Monday, August 24, 2009

talking, 1

First, a bit of an explanation.

A while back, I started writing a bit of something, kind of in response to McLaren's book "A New Kind of Christian". It would essentially be something like the book itself, a few people talking about stuff. It went a few chapters, then kind of died out, and it's unlikely it'll be continued, for what it's worth.

Had a thought, and decided that, if nothing else, it may be good to post what little I've done on it here. Maybe it'll be eye-openning to a few people, maybe it'll give some something to consider, maybe it'll actually help someone to not fall into whatever McLaren has fallen into.

So, saying all that, here we go...

It is only a few minutes walk from my apartment to the coffee house, and I usually walked it when I went there. Usually, depending on the weather.

On this late afternoon, the weather was fine. It was a Friday, I had finished work and come back to my place, had a quick dinner of some kind of noodle dish fixed in boiling water, collected my chess stuff, and set out.

The Lonely Mocha was not a large place, but large enough. Nor was it a dimly-lit counter-cultural type of place, which was fine as well, since I wasn't exactly a counter-cultural kind of guy. I'd like to think that's because I don't have the ostentation.

Ok, maybe it's time I introduce you to myself, at least a bit. Jon Smith, a bit over 30, single, likes chess and reading and board games and video games and recently started playing disc golf in order to get outside. Work at a print shop, make enough to get by, though will probably never be rich.

For a few months, a few people have been playing chess on Friday evenings at The Lonely Mocha. The proprietors have abided (abode?) our presence, and we do support the establishment, so it's a benefit to both of us.

There are about five of us who are regulars. We do sometimes have others show up to play, I think our high was nine, two or three weeks before.

None of us were masters, nor even experts. We're hacks, fish, guys who have regular jobs and some have families and really don't have the time nor the talent to push towards chess mastery. But we enjoy the game, and every now and again in a game one of us does something worth noting, though none but us will ever be know for it, I suppose. And our brilliancies probably aren't all that brilliant, anyway.

Two of us were already there when I arrived, and were already setting up for a blitz game. There was a bit of a line at the counter, so it took me a few minutes to order something, this time a chai latte, and another of us arrived while I was ordering. There were, of course, a few non-chess-players in The Lonely Mocha, too, some talking with each other, others on computers, one had what looked to be textbooks out and seemed to be studying. There was some background music playing, I think it was some kind of folksy stuff, which was usual for the LoMo, though every now and again one got some Blues, Muddy Waters or B.B.King or John Lee Hooker, in the mix, to my satisfaction.

I sat at a table beside the two who were playing, and watched the game progress. I wasn't certain, but I would have guessed it had started as a King's Indian Defense. The center was blocked, black had fianchettoed his king's bishop, there had been a few exchanges, pawns were being pushed by each player on opposite sides of the board. The two players were deeply into the game, making moves and gentle pressing the stoppers on the chess clock.

More time went on, some lines were opened, pieces exchanged, and they came to the endgame with six pawns each, white having a rook and bishop and black a rook and knight. The center was still closed, and the bishop was not very active, but black couldn't get his knight in a good spot, either. The players began hitting the chess clock with more force.

Time continued to run down, and then each had only seconds left. Moves came thick and fast, pieces were accidentally knocked over, rooks were exchanged, the clock began being hit with force as they tried to stop it before any more micro-seconds ran off then they could help, the bishop took the knight in a position that messed up black's pawns, white got a passed pawn on the queenside, and black finally resigned in a losing position. The tension immediately left the players and those of us watching, the player's shook hands and made comments about the game, and we joined in some, pointing out things we had seen (most of which probably wouldn't have really helped much anyway).

For much of the next couple of hours, I was into playing chess. We played each other in blitz games, two games against each person, alternating colors, with $3 from each of us at stake for the winner. I didn't have a good night, misplaying a pawn ending in one game, mishandling a Sicilian Dragon defense in another, and dropping a rook in one other one. Phil won the pool.

After that, I wasn't up for any more. I went up, got a regular flavor-of-the-day coffee, found a newspaper, and decided to relax a bit before heading back home. I was starting the funnies when Gus came and sat down across from me.

Gus was probably the youngest of us, college age, good guy, a bit erratic in his playing, but so were the rest of us. He was a student at one of the smaller colleges in the city, I'm not sure what he studied. He wasn't a big man, I suppose rather medium, and he always had a book pack with him, usually slung over his right shoulder.

