DATE WRITTEN: June 23, 2006
Chris Sutter folded his arms across his chest after several minutes of circulating his thumbs. The movie was supposed to start five minutes ago, although there was no real anticipation for it to ever begin. Chris had been to the movies several times already that summer, and he felt like chewing off his hand during every single one of them. Why he kept coming back was a matter of duty. He felt that he owed Craig a summer’s worth of shitty movies in order to receive clemency for a year’s worth of unreturned phone calls and deliberate avoidance. On this particular day, they were to see some action movie. Certainly some robots would be involved, probably from the future. Everything will seem abnormally normal until one of the automatons malfunctions and starts reeking havoc on a city full of innocent civilians. The plot is basically irrelevant. All that matters is that there is a huge, unfathomable explosion every other scene and the audience will applaud the dismal and far-fetched conclusion. Chris loathed the surrealism, but Craig always had an unexplainable attachment to ridiculous concepts.
They sat near the back of the theatre, listening to the pre-show music selection. Craig was already licking the bottom of his popcorn bowl, while Chris became fixated with the movie theatre trivia that popped up on screen after every few advertisements. He had no personal interest in the trivia itself, in fact, he mostly answered incorrectly. His satisfaction came with the petulant howls he received from random moviegoers when he declared rather exuberantly whether or not he had answered correctly. At that point, Craig had to calm Chris down and sedate him with a mouthful of popcorn and a Cherry Coke that could pass itself off as a miniature wastebasket.
After attention gradually began diverting itself back to the movie screen, the mood began to sulk. The movie was now eight minutes past its original starting time, and the ever-present tension between Chris, Craig, and the other moviegoers was becoming unbearable. Craig felt the need to initiate conversation, though he’s not necessarily known for having his head completely attached.
“Do you believe in God?” Craig asked inquisitively.
Chris’s initial reaction was to spit a mouthful of Cherry Coke into the hair of the gentleman sitting directly in front of him, who was already considering pelting Chris in the chest with a dozen giant hailstones after the aforementioned trivia fiasco. Luckily Chris was able to contain the liquid and furiously struggled to swallow before he dare opened his mouth. His voice split as he muscled out the word, “Why?”
“Well, ya know. Just because I’m curious,” Craig responded with a hint of integrity befitting for a friend who feels he has the best intentions in mind – the same integrity that earned him an honorary top spot in the legendary throng of pool-farting champions.
Chris took another sip of his Cherry Coke before attempting to answer. The question is very complex, he thought. It implicates no right or wrong answer, but, of course, Craig is expecting a certain answer, and I have no idea which one he wants. Conflicted and hesitant, Chris began to blow bubbles in his drink.
“It’s a simple “yes” or “no” question,” Craig reasoned with a certain amount of obnoxiousness that made him seem almost offended by the gap of time Chris had made in pondering an answer. “It’s really not that big of a deal. Are you a Christian or are you not?”
“Why do I have to be a Christian to believe in God?” Chris retorted, hoping to possibly change the subject and avoid having to answer Craig’s question at all.
“You don’t have to be a Christian to believe in God, but, what I’m asking you is – do you believe in the Christian God?
“It depends,” Chris finally answered.
“Depends on the answer you want to hear.”
“What? I can’t answer the question for you, Chris.”
“I’m not asking you to. Just tell me the answer you would like me to give you.”
“Damn it, Chris! Just answer the question!” Craig shouted. He noticed his sudden rise in tone and brought his voice down to almost a whisper. “Do you believe in God or not?”
“Sometimes,” Chris responded.
“How can you believe in God sometimes?” Craig asked inquiringly.
“When I’m around Christians, I believe in God; when I’m around non-Christians, I don’t believe in God,” Chris answered very modestly.
“You’re a real crack, you know that,” Craig replied glumly. “I ask you a serious question, and you go and make a big joke out of it.”
“But I’m completely serious,” Chris responded. “When I go to church on Sunday, I love God. I pray and go to Sunday school and laugh at jokes during the sermon and sing along during song time. But when I get home, I forget about God unless something bad happens to me. Like yesterday, when I knocked my plate off the table during dinner and got tomato sauce all over the floor. I remembered God then. He made me drop that damn sauce! I mean, He knew I was hungry and thought it would be funny to keep from my table longer. At least He’s good for something – He can be my scapegoat.”
