Aug 20, 2008

breaking the sound barrier

On Monday I kept an appointment I'd made the week before. Maybe that shouldn't mean anything, but it did to the person I connected with. He told me I was the first person in 11 years who actually kept an appointment with him.

11 years.

His name is Mike, and we met at the local grocery store last month. I was buying something small in the speedy check-out lane and started my usual routine of stuffing the receipt into my George Costanza overstuffed wallet while simultaneously holding the plastic bag in between my teeth (so I could fumble for my car keys). A few steps into the dance, an older gentleman caught my attention and asked if I was going anywhere near the downtown Square of our town.

"Sure," I said. "Do you need a ride?"

"Yeah," he said. So I told him I'd bring my car around to the front, and after a quick load in he continued the conversation with an introduction. "I'm Mike," he said, reaching over to shake my hand.

"I'm Tony," I answered. "Good to meet you, Mike."

"So Tony," he asked, "what do you do?"

I smiled. "Actually, I'm a pastor."

(Why do I always begin answering that question with the phrase "Actually?")

He smiled. "How about that," he said. "I'm an atheist."

(Yeah - that's why I always begin answering that question with the phrase, "Actually.")

I laughed out loud. "Well how interesting is it that we got matched up, Mike?"

The drive to the Square was only about 5 minutes, but we talked for about 15. At the end of it I offered to buy him a beverage one day at the local cafe, and he said that would be great. I gave him my email address, and he used it later that day to thank me.

Then I went on vacation. And when I got back... chaos.

But I emailed him a few times, letting him know that when I came up for air I looked forward to connecting.

Monday is when it happened. We met outside and chatted about this and that over ice tea. Mike is highly intelligent and is developing some rather profound insights on communication. You'd think he'd be sought after for such skills, especially in a world where people seem to miscommunicate more than they'd like.

Maybe that's why what he said was so amazing.

"You know, Tony, I'm going to remember this conversation for the rest of my life. I can remember dreams I had a month ago in great detail, so memory isn't a problem. It's just that I've only had two or three other conversations like this in my life that I've been mildly interested in remembering. You know that in the eleven years I've lived in this town you're the first person who kept an appointment with me? Most people don't want to make time for me because I'm old, or because I'm single, or had a stroke, or walk with a cane, or don't believe what they believe. And I suppose that's fine because if that's how they feel then I don't have much time for them. But I've really enjoyed this time and want to do it again when I'm done with my writing project."
Keep in mind, this is after I listened to him share about the things he cared about for a long time. Then he asked me to share about the things I care about - in my case, Jesus Christ, my wife, my boys, our church. Funny - he was quite interested in that... for an "atheist."

I wonder why.

We have so much potential for good... so much potential to change the world and help restore things back to their original intent.

And perhaps that's why it's so disappointing to the world when Christians come across as uncaring, hypocritical, or full of a lot of big words with little love behind them.

What if a simple love for our neighbor is as revolutionary as Jesus says it is?

There are a lot of really profound and beautiful things happening in the lives all around us... but sometimes it seems like there is this impenetrable wall of miscommunication.

Sometimes the best way to break the sound barrier between you and another person is to listen. It doesn't mean you approve of everything they say or believe, but it means that you take the time to listen so that you can love that person - instead of merely your "2-dimensional concept of that person."

We need to connect with others in their world before we attempt to share with them our own, let alone how we're all a part of God's Story.

That is, after all, just basic Christianity, isn't it?

I have great hope that it's just that easy.

May we become people who build bridges into the world around us.

May we care about who they are and invite them to share about the things they that keep them awake at night.

May we ask good questions that help them get in touch with the condition of their lives and souls.

May we be the person who keeps the appointment.

May we break the sound barrier.

And may we at the right time proclaim who Jesus Christ is.

(Even though chances are they've already recognized Him in your behavior.)

The entire law is summed up in a single command: "Love your neighbor as yourself." (Galatians 5:14)


Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting that, Tony. Some great food for thought ... and for some action.

Anonymous said...

A lady who goes to our church continually says, "Live your life as though it's the only Bible some people will ever read."

Amazing post. Even better than that, I think it's great that you acted as Jesus would, and not as we do with our small, little minds on this earth. You didn't try to shove Jesus down his throat. You cared.

Have a great week!

Anonymous said...

Thanks PT.

It all started with saying "yes" while you were obviously a little busy

... Well Done.

I had similar experiences in YWAM... people telling me they've never had a conversation this deep in their lives and other people being so blown away by you caring enough to step out into their bubble... which is ALWAYS scary! And ALWAYS worth it.

Thanks again.

Thurman8er said...

I spent a recent weekend at a Christian men's retreat. One of the men at my table was a 21 year old college student who was more interested in the writings of Buddha and Confucious than the Bible. He was incredibly well-read and well-spoken and he was driven to find truth in this world.

He was fascinating.

On Sunday morning, he broke down and confessed that he came to "this thing" with the assumption that his studies and ideas would be treated like they are everywhere else in Christian circles...pushed aside in favor of the "only truth." The mere fact that we were willing to listen to him and have conversations about these ideas he loved meant SO much to him.

We did more for his faith by listening than we ever could have done by preaching.

Becky; said...

May we ask good questions that help them get in touch with the condition of their lives and souls.
to be interested in them....

Jody said...

the only significance comes from obedience...thanks for obeying and sharing

The Thief said...

That's a great reminder of how God often leads... when we're way too busy (doing our own things, or even doing His things) to follow. And your obedience touched someone for Him. Well done, good and faithful servant.

thatcoffeeguy said...

Exactly! Now, let's get more Christians to do this!