Listen: If you’re here because you read my poems somewhere, I can’t even tell you how glad I am that you’ve clicked on the link to my blog. Seriously. So I hope you won’t freak out when you realize that what you’re about to read is a part of a series I’m calling “Faithfully” in which I explore some ideas I’ve had about Christianity. I’m not asking you to agree with these ideas. I promise. For more information, start here.
Tonight P. returned to class with – to his credit and my surprise – a new thesis: “A relationship with Jesus Christ can change the life of an individual.”
My class has gotten behind in recent weeks – mostly due to my own laziness in pushing them through the material – so I had to cram an entire presentation on source credibility and a peer review into one, 1 hour and 50 minute class.
P. was the last student of the night to get my attention, and there were only 4 minutes left in the period when I got to him, but, I told myself, if he wanted to stick it out, I’d sit with him and answer his questions as long as he wanted.
I skimmed over P.’s work – a 4 page outline chock full of Bible verses interpreted loosely to demonstrate Jesus’ divinity, including several quotes he attributed to Jesus himself. Should I ask him to attribute these to “the author of Mark” or “who most scholars believe was a doctor named Luke?” I thought.
But I knew I’d probably need to pick just one theological battle and wage it cautiously.
“Do you go to church?” I asked him as I read.
“Yep,” he replied, giving me the name of his congregation.
“What kind of church is it?” I asked.
“Assemblies of God,” he said, and I thought back to my own experience as a 21-22 year old in an Assemblies of God church — complete with an associate pastor who passed out business cards with the title “visionary” beneath his name and a youth pastor who refused to be alone in a room with a woman other than his wife.
I thought of telling P. this, but I didn’t figure it would help.
When I’d finished reading, I decided my best tactical approach was to suggest a reorganization of P.’s points, to encourage him to emphasize logic rather than Biblical passages.
I went on a tangent about Pascal’s pensees – which I learned as an undergraduate and could hardly believe I remembered.
We both laughed as I diagramed the possibilities: believe in God, and if God exists, you’re golden; believe in God, and if God doesn’t exist, what did it hurt? P. seemed to feel good about the conversation — much better than the last one.
“So how do you feel about the argument overall, Teach?” he asked me (he literally calls me “Teach,” and it’s so cute I’ve never had the heart to say anything to him about avoiding the cliché).
“I think you should focus on your own personal story,” I told him. “That’s what’s likely to have more of an impact than the Bible verses. Perhaps pare down the verses you’ve chosen to just those that make the strongest case.”
When P. packed his books into his backpack it was 10:16 – not super late, but 20 minutes past the end of class.
So when I left the building I was tired but spirited from our conversation. Typically I’m done for the day after class, but my conversation with P. inspired me not to ignore the “low fuel” message flashing on my gas gauge and head home, but rather to take an extra 15 minutes to put in $15 at the overpriced station on Wabash and Roosevelt.
As I finished fueling, a man headed my way across the parking lot. “Miss, let me pump it for you,” he called.
“Sorry, I’m done,” I replied.
“Could I get a dollar? I just want to get something to eat,” he said.
“Can I get it for you?” I asked.
“I just want a chicken salad sandwich. It’s $3.49. All I need is a dollar more,” he continued.
“I’ll get it for you,” I said again.
“Could I get a bag of chips or something, too? Maybe a drink?” he responded.
“This is getting expensive now!” I joked, then relented, “What kind of drink you want?”
“A mountain dew,” he said, removing a glove. “My name’s T.,” he said, extending his hand.
My right hand was full with my keys and my wallet, so I took his hand in my left. And for a moment we were walking hand in hand across the parking lot on our way into the convenience store.
It was pretty weird, but it was pretty genuine.
And to think it started with P., who shifted his train of thought even though it was clear he didn’t want to.
Maybe he thought I’d give him a lower grade if he didn’t.
But even so he gave it his all, and so I gave it back.
I hope we do this more often.