Don’t let my title trivialize this meeting, this tryst, this unplanned koinonia with a brother. In the middle of our conversation, he gave me a book this season’s people by Stephen Gaskin, the leader of The Farm, one of the most successful communes developed in 1971 intentionally from lectures given by Stephen at Berkeley. I have periodically been interested in Stephen Gaskin, if only because of the phenomena that rose organically from ideas worked out during his lecture series.
Clay a resident, at least momentarily, of Eureka Springs Arkansas, started a conversation across a table that I had set my computer down at in Starbucks on Glenstone in Springfield, MO. I was using a gift card given me by a friend for loaning my car to him to help surprise his wife on her birthday. I only mention these details because they are part of the circumstances that conspired to be one of the most intensive and interesting conversations I have had in years. For intensive, I have to say that after about 2:45 pm when the conversation ended until 7:30 when I went to Barnes and Nobel to read Foucault, I was unable to think of anything else but our conversation, and unable to focus on the work I had intended to do when I went into Starbucks.
He started the conversation by asking me what I thought of the idea that Adam was created out of the dust of the ground. I answered him in my ordinary voice that I didn’t think Genesis could be read as a scientific document. He proceeded to tell me about how it is important that we refocus our world around the earth and the ecological concerns over its preservation, which I agreed with. I told him that I was a theistic evolutionist, and he wove my remarks sympathetically into a discussion of sustainable agriculture, of Father God and Mother earth.
I am not going to say that he was irrationally bent on driving a point home. I didn’t feel that at all. Driven? Yes. He was focussed on one point of view that, as it turns out, I am completely sympathetic with. That was the beginning of a 3 and a half hour discussion, centered on God, that wandered, as conversations between strangers do, through books and authorities, likes, dislikes, truths, conspiracies, and the love of God for us and how God can guide us.
We both told stories of God’s grace, and of our significant others, of chance and happenstance, of words and things, of music and sympathy, of the future and the present, of doom and possible resolutions to the crises of our civilization.
We parted, having had an experience of kinship that comes so rarely in life as to be astonishing. We experienced something of the love of God, something of human tenderness, something of openness and truth. Frankly, I’ve had moments like this with my Christian brothers and sisters, but not ever before with a stranger.
I saw myself judging his trustworthiness to invite to my house. I felt ashamed of myself. Have I become so calloused as to be unable to recognize purity when I see it? No, but I have become suspicious of people in general. But here is a human who asked nothing of me more than my opinion, which I gave him, which I had not intended to give anyone at that time. I opened myself to contact with an alien and found a brother.
But the conservatives will ask whether he was theologically pure. Well, no, but then they aren’t either. His soul was pure, at least pure enough for my blunt senses to see it. I want for everyone to see it. It is a wonder, a sign, a ray of hope.
I know my own story of aiming to please God, and now I know something of his parallel story, of the miracle of guidance, of the grace of God in him, the hope of glory. Is there a way to suggest that in every conversation we should be offering humbly the bread of our life in Christ without also judging the linguistic perfection of their offering.
Clay gave to me, I gave to him, I did not turn his offering away, nor did he turn mine away. We gave each other of God that which we have, and left richer than we came. We ate at God’s table together. I am happy and sad for this meeting. Happy for this unexpected tryst. Sad that the purposes of my life look so impoverished compared to this serendipitous companionship. The fear that he spat on my life in retrospect is rejected as unworthy of the moment of our communion.
This event makes me love my friends and my family even more, and makes me want to be a better man, makes me want to open the doors of my students’ minds to truths unavailable previously, and allow them to look into life. For a human moment, this is one of the best sorts, and for me one of the best. Thank you God. Thank you Clay.