That’s me in the corner/ That’s me in the spotlight/
Losing my religion
The older I get, the less certain I am of things. Brash, cocky, unyielding and in yo’ face has given way to subtle, nuanced, and contemplative. Black and white evolved into hundreds of shades of gray.
Who is God? What manner of creature is He? As a Christian, how should I respond to LGBT people? Who gets to go to heaven, and why? What will heaven be like? Why do I keep picking at that thing on my arm?
Decades ago, I could have told you with self-certain, pompous precision the answer to these and many other questions. I could have spewed venom, wagged a finger and out-holied the holier-than-thou’s, making Mike Huckabee look like a ponytailed hippie.
These days, I’m equally likely to answer a question with question, to see life as a knotty, unsolvable riddle, only part of which we’ll be privileged to unravel during our lifetimes, and to remind you that the act of putting together a jigsaw puzzle is infinitely more satisfying than seeing the final image.
I spent the holiday weekend of the first week of the new college football season in beautiful, urbane, sophisticated Laguna Park, Texas on Lake Whitney. Mrs. C-BOG and I are here with her side of the family, including her 6-foot-8 cousin who is a rabid Bama alumni and fan who, for obvious reasons, is still coming to terms with the concept of indoor plumbing. Neil’s a nice enough guy, and was very conciliatory after the Notre Dame smackdown, but after answering, “Now, where do the poo go?” for the fourth time, my patience began to wear thin.
In the midst of the Labor Day weekend heat, ants, bad tattoos, and lukewarm domestic beer, I thought I had a pretty good idea of who and what kind of man Charlie Strong is. Tough. Straight-talking. No shortcuts. Great evaluator of talent. Doesn’t give an Aggie how many recruiting stars a kid has. Player developer. A real X’s and O’s coach.
I knew with certainty Charlie would turn around the creaking, rusted, dilapidated, barnacle-infested ship called UT Football. It may take longer than the Longhorn faithful thought it would, but this is the right way to do it. Bring in kids who are hungry, motivated, and underdeveloped. Get ‘em bigger and stronger. Coach ‘em up. Look for hitters with some nasty and mean in their personality. Quit coddling players. Have real, meaningful competition to see who gets on the field. Develop 3-star kids into second-round NFL draft picks. Develop 4-star kids into All-Conference studs.
This will work.
It has to work, right?
Well, evidently not.
In every real believer’s life, there is a frightening, terrifying moment. For the first part of your life, you are riding piggyback on someone else’s beliefs – you’re a spiritual hitchhiker. You haven’t really thought through any of the crap they’ve been shoveling your way. You just accept that your holy book is really, actually the word of God and that all the endless rules and regulations you’ve had crammed down your throat ad nauseam are necessary to appease a snooping, voyeuristic, OCD deity.
But a time comes when the neat, tidy Bible class answers you’ve heard all your life won’t cut it anymore, and you are left alone with just you, your thoughts and the Divine. You have to decide for yourself if everything you’ve been taught your whole life is correct.
And then the horrifying, terrifying thought comes to you: What if there is no God? What if we’re totally alone in a cruel, harsh, completely arbitrary universe guided by nothing but chance and the ability of the strong to prey on the weak? What if dead means dead, and there is no grace, amazing or otherwise?
The thought is a chilling one, a million times more adrenalin-pumping than taking off your training wheels as a kid, but it must be answered before real faith, substantive faith, life-changing faith, can begin.To have religion, you must first lose you religion.
I had that same terrifying sensation Saturday night watching Notre Dame trash the Longhorns’ inept, flaccid offence. Midway through the second quarter, after blowing a 2nd and 1 with yet another Tyrone Swoops sack, the iron-clad certainty that Strong would turn UT into a champion was replaced with disturbing, haunting ideas: maybe Strong is not up to the task; maybe a defensive-minded coach in the Big 12 sounds great in theory, but won’t work in practicality; maybe Strong’s loyalty to Shawn Watson overwhelms our head coach’s ordinarily great instincts.
Maybe everything I’ve been assuming about Strong is wrong. Maybe Charlie’s not the guy. Maybe this is Muschamp at Florida, Part II.
Maybe we’re screwed.
Holy crap. That can’t be right, can it?
In one play, I went from believer to skeptic, from acolyte to blasphemer. I feel dirty and disloyal. My one consolation is knowing I’m not alone.
I go into the Rice game frustrated, lost, and flummoxed. Give me something I can hang onto, Coach. I desperately want to believe. Help my unbelief.
A 1986 graduate of the University of Texas, Jeff Conner has held many jobs in his life: husband, brother, uncle, son, oil field roustabout, short-order cook, sandblaster, irrigation pipe mover, musician, retail assistant manager, attorney-at-law, public school teacher, preacher, cartoonist and writer. While he does have a hot, young wife, Conner is neither as clever nor as good-looking as he believes himself to be. Jeff currently warps fragile and vulnerable young minds while teaching 8th grade math and Pre-AP algebra in Taylor, Texas, home of the Fighting Ducks. Conner’s regularly submitted commentary appears in InsideTexas.com and Inside Texas Magazine. The opinions presented do not necessarily reflect the views of the Inside Texas editorial staff.