“That’s terrible,” Craig replied, astounded. “What about all the good God has done for us? He sacrificed His son and gave us eternal life. We don’t even deserve to be here, but He’s letting us live anyway. He gives us purpose. How can you just pretend like none of that even matters?”
“Actually, I’ve decided that I don’t believe in God right now. Do you think you can ask me those questions again on Sunday?”
“No,” Craig was flabbergasted. “I want to know right now why you don’t believe in God.”
“Is it really that big of a deal?”
“It’s a huge deal!”
“But before, you said it wasn’t that big of a deal.”
“Are you kidding? We’re talking about life, Chris – The Life. And The Truth. We’re talking about giving life purpose. We’re talking about loving the Lord and serving him in all aspects of life and –”
“Says the man who stole a donut from Jewel just a half an hour ago,” Chris interrupted mockingly.
Craig’s face turned red.
Suddenly, there was a loud and vicious feedback that projected from the theatre speakers. A stern and almost mechanical voice sounded and penetrated the entire theatre. The voice said, “We apologize for the long wait. There have been technical inconveniences beyond our control. Thank you for your patience. The film will start now.”
As the lights dimmed, Craig folded his arms and leaned back in his chair, scowling incessantly. Chris watched the movie intently. As predicted, the plot was ridiculously fantastic and was directed mostly by scenes of large explosions and consistent gunfire. One scene particularly impressive was when, in one gigantic blast, starting from the top, the
Once the movie was over, Chris and Craig rushed out of the theatre. It was dark out already, and the moon seemed to spotlight the boys and shadowed their every movement. The town lights were dimmer than usual – almost completely shut down, and the moonlight seemed to reflect off every eye passing by that desolate street.
On the walk home, Craig was completely flushed. He’d occasionally eye Chris to see if he could find an opening back into their previous conversation, but his eyes always redirected back to the chipped concrete. He felt like a would-be hero who was given a chance to salvage his trembling comrade, but blew it because he wasn’t adequately prepared to fend off the prevailing enemy. Before the night ends, he thought, I have to bring it up again. I have to convince him that he is wrong. He began to bite his bottom lip and pondered ways to recreate and then dominate the previous discussion. Then suddenly, he came up with a brilliant plan. A plan so logical and so rudimentary that he can’t remember why he didn’t think of it before.
“Chris, you really should consider putting your faith in Christ,” Craig began as subtle as possible.
“Wow. Very subtle, Craig,” Chris responded irritably.
“I wasn’t trying to be.”
“Well good because you weren’t fooling anybody.”
“What’s the matter with you?” Craig inquired restively. “Why are you so Godless?”
“I told you already. I’m not Godless. I believe in God just as much as you do, but we believe in two different Gods.”
“Well please then, enlighten me. What makes your God so different from mine?”
“Well, first off, my God doesn’t interact with people.” Chris tore a leaf off of a passing tree and began to strip it into several layers. “He recognizes that we’re too different, and that a God of His caliber needn’t contend with such inferior souls.”
“That’s not true. In The Bible, God said that He made man in his image. It’s right in Genesis. The first couple pages.”
“Oh, and that’s another thing,” Chris said as he dropped the torn leaf, “My God doesn’t write books. None that He’ll ever let us read anyway. I think He’s kind of withdrawn when it comes to His writing. Not that I’d ever know this because it’s not like He’ll answer my prayers.”
“Okay, just stop it!” Craig cried out heatedly. “I know you’re full of shit. Please just tell me why you don’t believe in God. My God. The God of the Christian Bible. Jesus Christ our Lord.”
Chris stared dubiously at the shadows on the ground. As they walked, the shadows seemed to grow more condensed, but never to the point where they disappeared completely. Chris glanced at Craig, who stared back at him peevishly, awaiting a candid response for his already exhausted question. The sarcastic and mordant comments that Chris was able to conjure up so wittingly a few seconds ago couldn’t seem to translate into diplomatic resolutions.
“Well?” Craig asked impatiently.
“Well, maybe I just find The Bible to be a little bit too fantastic,” Chris replied hesitantly. “A lot of those stories are very far-fetched.”
“And that’s the basis of your skepticism?”
“Well, that’s a very ignorant response, I have to say. To doubt that the Creator of the universe couldn’t perform things that are just slightly beyond our comprehension! And that’s it? That’s why you don’t believe in God? And you’re willing to suffer the consequences of eternal damnation based on that? How ridiculous can you be?”
“Excuse me,” Chris retorted defensively. “I’m not the one who reads a book and believes it’s true because it says so. And I’m not the one who insults his best friend because he believes that his beliefs are superior to mine.”
“Well, if you would have just answered my question directly in the first place, then I wouldn’t have gotten so upset.”
“But you still would have attacked me because that’s what your people do. They shove their beliefs down your throat and force you to assimilate every word, regardless of the fact that you’ve already come to your own conclusions about the world, our existence, and whatever else.”
“That’s not true,” Craig said, much calmer now. “Yes, I would have questioned your beliefs, and I would have tried to prove them wrong in comparison to mine, but I had no desire to get into a bickering match with you. I just wanted to help you. I was once told that if I truly loved a person, I had to at least try and lead them to Christ because there is no greater life than a life in Christ. I just want you to see that.”
The silence that followed was painstaking. For several minutes, neither of them said a word to each other. The shadows on the ground continued to decrease in size – so small to the point where an ant would hardly be able find room to hide from a blazing Sun. The sidewalk seemed endless and without purpose. The summer breeze was cool and light, and found interest in Chris’s soft, blonde hair that danced back and forth across his forehead. An owl howled in the background, questioning the validity of this particular night. “Who? Who?” It asked. “Who?”
“Who is this Almighty Father anyway?” Chris asked with impudence, shifting his head from the concrete in order to look Craig in the eye. “This Eternal Good-doer. It never ceases to amaze me how many people put their faith into such a whack job.” He averted his eyes and looked straight ahead. “Death, disease, destruction – and do we pin any of this on God? Of course not. It’s our own fault, and it’s never going to get better.”
“Some people just need something to believe—“
“And what about temptation?” Chris interrupted. “It’s never God’s fault that we’re tempted, even though he allows it to happen .We blame the Devil – Satan and his unholy alliance, with nothing better to do than to fuck up our lives.” Chris spewed caustically. “And that’s just the start of it.”
Craig looked hopelessly on as Chris crucified God for all the angst and pain in the world. With every word, Craig felt more and more distant from his best friend. The worst part of it was, he couldn’t defend it. Craig didn’t agree with a word that was coming out of Chris’s mouth, but he couldn’t retaliate either. He thought about quoting The Bible, but what good would that do? Chris was derailing it, crying foul – condemning it for intentionally misleading millions of brainwashed minions in order to fulfill its fundamental purpose: to squash the Earth like an insignificant, helpless black widow. If Craig was going to offer any sort of defense, he knew it would have to be non-biblical. He would have to conduct more of a spiritual outreach. The Bible was far too big of an issue with Chris, and the poignant criticisms were evidence enough that Craig was going to have to avert from doctrinal teachings and go straight for Chris’s heart.
Chris paused to catch his breath. This was Craig’s opportune moment to take the offensive, but he couldn’t think of a word to say. So many questions were running through his head, but none of them were connecting with his brain. As he fussed, Chris inhaled.
“And another thing – what’s with these stories?” Chris continued petulantly. “A guy talking to a burning bush? That’s ridiculous! How could anyone believe that? How could you believe that? And Noah and his stupid ark? How ludicrous! You know, you should really—“ Chris heard a soft murmur from Craig’s lips and stopped. “What did you say?”
