As an introductory exercise at a recent Bible study, we were asked to name the person, living or dead, that we would most like to meet. And you weren't allowed to say Jesus, because that's a) too easy and b) impossible to say without sounding irritatingly smug.
I let everyone else go first, because it's a difficult question. I enjoy the writings of C.S. Lewis and marvel at both his mighty brain and his great creativity, but he'd probably be rather intimidating and dismissive in the flesh. I love the work of Tove Jansson, but she'd probably spend the interview hiding behind a couch. Trey Parker and Matt Stone would be very interesting people to meet, but I don't think I'd be able to keep up with them, and I'd run the risk of having them mock me with a whiny little Australian kid who pops up on South Park in six months' time.
Eventually it came to my turn and I said something stupid, which I then modified with three other kinds of stupid, so that the original stupid was lost in a general fog of stupidity. But now, quite a bit later, I've had time to think and come up with a list that expresses far more accurately the People I'd Most Like To Meet.
5. Chris Isaak - Although there's no way he could be as cool, as witty or as good-natured as he appears, nothing has ever been reported to suggest he isn't. He covers kitschy Hawaiian Christmas songs, has a thing for early 60s American cars, and appeared in Twin Peaks. Who wouldn’t want to meet him?
I'm also curious to know what he was thinking when he wrote 'Brightest Star', which is so choc-full of Christiany goodness that it could have been written by Martin Luther.
4. Michael Dorn - The funniest interview I ever heard was Michael Dorn being quizzed by a couple of afternoon radio DJs. They were both funny guys, but he was running rings around them. I was listening in the car and laughing so much I nearly drove into a lamp post.
In Star Trek he sent his own character up with a keen but affectionate sense of fun. He strikes me as a great person to join for an afternoon at the pub, laughing and drinking beers and getting the sort of gossip that would cause the heads of Trekkers to explode.
3. James Lileks - I admire his writing, his politics, his sense of humour, his taste in music, his stance on 70s interior design, and his ability to express his thoughts with a few deft words that perfectly encapsulate what he's going on about. Bastard.
Also Minnesotans are my favourite Americans - they're so not in your face. I can't picture one without visualising him in the middle distance. He speaks gently and politely, and looks over my shoulder occasionally to make sure the wide brown prairies are still beyond.
2. My little brother - In 1973, when I was four, my mother became pregnant with another baby, but she miscarried after about six weeks. Nearly thirty years later, I had a dream one night that I met a man who seemed very similar to me, but a little younger. We got on like a house on fire. Just before the dream ended I felt an overwhelming sense of brotherly love for this man, and I remembered pulling him close and hugging him and wishing that he didn’t have to leave.
At that time, I didn’t know about the miscarriage in 1973. I’m not the sort of flake who believes that one can meet dead proto-siblings in dreams, but it’s interesting to imagine. I've often wondered what it would have been like to have a brother, especially when I see my sisters sharing so much. I get the impression that having a sibling of the opposite gender is a lot different to having one of the same gender.
1. Simon Peter - I've always liked St Peter, ever since I realised that he wasn't really Jewish. He was actually the world's first Australian. He had an ocker quality about him, in a sort of slightly dim, Barry McKenziesque kind of way. Like most Australians, he tended to be blunt, a little slow on the uptake, and showed a great appreciation for the values of loyalty.
Think about it. In John 13 he demonstrates a typically Australian combination of stubborn refusal and overeager acceptance:
5 After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples' feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.
6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, Lord, are you going to wash my feet?
7 Jesus replied, You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.
8 No, said Peter, you shall never wash my feet.
Jesus answered, Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.
9 Then, Lord, Simon Peter replied, not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!
You can just picture him starting to pull his shirt over his head and unzip his pants, while the rest of the disciples throw up their hands and shout, "It's a freakin' metaphor, you moron! Put your clothes back on!"
And then in Matthew 17;
1 After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. 2 There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. 3 Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.
4 Peter said to Jesus, Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters; one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.
Peter doesn't say, "Hey, the great founders of the Jewish race are right here in front of me! What question shall I ask them to make use of their holy wisdom?" Instead, he's worried about sunstroke. Talking is for wet pansies - give an Aussie bloke something practical to do and he'll be happy.
You also get the feeling that, given any sort of encouragement, he would have been hauling the barbecue out of the trailer and sending James down to pick up some beer.
Then of course there's the triple denial of Jesus, the lowest point in this man's life. He has broken the first rule of mateship, which is to always stick up for your mates, no matter what.
69 Now Peter was sitting out in the courtyard, and a servant girl came to him. You also were with Jesus of Galilee, she said.
70 But he denied it before them all. I don't know what you're talking about, he said.
71 Then he went out to the gateway, where another girl saw him and said to the people there, This fellow was with Jesus of Nazareth.
72 He denied it again, with an oath: I don't know the man!
73 After a little while, those standing there went up to Peter and said, Surely you are one of them, for your accent gives you away.
74 Then he began to call down curses on himself and he swore to them, I don't know the man!
Immediately a rooster crowed. 75 Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken: Before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times. And he went outside and wept bitterly.
And then over in John 21, in one of the most beautiful passages in the Bible, Jesus forgives Peter three times, once for each time Peter denied him.
15 When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?
Yes, Lord, he said, you know that I love you.
Jesus said, Feed my lambs.
16 Again Jesus said, Simon son of John, do you truly love me?
He answered, Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.
Jesus said, Take care of my sheep.
17 The third time he said to him, Simon son of John, do you love me?
Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, Do you love me? He said, Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.
18 Jesus said, "Feed my sheep. I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go." 19 Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, Follow me!
After that, there's no stopping Peter, and any betrayals in the past are surpassed by the loyalties he shows in the future.
I think I like Peter because he's proof that even if you're a naive, bone-headed doofus, you can still do great things. There's hope in that for all of us.