Monday, August 1, 2011

Buffalo Burgers, Believers, and Bibles: The Hump attends a Xtian BBQ

I love buffalo. I eat it at least once a week. I buy it from an elderly gentleman in the next town who has a few hundred acres of property that has been in his family since the 1800s. He taps maple trees for syrup and maple candy, and keeps about fifty head of buffalo.

On my last shopping visit to his place I was informally invited to a barbeque the following Saturday from 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Not one to pass up a free buffalo burger I was in. As I was leaving with my six pounds of buffalo burger patties he admonished me to get there early “The benediction will be given by a State Police Trooper at 11:00, you won’t want to miss that.”


I know the old fellow is a believer and active in his church. He knows I’m an atheist. He knows that I know that the place will likely be overrun by his fellow church goers. I know that he knows that I know that this is not a problem for me as am not about to let a flock of superstitionalists spoil my appetite for free buffalo burger.

Mrs. Hump and I arrived right on time last Saturday ... 12 noon ... expecting to have safely dodged the Trooper’s prayer and the associated baaing of the sheep. No such luck. Evidently things got off to a slow start (or did he hold up the religious mumbo jumbo in anticipation of my heathen arrival?). As we came up the private road we could see the Trooper, in full uniform, with a microphone before the assembled bible bangers all with heads down, and hands folded in prayer.

Since their attention was occupied and eyes diverted I was able to quietly slip the Pathfinder in behind the Trooper’s cruiser on the side of the road unnoticed. And there we waited - inconspicuously, windows up, AC on - for the ritual to subside. I had hoped to see some hand-waving, or flopping around in the dirt or talking in tongues. But no, this is NH. Our religiously afflicted are classier than that. About all that stood out and seemed to separate them from “normal” non-church going folk was the glazed look on their faces and a submissive demeanor about them that testified to ... I don’t know what ... perhaps the fatalism that comes from turning responsiblity for your life over to an imaginary friend. Or maybe an attrophied mind.

In short order it was over. I was musing over whether the Trooper was holding a prayer meeting while on duty, my tax dollars supporting his religious moonlighting when Mrs. Hump poked me and we unassed the vehicle. She had brought some cake and added to the abundant food buffet. After congratulating our host on his 80th birthday we wandered over to the only other people we knew, a husband and wife pastor couple from our town. The husband is a pastor of a United Church of Christ and is a pretty normal guy. The UCC in New England is about as close to being agnostic as a Christian church can be. I call it the “the religionist’s waiting room pending acceptance of reason.” We exchanged niceties, talked about the effect the failed May 21st rapture prophesy had on my business and book sales; then the scent of charcoal broiled buffalo grabbed my senses and I drifted off to the food line.

I noticed there was a donation box for the church at the head of the line, along with a guest sign in book to wish our host a happy 80th. A skinny guy with the even skinner wife in front of me dropped in a $20. Dilemma ... do I really need to support a church, or is this expected as part of the feeding? Figuring my contribution wouldn’t affect the state of religious affairs of the universe too dramatically, I reached for my wallet. A $20, two $10s, and three singles were my complete bankroll. I did a quick calculation buffalo burger = $7.50 lb at retail. One burger = ¼ lb. Two burgers = ½ lb = $3.75.

I figured the cake we brought more than off set the value of the coleslaw, baked beans, and potato salad we’d glom up. And my host didn’t pay retail for his own burgers. I gingerly placed the three singles into the box, deftly covering them with the Skinny Guy’s $20.

“I know Elmer from church, I play the organ there.” Skinny Guy volunteered. “I know Elmer from his buffalo burgers; I buy a lot of them.” I countered. As I reached for the paper plate, plastic fork, and napkins I saw him eyeing me suspiciously (or so I thought, maybe it was just my imagination). “I’ve never seen you at church. Which church do you attend?”

I could feel the synapses in my brain firing at warp speed. Immediately all manner of potential responses filled my head. “None, you religious sheep.” was one. “Do I look like one of your Children of the Corn?” was another. “They don’t let the Anti-Christ sing in the choir.” was on the tip of my tongue. But I suppressed them all. “I don’t attend any church.” was the simplest and least offensive reply figuring that would end that. I was wrong.

“We’d be happy to have you in our congregation.” he smiled. I smiled back: “Well, actually I’m an atheist and anti-theist, so I don’t think your fellow congregants would share your happiness.” Skinny Guy looked a little skinnier and paler than he did before he plopped that burger onto his bun. “Oh, uh, you’re him ... I mean ... you're the author and pet rescuer.” he fumbled for words. “That would be my claim to fame, yes... I’m him.” I said unabashedly, amazed that my reputation preceded me. Elmer must have let the beans out.

