The bus was sort of crowded, but there were some horizontal seats left in the front. I took a seat to my right.
Across from me was a well-dressed older woman -- I'm guessing early sixties. Her hair was black, as were the rims to her glasses. She was wearing a light-colored business suit. She was carrying a Bible. She smiled at me.
"Kind of miserable out there, isn't it?" she said.
"I won't argue with that," I replied, taking my sunglasses off and putting them in my shirt pocket.
She looked at me for a few seconds, still smiling. I smiled back.
"I want to ask you something, sir. May I?"
"Sure," I said.
"Have you been saved?"
"Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your personal savior?"
I was a little taken aback but, to be honest, this isn't the first time I've been asked the question.
"No," I replied.
She gave me a sad look, shaking her head. Then her smile reappeared.
"May I talk to you for a while about Jesus Christ?"
"No, thanks," I answered back. "I don't want to talk about religion."
The woman then moved over to the seat next to me. She opened her Bible to where a bookmark was and proceeded to quote scripture to me.
Angry, I looked to the back of the bus to see if there were any seats open. I eyeballed one and quickly bolted to it.
I sat down next to a guy who was reading a newspaper.
Thank God he wasn't reading a Bible.
As I said earlier, this isn't the first time I've been asked this question, but it's been a while since someone tried to force their religious beliefs on me or try to get me to convert to the Jesus fan club. Please. I don't want to be a member.
Don't misunderstand me. I'm not a bad person. I try to live my life by treating other people the way I want to be treated.
I believe in kindness and generosity and helping my fellow man. I believe there might be a force out there guiding me. I don't think I'm smart enough to know what it is, but I'm pretty sure it's not Jesus Christ.
I think The Bible is an interesting book of stories. But that's all it is: stories. I can't base and live my life by it.
If some of you want to, that's fine with me -- but don't shove it down my throat. Don't tell me I'm "lost" because I'm not "saved" and that I'm going to Hell and will be greeted by the devil with his long red tail. I don't buy it.
Organized religion? Spare me.
For example, I have no desire to be a Catholic. I don't need to go to confession to confess my sins, because I try to live my life honestly each day. I don't need to eat a wafer and drink some wine on Sunday mornings to show my faith in the Holy Father, because I try to celebrate life each day and not just on Sunday.
Forget the other "clubs" too: Baptist, Lutheran, Pentecostal and the rest. In my view, organized religion is the reason for more killings in this country than anything else. It also spreads hatred throughout the world.
Take a look at the late Jerry Falwell, for instance. Types like him make me sick to my stomach.
Here's a so-called reverend who preached hate against gays all behind the word "religion." He thought gays deserved to get AIDS and deserved to die because of the lifestyle they were living.
I wonder if Falwell would have said "praise Jesus" when my twin brother -- a gay man, a person who loved life and who was the most giving person I've ever known -- died of AIDS in 1994. Was his goodness and kindness all for naught simply because he was gay? That's a crock of shit.
I could carry on my tirade against organized religion and bring up Pat Robertson, but I think you get my point.
As the bus approached my stop, I pulled the chain to get off. I looked at the woman with The Bible still seated in the front. She was looking at me with that same sad look on her face. I shook my head and laughed.
When I got off the bus, I walked by it and waved at the woman. I think if I ever see her again and she approaches me about being saved, I'll whip out this column.
Next time, it will be my turn to try to save her.
CONTACT LARRY GROSS: firstname.lastname@example.org. Living Out Loud runs every week at citybeat.com and the second and fourth issues of each month in the paper.