The Matchbook Diaries

Evangelism on the Fly

I ferreted out a fellow Jewish New Yorker in an airport once when I was leaving Miami for Dar.  I’d been alone, away from my family, to fetch supplies for a summer trek and a NY accent really gets my attention.  So I started to talk with him.  The time came for us to line up and board our flight to Istanbul.  We realized we were in the same group of seats, so we queued together.  They were slow in boarding and we wound up having an hour-long chat.  By then I learned that he was a zealot for the Jewish state and a violent political conservative.  I vote.  That’s as much as I want to say about politics, and as for the Jewish state, well – now – that’s a complicated issue isn’t it?  Because I’ve been in Jordan in taxicabs driven by displaced Palestinians, and yet I’m a Jew, so my perspective is different.  During the ISIS crisis I was in Jordan, I watched Muslim Iraqi people out in the snow digging garbage out of bins in Amman because they were trying to feed their children who were shivering in refugee tents   I listened to the compassion of the Christian and Muslim people living side by side in Jordan, and I heard them say – “That’s not Islam, that’s not right.  We will help.”  It’s simply uneducated to hate people you don’t know and there are more than three faiths in this world.  Faith, not religion, is my Gospel.   Political and religious conversations are not dialogues, they’re diatribes.    My new friend is traveling to Tel Aviv to see his daughter.  He’s a lawyer, of course.  I can’t fight anything line and page number.  We finally board.  It was packed.  We’d be lost to one another and I’d get away from the uncomfortable conversation which was my fault since I engaged.

This little chap visited our campsite daily the summer we spent in Cow Head, Newfoundland. He was confident. He stared at us in the eyes until we surrendered snacks.

His seat, it turned out, was in my row.  Shit, shit, shit.  There is only one vacant seat between us.  I discreetly scanned the cabin.  Surely, since not one other seat was empty, there was no chance of this seat remaining so.  I’d not be stuck 14 hours next to this fellow.  But yes. The seat between me and this man remained empty.

By then we’d waded into all kinds of territory.  I took a breath and said, “Yeah, well, I am Jewish.  I went to Hebrew school.  My mom’s Jewish.  But I became a Christian when I was 13.”  I’d basically just told him something akin to I murdered 12 young children.  He called me nasty names in Yiddish, which, of course, I understood.  The plane took off.  I thought, Shit. I’m not AT ALL interested in forcefully converting anyone to Christianity.  He can worship Yoda (smallest character in our Hebrew alphabet!) so far as I’m concerned.  I’m engaged with faith, not proper nouns.  But he’s a dog on meat.  Why would a woman from a prominent Jewish NY family convert to Christianity?  He’s insulted, offended, and mesmerized the way someone might be when passing a car accident.

Finally I said, “Listen, I’ll tell you why I believe what I believe, if you want, but I’m sure it will be hard to hear, and certainly nothing you agree with.”  He considered only a moment, and said, “Tell me.”  This was brave of him.  I thought, OK, so this guy’s gonna want rules, reasons, so I can’t go at it that way.  He’s gonna want me to insult the Jews, which ain’t happening.  I lurch in thinking, I’m so fucked.

“OK, ok, so, so let’s assume for a moment that I’m wandering in my birthplace, and I wander astray, without realizing it, so I find myself in foreign territory, enemy territory.”  I watch him.  He’s scrambling to seek a hole, a way to punch through what I say, and I think, No, no, ….  “so here I am, I’ve accidentally crossed a border and I can’t cross back.  I’m powerless to get back; the border between the two states is categorically impassable.  I’ve strayed into enemy territory and am now indelibly marked as one of the enemy’s own.”  He doesn’t want to nod, but, fuck yeah, he has to, nothing to argue so far.  Tread lightly Aimee, I pray, God give me the grace to do this well.  “Yeah, so, I’m fucked, right?  Anyone seeking to fetch me would wind up polluted like me.”  I throw in language.  “So, OK, let’s assume, then, that what it would take to release me is atonement, some way to make it so that the irreversible condition I’m in is erased, like it never happened, then I’d be fit to re-cross into my birth territory.”