There was no further conversation between us as we moved through the feeding line. His wife looked a little shaky in the knees. I guess that’s what comes of imagining you’re attending a barbeque with Satan’s minion and being so skinny. My wife looked a little perturbed with me; clearly she was not as happy with my selected response as was I, feeling it could have been more subtle. I don’t do subtle.

We didn’t stay too long. After eating we walked around, looked at the baby buffalos grazing in the pasture, petted a couple of dwarf donkeys, and said hi to the host’s pet emu. We left as inconspicuously as we had arrived.

I don’t know if my invitation is owed to my being a good customer and acquaintance of the birthday boy, or my quasi-celebrity as the open atheist, or if I was a target of a weak proselytizing attempt. I do know that the burgers were great, the baked beans awesome. I hope Elmer holds another bash for his 90th. I’ll still be a buffalo burger aficionado...and the only atheist there.


Loren Scott said...

"Oh, umm... You're him..." Ha ha!! Love it. That story sounds eerily familiar to some of my own where I've let the Temptation of Food pull me into places I definitely did not fit in. And, in my case as well, I was never as reserved as I probably could have been in proclaiming my non-belief. My Christian ex-wife did not appreciate my honesty either. Oh, well... :)

Anonymous said...

"Oh, umm... You're him..."

As we are all painfully aware.

-Some asshole in Minnesota

helga said...

Oh Hump, hahaha! LOVED your story!! A question: How do you stay so polite? Last week, I attended a very dignified dinner with diplomats as guests and was seated next to a young muslim couple...I couldn't help telling them my favourite ramadan story, which was that many years ago, in a plush mountain village in Syria, I came across loads of 'pious' muslims hiding out and eating and drinking (alcohol) to their hearts' content during the day when they should have been fasting...Anyway, this couple were NOT amused, but who cares? Hypocrisy should be exposed whenever the opportunity arises..

Momma Moonbat said...

You're hungrier than I am. I get invited to church BBQs all the time. This is the south, after all. I turn 'em all down. I figure I can cook my own, probably cook better than they do, and don't have to entertain any attempts to save my soul in the process. I would have loved to have been a fly on the buffet when skinny dude said "Oh, umm...You're him..."

NewEnglandBob said...

Like Helga, I could not be so polite. I eat Bison weekly but it would take a lot more than a couple of burgers to entice me to attend that scenario. I would require a seven course meal with an open bar. ;)

Kris said...

Enjoyed the neat story Hump. Glad your doing well. Not sure I've ever had a buffalo burger. Sounds yummy.

David said...


For someone who lives in one of the least religious states in America, you seem to have no shortage of Xtians to deal with.

Dromedary Hump said...

Thanks for your comments all.

I sort of enjoy these kinds of informal interactions. There's a satisfaction in letting religionists meet a living breathing heathen on their turf and observing their reactions. Sort of the reverse of "dancing with the devil." I had a wonderful experience at a party that I wrote about in "Rants Again!" I wish these opportunities came up more frequently.

As long as nobody is trying to convince me that Noah's Ark or crreationism is real, or insisting that prayer be put back in school it's easy to keep ones cool in a relaxed social atmosphere.

While we are the least religious state, it certainly doesn't imply we have no religionists. They are still the vast majority. But they are typically less nutty than those in Southern states...we have our exceptions of course.

David said...

I live in the least religious city in Australia and I agree that there aren't many nutbag fundies around like there would be in the Bible Belt, but whether Xtians represent the majority is something I'm not sure about. In the last census, 24% of respondents indicated they followed no religion, but I suspect that when asked, many people will respond with the religion of their family history, even though they are not particularly religious themselves.

Whenever I decide to declare my atheism, the usual responses are "Oh, I'm a non practising Xtian / Catholic etc". I rarely hear "That's abominable and you're going to Hell." These are people who practise contraception, have sex regularly outside the confines of marriage, get divorced, haven't been to church since their parents took them as kids, and when asked, they say they're Catholic. This is what gives groups like the Australian Christian Lobby the inflated statistics they need to influence our government.

The rate of regular church attendance here is 7%. I think that statistic is more indicative of just how religious our population is.

T. Gilfoyle said...

I like you depiction of the UCC. As an exiled Catholic I went to an introductory meeting with my wife, and someone said "I was Baptist, and I knew what Baptists believe. What do YOU believe?"

The minister thought and said, "I;m not sure enough to tell you what to believe."

I stayed a while.