It had been some time since I had a chance to catch up with my agnosticy buddy, Miro. He sat across the table at a favorite Mexican restaurant; eyes staring straight ahead, not looking at me, but perhaps through me. Or, at least, over me. He didn’t blink once the entire time the waitress brought our second round of drinks…margaritas mucho grande.
I finally chuckled. “What…the…hell…is going on in your mind right now?”
I got baptized since we last got together, and he wanted to understand the why of it. I gave him the details about our mission trip, about the cistern, The Hole, the stories from all the folks we met, and how my own story wrote itself during the week.
I could see he was doubtful when I said I felt genuinely touched by God the morning I read a passage from Tom Sawyer. And he wasn’t necessarily any more impressed when I told him about my strange experience at church that led me to believe that baptism was the right path.
“I’m just…” His attention came back to the table. A few folks in the world know me well enough to tell me I’ve gone off the deep end. Miro is one of the fewer I’d listen to. But he said nothing; his worried look alone saying enough. “I’m just wondering what all this means. For us.”
The waitress put down our fajitas (also mucho grande). “It means we say grace,” I said. Again, a silent stare. “I’m kidding,” I laughed. “Nothing’s changed, Miro…I’m still me.”
I assured him that I still can’t accept the Bible as the word of God, that I don’t worry about heaven and hell, and don’t care if Jesus ever rose from the dead.
“What kind of Christian are you?” he asked.
I shrugged and sighed. “I’m as flawed as the rest of them.” We dug into our meals. “You’ve known me for half of my life now, and you know how I’ve always struggled to just feel comfortable in my own skin? Well, I’m finally happy. Despite all my flaws.”
“And getting baptized did that for you?”
“No,” I smiled, turning my salt-rimmed glass for my next sip. “You see, I do believe Jesus was the son of God…but I’m dubious about what that really means. What’s important, to me, is what he taught about our place in this world, how we relate to one another, finding that narrow path to live an abundant life. The baptism was me merely saying that I’m on board with the mission of sharing hope and adding value.”
“But you were doing all that before. Before you ever started going to church.”
“A little bit,” I said, trying to formulate the right analogy to help explain the why of it all. “But, it’s kind of like Calculus. There’s a difference between knowing how to solve a Calculus problem, and knowing how to apply Calculus to the world around us. It’s a different kind of understanding. And it’s that kind of understanding that I’ve been struggling with.”
Various things we believe and don’t believe filled the rest of our dinner conversation. I shared some of the insights I got at church in the Dominican Republic, and he laughed when I told him what I believe to be some of my next steps. He wasn’t laughing at me, but in the apparent absurdity of some of those steps.
Some things, I guess, have changed. What’s absurd might only seem so after knowing someone for twenty-plus years.
He steered the conversation into a seemingly random tangent about some show on HBO, and how the storyline was staging a mock debate between presidential candidates. Michele Bachmann says that God talks to her all the time, so in the context of the story it was a fair question that she be asked “What does God sound like?”
It was also a fair question for Miro to ask me, but he never came right out and asked that question. I appreciated him tip-toeing the line.
Specifically, what he was getting at was how could I know that I’m not just making up any of all this…that same old question that I had asked myself time and time again. I started to explain that if an old prayer of mine had ever been answered and I got my own burning bush speaking to me, that I’d likely be more doubtful of those messages than the subtle ones I do get. A speaking burning bush? Now that's just crazy.
But in the moment of starting down that explanation, something held me back. Instead, I simply acknowledged that it was a fair question. After all, mankind’s history has been bloodied by all sorts of atrocities done “in the name of God.” God is either seriously confused, or man is.
I won’t claim to know what God sounds like. And I can’t claim to be 100% certain that I’m not making up things I've experienced. But I can say, without a doubt, that in the few short years I’ve journeyed down this path, I’ve been steered in an ever better direction.