My friend and Pastor, “Wilson,” tells a story about showing up from time to time. Way before my time at Cibolo Creek, there was a guy that had a print shop around the corner from the church. Peter was not a believer and was perpetually in crisis. The way I have internalized the story is Wilson was ready to go home and tired and was resisting the tug. I take it that he was having one of those, “Really God… right now,” kinds of conversations. Eventually he talked himself into going and went by the shop to visit Peter. When he got there, Peter wasn’t there. Whomp, Whooomp! Anti-climactic, for sure.
I do the story an injustice crowbarring it into a paragraph and as compared to the passionate way Wilson tells it. The gist is that Wilson had this internal struggle about going and then Peter wasn’t even there. The point Wilson makes is it wasn’t about Peter that day, it was about him showing up.
I was thinking about Wilson’s story about showing up as I prepared for my next session with my client. Knowing he is resistant and crotchety had me mentally practicing all kinds of ways to bring God into the conversation. I tried to anticipate possible objections. I wondered if I was too heavy handed if he might think I was a bible thumper. I know that a lot of Christians practice the full steam ahead, I am right and you are wrong, turn or burn approach. It’s off-putting to most folks. I imagined being perceived that way would cause him to shut down and I would be on the express lane to the list of people that conspire against him.
He was ready for me. The door opened before I could knock a second time. I usually ask clients if they remembered I was coming. I can tell the temperature of the situation by their reactions. “Yeah, I remembered,” he said with a tone I didn’t recognize from him. I told myself that the enthusiasm I thought I heard in his voice was just because he had a visitor to break up the monotony of his day.
Before I could sit all the way down in the creaky old chair next to him, he fired off the first gruff question. “I was thinking after last time,” he said, “and I don’t want you to take this the wrong way, but what kind of education do you have to get to where you are?” I have to qualify myself with clients all the time. I started my spiel about earning a Master’s degree, blah, blah, blah. He cut me off. He said, “I know all of that, I am talking about math and science and stuff like that.”
We just started and I had enough already. I blew my top and yelled, “Listen you gruff son of a B*#ch, I am talking here, you asked me a question, let me speeaaaak!”
I didn’t say that. I was thinking it.
I quickly realized
that my credentials weren’t important to him and they weren’t in question. He is all about math and science. A look around his cluttered house reveals many books. They range from physics to college algebra text books. I assured him that I had taken science and math in undergrad.
As we were finishing his paperwork, he told me he didn’t understand confidentiality. He was agitated and said he didn’t feel like I had the right to notify anyone if he was a threat to himself or others. “It’s my business,” he said emphatically. I assured him that whoever’s business it might be, I was legally obligated to intervene.
“It is all just a transfer of energy,” he argued, “How can anyone have a right to tell you what to do with energy? If I want to kill myself or my neighbor it is just a transfer of energy.”
Welcome to my world, reader.
Of course my counselor spider senses started to buzz. He might kill me, himself and the neighbor.
I knew I shouldn’t have said yes to this referral!
Mostly I think that he was just being argumentative. Either way, I figured I was safe. I outweigh him by two hundred pounds and he is really slow. The neighbor would have to fend for herself. I could be out the front door before he could even get up out of his chair. I was trying to remember if he locked the door behind me when I came in. As I was wondering if I could karate kick through the back door out on to the street, he broke the silence. He asked if I knew anything about (he hesitated, sometimes he has trouble with recall) thermo…
I said “thermodynamics? The idea that energy can neither be created nor destroyed, but it can change from one form to another?”
He was very excited that I could relate, he giddily said, “Yes!” He went on to say, “How’s it any different if harm myself or my neighbor? We kill cows for their energy and nobody complains. We eat them and the energy is transferred.”
I made it clear that I would have to report him if he were going to eat his neighbor too. He laughed so loudly that his old bones creaked. I cracked the ice by speaking his language about thermodynamics, but I shattered it with the joke about eating his neighbor. I had him right where I wanted him.
When I was sent the referral, I thought that they were blowing smoke about this client asking for me to be his counselor. It turns out they weren’t. I was anticipating resistance about broaching God with him. It turns out that he already knew all about me. There is a bio on the company’s website that explains that I am a Christian. He chose me based on that bio. Hah! Maybe he had me right where he wanted me!
He sounded far less harsh than usual when he stammered, “There is one other thing that I want to talk to you about, I know that you’re a Christian and I don’t want that to be a problem for you because I am not.”
I told him that it wasn’t a problem for me if it wasn’t for him. I can help him no matter what he believes. I explained that there isn’t a doubt in my mind that Jesus Christ died for me and that God had lined up my life to help people through counseling. I also said I felt like the reason I was sitting with him was because God had lined it up. I made it clear I wasn’t there to force my beliefs on him, but I would talk about God to any level that he wanted me to.
He told me it had struck him on our first meeting that I said I do counseling like this for fun and to help people. He smiled for the first time. I had explained that at my day job I supervise other counselors, but I don’t get do counseling anymore. I like the paycheck my position provides. I love supervising smiley faced new counselors before the reality of low pay, long hours and oppressive bureaucracy steal their souls. I still want to see clients too; so I do private practice on the side.