“I said ‘so what?’” Craig replied ingenuously. “So what if those stories are absurd? So what if you think it’s preposterous for someone to believe that Moses talked to God through a burning bush, or that Noah built an ark and repopulated the Earth after the flood.” He suddenly stopped walking. Chris moved forward a couple of steps and then continued back to Craig. As he started back, his shadow increased in size for the first time since they left the theatre. “I don’t find purpose in The Bible.” Craig continued. “The Bible is just a tool – an instruction manual, really. But it isn’t the reason why I believe in God, and it shouldn’t be the reason why you hate Him. I believe in God because I want purpose.” Craig looked up to the sky. “I believe in God because I need assurance that there is more out there than just the pain, the famine, the destruction, and all the things you mentioned before.”
The delicate summer breeze seemed much cooler than before and the night was at its peak. The sudden and recurring mood swings left the boys exhausted and longing for a place to rest. This quarrel, which started out as a pawn to ward off attention, became a constant struggle to retain normality between two self-assured confidants, neither willing to concede or back down. They began walking again.
“Maybe you can just believe,” Craig suggested.
“What do you mean?” Chris asked.
“I mean – just believe,” Craig repeated with a vigorous determination in his voice. “You can just believe that there is a God. That way – when you die, God will let you into heaven – if there is a heaven, that is. And if there isn’t – well – then you’ll just die like everybody else. But think about it. There’s an advantage when you believe in God; there isn’t one in atheism or whatever you are. You believe people just die, and that may be true – but what if it isn’t? Then you’ll go to hell because you were too stubborn to just believe, even though it’s so simple.” Craig paused, hoping for a response, but Chris didn’t give one. Instead, he continued walking, glancing in every direction that was not in line with Craig’s eyes. Craig grew anxious. “So, what do you think?”
Chris looked down. “Just believe, huh?”
“Yes. Just believe.” Craig replied sanguinely. “It’s simple enough, isn’t it?”
Chris persistently wrestled all urges to look Craig in his eyes. He saw the validity in Craig’s argument, but couldn’t ignore the overwhelming feeling of hesitation that was so intractable. He couldn’t discern any logical reason for his skepticism, but it was there and he couldn’t just disregard it. He formulated a response.
“Actually, it’s not that simple,” Chris started tentatively. “I mean – you’re right. I have nothing to lose if I do choose to believe in God. If I die with faith and there is a heaven, I'm going to it, and if God doesn't exist, then I just die like everyone else. But believing in God is a choice that you make after looking at the facts. The fact is, I don't believe the Earth was built in 7 days. I don't believe Jonah was swallowed whole by a whale and not digested after 3 days. I don't believe people ever lived to be near a thousand years old. I don't believe that Daniel survived a night in the lion's den unless they found all the lions dead and Daniel severely wounded. I don't believe that David defeated Goliath with one single fling of his slingshot. I don't believe that a bunch of people walking and playing music can knock down the Walls of Jericho,” Chris paused with almost a hint of triumph in his voice. He was finally able to look Craig in his eyes. “Faith in God requires belief in what He says, and I don’t have that.”
“Okay, okay – I get it,” Craig finally interrupted. “Let’s just kill this horse and get on with our lives.”
“Agreed,” Chris spat approvingly.
The summer breeze was cool and soft. The air was so clear that a trail of light could be seen from several blocks away, where two siblings were arguing in the course of a pleasant dinner neither of them wants to eat. The cracks in the cement were filled with numerous minute pebbles, like ants that gather on a hill, crushed, as if stomped on by the sole of a shoe. The boys had finally reached their destination of departure, parting from two separate sides of the road.
“We’re okay, aren’t we?” Craig suddenly asked. “I mean, this hasn’t ruined anything, right?”
“I don’t know,” Chris responded dimly. “I hope not. I mean…it probably hasn’t, I don’t think.”
Craig nodded. He turned and began to walk away. Chris followed suit in the opposite direction. At this point, it seemed that the moon cracked in half in attempt to trail each of the boys home, following their morose footprints. Their shadows were no longer shrinking nor were they growing in size, but, now, they stayed consistently small and slurred. The boys had no definite plans to ever speak to each other again, but the shadow of a fallout was inevitable. They would meet face to face again – at school, with friends, or just walking around – and the awkward tension to follow may be insufferable. And to think, all of this started with a courteous, well-meaning opening to spark conversation in a movie theatre.