I suspect they’ve visited nearly all of you at one time or another, usually late on a Saturday morning. They knock on your door, wearing semi-formal attire, looking quite respectable and happy, and confidently carrying their Bibles.
I speak now, as you may have guessed, of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. They can never be sure what kind of reception they’ll receive. Someone inside the home often peaks surreptitiously at them – and occasionally, quite conspicuously through a blind or drapery – but then refuses to answer the door. Others are a bit more sociable; that is, they talk briefly with the visitors and accept their religious literature. Still others might become quite angry, ordering the visitors off the porch, warning them never to return, and slamming the door in their faces. Comedian Bill Maher jokes that the bodies littering his front yard are the result of his emptying an assault rifle clip on a bunch of “Witnesses,” which really isn’t much of a joke.
Well, friends, it’s different here. They first dropped around my funny little house about 10 years ago and I invited them inside. We sat down in my breakfast nook and, after the necessary introductions, we threw a few theological questions up for discussion, reminding me of my early undergraduate years at Washington State University. Today, I don’t see much of them anymore, perhaps once a month, if that often. Nevertheless, I still enjoy their company.
That’s especially true of Tim Shaw. Tim was born and raised in Enumclaw and is a product our high school. Though he never attended college or technical schools, he taught himself quite a lot about computer programming and, today, he’s a senior programmer with the Information Technology Department for the city of Tacoma.
Tim and I certainly aren’t close socially, but on a few occasions we’ve shared interesting, extended conversations over lunch without lapsing into scriptural readings every couple minutes. Tim is probably the best Biblical scholar I’ve ever known, yet he holds no particular bureaucratic status within his church, other then being an elder in a congregation that has many of them. I’m truly amazed by his ability not only to locate specific biblical verses and chapters and interpret their meaning, but also by his knowledge of the linguistic history of the writings themselves.
Now, of course, as you probably realize – if you’ve read these columns any length of time – my spiritual convictions are rather liberal and flexible, which accounts for many of the metaphysical disagreements between Tim and I. Witnesses subscribe to the scriptural creation of Adam and Eve, while I tend toward an evolutionary explanation and regard the Biblical story as a parable. Witnesses believe the flood in Noah’s day covered the entire earth, while I choose to limit its scope to the Middle East region since there’s no geological evidence to support the broader view. There are even major differences in our conceptions of Christ and God and, in fact, ultra-conservative Christians might call my ideas blasphemous.
Still, despite such deep philosophical differences, I can confidently call Tim my friend and I’m sure he feels the same about me.
All those crazy damn extremists raising hell all over the Middle East – factions, I would remind you, of the Muslim faith that have declared war on one another – could learn quite a lot from me and Tim.