I shop by myself, a lone hunter in search of prey. I enter the jungle to buy a video camera, Consumer Reports in hand. I want the best product at the best price. I pretend to know what I am doing. I know nothing.

 

I begin to browse when all at once the enemy arrives, smiling, smelling his prey: May I help you help me by getting you to buy a more expensive camera than you need so that I can earn a bigger commission? Actually he only said, May I help you? I wave him off because I know he’s out to get me.

 

Ours is a culture of suspicion and we are none of us immune from its deadly effects.

 

We’ve gone from being citizens to consumers, neighbors to marks.

 

We figure the only way to survive is to keep people at arms length, make no commitments, take what we can get fast and get back inside the garage.

 

This carries over to churchgoing.

 

I see them in the pews: John and Jane Doe, with their children, Jack and Jill. God knows who they really are. They duck the ushers, act like they belong, dodge invitations to join in. They are there to browse, maybe to consume a tasty choral piece or feed on a meaty sermon. When they’ve had their fill, they beat it to the safety of the parking lot.

 

The Does are afraid to get too close. Maybe they’ll get taken in. It’ll cost them. The nursery will want them to take a turn. The youth will need sponsors for summer camp. The grass will need mowing or the piano playing or the budget raising. There’ll be no end to it. Before they know it, they’ll be too far gone, over-committed.

 

Jane’s mother is a devout Catholic and John’s grandfather was a hard-shell Baptist preacher. She can’t see herself getting immersed as an adult. What would mother say? He can’t see himself kneeling at Mass with the image in his head of Grandpa waving his Bible and carrying on about the Pope.

 

So they just attend and get what they think they need and move on. Joining is too messy.

 

But that’s like trying to make love with your clothes on. You go through the motions, but it never gets too intimate.

 

The camera salesman wore me down. I am now broke, but who cares? I got just the camera I wanted though I didn’t know it until I let him know me and show me. If I need any camera advice, I can call Dale, my personal camera guru, my new friend. He said I could. Any time.

 

You never know what might happen if you let your spiritual guard down.