I had a writer friend named Lenore, which was, coincidentally, the same name as my wife’s. Both Lenores are gone now, my wife after three years of yearning courtship and 61 of marriage.
The writer, Lenore Carroll, delighted in religion, the stately rituals of her lifelong Roman Catholicism and — strangely enough — the mystical Sufism in which Muslims seek divine knowledge through a religious dance called the sema. Like other Kansas City Sufis, Lenore became a whirling dervish, danced at Sufi summer camps and loved it.
My two Lenores, plus the contrast between them, make me quite sure that the U.S. has never stopped being great — great particularly because the writer could so passionately embrace two religions, as we all can if we wish. Here is how America guarantees us that right:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof … This clause of the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment was reinforced in 1868 by the Fourteenth, which requires not just Congress but also states to offer all Americans full protection of the federal Bill of Rights.
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This does much to explain why the U.S. has been spared the religious wars that wracked Europe after the Emperor Constantine in AD 381 adopted Christianity as Rome’s state religion. They fought mostly over which religion would control the state, or vice versa.
Those amendments freed us from state-imposed religion and made possible a flowering.
In Greater Kansas City we have countless Christian churches, including two of the ancient Coptic Orthodox faith. We have 15 Jewish synagogues, three Islamic mosques, the Shining Heart Sufi community, two Buddhist Centers plus the beautiful Hindu Temple and Cultural Center not four miles from my home.
Which brings me to that contrast I spoke of: I would wish my writer friend Lenore the best heaven Catholicism and Sufism can offer. But far from matching the writer, and friends though they were, my own wife Lenore was a lifelong skeptic.
Surely, it wasn’t her childhood experience of catching a splinter in her rear as she slid down the stair bannister in a Tulsa Methodist church. More likely, she was driven to skepticism by an on-fire-for-the-Lord minister at a Methodist summer camp, who pressured her to be saved.
She lied about that stair bannister, by the way, telling her parents she got the splinter falling down on the church’s oaken floor. If she ever lied to me, I don’t recall it.
Lacking religion, she was strong on integrity and full of good works, a skilled structural engineer and, for 20 retirement years, a Court Appointed Special Advocates volunteer, shepherding distressed children through foster care.
I was a youth in an Oklahoma Southern Baptist church when I came to love Jesus, the canny preacher who confronted a mob bent on murdering the woman taken in adultery.
“Let him who is without sin cast the first stone,” Jesus said, and saved her life. (John 8:7)
I still love that human Jesus, the one who died on the cross. But I’ve come around to Lenore’s feeling about the supernatural.
Not long ago she wrote an email to the Chicago couple who are our best friends, speaking of “our lives here in paradise,” meaning only the earthly one she and I were still enjoying.
“Now we are left with our lives and like you worry about it,” she added. “We are obviously still in denial ... have tickets to seven plays for the season plus four operas. ... We will keep going with the magical realism until the real realism knocks us down.”
Nineteen days later on Oct. 6, 2017, she met that real realism in the belief that our earthly paradise was over and expecting no heavenly one.
What husband wouldn’t yearn again to unite in heaven with such a wife? I do. But, like my Lenore, I am satisfied that the paradise we lived together in Shawnee is the only one we will ever know.