Lions vs. Christians
An unlikely friendship.
Friday, July 11, 2014
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One August morning in 1971 my parents and I packed up our blue Rambler with all my worldly possessions and headed off from my childhood home in Indiana to my new home in Ames, Iowa: Floor 5, Wilson Hall, Iowa State University. That's where I met another incoming freshman, a blond Easterner named Stu.
When I finally cracked the code to Stu's light-speed New Jersey accent (gezindaca for gas in the car; wazmattawiya? for what's the matter with you?), I found him an interesting guy to talk to. My new roommate, Jon, a cowboy from northwestern Iowa, didn't. Stu's go-for-the-juggler sense of wit had the cowboy constantly licking his wounds. So in a couple of weeks my first roommate packed up his pointed boots and Stetson (and wounded ego) and switched rooms with Stu.
When Stu moved in I soon discovered a difference in our likes and dislikes. I liked God. Stu didn't. In fact, Stu's sardonic sense of humor ripped through religion like a Midwestern tornado.
To keep track of his religious putdowns, Stu wrote LIONS on one half of an index card and CHRISTIANS on the other half, and then taped it on the wall at the back of our room. With each verbal punch he made at God or his people, Stu gave himself a vertical mark under "Lions." With each slam I made about something nonreligious (at times I just had to cut loose), I got my own mark under "Christians."
Amid the putdowns, Stu and I became close—like brothers. While he could rip into my beliefs, nobody else dared. Over meals in the dorm cafeteria, I would bow and pray silently. One time, an upperclassman in a Farmall hat said as I lowered my head: "Why pray to God? You should thank the farmers who grew the stuff" (remember, we were in Iowa). Stu cussed the guy and told him to mind his own business. Smiling, I quietly finished my prayer.
Most days Stu and I walked the half mile to central campus together. We also took in a lot of weekend concerts and checked out the local record stores. And while I made Christian friends at Iowa State, none of those friends were like Stu. None were as fun to hang around. None as close. His zany lampooning taught me to lighten up and laugh more, and his sometimes painfully open personality taught me to be more open.
Stu did have a lot of issues. He was insecure. His anger would flare up like the propane in chem lab. He had no patience—especially with himself. Needless to say, we helped each other though many down times.
At the end of the year, Stu went back to New Jersey with a few dozen marks ahead of me on the Lions vs. Christians chart. I went back to Indiana. I didn't attend Iowa State in the fall. I got drafted into the military. We lost contact. I lost my best friend.
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