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Belgian Beer Bottle and God

Belgian Beer Bottle and God’s Mysterious Ways with Us


I pulled in close to the curb, heard a crunching sound, as glass breaking, followed by a rush of air.  The front passenger side tire, just six months old, had been slashed by an empty Stella Artois beer bottle. 


Battell Chapel on one side, the Green on the other, New Haven folk passing by, some of them surely Yalies.  One such looked at us looking at the flat tire and commiserated.  I phoned AAA and after a little pleading arranged to have the wrecker summoned when we would likely emerge from worship and coffee hour at the UCC Church on the Green, a couple of hours later.


We were on a nostalgia mission not uncommon among old men. The interim pastor of said Church on the Green was the daughter of a history professor who was also the faculty advisor to the fraternity at which I was president.  Dr. Robert Scott, no friend of organized religion, or for that matter any religion, expressed his regrets that I would be going to seminary and be ordained.  I took his opinion as a backhanded compliment, that his estimate of me was as someone capable of significant leadership in the world, and it would be wasted on the church.


Fast forward thirty years to Ireland, to Ennis, a town with an ancient lineage.  Barbara and I were on an Alumni Travel trip to the land of my ancestors.  Leading the trip was another history professor, lately retired from the presidency of the college where Dr. Scott continued to teach.  I expressed my displeasure with the faculty attitude (Dr. Scott was not alone) toward the church.  I thought I would find a sympathetic ear with Dr. Oakley, reputed to be a practicing Catholic.  One comment led to another and I repeated to Frank Oakley Robert Scott’s attitude toward my decision to seek ordination.  Dr. Oakley smiled a wry smile and told me I would be pleased to hear that Bob Scott’s daughter was now a Congregational pastor. 


That news stuck sharply in my mind (like a beer bottle in a car tire?), so I wasn’t totally surprised when one morning less than a year ago I opened email from Bonnie Scott Jelenek. Dr. Scott’s ordained daughter had found my website, and we began a modest exchange of information electronically, including her dad’s rueful estimate of my future in the church… a verdict which, not surprisingly, he visited on his daughter too. 


Don’t get us wrong.  She loved her dad.  I liked and admired him.  And memories of him became the occasion for us to meet. 


All of which gives me pause to reconsider… well, any number of things.


Just one for now: like how hard it must be for atheists in this insatiably and inevitably religious world.  Beneath the cocksure attitude of public atheists like Bertrand Russell, Richard Dawkins, Madelyn O’Hare, and Christopher Hitchins there must surely be a nagging doubt or two, even if well suppressed, like “What if I’m wrong?”  Cocksuredness from the other side, the steadfastly religious, has been amply (and justifiably) ridiculed although it doesn’t seem to have persuaded most believers to reconsider their intransigence.  The same holds for the atheist.  But the louder either shouts, the less I for one believe he disbelieves or believes. 


Like my locker room buddy smiles whenever he sees me, with reference to a comment I once made and he affirms, “Life is a mystery,” and the ways we wind defy prediction.  


In a different context Jesus opined that “God can from these stones raise up children to Abraham.”  The history of the church, beginning as far back as Paul the Apostle, is replete with stories of those who might seem to be the least fertile soil for growing faith, human plantings, often at the beginning of their mature lives, who find the young rabbi from Galilee, the one who died outside the gates of Jerusalem, a compelling figure on whose behalf they are willing to spend their energy, intellect, and time, no matter that parent or professor advise otherwise.


Bonnie and Bob say “Amen.” And that benediction cheered me all the way home up I 91 with emergency lights flashing and a “temporary” tire limiting my speed to 50 mph.


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