The Wanderer

He poked his head into the church foyer and asked if we gave out free Bibles, and we looked at each other. Then we said, “Of course,” and in our hurry, almost handed him someone’s nice leatherbound they’d left on the coat rack. We invited him in out of the dark, and I gave him one of the paperback NIVs we keep on the back pew. He said, “Thanks,” and tucked it under his arm, then kept standing there, wearing a neon pink T-shirt and Hoshi’s Japanese joint hat.

We started throwing questions at him, and he threw some back.

“What’s your favorite movie?”


“Who do you look up to?”

“Leonardo DiCaprio, anyone?”

We went around the circle, which was growing as worship team practice let out. Then Bob ducked into the foyer, spotted the Bible, unslung his computer bag, and set down his mug.

“What’s your name?”

“Waylon,” the new kid said.

“I’m Bob,” (and he left off “pastor”).

Waylon told him we’d given him a Bible, but he had no idea what to do with it. We apologized, and Bob explained the Testaments— how Genesis is the beginning, but how he might want to start with Jesus in John’s gospel (and maybe skip Leviticus).

Waylon said it all went over his head. He had other questions, which weren’t about movies or books, and they seemed to be cocked, aimed, ready for rapid fire on the first person who could hold still long enough to answer:

“What do you guys have to do with the Pope?”

“How are Protestants different from Catholics?”

“Do you ever hear God speak to you audibly?”

“What would you say is the meaning of life?”

“Can glorification be bad?”

“Do you idolize God? Isn’t it wrong to have idols?”

“If Hitler had believed in Jesus, would he be in heaven?”

“Is Jesus tempting to you?”

“What about evolution?”

Bob fielded each one carefully, but sometimes he tossed one to us, and we fumbled around -– fishing from the ocean of knowledge we’ve accumulated as church kids who aren’t kids anymore. Sometimes, we can drift idly on our sea of information, but Waylon made us drop anchor near the shoreline: the simple truth of what Jesus has done.

The halls grew quiet, and the sanctuary went dark. One-by-one, we slid down the foyer walls to sit in a circle on the tile. There were about twelve of us now, feeling a little like the disciples, wondering how to handle an outsider with care, hoping Jesus would make a move.

At every question, I looked to someone else, because I was hungry for solid answers myself — ones that weren’t gummed together of church clichés.

“What is the meaning of life?”

“What does it mean to ‘glorify’ God?”

“What is truth?”

I wondered along with Waylon. Maybe we all did, because the quest to know God doesn’t end when we stumble upon him. That’s the beginning, because that’s when we realize all the time we were wondering and wandering and wearing ourselves out trying to know him, he had sought us out and known us already, all along.

Like Nathanael, we were sitting under a tree and lost, and when someone stopped to say, “Come and see Jesus,” it was too late, because Jesus had already seen us.

“Nathanael said to him, ‘How do you know me?’

“Jesus answered him, ‘Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you’” (John 1:48).

“But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God…” (Gal. 4:9a)

Someone finally asked what brought Waylon from work at Hoshi’s on a Wednesday night, to the light in the church foyer. His mom isn’t religious, he’d said. Neither is her boyfriend or his sister.

“So what about you?” Bob asked, and we all looked at Waylon.

“I guess I’m just… wandering.”

“Could I call you Waylon the Wanderer?” Bob asked, and the Wanderer smirked.

“That’s awesome.”

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