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)