So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
--From the Gospel of John
I looked at Don and wondered if he could handle a long story, but he looked like he could and the story of Rob was one that helped me keep the faith in combat and one that had inspired thousands around the country when I spoke. So I decided to go for it.
“Okay, I am going to tell you the story of Rob. When I first met Rob, I didn’t know what to think of him. He immediately thought I was a fruitcake and pretty much like all the other religious fanatics that he’d met.”
“I wonder why.” Don chimed.
“And it even came to a point where I asked Rob, ‘You don’t like me much, do you?’ He agreed with that statement.
“I like Rob, already,” Don said.
“But in hanging out with Rob he eventually began to see that I was not just a big religious show, that there was something to it. Thus we began to talk about faith. Rob was an agnostic and a failed Buddhist. He had really liked the premise of Buddhism because it gave him meaning in a world filled with a lot of crap. Rob’s a genius who can talk intelligently about any subject you want to bring up. From how the smallest particle we know of is the quark to the finer points of Nietzsche’s philosophy on why God is dead to why the New York Jets will win the Super Bowl this year.”
“Okay,” Don said and sat down on the curb.
“I started praying for Rob in June of 2001. I saw that within the heart of this man was something that surpassed me and the average Christian by far. Within him was the ability to treat people right, because that is just what you do. He did not take advantage of others. He treated everyone with respect. He was humble. He was humble when he could have looked down on all of us mental midgets. He was giving. He would go with me to homeless shelters and spend time with my little brother from big brothers/big sisters. He would go the extra mile whenever you asked him and would usually never complain. I couldn’t understand how one could be so self-controlled and not have Jesus. Rob inspired me to be better.
“But at the same time of having it together, there were small holes where you could see to the core of Rob and know that he was missing God. So beginning in June of 2001, I began to pray every day for Rob. Any spare moment I had, I would pray for Rob. My cell phone greeting read, “Pray for Rob.” Anytime people took prayer requests, I would say, “Pray for Rob.” I would tell him sometimes that I was praying for him and he would politely say thanks…with the old adage, “if it doesn’t hurt anyone, why not.”
“You Christians are crazy,” Don said.
“Now Rob has tattoos. And all of them have deep meaning. This may help you to understand Rob a little more. On his chest from the T-shirt line down to his abs is a tattoo of a city skyline. There is a man and a woman, holding hands, looking at the city skyline from a distance, wondering if the industrialization of society is a good thing or a bad thing, if they should walk toward it and be a part of it, or walk away and have nothing to do with it.”
“His next tattoo is from his midsection down to his navel. It is a tattoo of a man in prison, counting down the days until he gets out. His flesh is slowly rotting off of his bones as he sits in prison. On the outside of the prison bars is a fish eating a fish eating another fish. Below the fish is a crab with a dollar sign on its back to represent how Capitalism and greed is imprisoning us as we eat each other in search of a better life. And in all reality, we are merely here counting down the days until we die.”
“I want to meet him,” Don said.
“On his back on the upper left corner, there is a tattoo of a metronome. On the pendulum of the metronome is an eyeball. This is to represent how time in always watching us and that we can never ever escape it. In the center top portion of the back is a man walking through a nuclear holocaust screaming. In the upper right of his back is a man whose hands look as though a huge anvil in a cartoon just dropped on them and they are now swollen to 40x their normal size and he is screaming because his hands hurt. Because no matter how much toil he does with his hands, there is no satisfaction for his soul.
“On the small of his back is a mummy’s face embalmed tightly. There is a safety pin over his mouth to represent how the government is trying to sensor us.
“On his left shoulder is a tattoo of a razor blade coming out of the pit of hell with angel wings and a halo. This represents that when he was 17 and at USC he took an acid trip and he thought he killed the entire world. So, feeling guilty, he punched holes in his dorm room window. Taking a shard of glass he started cutting his biceps with it. He cut and cut and cut until a pool of blood filled the room. As he was about to pass out, he called his dorm neighbor and asked him for a Band-Aid.
“He was ******,” Don said.
“When he awoke from the experience, it gave him a sense of clarity on life and that it really was worth living. It was not as though he was any closer to God. But when his parents showed up and were genuinely worried, it gave him purpose. As long as he was going to live life, he might as well live it to the full. Soon after that experience, Rob applied to West Point.”
“West Point is the last place I’d go,” said Don.
“On his right shoulder is a tattoo of his mom—naked—crucified to the fallopian tubes. This represents how his Mom who is an Episcopalian Priest was discriminated against because she was a Woman in the church.
“I like that one,” Don said.
“As Rob and I grew closer, we spent a lot more time together. He finally came to my Sunday school class, drunk, sometimes with a hangover or whatever. He came to my bible study almost every Monday night. There were two classes, mine and another guy’s, and he would sometimes come to mine and sometimes to the other one. He just came. He also was starting to fall in love with an amazing friend of mine, Leslee Holt. But he understood that there would be no chance of anything ever happening, because he was not a Christian. He also was experiencing people loving him really unconditionally for the first time and this was a new and hard thing to deal with.
“His next tattoo went to his right collarbone. It was a man straining—like Atlas with the world—under the weight of a very large heart to represent how love is a burden. Now, Rob and I had also been reading books together. We read Spong, Sartre, Nietzsche, as well as Christian existentialists like Tillich. Then we also read Apologists such as Strobel and Hannegraf. Then we got to the book that it all began with, the Bible. We would talk over the points of these books and discussed different aspects of faith. It was fun and not argumentative ever. I had my views, he had his views. Also during the time that we lived together, anytime Rob fell asleep in the living room, I would play my Bible on CD very softly in hopes that somehow it would wake him up and give him an epiphany.”
“You’re so sleazy. I don’t know if I trust you,” Don said.
“Rob also got another tattoo. His heart was broken, because he understood he had no chance with Leslee. He was frustrated with the God thing, because he never felt anything that I would talk about. God never “spoke” to him, like he seemingly spoke to me. So his last tattoo was of a Rhinoceros soldier wearing a helmet and carrying a sword. He was standing in front on an X-Ray machine. Looking into the chest of the Rhino, you could see his ribs and bones and what not. But over the heart, there was a lock. I asked Rob, “What’s the deal with the lock?” His answer was one that stayed firmly embedded in my head and I will never forget it.
‘I am locking out love, and I am locking out God.’
“Here is the tattoo. I keep a picture of it in my wallet.” I pulled out the picture and Don studied it.