“It’s nice to know there are good people in the world like you.”
My new friend Matt said these words to me at the end of our two-hour flight from Chicago to Denver Wednesday. He was a 22-year-old guy flying to Denver to spend four weeks in the Rockies camping out and mapping terrain to conclude his geology degree from the University of Buffalo in New York.
"Buffalo is the most depressing place in the world. I have an apartment with some buddies and it’s in the ghetto. Walking home the other day a guy broke into my neighbor’s house and my neighbor's a cop. So I rounded the corner and the guy got shot. I watched a guy die last week. But I think I’m glad I saw that. It’s good to see some sh*t go down in life. It keeps things in perspective.”
My mind reeled as I remembered my time reporting in downtown Chicago during grad school. Hearing sirens was a regular occurrence, and though I never witnessed an actual murder, it was a very real reality that Chicago is the deadliest city in America. As he told me the witnessing-murder-story like it was no big deal, I was sad.
"I wish I’d been born a hundred years ago, because then life would just be easier. I just want to live in a cabin on the Finger Lakes in upper New York. On the water where it’s quiet. Simple, you know?"
I told him that sounded nice.
"What do you do?”
"What sort of stuff do you write about?"
I told him I was passionate about the intersection of faith and culture, and how I love writing about inspiring people who live life to the fullest, especially in music. I also told him I wasn't afraid of writing about conflict, like sexuality and the church.
"Yeah, there's no shortage of controversy there," Matt said. "I try to keep quiet about those sorts of things. I see myself as an observer. I don't really have much to say, and I don't know what I think about all that. I was raised in a Catholic high school, but I think just working with the Earth so much, people that work with the Earth just aren’t religious. I know all the physics, and people talking about how the universe is expanding and contracting and I think everything in the future has already occurred and time goes both forward and backward. I know all the physics behind it, and it's just crazy."
Mind blown, I thought about asking if he'd ever read the book Einstein and Religion (amazing), but decided to ask how his family was instead.
"Yeah, I love my siblings, 'cuz my dad was kind of a jerk, and it was nice to have each other when things got bad," Matt said.
I wanted ask him what his favorite book of the Bible was, but didn't because I got the feeling he didn't like reading much. So we talked for a bit more about lots of things like his attempts at brewing his own beer in a bathtub, and how excited he was to spend some time away from Buffalo.
"This was my first time flying," Matt said when we landed in Denver. “Being up there in the air makes you want to stay up there all the time.”
This week I'm teaching at the Colorado Christian Writers' Conference in Estes Park, and in between sessions, looking up at the mountains, I finally realized what I wanted to say to Matt up there in the air - that God's plans for him are better than he could ever imagine, and are more exciting than anything he learned, or didn't learn, in Catholic high school. I wanted to tell him the glory of God is man fully alive. If I could do my conversation with Matt over again, up there in the air, I would call author John Eldredge to tell Matt these words, printed in the pages of his book, Waking the Dead:
“God’s intentions towards me might be better than I’d thought. His happiness and my happiness are tied together? My coming fully alive is what He’s committed to? That’s the offer of Christianity? Wow! I mean, it would make no small difference if we knew–and I mean really knew–that down-deep-in-your-toes kind of knowing that no one and nothing can talk you out of–if we knew that our lives and God’s glory were bound together. Things would start looking up. It would feel promising…the offer is life. Make no mistake about that. So then…where is that life? Why is it so rare?”
Our conversation reminded me why I do what I do - because I know life isn't meant to be observed - it's meant to be lived out with passion. It was nice to meet Matt, and even nicer to know he was thankful for "good people like me," but I was depressed because he is one of thousands of Millennials passively floating through and observing life. For me, ordinary is not an option. After the spark was lit for me at the 2011 Passion Conference, my prayer is each and every person I meet experiences the same thing - a revolution of the heart for Jesus. So, this week, I'll be praying Matt's fire for Jesus gets lit somewhere in the mountains around me. Who knows, maybe God will catch Matt's attention in the form of a burning bush...you never know when a wildfire may erupt out here.