unending biblical studies, cultural reports, endless decades of conventions, councils, and committees, the PUC decided it was time to ‘stop kicking the can down the road’ and take a vote. Almost giddy with the potential for good, I entered the Marriott Hotel eager to get the meeting started.