A few years ago the President of the company I worked for came out with a G.K. Chesterton reference I’ve long since forgotten.
He and I ended up trading Chesterton and Lewis quips for a couple years, the odd discussion here and there.
Well, one day in…2019 I think, my last year on the job, I got a lunch invitation from him.
Almost immediately afterwards I got an IM from a friend of mine saying “Watch out, Bill’s going to invite you out to lunch to talk about God.”
“Too late.” I said.
We went to Five Guys and he just straight up asked me where I was with God. It was a frank and forthright couple hour conversation about Luther and Calvin, the quandary of free will and such. It was a lot of fun.
As we packed up he leaned in smiling, pointed a finger at me and said “God is stalking you. I can feel it.” Which was about as high a compliment as he could pay me I think.
It’s a turn of phrase you don’t soon forget.
If I’m being honest with myself, always the fucking trick, I can tell.
Go back something like two months. Maybe a little less. Maybe it doesn’t fucking matter.
I was sitting at my high-top in the cigar lounge in the back room on a Thursday afternoon, plugging away at who the hell knows what. I could probably find the post if I were so inclined.
A bunch of guys started filtering in to the back room just…being loud. It was kinda obnoxious as I had my headphones in and was bopping my head to my writing playlist when nature called.
On my way back I noticed the assembled crowd had quieted somewhat and were engaged in actual conversation. Strange how strange that seems when you see it. Maybe 6-8 guys talking intently.
I sat in my chair, put my headphones in and…paused the music. I’ve made a major pursuit in this life of observing and listening to people. I’ve nowhere near the aptitude that my buddy Tanner has at seeing through certain kinds of things. Seriously, the kid is an enviable fucking prodigy at seeing through the masks people present to what’s behind them. The only real advantage I have when we sit at a bar and go head to head is a couple decades more at it. So my library of indexed behaviors is significantly larger.
“Jesus drank wine!” one said. “Oh for fuck’s sake, HERE we go.” I thought.
They spent a few minutes discussing the whys and hows and what that meant for them. One guy said he’d been purged of the impulse, but that it had really been one of his demons before he came to the church. I nodded.
But as time went on their discussion deepened. Someone would read a passage and they’d discuss it a bit.
Well…I don’t have the good sense God gave a horse so before TOO long I was butting in and answering or asking a question here and there. They talked about Calvinism and the paradox of free will and predestination and how that did or didn’t resolve depending on your understanding of the Bible.
It was interesting.
It got to about 4:30 and I’d planned on heading across the street to Johnathan’s for a couple when one of the guys, Ed, came over and said “Hey man, feel free to join us. We’re here every Thursday from four to six.”
“Thanks man, but I can’t now. I’ve got someplace to be.” I was kinda blindsided and initially interpreted it as a Southern “Oh sorry, are we bothering you?” bit of sarcasm. But I shook that off pretty quickly as it was clearly something in my head not wanting to admit what was going on.
I spent a LOT of the next week thinking about it and getting more and more excited, QUITE despite myself.
I’m not going to go too deeply in to my relationship with Christianity over the last 45 years. Suffice it to say it’s been almost wholly unpleasant.
The next Thursday I picked one of my King James editions off the shelf, put it in my bag and came in. I spent my first few hours writing, per usual. As the guys started coming together and arranging chairs I closed down my computer, bagged all my stuff up (it’s…quite the task. I’ve quite a bunch of crap surrounding me when I’m here.) Ed came in and asked if I was joining them. I nodded “Absolutely.”
I took a seat in the back, dropped my bag, lit a cigar and sat down to listen. They were working through Matthew 13 and, despite my inability to find it in my bible (I couldn’t read the damned thing given the low light and small print, and made an audible ‘ugh’ noise as I realized what that meant I was going to have to do) I had a great time.
