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10.23.2007

Protection

todays UPI column

So There I was...


Selling insurance door to door.

Which was odd because I was fourteen years old.

It was about a week before Halloween. I was the president of the church youth group. This was not a powerful or prestigious position since it was a small church and there were about six teenagers. I was technically apostate at the time, but mostly no one knew it. I had really good parents, and I not only didn’t want to break their hearts with my apostasy, I was also hoping they would pay for college. Being in charge of the youth group meant that I had some influence over the level of religiosity, and could keep it to forms my hypocrisy could tolerate. A kind of theological detente.

Everybody knows that youth groups can only have fun if they have some cash to spend. It was part of my job to think up fund-raisers. I wanted to do something fresh. Something that actually provided a useful service to the community. Something that didn’t involve too much manual labor. Then the light bulb went on. We would sell window-egg insurance.

Some bad kids (not us) used the ‘trick’ part of ‘trick or treat’ to throw eggs at houses. It was common enough that local grocers would watch out for any kid trying to buy eggs in bulk in late October. My brilliant idea was to go door-to-door selling an insurance policy for a $1 premium. If your house got egged you call our hotline and we send a nice kid out immediately to wash your windows. I figured that most housewives would think it was a good deal and that most houses wouldn’t get egged, and that we would clean up (so to speak). I didn’t bother to run the idea past any adults. I printed up the flyers and coupons and the group of us set out to sell.

To our great disappointment, we made no sales – none. Some ladies just stared at us. Some ladies yelled at us like we were hooligans. “No. M’am, we are here to PROTECT you from the hooligans!” We regrouped – confused.

I went to my afternoon job as a soda jerk in the local ice cream parlor. I sat in the back room with Robert, the old black man who washed dishes for the restaurant. I told him my troubles. Then he laughed himself off his chair, he laughed so hard he cried. Then he carefully explained to me the concept of a protection racket. See, we lived in a neighborhood heavily populated by the higher levels of the Chicago mob. Robert asked me if I had tried to sell my insurance at the home of Tony Accardo – a few blocks away. “Jeez, Robert, I’m not a MORON, nobody would egg Tony Accardo’s house!” At fourteen I knew about the mob, I just didn’t understand the finer points of their day to day rackets. We did a bake sale instead.

So here is what Robert taught me. ‘Protection’ was a process whereby the wiseguys in the area ‘watched’ your home, business, or auto in exchange for money that you paid them so that they would refrain from vandalizing you home, business, or auto.

Oddly enough, this is pretty much what I got out of my early theological education. If you did enough stuff for God (His preferred currency), He would refrain from blasting you. I am not saying that my parents taught me this, they didn’t, but it was a fairly common theme in the church culture I lived in.

Then I noticed that this God was a pretty crummy wiseguy. He often appeared to blast good people anyway. A God less honorable than the Mob was not a God I wanted. Hence the apostasy.

Eventually a truly weird thing happened. I met the Lover of my soul, and I found out that some really malicious slander and libel had been committed against Him, but that He was way too gentle to blast anybody over it, although the power to do so seemed to be there.

He is not a racketeer. I came to understand His protection as the state of being, in which, surrounded by His love, other things, including some pretty major hurts, begin to heal and rapidly lose their power over me. Some things that ought to hurt, don’t even hurt anymore. His Love has become my armor.

We started to travel together, and sometimes, (Just to mess with my head, I think), He started to provide some pretty amazing incidents of physical protection. Most of these events have happened when I was participating with Him in his hobbies (life transformation, wound healing, captive freeing etc.) So there I was again, back at the beginning, doing cool stuff, for and with Him, and there He is protecting me from blasts. But from the inside it had none of the feel of a scam.

It is also a mystery to me, unexplainable, because sometimes the protection does not seem to be there, and many people have never experienced it at all. Yet He assures me, it is there all the same. We argue about this a bit.

Being a wee bit of a risk taker, I occasionally test the limits of this protection. I have not yet succeeded in outrunning it. Mostly I just take it for granted, because I have way too much other stuff to do. But none of what I do is attempting to sell theological insurance, door-to-door, retail, or wholesale.


Comments:
Thanks for this, Peggy.

You teen story—and resulting (secret) apostasy—ring a bell for me:

"Oddly enough, this is pretty much what I got out of my early theological education. If you did enough stuff for God..., He would refrain from blasting you."

Fortunately, my decision at 18 was that everyone who taught this "god" must be wrong, and I didn't think I needed to convince others in order to believe the real God was better.

Nonetheless, there is, as you say, this other matter:

"It is also a mystery to me, unexplainable, because sometimes the protection does not seem to be there, and many people have never experienced it at all. Yet He assures me, it is there all the same. We argue about this a bit."

This is sort of where I am now: believing the protection is there, but often wondering how to live without being able to tell it's there when I'm scared or hurting.

At least I know it's there.

Blessèd Be,
Michael
 
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