Road Trip With A Purpose On Purpose

Did you hear the one about the insurance man, the atheist, and the preacher who went to Virginia to see Mr. Jefferson? Probably not until now, but that is exactly what happened this summer. No, it is not a joke. Yes, it is a strange mixture of personalities. Yes, we had a blast. So why? And what happened on the trip?

For the longest time, I have been promising my friend John Rankin (pictured at left)- the  exploring, seeking,  self-proclaimed “free thinking secular humanist seeker” that I would take him to see the home of one of our favorite presidents. When I was a kid growing up in New Orleans, I made a game of memorizing all the presidents in 1st grade and the first book I ever bought as a child was about Thomas Jefferson.  My interest in presidents grew during my teen years and swelled in college as a political science/pre-law major. I did a paper on Jefferson in college and read widely about him.  John had admired him for years for his ideas and Renaissance Man persona. And my friend, Ronnie Hallman, the insurance guy with a big smile is really a closet historian who loves to study American history and meet people.

Besides all that, Thomas Jefferson, the 3rd President Of the United States, is a rich subject.  At a dinner of Nobel Prize winners, John F. Kennedy  said, “This may be the greatest assembly of minds to dine in the White House with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.” Jefferson was THAT smart and gifted and diverse. And strangely enough, John, Ronnie, and I admire him even though we don’t share everything in common.

From the get-go, we all hit it off. We talked politics, people, faith, and ideas on the picturesque ride north and arrived shortly before lunch. In a whirlwind of 48 hours, we saw not only Monticello (Jefferson’s home), but the University of Virginia (which Jefferson called his greatest achievement), Montpelier- the home of James Madison, the 4th President of the United States, and Ash Lawn-Highland, the home of President James Monroe, the 5th President of the United States. We capped off the trip with a foray into Lexington, Virginia visiting VMI, Washington and Lee University, and the Lee Chapel where Robert E. Lee is interred as well as the final resting place of Lee’s favorite general, Stonewall Jackson.

All along the way, we shared some of the finest cuisine at the rustic colonial Michie Tavern; at on the balcony veranda of Michael’s Bistro overlooking Main Street and U. Va. in downtown Charlottesville, and McAdoo’s in downtown Lexington (home of the SINsation- a mixture of cinnamon bun topped with generous helpings of chocolate-chip cookie dough ice cream)

Most of all, we had a great time connecting as friends. I love to introduce friends to friends.  Ronnie and John hit it off although they­ don’t share much in common.  On the balcony of the restaurant in Charlottesville, Ronnie admitted that he read John’s columns in the paper from the Faith Debate John and I carried on in the Gazette for a couple of years and found him to be a little “out there.”  As a matter of fact, Ronnie (pictured below) with a lifesize statue of Thomas Jefferson) said, “I thought you were crazy.” But after meeting one another and sharing good food and companionship around common interests, they grew to respect one another. Ronnie summarized the weekend jaunt through history with “I’ve found a new friend.”

We can be different, but still show respect.   We don’t surrender our faith or convictions when we hang out with others of different faith persuasions. Quite often, they are strengthened. And it gives us a chance to prove that our faith is real.  Jesus said, “The world will know that you are truly my disciples if you have love for one another.”

Ronnie and I get to prove our faith is real by demonstrating love and respect to one another, but also to John and others who don’t share our faith. And we can do so without surrendering our faith.

Maybe the author of the document that laid the foundation for this nation of freedom to have “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” would have smiled to know that such a dream is possible even among those who are quite different.

Besides, Jesus said, “The world will know that you belong to me if you love one another.”  God gave two Christ-Followers a chance to show an atheist that the love of Christ is real while we actually enjoyed one another’s company.  I have to think that God smiled on us as He shown through two of us the love that He still has especially for the one who is “not yet “one of us.

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