My friends know that I could possibly be the world’s worst conversationalist when it comes to chit chat. At a recent dinner setting with a table full of business associates the conversation happened to devolve into shop talk and gossip; too much about people and not enough about ideas. I went silent. Typically when this happens, in an act of social self preservation, I seek an opportunity to conjoin the group,
redirect the dialogue and ask each person one of my favorite questions for exposing more to the group about the person talking than would any amount of small talk. What are the 3 things you secretly would love to do in life without regard to skill or opportunity? (Yankees shortstop, rock and roll drummer, Key West bait shop owner have been responses in he past) – or – Where are the 3 places in the world where you would love to live? (most people choose where they currently hang their hat). That evening I asked a question I had never asked before. With whom would you most like to share a bottle of wine and a conversation? The answers were intriguing.
As we went around the table that night, the names of Winston Churchill, Jesus Christ, Ron Jeremy, Albert Schweitzer, and Bono were evoked. With that roster it gives an inkling of the interesting nature the conversation took on. Having focused on the answers my dinner mates gave I wasn’t really prepared when the question got around to me. I could only come up with two.
My first answer was easy. It was to talk with my dad who died before I was mature enough to figure out some of the more important things in life and for which he was patiently waiting for me to come to grips with.
My second answer was more obscure; Ben Stein. You probably remember him in a cameo role as Ferris Bueller’s monotoned economics teacher … “Bueller?…Bueller?” But Ben Stein is more than a Hollywood celebrity. He’s a lawyer, commentator, teacher, actor, author, and a former speech writer for two presidents. But none of that compels me to want to have a conversation. It is his courage of conviction.
Stein is a vocal conservative living in liberal Malibu and Beverly Hills; must be very lonely at times. He is an unabashed patriot that defends American institutions at a time when tearing them down has become sport. The Hollywood trade media routinely has a field day with him over his cultural and political views. This however, does not dissuade him from expressing them because he is secure in himself and his convictions. In today’s society, this constitutes an act of bravery. As a devout Jew, his views on God, creation, life, death, and purpose are well known and he isn’t afraid to stand up and be recognized. This also represents fortitude seldom seen from either side of the cultural divide.
That brings me to why I have written this piece. Ben Stein provides an example for me to be who I am without fear. I am routinely asked my view on things cultural, political and spiritual and find I am often most timid in my responses on the spiritual aspects of life; my life in particular. This is probably due in large part to my limited scope of understanding into historical events and spiritual concepts that make absolutely no sense whatsoever to me and a general acceptance that there are things that will always be a mystery and subject to my faith alone. It’s not comfortable talking about things you don’t fully understand yet believe nonetheless.
You can call me one of those right wing conservative Christians; yes one of those wacky born-agains. I come complete with a belief in a perfect God (capital G) who is so omni-everything that no one can truly comprehend and that my pea-sized life actually has had a plan attached to it since birth. Pretty cosmic, huh? I believe in life after death, heaven, hell and all that goes along with it; accepting it all as one of those things that I simply will never be smart enough to wrap my brain around. And those that say they do have the intelligence and choose to dismiss the whole idea as nonsense had better be right for their sake. Not making any judgments here, but I’m just sayin’ ….
But before you label me as just another self righteous putz that snickers at “sinners”, please know that I have issues as well and actually have a record of being a very accomplished sinner myself. I subtly bridle at organized religion, I love a cold beer and a good cigar, and occasionally can let an expletive rip with the best of them when no other word will truly suffice. Forgive me, mom.
With that said, I see a tremendous symmetry and synergy in our world that I have trouble reconciling to a random eruption of molten rock or a galactic collision. I’m okay with knowing that I will never know, at least in this lifetime, the exact process of such things. I am comfortable with that crazy creation theory that this whole thing came from God who had a vision, a plan. and the omnipotence to get it done. You know, those seemingly inexplicable things in perfect balance we take for granted on a daily basis like the earth’s rotation, sunrise, sunset, Quantum Physics, Murphy’s Laws, the human body and indomitable will, the act of birth. As a father and husband that suffered the loss of twins at birth, I bear witness to the fact that human life is not a given, but rather a miracle when it happens. I’ve never seen water turned to wine but I have seen other miracles; so have you.
Since my dad isn’t available, Ben is my choice for a conversation mate. His lack of fear to be who he is in the environment he lives, without disclaimers, is incredibly compelling to me. Mr. Stein, if you’re out there; name the time and the place. I’ll buy the wine and we can talk things over.