Fred examined Naomi carefully as he looked up. He looked at the area around her eyes and the way she nervously moved her fingers. He thought he would try to make the conversation a little more interesting and see if he could discover the makeup of his guest. He breathed in and said, “It seems to me that a large contributor to societal decay is a slavish devotion to capitalism, which I guess people call market fundamentalism, but I like to call greediness. Take a simple thing like coffee, for instance, which used to have names like Italian Roast, and French Roast, and Mocha Java, and Kenya AA and so on. You could order Italian Roast coffee in Portland, Maine or Portland, Oregon, or Portland, England and everybody knew what you meant. You could see it in the store and know what you were buying. These roasts were good enough for a long time but now market forces insist we have Buddy’s Bad Blend or Nuevo Nightshade. Now if I try to get a cup of coffee I don’t know what I’m ordering and if I figure it out after a few trips to the store the name will change or the brand will be replaced and I wind up feeling like I don’t know the world around me. As time goes on the pace gets faster and faster and I feel like I’m spinning sometimes when all I want is the toothpaste I bought last week.”
Naomi blinked at Fred and then countered with, “I suppose what you are saying is that you feel adrift in a changing world, well that’s where the good Lord’s guiding hand can give you something to hold onto. He’s my rock and my salvation.”
Naomi’s religious rhetoric didn’t impress Fred, but her ability to quickly take something new and unexpected and incorporate it politely without being shaken off did. She would be harder to derail than he thought, but that thought invigorated his interest.
At that moment Faith came in with two glasses of water and set one down in front of Fred and Naomi. She scolded Fred for not having the manners to offer Naomi something to drink on such a warm afternoon, then she told Naomi if Fred’s talking wore her out she could chase him off for her. Naomi smiled and thanked Faith for the water and said she always enjoyed discussing her faith. Faith felt somewhat cheated but returned to the kitchen without a word.
Fred took a sip of water, shifted in his chair and then asked Naomi why she took up religion. He thought he already knew but wanted to draw her out of her protective layer of official duty. She began telling her story, “It was about 10 years ago that I became a witness. I had an accident that put me in the hospital for quite a while. I was full of pain all over and didn’t have nobody to come see me and the pain and the loneliness combined were just awful. One day a man came in and asked me if I would like company. He told me he was spreading the word of God and I didn’t care what he was spreading if it meant a moment to take my mind off my aches and pains, so I invited him in. Well he asked me if I had accepted Jesus Christ and I told him that I hadn’t. When he asked me, “Why?” I told him because when I call he doesn’t come and when I look he isn’t there and when I pray he doesn’t help me. I told him I didn’t believe it was possible to love someone and then let them come to harm. Can you believe it? I said those things and may the good Lord forgive me.”
Fred scratched under his hat a moment and knew he was getting somewhere now. He took another sip of water and then said, “I’d have to say that your replies were pretty sensible, especially given the state you were in. I know that there is some force of creation because absolutely nothing can make itself. A seed needs a tree and a tree needs a seed. A chicken needs an egg and an egg needs a chicken. It is like this with everything. Everything. But, I’ve never seen any evidence that convinces me that Jesus is real.”
Naomi paused a moment and looked at the floor. She seemed to be studying her hands in her lap and as she did Fred noticed that while her hair was curly she possessed a small bald spot near the back of her head. Naomi slowly looked up and she seemed more relaxed, but at the same time more resolute. She said, “My faith isn’t based on anything I can share as evidence, but I can tell you what happened. Shortly after I left the hospital I started attending (mass? Church? Kingdom hall?) with an open mind. One Sunday I learned that faith was based upon a belief in Him and I thought about what that meant. I decided to simply force myself to believe God was watching me to see what effect it had on me. I started praying. After a while I felt as though I had a new friend at my side. You know how when someone is staring at you, you can actually feel it? It works that way for me. I can actually feel Jesus nearby even now. He doesn’t speak to me in a literal sense, and I’m not sure if he understands or hears my prayers, but since I started really believing in Him he has been with me every step of the way.”
Fred thought about that for a moment and as he did so he scratched up under his hat and drank a little water. His view was that Naomi had managed to create an imaginary friend for herself in the same way many children do. He didn’t see the merit in a debate in which nothing could be examined in the light of Truth, so he said, “What do you suppose Jesus thinks of gossipers?”