June 10, 2011

The Gods We Worship

As an investment banker, I used to think I was pretty hot stuff.  In fact, I was so full of myself that when I read Tom Wolfe’s remarkable novel, Bonfire of the Vanities, the failings of the characters barely registered with me.  The main point I got out of the book was the notion that I was part of a special breed.  Investment bankers, I’d come to decide, were truly Masters of the Universe. 

Back then I had Asia Pacific responsibility and traveled a bit.  One day I was in transit between someplace I don’t recall and home, when I walked into the duty free shop in the Hong Kong airport with layover time on my hands.  Among the upscale items for sale there I noticed some beautiful Hermes ties that were in vogue among bankers at the time.  Thinking they would aid in portraying me as a successful professional, I purchased two without much additional consideration.  The Hermes brand, after all, had become a kind of badge, an indication of competence and a charmed life, which was how I desperately wanted people to think of me.

Later on the plane home, I was bothered by the purchase.  The price tag had been denominated in Hong Kong Dollars and I’d not paid complete attention to the cost in greenbacks.  When I did the calculation, however, I realized I’d just purchased two ties for $500.  I was sick over the transaction and it made me wonder how I’d become so concerned with personal image to be that careless.

A couple of nights later, I had a strange, but vivid, dream.  I was suddenly sitting in a large stadium (I’m pretty sure it was Candlestick Park) with an immense crowd of people.  I don’t know why I knew, but I could sense that we’d all recently died and had gathered to find out what would happen to us next.  As you might imagine, there was a feeling of great anticipation and excitement that the stadium could scarcely contain.  Suddenly an announcement came over the loudspeaker in the voice of a circus barker. 

“Now’s the time you’ve all been waiting for,” the voice said, “Behold!  God the Father and Jesus Christ!”

A cheer erupted and from across the field, a magnificent stretch limousine appeared and drove stately toward second base.  Once the vehicle stopped, a driver stepped out to open one of the back doors and two elegant couples emerged.  The women—dressed in formal attire and furs—were dripping with jewelry.  The men, whom I took to be Heavenly Father and Jesus, both wore full-length Alpaca coats and impeccably tailored suits.  They, too, were glittering with what kids today would call bling.  As the couples stepped out of the limo, they smiled and waved to the cheering crowd.

I remember being horrified with the image.  I kept thinking: This can’t be God.  This can’t be the Savior, who lived simply and eschewed privilege. 

I was so alarmed that I awoke in a sweat, just as if I’d had the most frightening of nightmares.  But as I emerged from sleep, the voice from the stadium loudspeaker spoke again.  This time the circus barker cadence was gone and the voice was quiet and serious. 

“No,” it whispered.  “This isn’t God, but it’s what you’ve come to worship.”

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