It’s been unseasonably warm lately. Even the other week, when we got the snow and ice, it wasn’t that cold. There have been days that kind of felt like late September. It can’t last, of course, so Ollie and I have been taking advantage of the weather to go running together a lot, before the snow comes—and before Ollie graduates, of course.
Graduation isn’t until the beginning of February, but neither of us is going to spend all winter on campus. He’ll be doing a lot of things with the other graduating students and I’ve decided I’m going to go home for the winter, starting with Christmas. So every time I go running with Ollie now it feels like it could be the last time. And I suppose it could be. We don’t know when the snow will settle in.
I asked him what he plans to do about Willa, I mean because she’s not graduating for another year.
“I’ve decided to stay in touch with her. She’s important to me,” he said.
“So you’re not going to come back and go for your ring?” You have to drop contact with everyone at school for three years in order to be eligible to come back and study further. Giving that up would be a major sacrifice for him.
“Oh, no. I’ll just start my Absence a year later. We’re going to get married, you know.” He added that last part casually, while stretching.
“No, I didn’t know! Congratulations!” I clapped him on the arm and he grinned and blushed a little, muttering thanks. “Except, what about the religion thing?”
“What religion thing?”
“She’s still pagan, isn’t she? And you’re not.” Ollie isn’t just not pagan, he wants to be a Baptist minister. Given our topic of conversation, neither of us were ready to start running yet. You can run and talk at the same time, but it’s distracting. You can’t talk about anything important. I can’t, anyway. We started walking instead.
“I’m not sure she is pagan,” he answered, “except by default. She doesn’t really have a cosmology. She’s more interested in orthopraxy than orthodoxy. She doesn’t deny Jesus.” Orthopraxy means the thing you are supposed to do, as opposed to orthodoxy, which is the thing you are supposed to think. More or less.
"Yeah, but her orthopraxy involves sex and masturbation as a means of meditation and prayer. That honestly doesn't sound too Baptist to me."
"So, freaking, what?" he answered. Even when he's trying to be crudely emphatic, Ollie can't quite bring himself to use bad language. "When I first realized I cared for Willa, I was afraid. I don't mean I was afraid of sex. I don't think I'm afraid of sex, anyway. But I was afraid of doing something wrong. I was afraid that if I deviated from the straight-and-narrow, if I felt and did things that my parents and my pastor wouldn't expressly give me permission to do, I'd offend God and I'd go straight to Hell. I wanted some kind of reassurance. But, honestly, if I really believed that adherence to a specific Earthly Church was a guarantee of salvation, I'd be a Catholic. They're the ones who have an unbroken line of transmission from Jesus Christ, through St. Peter, down to every priest in their Church in the world. Every Protestant denomination, including mine, rests upon the principle that a human being can discover a valid way to God that is different than the teachings of the Church they belong to. Not that all ideas about truth are equally valid, but being on the straight-and-narrow as per the Baptist Church is no guarantee that I'm doing this right. I have to search for God for myself. And I'm convinced that Willa should be with me for that search. I believe that she will find her way to Christ, and that she will show me things about God I would not have found on my own."
"Why did you come here, Ollie?" I asked. "Why did you join a pagan non-denominational seminary in the first place? I've never known."
"Why did you?"
"Because I felt like it. But I'm not planning on becoming a preacher."
"Same reason Andy did--I want to be like Jesus. But people forget that Jesus wasn't Christian. He was Jewish, and he spent his childhood in Egypt, so he may have had some pagan contact there. Some people think he traveled in his twenties and studied in India. The way to truth sometimes lies through unexpected places. And Jesus said that if you have faith the size of a mustard seed you can move mountains. What is faith, that it can do that? No one who had studied faith could explain it to me. So I decided to consult people who study miracles--magic--instead. And" here he took a deep breath, like he was admitting something, "Allen is the most intelligent, reasonable, and compassionate person I've ever met. I want to be like him, too."
"You came here for him?"
"Yes. I saw one of his magic shows and I started talking with him afterwards. I passed the entrance exam with him."
"So, did it work? Did you become who and what you wanted to be?"
"I don't know, Daniel. I am a poor judge of myself for such things. You tell me. Am I a good man?"
"Yes, mostly," I told him. "You are one of the most intelligent, reasonable, and compassionate people I've ever known, anyway." And I meant it.
"Thanks," he told me. And we went running together.