As before, they picked a passage, someone read and they discussed it. It always comes slow at first, then someone ventures an idea on what it means and that would trigger the discussion which would bounce between different passages and gospels to individual life experiences and eventually to what lessons they could take from those passages.
Two hours went by in an absolute flash. I chimed in a couple times, trying hard to ask questions that didn’t have some kind of scoffing dismissal embedded in them. That’s harder for me to do than I’d thought and it got me to thinking how often I actually engage in that kind of shitty behavior. By the end of the night it was no longer an issue.
At 6:00 they went around asking if there were prayer requests. One guy had a relative who was in the hospital, another had…well, you get the point. Then someone ‘prayed us out.’ A couple guys got up and went over to their lockers in the cigar lounge and grabbed bottles and glasses and they set to knocking a few back and talking about whatever came to mind.
Not having known anyone past seeing them in the cigar lounge from time to time I didn’t have much to say or add to the casual conversation afterwards. But it was good to sit there.
The next few days I spent a lot of time thinking about it all, as is my wont.
I thought: At the VERY WORST here was a group of guys studying the gospels, trying to bring the lessons of the bible into their lives to be better Christians and, arguably more importantly, to be better men. Even if the whole thing was utter nonsense (again, in the worst possible case) it was only to the good.
So I resolved to keep coming. That Saturday morning I went to Barnes & Noble and picked up ugh a Large Print edition. Just to be sure I’d checked my normal King James at home and realized I could read it fine in normal light.
And I have. They actually used to have them only on Tuesday nights but it go so large, having upwards of 25-30 people, that the propriator of the cigar lounge asked them to split it up since it was just packing the whole room.
A couple weeks in Kevin or Ed said “You should come on a Tuesday. It’s a…different crowd. But our Pastor comes on Tuesdays. You’d like him. He’s…yeah, you’d like him.”
And so I have. There’s about a 40% overlap. Some guys switching off. A couple coming on both days. Two days a week for a couple hours at the end of my cigar lounge sessions I’ve been engaging in Bible study.
It seems I’ve been pretty well received. I have a nickname I’m…just not going to repeat here. But it’s intended as a compliment.
I make NO secret about not being a believer. So I’ll ask all the “stupid questions” and sometimes it leads to an interesting discussion.
A gentleman last Tuesday night who holds some position in the church (They all go to the same church) said “I’m interested in what you’ve got to say about this, as an outsider.” He might not have used the word “outsider” but it’s what he meant and one that I use, with a nod to Colin Wilson.
A few weeks ago one of the regulars, a younger guy, was talking about how he’d let his bible studies slide a bunch, but “When I come here and I see people getting back into it, especially Mike here, coming as an outsider, it…it’s really gotten me motivated to start in again.” Which was about as humbling a thing as I could hear. (He actually DID say ‘outsider’.)
I’m not going to write about what we’ve been discussing. That’s just not a nut I want to crack here of all places.
My routine is usually to head to the cigar lounge a bit before noon, then write all day and then join them. By the end of the evening I’m usually tapped out. I don’t generally eat anything when I go since the cigars and my Diet Dr. Pepper tend to relieve my appetite quite thoroughly.
So I’ll head over to Johnathan’s for a salad and a drink.
A couple weeks in I decided to try an experiment.
“You’re here late. You usually get here around five.”
“Yeah I’m coming from Bible Study over at the cigar lounge.”
There have been a few reactions and it’s been fascinating. They fall in to three categories:
- “Really? That’s awesome. I wish more people were doing things like that around here.” One waitress said.
- “Huh. Well good for you.” Another said…not QUITE knowing what to make of it.
- “Pff…You? Really?” A third said, with a chuckle.
It’s absolutely fascinating what happens when you tell people in this age that you’re taking part in Bible Study. People try to tear it down. Some are happy. Some get a little wistful. And some…crinkle their brow a bit as you watch them ingest the new information.
I think it’s high time I invited Bill out to lunch again. He’d be absolutely tickled I’m sure.