I. How Religion Gets Started
Directly across Thornhill Court from our front yard is the Gibbs home. Ray
Gibbs and I were buddies before he passed away last year. We learned from
one of our many chats that he and I were both jn the horse cavalry at Fort
Riley at the very same time in 1944-45. Since I was white, I had served in
a regiment that had horses. Since he was black, he served in a regiment
that had mules. We found this to be poetically ironic because we both
liked mules and disliked horses. The black soldiers came out ahead on that
One morning I spotted Ray across the court and yelled out, "Hey, Ray!" At
that very minute a boy about 12 or 13 was guiding one of those radio
controlled toy cars down the middle of the street. He looked over at me
with a strange question mark on his face. He asked how I knew his name was
Ray. I seized the moment! I walked over to him and pretended to be as
amazed as he was. In a worried tone I told him that I didn't know how I
knew that but that this kind of thing was happening to me more and more
all the time. Picking up on the fear in his face, I asked him where he
lived. He pointed through the woods to the development behind us. Seeing I
was on a roll, I muttered, "Now how did I know that?"
He grabbed his little car and took off through the woods. It never
occurred to him that he was the one who just told me where he lived! But
he was now a believer. He will stay a believer. That is, unless he thinks
II. How Religion Stays Alive
When I was about five or six my grandparents lived just a block from the
Rancocas Creek in Riverside, NJ. Whenever I visited there in the summer, I
would make my way down a scary path through the bushes to the muddy creek
bank and watch the tide coming in and going out. I did some of my really
important thinking there watching the breeze play with the ripples.
In those days I had a friend named Hugo. He was a year or so older than I.
He owned the Rancocas Creek. He also owned all of its branches and all of
its tributaries. Realizing how much I loved the creek, he offered to sell
it to me together with all of its branches and all of its tributaries for
twenty-five cents. I had never wanted anything this much before. I have
never wanted anything that much since.
When I told him that I only had fourteen cents altogether, he thought for
what seemed to be ages, then said that since it meant so much to me he
would let me have it together with all of its branches and all of its
tributaries for whatever I had on me. When I rolled the change over into
his palm and realized that the deal had been consummated, I felt a thrill
run through me unlike anything I have felt since that time.
The nice thing about it was that Hugo didn't make me sign any kind of
papers or go through any of the usual legal routines that spoil an event
like that. He trusted me.
I wanted to just stand there and savor the moment forever, but I also
wanted to share the great news with everyone I knew. So, part of me stayed
there savoring and part of me ran off in every direction proclaiming the
good news. Those who loved me and understood me rejoiced with me. I knew
they weren't feeling what I was feeling, but I appreciated their going
with me as far as they were able to go.
Over the years there have been those who doubted the whole thing. They
didn't come right out and say it, but I knew. The really important thing
is that I never doubted! Wherever I was and whatever I was doing, I knew
that I owned this beautiful creek together with all of its branches and
all of its tributaries.
The peace and the joy that have been there all these years have given my
life a foundation from which I could deal with whatever I had to deal
with. Whenever I felt alone, it spoke to me in its own quiet way.
When I needed to be listened to, it listened. It will always be there,
together with all of its branches and all of its tributaries.
Even after I seem to be gone, it will be there.
And I will be there, too.
III. The Power of Faith
At the height of the fervor surrounding the trial of O. J. Simpson, I was
camping at Otter Creek on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia. Every
evening I would wonder off to the community campfire for a few minutes
before turning in for the night. It bothered me a trifle that every night
they were talking about the trial and speculating about who had committed
the awful crime.
One evening, in order to rupture the rhythm, I broke in and announced that
I believed that the murder had been committed by Barbara Walters. What I
was trying to say was, "Hey, let's talk about something else tonight."
They missed my drift. They wanted to hear more about Barbara's
involvement. To drive home the point that I was being absurd, I went on to
explain that in O.J.'s prior life he and Barbara were lovers and that in
this life she wanted Nicole out of the way so she killed her. At this
point everyone stopped breathing. When I mentioned a "prior life," I
became the camp guru for that night.
One sharp listener knew exactly what I was doing so he chimed in and said
directly to me in a very serious tone that he knew O.J. and Barbara had
been friends in a prior life but that he never knew they had been lovers.
His complicity in the charade was all the confirmation the believers
A Creed is born
He and I both realized that before going to bed for the night we had to
end the thing somehow, so we added all kinds of names and incidents to
both the prior life and the present existence wondering at what point
people would laugh and chide us for our prank. The more complicated and
bizarre the story got, the more intense our congregation got.
We finally realized that faith was out of control. There was no turning
back now. The fervor became so intense that mere listening wasn't enough.
When members of the congregation began to augment the outrageous account,
we knew that this thing now had a life of its own. The believers began to
add their own testimonies to the evolving story. We now had disciples
promoting the faith beyond the wildest dreams of the original prophets. When the prophets themselves began to believe, it was time to turn in for
The next morning I was taking the cover from my GoldWing in preparation
for a ride to Whetstone Ridge when someone I had never seen before
approached and shared what he had just learned about who really committed
the murder. He wasn't sure about Jimmy Carter's involvement with Barbara
Walter's father, Lou Walters; but he knew that she had done the dirty
Here I Stand
I don't know what I believe. I want to believe something.
It would seem a shame to let a creed like this just go to waste.
I guess I believe. I'll say I do, anyway.
It's easier to just go along than to try to stem a tide like this.