Wednesday, September 2, 2009
People Come First: (Cohoes)
When I was planning my trip, I knew I wanted to stop in Cohoes and see Nick Tebordo. I don't know Nick that well. He is more my dad's contemporary than mine, both in age and vocation (ordained Presbyterian minister). Yet from our limited interactions over the years (mostly when I was a child) I knew that Nick is a people person. In Nick's world, people always come first. Ideally, those are the men and women I am seeking out on this trip because I know they will instinctively "get" what this journey is about. Sure enough, when I started explaining it to Nick and his wife Bert and friends A.J. and Melody around the table, I could see that he grasped the essence of why I would want to take this sojourn. They all did.
Over the past few months in a myriad of conversations people have asked me about this journey. The number one question is "why". Most often they want to know if I have thought about sponsors or publicity or whether or not the physical challenge of walking 1,500 miles is what drives me. It is none of that. It is about intentionally spending time with people face to face, over dinner, sitting around backyard fires, eating pie, sharing fellowship.
I explained the entire journey to the group at Nick's house, but I almost feel like I didn't have to. This was a group of people - Nick, Bert, church friends, their family - that were already living out their conviction that community is where we all thrive.
One thing that goes along with Nick's penchant for people and for conversation is a willingness to be direct and ask probing questions. This night was no exception. Sitting around the fire in his backyard he asked me to share a little about my faith journey. Gulp. I never know how to quite put this into words. I'm much better at writing my thoughts than communicating them through speech. In fact, in 1999 I wrote my parents something like an 11-page single spaced statement of faith at the time so they would have a clearer sense of where my beliefs coincided with theirs, and where we differed.
I didn't mind being put on the spot. I don't remember what exactly I said. I'm sure I was trying to be honest and authentic but I'm equally sure it might not have made perfect sense. I certainly didn't want to offend anyone. With the benefit of a day to mull it over on the road, this is what I might have said:
What I am most interested in are not questions of faith or belief, but in ways that I can learn to be a more loving, supportive person in this life, in this moment. I am not concerned with what will happen after I die. My own personal experience, as limited as it is, is that the Kingdom of God is here right now. I don't want to lose the beauty of that Kingdom by living too much in the past or the future. When that means practically is that I am now less interested in finding out if someone is liberal or conservative, if they religious or agnostic, if they are American, Mexican or Afghani. I simply want to know how they manifest love for the people they come in contact with. If they love radically, as Jesus did, as many others do, I want them in my life. I want to learn from them and delight in life as friends. That isn't what I believe. It is simply what I have experienced so far.
I think back to last night. Nick was seated on my right. His family and friends were all around. I felt that spirit of radical love. It was palpable in the way they spoke and related to me and to each other. Thank you Tebordos and A.J. and Melody for giving me that experience.