Buffalo, NY—The promising relationship between lapsed Catholic, Brandon McDermott and Lutheran, Katie Robinson abruptly came to an end due to inter-denominational differences. Before meeting Robinson, McDermott, a thirty year old medical device salesmen, hadn’t attended religious services since being confirmed in high school, but still retained Roman Catholic values. Twenty-nine year old Robinson, a 6th grade teacher in the Buffalo school system is an active member of the progressive Grace Lutheran Church.
Though McDermott found Robinson’s belief in god to be “charmingly naive,” he did admire the positive energy it seemed to provide her and how it informed many of her selfless actions. “This really isn’t about her,” McDermott said. “She’s a great girl and the psychotic god figure she believes in, who both loves you and will condemn you to fiery depths of hell for not kissing his ass properly, wasn’t the problem. It was the people at church, they were too nice. At first I thought they were just being polite, ya know, welcoming the new guy, but they were genuinely nice and interested in me as a person and it made me very uncomfortable.”
Raised in the Roman Catholic tradition McDermott was more accustomed to an austere, disciplined approach to devotion where individuals were held accountable for their actions. Explaining a missed business opportunity at Sunday morning brunch to fellow parishioner John Wilkerson, because he failed to update a price and a competitor undercut him, McDermott was confused by Wilkerson’s response. “I tell this Wilkerson guy how I messed up a sale and he looks at me with these eyes full of kindness and says, ‘Ah, too bad, I’m sure you’ll be better prepared next time.’ “I mean, what kind of bullshit is that? I lost a big sale and commission and it was totally my fault. What am I supposed to do with this, ‘you’ll be better prepared next time,’ stuff? I need somebody to tell me I’m a dumb ass and that I suck. I need someone to feed my self-loathing, not tell me I’ll do better next time. That’s such bullshit”
As hard and confusing as Wilkerson’s response was, the deal breaker for McDermott came during the portion of Sunday service where you provide a peace offering to fellow parishioners with a handshake. In the Roman Catholic church this commonly is a brief transaction just prior to holy communion. “As a kid I always got anxious just before the peace offering and tried to resist eye contact, especially if it was an adult. In the end though, as our hands touched, I usually couldn’t help myself and would look up and see the unfriendly sneer of my fellow parishioner. At first it was scary, but over time it became quite normal and served as a great reminder of my position in life as a lowly sinner, unworthy of the breath I drew, ” McDermott said with a far away look.
The peace offering at Grace Lutheran was far less transactional. Parishioners were encouraged to exit their pews and have a real social interaction with each other while offering peace. It was this practice, which usually delayed the service by 10-15 minutes, that led McDermott to end the relationship with Robinson. “I couldn’t take it,” said McDermott. “All these people laughing, smiling, drunk with fellowship, wishing each other peace. And, so not full of judgment. There was also this kid, maybe 8 or 9 years old who was making it his business to shake every hand in that goddamn church. He was so sincere and earnest and full of love, I thought I was going to be sick. He wasn’t going to get me, though. I kept moving, trying to avoid him, but he finally cornered me and with an angelic voice he raised his little hand and said, Peace. Reluctantly, I took took hold of the young man’s hand and there was a great cheer of approval throughout the church. “
Feeling lightheaded McDermott stumbled outside, took some deep breaths and regained his equilibrium. Then, looking up and realizing the church roof was covered with solar panels, he said to himself, “Christ, solar panels. Catholic churches are powered by the bones of useless dead sinners.”
Later, over coffee, McDermott ended the relationship with Robinson.
Ms. Robinson is said to be doing well and receiving support from fellow Grace parishioners.