The preacher

“I started thinking about Christianity after my wife died – but where would I go to find out about it? It wasn’t going to be from some preacher.” It was obvious from the tone and response that his conclusion was as self-evident as the beauty of the day.

Ecclesiastes 3:7 says there is “a time to be silent and a time to speak” and I was quite sure this was the former time. And so, this preacher sat there, incognito, and listened. Good practice for a preacher.

I was riding alone and was parked on the forward deck of a ferry crossing Arrow Lake, surrounded by a group of middle-aged Harley riders who obviously knew each other. The conversation was taking place across from me.

“I found a book by Deepak Chopra on my wife’s desk, and started reading. I did it for her. It seemed like a sign. I’ve been reading his books and listening to his lectures ever since.”

You don’t often get to be a fly on the wall, but for that half hour I heard the story of a search as it bounced between casual acquaintances. It was both intimate and cautious, open and guarded, transparent yet masked by riding leathers, bandanas, and dark glasses.

After we had roared off the ferry in a great display of testosterone and I had retreated into my own helmet and the communion of the sun, wind, and highway, the conversation played over and over again – and in my mind I interjected.

Deepak Chopra? Is this a joke? I wouldn’t have expected a Bible study but I would have assumed that bikers – even weekend outlaws, if they read at all – would be reading Tom Wolfe or Hemingway. Instead, it was about mind/body connections, birthing critical masses of consciousness, and the spirituality of quantum mechanics. Has the world gone mad?

But behind the grey beards, ponytails, and club patches, a very personal journey was unfolding. There was a time when he might have resonated with a defiant Tom Wolfe but in this moment the bravado was gone. He was looking for the kind of answers that you need when you are stone cold sober and all alone in the middle of the night – night after night.

Do intelligent people really follow the Deepak Chopras of the world? A fly on the wall can only listen and when you cannot speak you do get some unexpected answers. The search was real and deep. He was no fool.

“…it wasn’t going be to some preacher…”? Excuse me, can you explain that? Instead of me, you’re going to have some New Age medicine man tell you about Jesus? It’s not hard to understand why that would leap out at me. It’s also very good that not every voice in my head manages to escape my lips.

What preacher was he thinking about? Reverend Lovejoy of the Simpsons or Billy Graham? Rick Warren or Robert Schuller? Rob Bell or Ernest Angley? Or, was it the childhood memory of 45-minute homilies droning on? There are a lot of different preachers out there. Are we all dismissible?

In that moment “the foolishness of what is preached” suddenly had a real context. It took me a few miles to come to terms with it. It was my turn to look inside. So I was one of that motley crew. I wasn’t sure I liked the association. “Preacher” – it has such a brassy ring to it.

But at the end there is no escaping it. I might have been a fly on the wall, I might have been hidden behind my own dark glasses and bandana, but I am that dismissible preacher. This was as indisputable as the reality of his search. The mantle of foolishness might sometimes be invisible but there is no escaping it. It’s mine to wear.

There is a time to be silent but there is also a time to speak. When it comes I hope someone is able to tell him that Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest…for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”

I don’t think he learned that from Deepak Chopra.

Then I remembered Paul’s words. “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?” Romans 10:14.

It was a very good ride.


James Toews is pastor at Neighbourhood Church, Nanaimo, B.C.

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