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Once I was coming out of Wal-Mart when I was asked for a donation by a guy holding a collection cup. I fumbled in my pockets trying to see if I had anything to spare, but I had given all my money to a homeless guy earlier in the day, so I gave up. But in my fumbling, the collector noticed that I was wearing a pentacle necklace.

"That symbol around your neck," he said. "Does that have any meaning to you?"

Uh-oh...

It was then that I noticed the can he held out to me had a little Jesus fish on it, and that the table behind him had a sign proclaiming its association with some brand of Christian ministry. His T-shirt proclaimed some sort of Godvertisement. I sighed.

In a rather friendly way, I explained to him that the pentacle did in fact have a meaning to me, and that the five points indicated the integration of the four elements, Earth, Air, Fire, and Water, with the spirit (the top point), encircled in an endless loop and all interacting with each other, depending on each other. He had never heard that explanation before and was suitably impressed that I didn't confirm his belief that it was Satan's mark.

We had a somewhat involved discussion at that point. He informed me that my beliefs sounded rather like a Pagan philosophy, which I confirmed. He claimed that my belief system was flawed because I was worshipping the creation and not the Creator, and my response was that if the Creator is all things, He/She/It is the Earth too. I launched into a short explanation of my concept of deity: That as a whole, we as the Creation perpetually create ourselves, and that that is no less likely than inventing a magical invisible guy who poofed us into being. (I didn't say it in that way, of course, because I was being quite civil with him even though he held an aura of "holier than thou" and "Yea, I must bring this strayed sheep back to the Lord's flock.")

He gave me some crap about how on-target the Bible is and always has been, and when I asked politely about the parts that contradict each other, he chalked it up (of course) to Satan's meddling in the translation.

It was then that I began to wonder if Satan also caused him to forget to zip his fly last time he was in the bathroom.

Because there it was, gaping wide open, and I could see his merry holy drawers on display for all the world.

Why didn't Jesus remind him to zip his fly in his fight against the powers of darkness? Satan, you evil, mischievous critter, displaying the goodies of holy men and embarrassing them!

The preacher and I chatted some more, and I asked him, genuinely interested in the answer, why he believed the Bible was true. He couldn't really give me a straight answer other than that the Bible said it was true so it must be true, and besides he felt the truth of Jesus in his heart. I told him that I didn't believe a revealed text could convey the only truth of life, and that God in His Magnificence must be able to give people the right idea through their life experiences as well. I told him that I believed what I believed because every day I see nature reflecting back to me the truths that I believe; that life in many forms is an unending circle, a spiral, a dance of joy, pain, death, and rebirth.

I believed what I believed because I'd seen it work.

No prophecy, no "you'll be sorry," no middleman to Heaven, no contradictions, no life-is-a-test; I got my beliefs, I said, from the very mirror of life itself. It didn't need to be written down by someone with some far-reaching authority...it needed to prove itself true in my life. I told him I refused to believe that our life was meaningless except for a test to choose between belonging to Satan or serving a being who's already omnipotent and could get what He wants without toadies.

Yes, I got the free will speech, about how if God made us in such a way that we had no choice but to love Him, then the love would be meaningless, and for the love to mean anything to Him, we had to choose it. I replied that that certainly made sense, but for such an important choice, it is cruel and unusual punishment to throw all kinds of false religions at us to make us stray from the path, to confront us with Earthly rewards, to create us in such a way that our very nature is to sin, to give us no guidance other than random missionaries and a book that stays on the bestseller list for two thousand years. (I bet Stephen King could do that!) I told him I fail to believe in a "loving God" who could nevertheless cause us to suffer endlessly in Hell for not betting on the right horse. "Wah-wah-wah, oh, I'm sorry, the answer was Jesus, that's right, Jesus! You don't win the grand prize of a tea party with God for all eternity, but your consolation prize is that you'll never be lonely--Satan will keep you company forever. Thanks for playing Whose God Is It Anyway?!"

At that point I kind of had to go because daylight was running out and I hadn't brought my bike lights, so I bid him goodbye. He asked if I didn't have time for a quick prayer with him, and I told him I appreciated his efforts but no, I didn't think a prayer would be appropriate. He smiled and assured me that he just *knew* I would find Jesus very soon since I was such a bright young lady, and off I went.

I wonder how soon afterwards he discovered that his fly was open, and whether he was then able to put two and two together and realize why I couldn't stop glancing down and then up again with a very silly grin on my face.

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