I miss my friend Barry. He's not dead--he just lives in New Jersey. Which I realize some folks think is as good as being dead--but I lived there for ten years, and found that I really loved the place. Such a wonderful mix of seaside beaches, fields of corn and tomatoes and city life. But I'm not here to do a Chamber of Commerce pitch for the Garden State. I'm here to tell you about Barry.
Did you ever have a friend with whom you really didn't have a lot in common, yet you hit it off beautifully? Barry and I are like that. I'm a pastor--I've devoted my life to matters of faith and religion. Barry--while certainly very respectful of religion, is not what I would call religious. Barry is an accountant--and a darn good one at that. I, though I recently completed a four year stint as treasurer of my Rotary Club, am less than enamored with numbers! I love baseball and the Red Sox--Barry is a football fan, and follows the Green Bay Packers. Barry met his wife while they were still kids--Linda and I met when we were adults with children of our own. I ride a bike--Barry lifts weights. He's politically conservative and I--am decidedly not! I read the New York Times--he reads the Wall Street Journal. You would think with all those disparities we would have a hard time connecting. But the truth is, some of the deepest and most meaningful conversations I've ever had have been with Barry. What's the old saying--steel sharpens steel? The secret, I think, is that we both have a deep and abiding respect for each other. And we both understand that the other has a well-thought out and caring point of view. We both long for a day when the world is set right--we just see different paths to getting there!
Barry and I would go out to dinner with our wives, or sometimes party with other couples as well. But the times when our conversations were the most rich were the long nights we shared hosting the homeless. The church I served in New Jersey was part of a coalition of faith communities that provided emergency shelter for homeless men and women. The hosting congregation would provide space for cots, a hot dinner, breakfast, a brown bag lunch and two volunteers to stay overnight. A recliner was provided for the volunteers, who could take turns sleeping if they wanted--but both Barry and I usually stayed up most of the night talking about everything and anything. Politics, religion, politics, social issues, politics and sports. When I'd come home Linda would ask if the two of us had managed to solve the world's problems overnight.
As the night wore on, our conversation would begin to slow down a bit as fatigue set in. But gradually we would notice out the kitchen windows there in the church basement, the darkness beginning to fade. And then, to the east, the light would begin to grow brighter, as we approached sunrise. When we finally dismissed those in our care and stepped outside, depending on the time of year, it was not unusual for us to be greeted by the golds and pinks of the dawn. It wasn't a sunrise over the ocean, but in its own Jersey sort of way, it was a thing of beauty--and a symbol of the hope we held in our hearts that the homeless folks we had gotten to know a bit overnight, would have a brighter day than the one before, that they would find a job, or permanent housing, or reconciliation with family.
Henry David Thoreau once said, "We must learn to . . . keep ourselves awake, not by mechanical aids, but by an infinite expectation of the dawn." That's what kept Barry and I awake. That's what kept us going those long dark Jersey nights. Hope for the future--and an "infinite expectation of the dawn." For each in our own way, Barry and I both believe God can and will work to bring about a better world. Despite our dramatic differences, Barry and I both believe that the dawn will come.