Like every road that led me to faith, my stop at Living Faith Community Church was riddled with potholes. My expectations of a kindly grey haired man of the cloth at the podium were dashed as a young blond temporary pastor began his message.
I may have been the lone British-German-Polish-maybe-a-little-Prussian attendee, but I was dressed in appropriate black with an acceptable Nyoo Yawk accent. How could I not fit in? Pastor Hickman was about my son’s age, sported khakis and loafers and spoke in a southern twang befitting TV evangelists. What is that country boy doing here? Years later, when I reminisced about my first visit to church, my Asian-American friends were surprised to learn that while New Yorkers have an acceptance for aliens (whether from other countries or planets,) we also have a postbellum Civil War attitude towards the south. I’m the first to admit Pat Hickman’s southern manners and sweet tea drawl, took some getting used to.
And yet, as if divined, I continued to listen to God’s word. Eventually, I tossed away my North vs. South intolerances along with my youth vs. mature prejudices and asked Pastor Hickman to meet with me as I began finding my faith. I thought it would be a congenial sharing with the young pastor awed by my piety. It was a pothole.
I have been late for two appointments in my entire (not just adult, but all my life). The first was a major book event at The Korea Society in Manhattan. I sat in 59th Street Bridge traffic for nearly two hours, sweated as we crawled into the city and covered my eyes while Jim made an heroic U-turn into oncoming Third Avenue traffic to triple park. Once inside, I had to begin with a five-minute apology to my antsy audience. The second time was meeting Pat Hickman at our local Starbucks.
His last text read, See you at 12. I blew my hair dry, checked my manicure for chips, and re-applied my mascara in anticipation. Frankly, I was a bit nervous. Surely, this pastor was asking himself, what is she doing here. I suppose most atheists ready to jump ship would pray or read something from Psalms like “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…” But I’m more comfortable with sprucing up the outside.
Then my cell phone rang, “Are you still coming?” his tone, usually reminiscent of magnolias, turned to strangling kudzu in my mind. It was nearly 1pm. For the second time in my history I had to begin a meeting with my apology.
Whatever Pat Hickman thought of me that day, he was cordial and welcoming. It was a piece of cake chat that stopped when he asked if we could end in prayer together. In hipster Starbucks? In progressive-ruled New York? My little side-road to Christ had split; one path had me praying publicly in the most secular spot on earth, the other was having to say no. I clasped my hands over my overpriced coffee cup and bowed my head.
The weeks of Sunday worship turned into months. I was quite content to sit at the back and dash out after communion until someone asked if I could help serve food. My thoroughly enjoyable relationship with all things edible has had dominion over me since my first cookie. I love eating, shopping, prepping and serving food. Pardon my pun but it was a match made in heaven.
This was my taking phase. I took in the majesty of a church service, was calmed by the assurance of pardon, relished singing along to the praise team’s selections and bedazzled by the beautiful communion table. It was so well with my soul, I even bought a bible.
But just like falling in love, the early days of drinking in my adoration only quenched a part of me. I thought this was as good as it got--which is always the place where the road splits again.