There are two topics you are never supposed to discuss at the table, politics and religion.
I talked about both of these during lunch today with Mark Turner. The world did not end. We do not hate each other. Quite to the contrary, we are becoming friends. Neither one of us came to the table with an agenda, other than consuming delicious barbecue while having a nice conversation. (We agreed upon that before hand.) We shared differing opinions, bounced ideas off of one another, learned about each other's backgrounds and generally chatted as folks do. As Mark observed, we may even have come a little bit closer to the greater truth than we were before the meal.
Oh yeah, Mark is a Christian pastor and I am agnostic.
Differences and difficulties seem to have become the order of the day more and more. Why not? It's easy to find them, and being righteous feels good. Most of us like being right, even more than we dislike being wrong. Winning is winning, whether in a sport, a contest or the debate at the dinner table. Plus it is so much easier to see where we are different than it is to look for the ways we are the same. I know I have friends, and I'm sure Mark does too, who would find that we had a great lunch and began a good friendship strange because of the above labels. That is sad.
Mark is a fun guy to talk to, always laughing and smiling, he is animated in the eyes in a way that makes you smile right along with him. He is a father, a fan of barbecue, a son, a husband, a philosopher and a traveler on the same road we are all on, life. He studied computer engineering when those programs were brand new, and quickly decided that wasn't for him. Mark tells me about his father, a rocket scientist, and how they travel as their father son time. He loves these trips, but you can tell the destination really isn't what's important, it's the time with his Dad. On a trip to Los Alamos, New Mexico, it was going through the museums with him and pondering the teams of people who worked on space flight and the Manhattan Project, who made the impossible happen, where his time with his father hits its high point, where Mark sees that passion.
His family lived near Eglin AFB when he was growing up and he remembers hearing the sounds of C-130s flying and test firing. I know those birds well and laugh as I refer to them as the "Four Fan Trash Cans." We talk about politics, about freedom and rights, about things that scare us and the compromises people can be willing to make. I ask Mark about some Bible verses, things I have heard from friends over the years, opinions and interpretations. I'm truly interested in his take. He makes some interesting points, and I am sure I will be pondering them for a while to come. We talk about moral choices and Mark comments on how easy morality would be if the world were truly black and white in its decisions.
Mark did not save my soul.
He didn't try to. Nor did I try to sway his faith. Both of those would have just been us getting in the way of getting to know someone else, another human being "made in the image of God," as he says. I have heard that sentiment before, how we are all divinely inspired creatures, but Mark actually means it. He is authentic in his belief, in his humility and in his understanding that none of us is perfect. Mark never tabled his faith, and I wouldn't ask him to, but he did ask if I minded him blessing his food. I joined in.
In a barbecue joint, in the South, a Christian pastor and an agnostic shared a lunch over the common love of smoked meats, airplanes, history and stories. We laughed and smiled. We began forming a friendship. Two men sat at a table and spoke, like two human beings, with fears and hopes, regrets and triumphs. We sought to make a table upon our commonality, and let our differences be.
We got just a bit closer to the truth.
What a world it would be if we could all do this.
Favorite Dinosaur: Brachiosaurus
Why: It was the biggest