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God and Taco Bell

by Austin Thomas

If you ever want to feel really good about yourself, go spend $100 at Taco Bell. It is magic. The people working behind the counter go bonkers. I am not joking. They will do things that fast-food employees never do, at least in my neighborhood. They will call you sir, and give you free drinks — as many as you want! When they address you they will lower their eyes to the floor like they are approaching a king. True story! If you are observant, you will catch the burrito-wrappers stealing glances at you and whispering about you with their taco-making friends. I have tested this theory, too. It works everywhere I’ve done it: Jack in the Box, multiple Taco Bells. It works so well that I have considered doing it for therapy — medicine for heartache or low-self esteem. I only did that once though; the bums who got the tacos loved me more than the taco bell employees. All the other times were for the high school kids I work with. Promise.

For a while, I figured that this is how my “relationship” with god was supposed to work. Every once and a while he would make these grand appearances in my life, at which point the proper response was to stop everything I was doing and sit in awe of his glory and majesty. To whisper about him with my friends. And then, once he left, there I’d go back to making tacos and re-filling the hot sauce tub until he graced me with his presence once again. I think this explains why I have always found god hard to like or believe in when I am honest with myself.

Here is the truth about the deep love I share with my local Taco Bell manager and his employees: it is shallow. Completely manufactured. The second I go back to spending $3.00 on a value meal instead of $100 on 75 tacos, it will all disappear. No more free drinks. No more hushed excitement when I walk in. I will be forgotten. Eventually, even my $100 will loose its magic. I will have to spend $200 to get the same effect $100 used to buy me. Because of this, my relationship with Taco Bell is not sustainable. It is 100% reliant on mutual benefit and once either of us stop benefiting, it will end.

When I think of god as my sugar daddy, I really appreciate him. I even love him or, at least, what he gives me. But I don’t like him. There’s no affection. And that is when he is holding up his end of the bargain! Once the blessings and majestic appearances stop, I get angry. I feel entitled to more than I am getting and I get pissed at god for not giving me the attention I deserve. It is easy to see that this relationship is no more meaningful or sustainable than the one between me and shift manager Karl. Yet I harbor deep resentment when the relationship is shown to be what it really is, which is bad because it is hard to be happy or even nice when you are harboring resentment.

This is why I have stopping praying lately. I have stopped asking god for things and even stopped telling him thank you. I have stopped trying to make myself love the creator of the universe like I love my girlfriend. I have quit trying to make god my friend. Instead, I have been trying to notice god. I sit at my kitchen table some mornings, drink coffee, and listen. I write. I try go out of my way to act defiantly toward the world of material things and selfishness, mostly in tiny ways because that is all I can manage. I am not disciplined enough to do this constantly, or even well. But I have been trying, and I have been seeing god more. I like him more, too. Now that I don’t expect him to show up in grand ways every couple months, I can catch glimpses of him in small ways every day. Which is nice. And something I want to be a part of.

Austin Thomas is a young man who works with teenagers in south central Los Angeles, CA, in an organization called Youth First. He rarely carries cash of any amount.

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