Skip to content

Not today, thank you (or how to handle god-botherers)

I really enjoy going to senior living communities with my ‘British Woman’ programs. I meet a lot of new people and love chatting with them . But at an assisted living event last week I was ambushed. Okay, soft-ambushed. By a lovely woman who is always incredibly friendly, curious about the topics, and about me. We were nattering about nothing in particular when she said “Can I ask you a personal question”? It didn’t set off any alarm bells. I thought maybe she wanted to know how old I was, or who cut my hair, or how I met Erik.
“Absolutely”, I said.
“Have you accepted jesus christ as your lord and savior?”, she asks.
Oh bloody hellfire, not this.
What do I say?
Come on brain, what have you got?
Give me something. Anything. Hello? Hello?
. . .
I moved to London when I was 19. I was horribly naive. No, not horribly. Kindly naive. I was the ‘after you’ type, I’d let people push onto the tube before me, I’d say thank you to the driver when getting off the bus, and I’d try and help out anyone asking for help, even if it was a scam, which it often was. I’d make too much eye contact and smile at the “be lucky, darling” roma ladies as they thrust a sprig of lavender in my hands and demanded payment. So it was inevitable that I’d get targeted by the London god-botherers. First time it happened I was on the bus on my way home to Willesden. A woman got on and sat down next to me. I stared out the window. “Excuse me”, she said. Back then, in the pre-mobile phones day, it was common to be asked the time or if the bus was stopping at a particular place. As I turned to answer, she said “have you accepted jesus christ into your heart”? And she was holding a printed card or maybe it was a pamphlet. I was pissed off. I could feel the smug schadenfreude of everyone seated close by, thrilled that it was me and not them being caught out. I was trapped. Too far from home to ding the bell to get off early. But too polite to tell her to eff off. So I half-mumbled an awkward ‘no thanks’ and went back to staring intently at shoppers battling umbrellas and rain along Oxford Street.

Did my ‘no thanks’ make any sense in this context? Of course not but it came from years of hearing my mum’s standard response to any door to door salesman or pusher of non-church of england doctrine: Every week the Betterware man would come round flogging cleaning products. And a few times a month we’d get the Moonies from the Unification Church who always came in two’s. ‘Not today, thank you”, my mum would say, closing the front door and sending them off before they’d had a chance to extoll the virtues of J-cloths or brainwashing.

But it’s easy to do that when there’s a door between you. You can’t say ‘not today, thank you’ when the person’s sitting right next to you, or worse, standing in front of you waiting for a response. I had those same feelings of embarrassment and irritation at being caught off guard. I thought my senses were a bit better attuned to the god-bothering types. But usually over here it’s a bit more overt and often involves people waving buckets and laminated cards in your eyeline while you wait in your car at the traffic lights and mouth words in an exaggerated fashion to pretend that you’re talking to someone on the phone.

But this woman was someone I would see again. I couldn’t be rude. My brain skimmed through the possible responses. I could lie and say yes, I had indeed RSVP’d to the JC. Okay no I couldn’t do that. What if she then asked me my favorite bit of the bible? Could I tell her it’s the part when Chicken Licken believes the sky is falling? I also couldn’t go with ‘not today, thank you‘ because you give this lot an inch and they’ll be back on your doorstep tomorrow saying ‘well how about now’? Instead I mumbled out a heap of words that under different circumstances could have made a coherent sentence, but didn’t. Something about how I used to, but don’t now, how I was inculcated into the CofE as a child but grew away from it, etc, etc. (I didn’t say inculcated, because I couldn’t think of the word at the time, so I went with indoctrinated, which suggests that Sunday School in Lenham Village Hall was a bit more Oranges are Not the Only Fruit than it really was).

What I could have said is that I’m an atheist and left it at that. But I was too chicken licken to say it and to see her disappointment in me. But in truth I’m not even really an atheist, I mean I’m a little bit atheisty, a little bit agnosticy. I don’t like either as a defining label. Just as with my medical records as an adopted person, I’m more of an N/A when it comes to organized religion.

I do sort of like the idea of there being someone who’s willing to listen and takes an interest in me. But a therapist requires less long-term commitment. And the whole ‘your wish is my command’ thing is quite appealing. Or maybe I’m confusing jesus with the genie? I’ve definitely got a few sins that I wouldn’t mind being taken away, but as the saying goes, there’s no such thing as a free lunch. Or Supper.. But I don’t need to believe in some future life beyond in order to be happy in this one.

I don’t understand this need for something more. I think I’m fine with it all just ending with a nice long rest, especially as I haven’t been sleeping all that well recently. Do you need an eternal life if you’ve lived a good one here? Isn’t it more important to pack everything in while you’re still around? Why not do all the kind deeds now, help other people now? Knacker yourself out and leave nothing on the stage except the spike tape.

The resident at the AL community just smiled at my rambling rejection and told me she’d been touched by jesus when she was 12. Just about the time most of us were learning to touch ourselves, I thought but thankfully didn’t say. I wonder whether she’ll bring it up again next time I’m there. Maybe I’ll be brave enough to tell her that I’m happy to just be an N slash A. Not Atheist. Not Agnostic. Not Anything definable. Just me.

3 thoughts on “Not today, thank you (or how to handle god-botherers)”

  1. What I like best about your doing your best to walk the fine line with your friend is that you are the kind of person who is going to try to be honest without being hurtful. Well done!

  2. Karen Bartholomew

    Classic!!! Love it!!! Some corker thoughts and moments. (Translation – ‘corker’ – meaning v funny).

  3. Thanks Marla, honestly I just hope she never mentions it again, even though she knows that I know that she knows, etc, etc!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *