Fanta and I were on spring break when she e-mailed and asked me to meet her for lunch. She had begun a job at a local hospital working in the lab, so her hours were erratic. I was teaching during the day, but with school on break I had no real plans. She suggested Chipotle for lunch on Friday.
Sounds great! I responded.
Talk about perfect timing! I had free time, I had a lunch date. What could be better? I went to my wall calendar to record this momentous event: Lunch w/ Fanta, noon, Chipotle.
Then I saw it.
That’s why I was off this week—it is Holy Week. The school has its spring break the same week as Holy Week. But this wasn’t the problem.
About the closest my family came to religion was to not eat meat on Good Friday.
I am a carnivore.
Chipotle serves tacos. With meat. Succluant, delicious cow- and pig-flavored flesh.
This is going to be ugly.
I am not much for beans, and the thought of a taco without meat was foreign to me. I’ve heard of fish tacos, but … to paraphrase Ben Franklin: God gave us cows so we could be happy. But my great-grandmother had drilled it into everyone’s head, which was dutifully passed down through the succeeding generations, that “thou shalt not eat meat on Good Friday.”
I had been working with Catholics for a few years now. An early job I had was in the next town south, which we were excited about. It was located on what was locally known as “Restaurant Row.” We were by the shopping mall with all of the restaurants located on the two streets near our building. This really isn’t significant, but on Fridays, since our management left earlier, Friday became our “lunch out” day. We would place a group order and someone would go pick it up for us. It was wonderful until the first Lent. Then, suddenly, it seemed everybody was Catholic. They don’t eat meat on Fridays during Lent. (And there was Boo-Boo, who didn’t eat meat at all on Fridays because he was an uber Catholic. Or an orthodox Catholic. What do you call the Catholics that reject Vatican II and go to Latin Mass? He was one of those. But he’s a whole other category.) And, since most of my co-workers were men, they didn’t eat vegetables, i.e. no salads. It took us two years to realize that Olive Garden served pasta without meat as an option, but I digress.
And, yes, I was the one who would get the big-ass roast beef on Fridays—the one you could smell throughout the building when you walked into the back door. God, those were good. And it was a staple of our staff’s diet, except during Lent. And I wonder why I have no friends. Again, I digress.
But this meeting with Fanta was different. I had only been to Chipotle once before—were there other non-meat options that I could eat? I mean, other than beans. This was my first Lenten season as a Lutheran, having converted just the summer before. The little they talked about Lent I didn’t get the impression that they observed Lent the way the Catholics did. No one mentioned giving anything up for Lent. I didn’t get it—Lent or Lutheranism--but it was a glimmer of hope for me. If they didn’t give up anything for Lent, maybe they didn’t observe the meatless part either. After all, great-grandma died before Vatican II—maybe things have changed?
I can only hope. I did the only thing I could think of—I e-mailed my pastor.
Message line: “Emergency question”.
I could just imagine the expression on his face when he received this. He would say half aloud “emergency question?”, heave a sigh, and, seeing it was a question from me, physically brace himself, planting both feet firmly on the ground. I know this because I saw this reaction all last summer when we were studying Luther’s Small Catechism during the classes I took before converting to Lutheranism. Granted, I was the only one asking questions in this class, but mostly because I wanted to understand what they were doing.
I thought I was imagining it, the physical bracing, but I wasn’t. I know this because months later I asked him a question while he was standing up and he physically braced himself before agreeing to listen to my query.
This incident also reminds me of my freshman year of college and the mandatory Theology 5 course every student was required to take. The university Is Lutheran affiliated, so religion is important. The title of the course was “Introduction to Christianity”.
It is more properly called “History of Christianity according to Martin Luther,” but I didn’t know it at the time. I found this out the hard way. When we got to the second unit of the semester, it was about the Bible. So, for fun, our professor (who was a Lutheran minister) suggested we recite the books of the Old Testament as a class.
He skipped Leviticus.
The class was dutifully, if not dully, reciting the books. We got to about Ruth in the list and I realized I was the only one speaking. The professor was looking at me, a little astonished that I was the only one in the class able to do this simple task.
Now, I learned the books of the Bible when I was about 9. I was going to a Baptist church (we weren’t Baptist, but they had a bus service and it got me out of the house and my mother didn’t have to do anything, so it was a win-win for her). We were told that we would win a prize if we could recite all the books of the Bible (Old and New Testament). I finally got them down and got up to recite the 66 of them. The prize was a pen. It had an orange plastic cover. I was disappointed—a prize means something “good”. I can get pens anywhere. Crap—I was jaded before I even hit double digits. This might explain some aspects of my life.
Anyway, we (and by we I mean me and the professor) got to the end of the Old Testament recitation of books and he was astonished and a little perturbed. He asked my classmates, “Didn’t you learn this in your confirmation classes?”
Many heads nodded solemnly, a few people a little perturbed that they were actually to know this trivia. I had no idea what he was talking about. What’s a confirmation class? I shook my head no.
He noticed the expression on my face and my response. “Where did you learn them?”
I shrugged my shoulders. “Sunday School?” It was more of a question than a statement. I mean, where else would people learn things about the Bible?
He sucked in his next breath. I wasn’t sure what was wrong, but I knew the jig was up. They had been infiltrated by a non-Lutheran. Shit, what do we do now??
He mumbled some sort of disclaimer in the form of an apology. I tried to be extra attentive during the class, hoping he would forget that I was an outsider. As we went on, that’s when I discovered the class, “Introduction to Christianity” really was more of an “Introduction to Christianity as decreed by Martin Luther.” The time came when I had a question because I had no friggin’ clue what he was talking about.
He called on me, but gave a disclaimer before he answered: “This is what Lutherans believe.”
“That’s fine,” I replied. “I just need you to explain that again because I don’t understand it.”
He did explain, I still didn’t get it. He tried again, I still didn’t get it. After the third time, I just smiled and nodded that I understood, but we both knew I didn’t. I don’t even remember what it was. I didn’t understand it, or them Lutherans. And now, 20 years later, I have become one of them.