"Hey, Jon." He said by way of greeting, and I set the paper aside. I'm not a very good people person, but didn't mind the interruption. Didn't really like the paper anyway, and the funnies are too often not so funny.

Also, Gus and I had a few times conversed about things. Many different things, politics and religions and women and sports and such. We weren't best friends, but I guess he respected me in some way. He was moderately active in one of the college's Christian groups, had talked about friends there and sometimes doing some of the stuff they did.

"Hello, Gus."

"Hey. I remember you saying one time, that you'd done some kind of overseas stuff, missions stuff I think, at one time."

I nodded, "Yes, I had." It wasn't something I talked about much. Not that I was ashamed of it, but it wasn't something I bragged about, either, and those times I had mentioned it, people seemed to either make far too big a deal about it, or basically ignore what I'd said. It had come up once or twice, not planned, and I hadn't done much more then mention it.

"I wonder. Well, I have a friend in the L--, and a few days ago, he gave me a book by some author. Said it was suppose to be really good, like it's suppose to make people think of things like God and church in different ways then they had before. I think I have it here with me."

Gus fished around in his pack for a moment, found it, and put it on the table between us.

"Interesting. May I?" He nodded, and I picked up the book. I recognized it, had even read a part of it, and was somewhat familiar with the author and people who were part of his...organization? Movement? "Have you read much of it?"

"Just a few chapters. Pretty heavy stuff, even if he is writing it kind of like a story. Or, I guess, more like a bunch of guys talking and trying to make sense of stuff, though it seems like the one guys already made sense of stuff and the others just ask questions."

I opened the book, and scanned a few pages. My earlier attempts at reading it had ended soon enough. Maybe I didn't have time for it, or maybe I had other things to do. Maybe it just wasn't that big a deal to me, at that time.

"Jon, you believe in God and all that, right?"

"Yes, I do."

"Good, 'cause I don't really know what to make of all of this. Yeah, I know there is a God, and yes I'm a Christian, but what about what people like are saying? This whole postmodern thing they're talking about and writing about? Do you understand me?"

"Yes, I do, maybe a little."

"I mean, you know me, and know that I'm involved with some of the Christian groups. That's fine, I've been to their stuff a time or two, pretty good people, no complaints. But if I listen to them long enough, I'd come away thinking that all they think we think about is sex."

"You mean it's not?" I was joking.

"Well, there's beer, too."


"Anyway, to be serious, I know they mean well, and I'm probably not being fair to them. Some of the other students do seem to think about little else then, well, getting into bed with others. I'm interested in the whole dating thing, sure, but I hope I'm not so shallow that it's the most important thing for me."

"That's likely, but what about the book?"

"I don't know. Like I said, I haven't read much, so I'm not ready to say if it's good or not. Heck, I don't even know enough to say whether it's good or not. I mean about God and religion and stuff. I haven't believed for all that long, only a bit over a year. Still, his whole thing about this thing called postmodernism and that how we think now is different then how we thought even a few years ago, and we don't care as much for reason and evidence as our dad's did, and it's all a good thing, I don't know. It's deep stuff, and I don't know what to make of it."

"Can I help in any way?"

"Can you read it. Well, I'll read it, too, but can you read it, too?"

I was a bit taken aback, but not much. Truth to tell, our talk had made me curious to try again to read it. Whether I would have gone looking for it or not if he hadn't asked, is another thing. Maybe if I had stumbled on it, I may have gotten it then, but I doubt I would have put any special effort into finding a copy.

"Well, that's an idea. Maybe I will. I need to visit the library tomorrow anyway, they may have a copy. Do you have a pen?"

"Sure." He hunted around in his bag again, and found one. I took it, and wrote the name of the book and author on a piece of paper that was taken from my wallet.

"There it is. Shall we meet here in a few days, to see what we think about it."

"Sure, Jon, sure. Do you have a phone number?"

"Yes, but try e-mail." I wrote that down on a scrap, and he gave me his.

“I'll get right on it," he said. "And maybe we can figure this stuff out. Next week, this time?"

"Sounds good. It's not a big book, but it may take me a few days to finish it, what with work and video games and all."

"Priorities, man, I know."

"Well, don't worry. I'll have it finished by next Friday."

We talked a few more minutes, then he went back to play some more chess. I finished the comics, read a few other things, bade my good-byes to the other players, then walked home.

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