He wanted to talk about some science in recent years that hints at a creator (intelligent design) as opposed to random happenstance. He showed me a book jacket that alluded to intelligent design that I skimmed-he couldn’t find the actual book. I guess he is feeling a tug. It led him to those books and it led him to me.
I explained that I too had a scientific view of things until my early thirties and thought “religion,” was bullshit (pardon my French). He sat upright when I said that. I explained that things happened in my life that changed my perspective. Those things changed the way I feel. I did admit there all still things that are difficult for me to buy into. Adam and Eve are a stretch for me, and that’s right there at the beginning of it all!
We talked about science having gaps, as in the fossil record. We discussed scientific theory versus fact. I told him even though I can’t get my head around all things biblical, there is no doubt in my mind Jesus walked the earth. There is no doubt in my mind that the people he rolled with saw him do amazing things. If they hadn’t seen the impossible happen time and time again, they would have run for the hills at the crucifixion. I am all for a good, elaborate hoax, but the first sight of flesh being torn from bone and nails through the hands, I’m OUT! They didn’t run, they stayed and they were persecuted too. That is all my heart needs to know.
The truth is, as an atheist I could never get my head around all of the science any more than I can get my head around God now. In the God v. science debate it seems that people never talk about how much faith is required to be on the fighting side of science.
My client is preoccupied with patterns and mathematical explanations of things. He will go off on a tangent about patterns before I even know what hit me. He was full stride into an aside about how many times you can step left then right without retracing your steps until a pattern emerges. It was “2000 sumthin’,” if you were wondering, reader. He looked up and said “Do you know what entropy is?” He started to draw a blank on the definition so I helped. I said, “The tendency of a system to break down over time?” Cha Ching! More brownie points for me. He was back on the energy thing. “We are breaking down all the time,” he said. I offered that maybe stuff had to break down; we have to die in order for our relationship with God to be fulfilled. He stroked his nicotine stained whitish beard in silence for a minute. I think he liked it.
I was reminded of two movies, Good Will Hunting and An Incredible Mind. In the first, Matt Damon’s character has an innate ability with math. My client describes being able to read without being taught. In the latter, a brilliant mathematician deals with debilitating mental illness. My client has a sharp mind with a corona of mental illness peeking around the edges. He is bits and pieces of those characters, but he is like the local version. He is a little less flashy and less handsome and significantly less accomplished. There are still some profound insights and mental abilities. There are equations scribbled on all manner of flat surface in his house. There are some occasional lapses into seeing patterns and equations that aren’t there, but that’s a whole other story.
I can see my client struggling with how to understand God through his way of thinking. I think he wants to. I can see him trying to find a way that makes sense. He’s no different than anyone else trying to understand something too big to be fully understood through a human perspective.
I trod lightly throughout or time together and when I could I offered how God had moved in my life. I made sure to say that I don’t have it all figured out and that not all of it always makes sense to me. I explained that it doesn’t have to. There is no doubt that Jesus is my Savior and that’s enough for me.
I made sure to say, “That’s just me, it might be different for you.” A couple of times I said, “That’s my understanding of it, you may come to see it a different way.” At least a few times I gently made the distinction between religion and being Christian. My client didn’t start the conversation with even an inkling that there was a distinction. As we wound down, he did begin to see the distinction. When we started talking he used the terms “religious people,” and “religion,” as an amalgam of his negatively laced experiences pertaining to God. As we concluded he said, “You know, I have never had a Christian talk to me like you have. I told him that some people are a**holes. There are a**holes that are Jewish, there are a**holes that are atheist and there are a**holes that are Christians. It is all too often the case, but A**hole and Christian are not synonymous. He loved that!
Our hour went quickly. I made a deal with my client for next time that 30 minutes would be devoted to the things I was there to help him with and 30 minutes would be dedicated to philosophical conversation. He agreed. He said, “I really want your help with my issues, but I really enjoyed our conversation.” I agreed.
I am learning about showing up. I am learning about dignity. I am learning about arrogance. There are two men in that room. I see a man that missed the boat here and there. I see a man that has lapses in realty sometimes. I see a man that needs help seeing God the way he can understand it. My client’s there too and he is willing to look past all my junk and let me help him. It’s easy to return the favor.
I love you all, but not as much as I love the beach.
P.S. I realize that there are typos here and there that I miss. I do a bunch of editing. This entry started out with 297,850 words (rough estimate). Every time I reread I am compulsed to refine. It is an awful habit that I almost can’t overcome. Delete, cut, paste – repeat. If I didn’t choose to dump this content to the world wide internets at some point, I would be locked in perpetual fine tuning. It is a step forward for me to push these little birds from their nests. I have elicited the help of trusted advisors to proof for me, but they are slow. Plus, once they proof for me I reread and then I am compulsed to edit and the process begins again. Live with it.