Getting It Right, Thirty Years Hence

Dear Will:

I’m sitting on Northwest Airlines flight 150 from Minneapolis to Orange County. I flew in yesterday for some meetings and I’m racing home wishing I weren’t wearing a starched shirt and wool slacks. I’ve always been more of a blue jeans kind of guy—especially when I travel.

This was one of those quick and dirty business trips which tend to give business travel the bad reputation it deserves. Too much time in airports. Too much time in a hotel room. Way too much time in meetings. And just about no time out and about to make you feel like you’ve actually been somewhere. Even so, this was one of the best trips I’ve taken in a long, long time.

Here’s why: This morning I hooked up with Mark H., who in high school was one of my very best friends. By our calculation, we haven’t seen each other in 24 years. Now that can be kind of a dicey proposition, seeing someone you once knew but no longer really know. The question is always whether there will be anything of substance on which to base a conversation. Will the two of you spend a few happy minutes reminiscing about high school hijinks and then lapse into awkwardness? (“It’s sooo good to see you.” (awkward pause) “ You look great!” (awkward pause) “It’s sooo good to see you.”)  Or will you be able to bridge the years and reconnect on some level much more meaningful—like real friends do.

Well, Mark and I really connected. It was two hours discussing the things that matter most, sharing the worries of fatherhood, the challenges of career deviations, even the evolution of our faith.  (That’s not a minor point, by the way. You see, Mark is a Lutheran pastor.) It gave me much to ponder, much to discuss with my wife when I get home, and great motivation to return to Minneapolis at the next hint of a meeting. It was more than I could have hoped for in a long-delayed reunion with a friend.

One of the things we recalled with a smile was an awkward evening in our youth when we had a testy disagreement about religion. Since Mark is the son of a preacher, it was inevitable even in high school that the two of us would talk about our beliefs. In all other circumstances we were appropriately respectful. But on this particular evening I grossly misrepresented my church’s teachings (because I did not yet understand them), and in response he said some outrageous things about the eternal consequences of my misguided faith. I have thought about that night many times since because I was such a poor spokesman of our church. When I mentioned it to him today, however, he apologized not only for the things he had said, but also for misrepresenting his own faith. We got a good laugh out of our limited understanding as teenagers—especially when we discovered today—some 30 years hence—that our beliefs concerning that particular point of doctrine are essentially the same.

What I believe, and he believes, can best be expressed by this phrase from the Book of Mormon: It is by grace we are saved, after all that we can do (see 2 Nephi 25:23). The idea is that we express faith through action, even while knowing that no amount of action will ever allow us to “earn” the love Christ freely gave us through his Atonement. It is the contradiction of Christianity: That we must give our very best even while knowing that our best is woefully insufficient—and that somehow his love will overcome that insufficiency. What a thrill it was to talk about such important things with a friend whom I had not seen in such a long time.

It was good to see him, and he did look great, by the way. But that subject never came up.

PW

Saving You a Seat

Dear Will:

As I write this, I’m on Alaska Airlines flight 352, returning to Orange County after a fly-in-fly-out business trip to Portland (such trips are my favorites: maximum mileage but still home in time to tuck in the kids). I’m trying to remember how I survived without a laptop computer, and it’s a little fuzzy to me.

It occurs to me that, strange as it is, for all I know you could be seated beside me there in seat 12C. You could have been the person in front of me at the grocery store on Saturday (I’m easy to spot: I’m the guy with the cookie-faced two-year-old and seven gallons of milk). We’re neighbors, and yet we don’t know each other. We’re strangers, and yet we share a common bond. The notion prompts a couple of thoughts:

“We’re neighbors.” Jesus taught that anyone who needs our help is our neighbor (remember the Good Samaritan?). The lesson of that story is that, as children of God, we should reach out to one another in times of need, pausing to help regardless of the differences, either real or imagined, which may separate us. The tale reminds us of our common bond as children of God.

“We’re strangers.” This last Sunday we dedicated our sacrament service to that scripture in Ephesians that says something like (I’ll get this wrong, but you’ll get the idea): “Therefore are ye neither strangers nor foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints and of the household of God.” Paul’s point was that, no matter how our backgrounds or ancestry may differ, our faith in Christ joins us as if we were countrymen. It is a powerful metaphor, reminding us as it does that we are all in this together.

This note is intended simply to reiterate that, as your neighbor, I offer you my help. And as your fellowcitizen in Christ, I pledge to you my friendship.  Call me some time if you feel like it. And let me know next time you’re flying to or from Portland and I’ll save you a seat.

PW