“Sorry? What do you mean?” Sam responded.
“Why must you bring Jesus into everything? Why can’t things be just what they are . . . without any Jesus, just as you find them?” James said.
James’ starched white collar dug into the sunburned skin of his neck. He was shaved immaculately. His tie was knotted in a perfect Windsor.
“Why did you come to church today?” Sam asked.
“You wish to question me now, is that it?”
“I am trying to answer your question,” Sam said. “Truly.”
“My family has been members here for three generations. We began here in the early 1900s, when this was a little country church.”
“I see,” Sam said.
“It’s who we are. Tradition. My family. You’re just blind to our way.”
“Why do you do that? You didn’t answer my question.” James’ voice grew louder.
Sam watched muscles in James’ neck create spurs of taut skin that ran down from below red earlobes and disappeared behind the Windsor knot.
“Today is what many people call Easter, is that right?” Sam asked.
“Yes, of course,” James said, “but I don’t see what that has to do with anything.”
“What is it that Christians are remembering and celebrating?” Sam asked.
“Do you believe that?” Sam asked.
“Believe what … that Christians remember and celebrate that, or that the resurrection occurred?”
“Both are important. But the second issue is the main one,” Sam responded.
“Well, we’ve been coming on Easter for years, Sam. My family is rooted here.”
“I understand. But did the resurrection of Jesus occur?” Sam repeated.
“Look, Jesus was a good man. No doubt about that. He taught compassion, called out hypocrisy, and healed people of illnesses. He was a miracle worker, even. But to say that he came alive again after he died …”
“Why do you say Jesus was a good man, James?” Sam asked.
“Who can doubt that, Sam? He showed compassion to women. He preached about forgiveness. He called out Pharisees. And when the government officials and Jews came for him, he didn’t resist. He was good unlike anyone else. I cannot believe you would even ask that.”
“I agree. Jesus did all those things. But would a man who did all those good things be worthy of worship if he only died but did not physically resurrect?” Sam asked.
“Well, sure. That’s why we’re here, right? To worship, to say we follow his teachings.”
“That’s not why I’m here, James.” Sam said.
“Ah, so you don’t believe the resurrection either?”
“No, I believe the resurrection completely. If I didn’t I would not follow Jesus at all,” Sam said.
“But what about all the good stuff he did? What about his precepts? What about his telling us to love our neighbors?”
“Why would I love my neighbors, if Jesus didn’t resurrect? I don’t even like a lot of my neighbors. In fact, my closest neighbor, I’m pretty sure, is cheating on his wife,” Sam retorted. “I’m pretty sure I don’t love him. I think, quite honestly, he’s kind of a creep.” Sam said.
“I don’t know about you, Sam. I thought you were going to lecture me. But now it seems like you’re kind of hardhearted. Don’t you believe Jesus?”
“I do. I believe him completely. That’s where I think you and I differ. I believe I should love my neighbor who is cheating on his wife. And I believe I should love you, too, even when we disagree completely about the resurrection. And I believe that I should love my neighbor, you, and Jesus because of the resurrection,” Sam said. “If Jesus is still buried in Jerusalem, my options are about as meaningful as preferences of ice cream flavors,” Sam said.
“You believe it, then?” James asked. His eyes bore into Sam like nails.
“I do. But I believe it because it happened,” Sam said. “I have to deal with it. Otherwise, I’m a coward.”
James stood motionless. His earlobes were red and swollen above his shirt collar. Sam watched him as he tweaked his perfect Windsor knot.
“I’m going to join my family now, Sam.”
“Of course,” Sam said.
“Yes?” James said, looking up.
“That’s why,” Sam said.
“That’s why what?”
“That’s why I must bring Jesus into everything,” Sam said. “Because he changes everything.”
James was already walking back to the foyer. He crossed it and entered the men’s room. He walked to the sink, lathered his hands with lemon-scented liquid soap, rinsed, and pulled three brown folded towels from the white dispenser mounted on the white wall. He readjusted his tie, shaping the knot into a perfectly symmetrical inverted triangle. He pulled the short end of his tie again for a tighter knot, and pushed his chin upward in front of the mirror to check for any hairs he could have missed on his neckline, but none showed. He appeared perfect and clean. He walked into the foyer again, careful to avoid Sam. Finding his family seated where they’d been for generations, he took his place.