Excerpt One

Excerpt One: Intense conversation between Gary and Priscilla from Chapter 12, pages 97-99

“Look, Gary. We’re all Job. We’re all Hamlet. I get that anger about the war. I hear it from my brothers. For you, it’s worse. A war killed your father. Now you have to ‘take arms against a sea of troubles,’ and you feel forsaken. Let’s settle this God thing. You’re right that there was an alliance between the kings and the priests. They consecrated and ordained each other. They shared absolute power. And you’re right about the money. With absolute power, most of the money flowed to the kings and the Church. With both power and money, luxury and vice are inevitable. It wasn’t so bad for a few hundred years because there wasn’t much money. Western Europe was in decline. But by the early Renaissance a lot of money was flowing to the monarchs and the Church. That’s when the luxury and vice took hold. They lost the moral imperatives of Christ. That began to change when the Renaissance produced the Enlightenment. It took a long time, but now church and state are separated. There are lots of different churches today, and they’re not a threat. They’ve been helpful to millions. And as to answering those abstract questions—why are we here and where are we going—God works for a lot of people. He frees their minds to concentrate on dealing with the real uncertainties of life, like earning a living, raising a family, providing a future for their children.”

Gary regarded Priscilla with amazement. “You make it sound so . . . so practical. Maybe that’s what I miss. Maybe I’m not in the real world yet. But I can’t make myself believe the certainty of those stories: the Immaculate Conception, the Resurrection, a man who was God incarnate. What about you?”

Priscilla was relieved. She had restrained Gary’s rage, though she wasn’t really sure she believed everything she had said. She thought about all the vaguely remembered history she was leaving out. She would need to consult her father later, but for now she responded with one of his maxims. “I believe there are things we don’t know. And whatever it is we don’t know has to be more awesome than what we do know. . . . Now you’re laughing.”

“I’m only smiling.” Gary looked at her with admiration. “And it’s because I like what you said. It’s so you. I mean, what I don’t see is even more awesome than what I do—like beneath the curve in the sweat suit. I’m waiting for our Renaissance on these rocks. The last time we were here you turned yourself into a naked nymph. I’m waiting for the rediscovery.”

“I thought I was a goddess on a pedestal.” Priscilla sat up, hands on her hips. “Now I’m just a nymph?”

“Either way you were naked and desirable.”

“Well it’s too cold for nymphs to be out. We’re talking about God, and you can’t stop thinking about sex.”

“That’s because everyone talks about sex. No one wants to talk about God. You seem to talk about everything with your dad. Does that include sex?”

Priscilla’s jaw dropped. “Of course not.”

“Well, what does he say about God? He’s up there leading chapel. He must be a believer.”

“He’s not really preaching religion. Dad says that the purpose of religion is to teach morality, based on faith, to those who have not attained the age of reason. To him, that’s what chapel is about. He says that religion requires submission. You’ve got to get beyond that to reason.”

“That’s it!” Gary’s exclamation indicated a new insight.

“What?” Priscilla inquired eagerly, her eyes sparkling.

“Submission. You know how you can think around something, and never quite put your finger on it, and then one word pulls it into focus? What bugs me is the submission that religion demands to man-made ideas. The Church may have lost some of its power but the submission is still there.”

“Maybe you just don’t want to submit to a church bureaucracy,” Priscilla offered. “Maybe you could be like St. Paul. He accepted Christ as his savior before there was a church—before Jesus was declared God.”

“Now there’s a great idea,” Gary responded with surprise and sincere enthusiasm. “I mean, didn’t Jesus rebel against the priests who were corrupted by money and Hellenistic commercialism? Didn’t he believe that the spirit was more important than the laws—like whether or not you eat fish on Friday? Would Jesus go for a church bureaucracy with a lot of silly rules? Hell no!”

Priscilla was ready. “How about this line from William Blake: ‘This is the Race that Jesus ran Humble to God Haughty to Man.’”

“That Blake guy makes you think, doesn’t he? He came up in my conversation with Lucille.”

“Really?” Priscilla snapped. “You’re starting to reference Lucille like I quote my father. Maybe they should get together—as opposing lawyers.”

“Wait a minute, Priscilla. That sounds like—I don’t want to say.”

“Well don’t then. But that’s just it. She’s your evil uncle’s lawyer, and yet you act like she’s your new best friend.”

“You’re right. It must sound weird,” Gary acknowledged. “I’m sorry I brought her up. But both Blakes, the poet and your father, came up in our conversation—and now I remember the Tiger’s lesson on Pericles. It was way back in ninth grade, but one of the things I remember is how Pericles understood the spirit of the law when he said something like, ‘We follow not only our laws, but those unwritten laws that we know it would be shameful to transgress.’ Isn’t that sort of like Jesus? Where did the Greeks get that spirit?”