I met God in Beverly Hills.
He was taller than me, and He had a long beard. I’d always pictured him that way, but in my mind’s eye God’s beard was milky-white and his presence was full of glory and majesty. When I met God, his beard was long (but brown and greasy), and instead of glory and majesty, he was full of alcohol. God didn’t ask me for a dollar, nor did he command me to serve him as a life missionary in Upper Moravia. God asked me to sign his shoe.
“Sign my shoe,” he said. His question startled me. I stopped and looked at the dark doorway from whence the voice had come.
“What?” I asked. I hadn’t planned on meeting God that night. I was dressed nicely, but I wasn’t wearing my Sunday best. I hoped he wouldn’t mind that I was wearing a pair of shorts in his presence.
God blinked and said, “I’m God. Would you like to sign my shoe?” He was sitting on the steps of a leather goods store holding a worn tennis shoe in his hand.
“You’re God?” I asked. “As in, God?”
He nodded in an understanding way and started to say something, but I interrupted. I wanted to know why God was here. I’d never heard of such a thing. Being careful not to get too close, I asked, “What are you doing in Beverly Hills?” I was surprised to see him here. Los Angeles, even Beverly Hills, didn’t seem like his territory. And God didn’t look like he belonged in Beverly Hills. Looking carefully at his plaid flannel shirt and torn jeans, I couldn’t help but wonder if God would belong anywhere.
He shrugged His shoulders and grinned. “I got lost.”
Such a thing had never occurred to me in all my years of Sunday School, and I almost asked why he hadn’t just purchased a map. But that might be received as impertinent. So instead I asked “Where were you going?” and immediately wondered if I had committed a faux pas by not addressing him as “sir,” or “thou,” or “Almighty Lord Who Examineth Our Hearts and Knoweth Our Minds.” Was it impolite not to call him by a title? And just plain old “God” didn’t sound very proper. Imagine asking the Creator of the Universe, “Where were you going, God?” It doesn’t work.
God answered my question with a sigh. “I was going to Disneyland. I’m from Michigan.”
The theological implications of this were more than I could handle. I took a few steps away from him. God stood up and stretched, watching me closely with wild eyes. “I got lost and asked for directions,” he said, pointing over my shoulder. “I parked on that street right there, and when I came back, my car was gone. Towed away.” I nodded sympathetically, which seemed to make God feel better. He smiled, and I noticed that God’s teeth were much cleaner than his breath. They were pearly white. “So, I’ve been stuck here for a few weeks. I don’t know when I’ll leave. Maybe when I find my car.” God stuck a hand in his pockets and pulled out a pack of gum. “Want a stick?” he asked.
I shook my head no. It was hard for me to accept a God who offered me sticks of Juicyfruit—and besides, he may have decided my time on earth was up and poisoned the gum. As much as I loved him, I wasn’t going to let him take my life in his hands. At least, not this time. God shrugged and stuck a piece of gum in his mouth. “If you see a yellow Dodge Dart with Michigan license plates, let me know. It’s my car, and I think the police are trying to sell it,” he said, chewing. He just kept throwing zingers at me. I’d always pictured God as a limousine-type guy, something grand and bold and glorious, just like all those Psalms. But God drove a yellow Dodge Dart. “Sign my shoe,” he said again, suddenly. He held out the worn sneaker and a pen.
I looked at him, and his eyes looked back into mine—and they were full of something that made me take the smelly shoe in my hands and look at it. Someone had written, “Peace,” and someone else, “I need a babe.” Next to that, “Nice to see you.” And then names, signatures all over God’s shoe in fading and faded blue ink. I took the pen and looked at God. His beard was long and scraggly; he was tall, but his shoulders stooped; his forehead was heavily lined. But he was God. He’d told me so. He’d asked me to sign his shoe. God was asking me to do something. Everything I’d ever been taught told me I had to obey. A nice-dressed couple walked by just then, and I could feel the question in their look: “What’s a nice guy like him doing talking to a bum like that?” Before I could say anything, God spoke up and said, “I’m God and he’s signing my shoe. I’ve made another friend.” The lady laughed and the man muttered, “Yeah, right,” and they hurried on.
I took a deep breath and signed my name. I handed the shoe and the pen back to him and he said, “Thank you, Duane.” “Don’t mention it,” I said. It was getting late—the people I was meeting were already waiting. I made movements to go.
“It was nice talking to you. I hope you find your car.”
God smiled. “I will. I’m not always lost in Beverly Hills.” “Yeah,” I said and turned to go. Before I could walk to the corner, God’s voice stopped me. I turned and looked back at him. He was waving. “Hey,” he said, those white teeth showing through the greyish beard. “You’d never believe how many people don’t want to be my friend! You’re one of the few. Have a great evening! I’ll watch out for you!” With a final wave, God walked the opposite direction, one shoe in his hand.
I haven’t seen God since then. I talk to him every day, but very rarely do either of us mention the time he got lost in Beverly Hills. Once I thought of asking him if he ever found his car, and what the deal was with signing his shoe, but I didn’t have the nerve. What God does with his spare time is up to him—it’s none of my business, really. I have this feeling, though, that the next time I see God, he’s going to have that tennis shoe in his hand, and he’s going to remember that I was his friend. He’ll point to my name and say, “You’re one of the few.” And I don’t think—right then, at that moment—his smile will be any bigger or friendlier than it was that night when I met God on a street corner in Beverly Hills.