Today I had a gospel interaction that I was not expecting.
I’ve hired one of my Aikido friends to be my language tutor. He needed work, and I need a tutor – preferably a non-believer. Let’s call him AC. So, today we were having our usual language lesson, and this conversation fell out. My words are in boldface.
I have a question.
America has everything you need. Why did you come here? What is here that would draw you from America. Everyday something goes wrong here. Everyday you work hard for a standard of living far below what youâ€™d have in America. Why, really, did you come?
Ok. I’ll tell you. There are a few reasons. One is bigger than the others, but really, there are three. The first isn’t the most important, but it’s real. We didn’t want our kids to grow up knowing only one language, only one culture. People in America tend to feel that the US is the center of the universe. We wanted our kids to know the world they live in. That’s hard to do from the US.
Well, that’s just part. Secondly, we wanted adventure. We’re not sit-in-a-chair people. We want to live. You go to France for a month or two – that’s not adventure, that’s vacation. We want to go deep and experience another part of the world.
Third is this. So, you know that I’m not religious.
You’re not religious. You’re religionless (atheist)?
No, I’m not religious, and I’m not religionless.
There’s a third way?
Yep. I follow Jesus. Religions are attempts to make stairs to heaven. Attempts to control God. If I do this, God will do that. If I don’t do this, God won’t do that. Or even sillier, hoping that my good deeds will outweigh my bad ones. My sins are many and my goodness is small. There’s no hope in that.
Then where is there hope?
Grace. There are no stairways to heaven, but God reaches to us.
Yep. In the New Testament.
You read that? Have you read it a lot?
Honestly? Probably 500 times.
But, I’ve heard that they changed the New Testament.
That’s just crazy. I know why they say that. Here, let me show you. I’ve read all the “holy” books and I wouldn’t read one that had been changed. I don’t have time to follow a lie. [Here I showed him how we have copies of the New Testament that pre-date Mohammed, and how our translations come from these. After Mohammed certain heretical books emerged that “changed” the message of the New Testament…maybe these books are what the imams are talking about when they say the New Testament has been changed.]
In the New Testament does it say that another prophet will come after Isa?
It says many will come.
Many? No. There are prophets that don’t bring books, and prophets that bring books. Does it mention another book-brining prophet?
I know what you’re talking about. Isa said that the Spirit of God, who had been with him and with his students, was going to come to live INSIDE his students. This was the one to come after him. Not a human prophet. Now, I’m not saying that Mohammed is a prophet, or that he is not. I’m just saying that the New Testament doesn’t mention him.
But you don’t accept him. Do you accept him as a prophet? If you did, you’d become Muslim. Explain that.
Here, I paused and I looked hard at him.
If I speak openly, are you going to get angry?
No, I won’t get angry.
Your eyes say something else. I see something in your eyes.
What do you see?
Do I have radical muslim eyes?
No. It’s just…
Here, something happened to me. I was under-rested and over caffeinated. And God, I think used that. Actually, I think God set that up. I was emotionally tenuous to start with. I teared up and shed one or two.
I’m pretty lonely, AC.
Don’t cry. I’m gonna cry. Why are you tearing up?
I’m pretty lonely.
I love Isa. I mean I LOVE Isa. I spend hours a day in the New Testament. Hours. Not due to some debt, but just because it’s food to my spirit. I love his words. But doing that – reading and thinking about it that much – leads me to talk about him and what he said all the time.
That can’t make you lonely.
No, but this can. I make friends, and I talk about Isa. And this conversation invariably happens. They say, “I’m a Muslim and you’re something else,” and with their faces they say we are friends, but their hearts move away from me. And I am alone again. In your eyes, I see the danger of that now. Again.
You think my heart has moved away from you?
No, but I see the danger. I can see your mind hearing me say, “I think X,” and jumping to conclusions, saying, “He also thinks Y and Z.”
You only know me a little. You say you’re not a Christian like I think about Christians. You’re not them, you’re you. Fine. I’m not them. I’m me. And I’m not going anywhere.
[Here, that thing in his eyes left.]
Ok. Fair enough. One day, when we have an hour or so, I’ll open my heart and my mind and let you know my mind, like friends.
That’s sounds good.
Then we finished class. After class the conversation continued a bit like this:
Thanks for tolerating my outburst of emotion.
No problem. But don’t do it again.
I shouldn’t do it again?
No. We have a saying that men shouldn’t cry.
Oh. We cry. Well, sometimes. If you cut me with a knife, I won’t cry. If you call me names, I won’t cry. But children starving in Africa make me cry. And if my friend’s mom dies, his heart breaks and mine breaks with it and I cry.
Well, of course. We all cry about that stuff. But not from loneliness.
Ah, AC, I wasn’t crying over loneliness. Well, not just that. It was a small part.
Then why were you crying?
Well, in small part because I am lonely. The second reason was this: I see you and I are on a road, and the road forked today. One way had us getting closer as friends; the other had us separating. I saw the potential of separation, and it made me sad. But the big reason was this…I love Isa. I mean I really LOVE Isa…
Ah! The feelings gave a door to your feelings!
The other feelings opened the door for your feelings about Isa, and they came in force like a volcano.
Exactly! That’s it.
But I’ve learned, men don’t cry.
Right. [He smiled]
I am emotionally exhausted by this conversation and very happy it happened for several reasons.
- God orchestrates crappy things like not getting any sleep and being force-fed tea at a job so that my insides can be so unstable that I cry.
- Most of my life I’ve been lonely. That very human feeling provided the door to my friend’s heart, and disarmed the mechanism inside him that would otherwise have put me on the wrong side of the us/them line.
- When I share with him again, it will be the act of friend opening his mind to a friend. That can only be received well.
- He discovered for himself how strongly I feel about Jesus.
And best of all, I manufactured none of it. Shukur Allaha.