I’m sitting under the canvas canopy of the Dawn On The Amazon restaurant here in Iquitos when an old friend plops down in the chair across from me. Brian Adams is a middle-aged guy from Minnesota. He has been living in various towns in the Peruvian jungle for the past decade or so. As thin as a broomstick, he has a head of thick white hair and a face brown enough to pass for a local.
I reached across the table and shook his hand. “I haven’t seen you for years. Where have you been?”
He laughs. “Looking for God?” he says.
Was that a note of sarcasm in his voice? “Good for you,” I reply.
“Why is it good for me?” he asks. Not waiting for my reply, he adds, “It was a waste of time.”
His answer reminds me that Brian is an atheist. “You must have been looking in the wrong places, Brian.”
Another burst of laughter. “Yeah, that must be it. I was looking in the wrong places.”
This time there is no doubt that he was being sarcastic. We sit in silence for a minute or two, both of us taking in the fiery red sun as it slips past some trees in the distance, sending a pink glow hoovering over the backwater of the Amazon River. I can tell by the smile on Brian’s face that he’s enjoying the view as much as me.
“Beautiful, isn’t it,” I say.
He nods his head in agreement.
“God is a wonderful artist, isn’t He?
He shakes his head. “You know as well as I do, Leo, there is no such thing as God.”
I chuckle. “You mean you don’t believe you’ve found a god worthy of your intellect.”
He laughs. Fixing a thoughtful gaze on me, he asks, “I suppose you still believe in God?”
“Brian, I’m not smart enough not to believe in God.” I sit back and wait for a reply. When I notice he’s waiting for me to elaborate, I say, “I can’t imagine a world without God. Do you know the first thing I do when I awake every morning?”
“I know what you’re going to say, you’re going to tell me that your God,” he replies, emphasizing the word ‘your, “is responsible for each day.”
I lean across the table. “I do, Brian.”
“There is no god, Leo.” To drive home his point he adds, “That’s just something you’ve made up to lean on when things go wrong. Like a crutch.”
“You’re darn tootin’,” I reply in my best southern accent, adding a syllable to every word. “And yes … like you say … a crutch I lean on every day.”
He shakes his head. “If you need a crutch, that’s okay for you. But for me—” He stops. After a pregnant pause, he says in an earnest voice, “I wish I had your simple faith.”
That’s when I invite him to attend with me the small church on the outskirts of town the girls and I attend every Sunday. To my surprise, he accepts the offer. “Are you sure I’ll be welcome there?”
“I guarantee it, buddy.”
We chat a few minutes longer before he says he has to go. As I watch him stroll down the street, I think: That wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be.