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My avatar finds it impossible to stay neutral. Bless her, she's got a strong point of view.

I know a woman by the name of Faith who is cheerful and optimistic. She attributes her temperament to her faith and her voice; she sings in church every Sunday. We knew each other briefly, then fell out of touch. Did I have faith in the longevity of our friendship? I did, at first. Is this narrative true or false? How does she tell the story? What is her point of view of our fleeting friendship? Her perception? Probably quite different, undoubtedly so, I’d say. That is because there is no fixed rendering of any event or relationship or history; there is only uncertainty and flux and evolution and devolution, or all of the above, simultaneously. I know this absolutely. I’m an absolutist on the question of faith; I don’t have any. When I open the bible all I see is early 17th century poetic prose or poetry itself. It is not the Holy Bible to me, it’s just the King James Bible, a book. Stories, characters, setting, omniscient point of view. It’s the omniscience in some biblical tales that’s troubling for me. This book is the word of whom, exactly?

This was a question I asked twins Cassandra and Stephanie, both recent graduates of SUNY New Paltz. It was a warm day and I was about to walk on the rail trail. There they were, perched on a couple of stools, clothed top to bottom in long cotton dresses and collars tightly pinned, their long hair bunched and bunned at the neck. Though they looked Amish or Hasidic, their wobbly cardboard sign identified them as Jehovah’s Witnesses. The world is in a state of suffering, they told me, and only the Lord knows what to do about it. They offered pamphlets and a long, tiresome rap. But because they were young, I stayed to talk. I wanted to know if they had boyfriends, how they supported themselves and whether they voted, or not (they don’t), or how they made it through four years on a free-wheeling college campus. Just yesterday, I told them, a woman cyclist, naked from the waist up, circled around and past me. What did they think of that?, I asked. “Original sin,” one of the sisters whispered. “I couldn’t agree less,” I said.

They referred me to an official website. Did I know---seeing as I am apparently without religion, progressive, and believe that knowledge and faith are mutually exclusive—that Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t bear arms, that they are conscientious objectors? That they remained neutral during World War II? “Silence is complicity,” I said after a moment of silence for my murdered family.

And so our conversation continued in that spirit. Civil and respectful throughout, thankfully. I do think we were searching for common ground and were sad, in a way, not to have found it. I liked these two young women—they were still unformed from my professorial perspective—except for their intransigent beliefs. Those were fully formed, intractable, based on the words written in the Bible.

Then, just about a week later, I met two more Jehovah’s Witnesses on Main Street in front of Starbucks. Same signs, same literature—if one can call it that—same admonition to “wake up,” two different women one Asian-American, the other African-American. The sidewalk was narrow and they were blocking my path. From their point of view, the semiotics were obvious: if you block the path, the person has to stop and talk, right?

First things first, I asked if they’d like an ice cream (they didn’t) and then if they were students or recent graduates (they weren’t) and, finally, I informed them that by standing on this particular corner, they were integrating the town. It’s a very white town, did you know that?, I asked them. They didn’t and looked a bit alarmed. “I didn’t mean to alarm you,” I said. “It’s a safe town.” Then I interviewed them, so to speak, which they found amusing. But they were restless. I wasn’t their target audience, and when they finished with their complicated back stories, I said goodbye and went to get my ice cream.

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