That’s what the Geek Squad guy at Best Buy told me this morning, anyway.

I was at the counter with Martin’s laptop, hoping that his difficulty connecting to our wireless network might have an easy (read cheap) fix. I had a fighting chance, I thought, since the woman behind the counter and I go to the same church and I trusted her to give me it to me straight. A guy in his early 20s stopped and looking over my friend’s shoulder as I described the problem.

Here’s how she introduced us…

“This is Joan–she and I go to church together.” I smiled and reached out to shake his hand.

“And this is John (not his real name), he’s an atheist.”

This may have been the first time in my life I had ever been introduced in this way. It was a little strange and totally random but, since I had spent more of my life as an atheist than I have as a churchgoer, her outting John as an atheist didn’t phase me a bit.

“I was an atheist for many years,” I told him, hoping that a little small talk to take the edge off of the otherwise awkward exchange. I expected him to respond with an equally random bit of nothing and be on his way, but instead he said matter of factly, “Then you weren’t really an atheist.”

Have you ever had one of those moments that you were completely surprised by your own response to something? This was one of those moments for me. I wasn’t really an atheist? I thought. What do you mean I wasn’t really an atheist. Before I knew it, I found myself defending my former atheism. “Actually, I was an atheist,” I told Geek Squad guy pleasantly, yet indignantly. I even provided him a dramatic and somewhat personal example of something I’d done when I was a kid that proved my former atheism which he promptly pooh-poohed.

If I go to church now, he told me calmly but emphatically, then I wasn’t a “real” atheist then.

He walked away and I got back to Martin’s computer, but I couldn’t stop thinking about this exchange. At first I focused on what I perceived to be his faulty logic. Of course I could be an atheist then and a theist (Christian) now, I thought.

But then I realized that his logic (or lack thereof) was not the most interesting or relevant part of our short conversation.

Why did I care whether or not Geek Squad guy believed that I had been an atheist in my 20s?

As I pondered (and continue to ponder) the question, one thing is clear to me. No matter how deep my desire to put relationships over being right or how many times I commit and recommit myself to pursuing dialog over debate, it is still incredibly easy for me to fall into a tit-for-tat over anything. And I mean anything.

No topic is too small or unimportant for me to fall into the trap of self-importance if I am not intentional about how I interact with the people around me.

Thanks for the reminder Geek Squad atheist-guy. I appreciate it.

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