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NOT QUITE MY RELIGION

 

After Alice Walker

 RAYMOND and JOHN walk into their local bar on an ordinary Thursday evening. Raymond is new to the city, while John has lived there for years. They have been friends since they met at an office party a few months ago. Raymond is black and John is white, though they have never explicitly acknowledged this difference.

JOHN

So how are you adjusting to the city?

 

RAYMOND

I’m still waiting for it to feel like home.

 

JOHN

Too much noise, too fast, too many people, too much everything?

 

RAYMOND

Not exactly.

 

JOHN

Then?

 

RAYMOND

I miss being a part of a community.

 

JOHN

Have you tried—

 

RAYMOND

I’m trying.

 

JOHN

Okay.

 

RAYMOND

I miss my church.

 

JOHN

Oh?

 

RAYMOND

I haven’t found a great fit here. Yet.

 

JOHN

Just give it time.

 

RAYMOND

I know.

 

A bartender approaches and takes their drink orders. The two friends remain quiet for some time. Silence opens like an elevator door. Tentatively, John steps in.

 

JOHN

Do you want to come with me on Sunday?

 

RAYMOND

Where?

 

JOHN

My church.

 

Raymond contains his laugh within his chest. John notices.

 

RAYMOND

I’ll think about it.

 

JOHN

You don’t mean that.

 

RAYMOND

I don’t.

 

JOHN

What’s so funny?

 

RAYMOND

I just don’t think it would be a great fit.

 

JOHN

We’re both Christian.

 

RAYMOND

I know.

 

JOHN

It’s a small church.

 

RAYMOND

I’m sure.

 

JOHN

It’s a loving church.

 

RAYMOND

Of course.

 

JOHN

We’re like family.

 

RAYMOND

Yes.

 

JOHN

Then?

 

RAYMOND

I don’t know.

 

JOHN

You always know.

 

RAYMOND

It’s a white church.

 

 John reacts to Raymond’s statement as if he has been accused of something terrible. He has never been called white before.

 

JOHN

What’s that supposed to mean?

 

RAYMOND

We believe in different things.

 

JOHN

We believe in—

 

RAYMOND

We don’t.

 

John waits. Raymond thinks.

 

RAYMOND

We have to believe in different things.

 

JOHN

What do you believe?

 

RAYMOND

I know that in this country people that look like me have to fight just to be seen as human.

 

JOHN

What does that have to do with God?

 

RAYMOND

Everything. White people treat God as if he is here.

 

JOHN

He is.

 

RAYMOND

As if he has hands.

 

JOHN

It’s not like that.

 

RAYMOND

As if he cares.

 

JOHN

Ray

 

The bartender asks if they’d like another round. John nods. Philosophy rolls in.

 

RAYMOND

If God had power, wouldn’t he have put an end to the Hell marginalized people live through every day?

 

JOHN

That’s not how it is.

 

RAYMOND

Tell me how it is.

 

JOHN

Humans are flawed.

 

RAYMOND

Clearly.

 

JOHN

But we do our best to please him.

 

RAYMOND

We were enslaved because humans are flawed?

 

JOHN

Yes.

 

RAYMOND

Where was your god when we were enslaved?

 

JOHN

Slavery had nothing to do with religion.

 

RAYMOND

It did for some people.

 

JOHN

How can you call yourself Christian?

 

RAYMOND

Excuse me?

 

JOHN

Tell me about your God.

 

RAYMOND

My God doesn’t touch us.

 

JOHN

What?

 

RAYMOND

My God is just an idea.

JOHN

Just an idea?

 

RAYMOND

A beautiful one.

 

JOHN

I’m losing you.

 

RAYMOND

An idea that like-minded people congregate around.

 

JOHN

Yes.

 

RAYMOND

An idea that we adapt to our needs.

 

JOHN

He’s not

 

RAYMOND

John, please.

 

The conversation lapses.

 

RAYMOND

Our God is not a man or a woman.

 

JOHN

He—

 

RAYMOND

God is a place where we put our hope.

 

JOHN

Place—

 

RAYMOND

Where no one can reject our suffering.

 

JOHN

Ray—

RAYMOND

A place where we are safe.

 

JOHN

Church—

 

RAYMOND

A place where we are not watched.

 

JOHN

He’s always watch—

 

RAYMOND

And if we are watched…

 

JOHN

We are—

 

RAYMOND

We are watched by those we love.

 

JOHN

He is not just something you can use as you please.

 

RAYMOND

But he is something you have used as you please.

 

JOHN

No—

 

RAYMOND

It’s not a bad thing.

 

JOHN

God guides us.

 

RAYMOND

No.

 

JOHN

No?

 

RAYMOND

We guide ourselves.

 

JOHN

Alone?

 

RAYMOND

We decide alone how religion guides us.

 

JOHN

He gives us morality.

 

RAYMOND

We decide what religion says about morality.

 

JOHN

But—

 

They pause to ask for another drink. They begin to talk through each other, alternating turns on the soapbox.

 

RAYMOND

Why can’t Christianity mean different things for us?

 

JOHN

Because God is.

 

RAYMOND

God is what?

 

JOHN

No. God is and He has always been.

 

RAYMOND

That’s not what I believe.

 

JOHN

Maybe if you believed—

 

RAYMOND

Believed like you do—

 

JOHN

Then He might be kinder to you.

 

RAYMOND

There it is.

 

JOHN

You complain and complain and complain and do nothing about it.

 

RAYMOND

So racism has everything to do with us not praying like you.

 

JOHN

That’s not what I said.

 

RAYMOND

But it’s what you meant.

 

JOHN

No, I—

 

RAYMOND

And what you believe—

 

JOHN

No—

 

RAYMOND

To accept God as a powerful force that dictates life on Earth is to acknowledge white superiority as preordained.

 

JOHN

Now that’s—

 

RAYMOND

True.

 

JOHN

What makes your word any truer than mine?

 

RAYMOND

It’s true for me. I never said it has to be true for—

 

JOHN

Your word is blasphemous.

 

RAYMOND

You mean threatening.

JOHN

What?

RAYMOND

Your version of religion can’t coexist with mine.

JOHN

Yours isn’t religion.

 

RAYMOND

Because…

 

JOHN

Because religion isn’t something people made.

 

RAYMOND

Why—

 

JOHN

It’s not some fiction or—

 

RAYMOND

Why would that be bad?

 

JOHN

Because if it’s fiction you don’t believe in anything.

 

RAYMOND

I believe in a higher power.

 

JOHN

But not God.

 

RAYMOND

We can call the power God.

 

JOHN

It’s not some magical—

 

RAYMOND

Listen.

 

JOHN

Yes.

 

RAYMOND

I just don’t think it’s possible to assign tangible power to God.

 

JOHN

Why?

 

RAYMOND

Because then God has words.

 

JOHN

Yes.

 

RAYMOND

Which means you elevate people who purport to have his word over others.

 

JOHN

Some people do—

 

RAYMOND

And any time you do that you give certain lives more value than others.

 

JOHN

I don’t see—

 

RAYMOND

Which is what ideologies governing oppression are built on.

 

JOHN

It’s not that simple.

 

RAYMOND

And the God you pray to looks like you.

 

JOHN

Like me?

 

RAYMOND

A white man.

 

JOHN

It’s not about—

 

RAYMOND

And if I can help it, I try to avoid asking white men for things.

 

John rolls his eyes. Raymond smiles and asks for the check.