Friday, March 25, 2011


What You Are I Was
(Part 1 of 9)

By Miriam Rosenberg Rocek

I was in my third year as a graduate student at the University of Chicago Divinity School when I became the Elder of the Temple of the Childless. The job paid fairly well, at least compared to bussing tables or tutoring high-schoolers about to take the SATs, which was about all that part of a Ph.D. in philosophy really qualified me for. The handwritten flyer on the coffee shop corkboard from which I had learned of the job opening said only “Worshipper sought for paid clergy position. Prior experience helpful, but not required. No atheists need apply.” I was almost sure I wasn’t an atheist. I noticed the flyer while my girlfriend, Lisa and I were checking to see if there were any good concerts that weekend, though I knew already that I would feel guilty going out at all considering how little work on my dissertation I’d done that week. Lisa didn’t notice the flyer, and I didn’t mention it, but while she was trying to remember if the Afro-beat band playing that Saturday at a local bar was the same one we had both liked so much a few months ago, I read the job offer, and tore off one of the neat strips of paper from the bottom of the page, each of which was printed, by hand, with a telephone number. I called the number later that afternoon when I had lost all interest in the chapter I was supposed to be writing on the paradoxes of faith healing. A week later, I began the job, and several months later, I still could not have satisfactorily explained it to anyone.

My Predecessor explained the basics of the job over the phone, and seemed excited when I told him about my philosophical and religious qualifications. He didn’t bother to ask me what my own personal beliefs were, which was just as well. Lisa liked saying that my religion was the worship of the goddess Academia, and that was true, in a way, and that depressed me more than I liked to admit, though I knew she meant it as a joke. She’d come to the whole academic study of religion as a way of better understanding what she’d told me early on were her own deeply-felt beliefs, which was all very well for her, but she couldn’t quite see how someone could come to it looking for something to believe in. I told her I wasn’t looking for something to believe in, just checking to see if there was anything there. She told me that was the same thing, and she was probably right, but admitting to being wrong is a cardinal sin in the worship of the goddess Academia.

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I am a graduate of Northwestern University with a BA in creative writing. Since college I have worked as a nanny, and as a tall ship sailor, helping to sail old-fashioned, traditionally rigged sailing ships from the Caribbean to Nova Scotia. I was born in New Mexico, raised in Delaware, and currently live in New York City.


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