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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Most Likely to Become an Archdruid?

<u’ve been voted ‘Most Likely to Become a Religious Official,’” said the boy with the clipboard.

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” I responded, looking up from my high school lunch table. My friends—gamer guys, one and all—quit munching their bagels and talking about Call of Duty.

“No, no, see here,” said the boy, thrusting his clipboard in front of my nose. And there it was, clear as day, “Katie Koza: Most Likely to Become a Religious Official.” I was practically ordained.

“Sign below the dotted line if it’s okay that we put this in the yearbook,” he said, holding out a pen. So I did. A few days later, I smiled awkwardly for a photo while holding a copy of the Bible that he’d found in the school library.

I didn’t know what to make of this. Religion, and religious officials, have such different associations for different people that I didn’t know whether to be flattered or insulted.

On the one hand, there are the likes of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Dalai Lama who inspired millions through their vision and altruism. On the other hand, there are sketchy cult leaders, priests who molest children, and misguided ministers from the Westboro Baptist Church.

My father is a Lutheran pastor, and perhaps my friends voted for me believing that ministry runs in the blood. Ever since I was born, he has served as a chaplain at a nursing home in southern Wisconsin, and the residents there adore him. He does a lot of funerals and spends a great deal of time counseling the grieving. To me—and, admittedly, I’m a little biased—he represents the very best parts of what religion has to offer.

However, I sincerely doubt that the seminary is in my future. I went to church a bit when I first came to Carleton, but then TA study sessions and radio shows got in the way of my regular services. When I went back home and went to church with my family, all the rituals started looking strange. Why were we all chanting this prayer in unison? Why did we stand up, sing something, and then sit down again? Did anyone else find it strange that we were being asked to repeat some pretty radical claims without question?

I refused to give up on religion so easily, though. Just as it seemed dangerously simple to accept religion without question, so too did it seem dangerously simple to reject it without question. It was in the course of this struggle that I saw the poster for the 50th Reunion of the Reformed Druids of North America—a group that formed here at Carleton in 1963—hanging on a corkboard at Sayles. Maybe they would have some new ideas. In any case, it would be an adventure.

That weekend, I struck out at dusk into the Carleton Arboretum. I was headed for a hollow in the woods called Druid’s Den, which is conveniently located behind Goodhue Hall. I had my cell phone all cued up to call Carleton Security should anything jump out at me from the darkening trees. Through their lithe shapes, I saw a flickering firelight and moved toward it.

Around the fire stood people who looked exactly how I imagined druids wouldn’t. There were a couple of my political science buddies passing whiskey back and forth in a silver flask. Standing near them were some middle aged alums wearing hiking jackets and knitted hats. There was one man with a cape, a staff, and some sort of ritual box, but aside from that, they all looked pretty Midwestern to me.

I introduced myself enthusiastically. One of the druids offered me some toffee, which I politely refused, imagining it might be some sort of communion. (In retrospect, I’m pretty sure it was just a snack.) As sparks floated up to the dim sky, they began to tell me stories about the old days at Carleton, back when the dorms were separated by sex and the campus was supposedly dry. They mentioned a discontent with the requirement to attend religious services and described their joke-religion that had slowly acquired significance. As one druid told me, “There was something we were seeking that we just weren’t getting in traditional services. Somehow, we found it out here.”

I don’t ever think I’m going to become the kind of person who is militantly sure of her religious beliefs. I don’t think I’m going to follow my father into the traditional ministry, become the next Archdruid of the Carleton grove, or even become a druid at all. I’m just another human seeking to understand. And sometimes, out in the Arb on a bright day or a wild grey night, I think I’ve hit on something. It’s not something I could quantify, but looking up at the stars and the billowing clouds over the prairie, I get the feeling that God has not abandoned me. Best wishes for a thoughtful Good Friday from the Carletonian’s only Lutheran “druid.”

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