“No matter what I do, I’m in a bad way.  I can’t clean up my stained soul and no one can save me.  But what if you could make a new way?  What if I could access a Golem-suit, like a costume of  perfection?”  He nods.  I keep plugging along, it ain’t pretty but I’m getting it done….   “Yeah, so, in order to access that kind of costume, something perfect would have to enter into territory unfit for Itself, right?  So how, then, does perfection enter into imperfection?  What if there was a way to stake out one touchstone in hell?”  He’s got nothing to say, so I just keep going.

“OK, so God’s a gambler, right?  We have free will.  That was a hell of a gamble, literally, it seems.”  I laugh here, hoping he will.  He doesn’t. I plunge on,   “So then, here’s the bargain.  God makes a deal with the dictator of the country that I’m stuck inside of.  God and the dictator agree: God sends the heir of his kingdom to the other territory, the one I’m imprisoned in.  Then that dictator can have his way with God’s heir.  He can give it his best shot.  For 30 years, he has unlimited access and opportunity to pervert the heir.  God agrees that there’s no shield on his heir, nothing the dictator can’t do to try to infect the heir.  It would only take a splinter of sin, a fraction of evil, and both sides would then belong to the dictator.”  I’m going full on now, just as the plane hits cruising altitude.  The whole exchange will last maybe 20 minutes.

“So you know, then, the dictator, that dumb, proud fuck, he’s rubbing his hands together saying, Sure!”   I’ve got my seatmate’s undivided attention.  “So the heir is subject to a full on assault orchestrated by the dictator, raped nine ways to Sunday.  But the dictator, he gets carried away.  The coup de grâce – the dictator murders the heir.”  My new friend waited for the punch line, but he is very polite now; his face is inscrutable.  I finish, “Yeah, well, big mistake, killing him.  Because the thing is, the heir is perfect, so what happens is that for an instant something perfect, something unable to die achieves death voluntarily.  For a moment hell swallows the perfect thing, consumes the heir whole before realizing that it’s categorically impossible for imperfection to contain perfection.  And just like that, hell vomits the heir back up, no choice.  And violà, the dictator is fucked as he watches the veil torn in two, top to bottom.  And the heir emerges with a new death-suit, a spiritual costume.  Now there’s this outpost, an intersection where, if I go, there’s a passage, a holy tunnel, a golem-elevator that I can use by stepping into the heir’s costume.  I get to go home”

I shut up.  My row-mate doesn’t even pull away from where he’s leaned into me until I deliberately lean back.  He follows my lead, and leans back into his seat, suddenly embarrassed.  Now I’m so tired I do not want to talk at all.  I locate the pills I take for sleep, and say, “Please tell them I’m skipping all the meals, I’m going to sleep.”  I strap on my sleep mask, headphones.  I plan to pretend to sleep.  I can’t sleep.  I never sleep in my own bed, or in first class, but economy class?  Hahahahaha.  I fell asleep that moment and slept 14 hours; I never used the toilet, never smelled food, nothing.  More than a half day later, my now old friend taps my back lightly as we touch down in Istanbul, his eyes wide with incredulity.  He says, “I’ve never seen anyone sleep like that on a plane!”  We swap blessings as he heads to Tell Aviv.  Now I can shit myself before catching my next flight.  I slept!  God works how God works.

I’m selling a product people either think they already own, or, they hate, or, on the other hand, think is ridiculous.  It’s a total fucking blast.  When I realized I was an evangelist I felt like I’d discovered some kind of chronic socially hideous disease in myself.  I wanted to get out of that identity quickly.  But I cannot.  It’s who I am.  I believe.  But I don’t believe in nailing faith down with specific terms.  I believe in throwing open the gate and saying – “Look here – if you go in you’ll find something amazing, something beautiful”.  Either way, it’s got to the the most fucking uncool profession ever, like, ever.  I hope that man, wherever he is right now – I hope he knows that God loves him.

God has to be able to withstand any level, any question.  If faith breaks into bits or loses focus under pressure, under scrutiny, it’s useless.  If you can’t say, with conviction, why you believe what you believe, then your faith is not useful.  And it has to be useful or it’s nothing at all.  I don’t give a fuck about conversions.  I was desperate for real help.  Truth is immutable.  It will not collapse.  There is no weak point in pure truth.  Truth is perfectly strong.  There is no waste, no clutter, just tenderness, dignity, mercy, and love.  It’s not about winning; it’s about sharing victories together.