<%image(20050307-jello perfect.jpg|126|104|jello)%>“Would you life some jello?” I asked. “Nah, too much sugar.” Ah yes, sugar, my Step-Mom’s arch nemesis. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard Brooke say that throughout my childhood. But a lot has changed since then. For one thing, an enormous cancerous tumor has been removed from her stomach, resulting in the loss of 2/3’s of her stomach, the removal of an assortment of other organs, and the rerouting of her digestive system.
Brooke has been through 5 weeks of what she has termed, “torture.” Yet in the midst of these turbulent times some things are miraculously still the same. Nevertheless, a lot has changed and still has yet to change.
Stopping by the hospital room on Saturday for a visit, the first thing I did was give Brooke a hug and a kiss on the cheek. That’s not the STO for our relationship. Sure we get along well enough, but a kiss on the cheek goes beyond what I usually do. Today was a watershed moment in my relationship with Brooke.
After enduring so many long fasts (after her stomach operations), Brooke’s face had gotten so thin and her frame so fragile looking. Her gaunt cheeks face yelled at me of how serious the situation has been and still will be. It hit home how close she came to the end, and how our visit today was the result of some miracles that certainly did not have to happen. I wanted Brooke to know that I value, respect, and love her. That simple kiss on the cheek was my acknowledgement of how grave the situation has been and a penance of sorts for not being as involved as I could have been.
On the train ride over to the University of Pennsylvania I wondered what we would talk about. I can’t remember ever spending more than 2 hours hanging out with Brooke. But once we were together, we quickly became engaged in discussion about my wife, my step-sisters, and my current projects.
It was the last topic that caused me a touch of anxiety. As a recent recipient of an Master of Divinity who works at a church and is working on a book manuscript about God and culture, G-O-D was bound to come up. As far as I can remember, G-O-D has been an awkward topic with Brooke. As far as I know, Brooke does not believe in God. If she does, I’ve at least never heard her articulate anything resembling the Christian faith and she has never been the institutional church-going type. Scrolling through the conversation topics in my mind, I walked into her room expecting some long, awkward pauses.
As I expounded on my manuscript and some of my struggles with Christianity, Brooke became really interested. She even suggested the names of some people who may be able to help me with my manuscript! In describing how this book will hopefully connect with those who are wrestling with the purpose and practice of the church, Brooke blew me away with her thoughts. She related how she had never connected with the worship style of my Dad’s church and her disappointment that most Christians shut themselves off from the best qualities of other religions. Our conversation gently covered the terrain of Christianity and some of the ideas that have been swirling in my head.
This conversation opened up some new possibilities in my relationship with Brooke. First of all, my assumptions about Brooke and religion have been way off. She has given a lot of thought to worship, religion, and Christianity. She hasn’t just written them off without giving them the time of day. Secondly, these are not taboo topics for her. I can discuss my faith and my musings with her, but I better know what the heck I’m talking about because she will ask the hard questions!
Being that I was dialouging with Brooke about Christianity, I also had the realization that “evangelism” as we classically understand it to be (a presentation of the fall, the death and resurrection of Christ, and receiving the gift of life by faith) needs to be broadened.
Here’s where I’m going with this: I am a Christian not just because I find it to be a wonderful repository of rational and logical truth. In fact, I’m not even sure that I can explain why I am a Christian. In a sense I have been called by Christ and he has been invading my life, changing me, and bringing me to the point that I have so much of him in me that I just cannot depart from him. In receiving Christ I became a part of a relationship with God that has become as vital to me as breathing. So when I want to share Christ with someone, it feels like I’m short-changing them of so much if all I can muster up are some statements of truth. The part that has been lacking is the life of Christ that has been infused into every part of our lives. When we talk about our lives, Christ must come up. It’s not just that awkward conversation on the “Contagious Christian” video where someone talks about how important Jesus is. He’s not just Important, he “IS”. If our life somehow becomes Christ, then our talk about the Gospel will be all the more powerful.
NT Wright notes that many of Jesus’ teachings and parables were in response to questions from people. Yet most of our evangelistic training focuses on training us to bring up the right questions. I think we need to ponder the relevance of two things in this respect. What if we focused on the God-Life relationship while making every effort to share it wherever we go. We don’t just share a message, we share the relationship. Part of the relationship is the truth of the Gospel. Yet I think the Gospel will have a stronger platform when our lives challenge people to bring up the questions, rather than looking at people’s lives and asking them questions about heaven and hell.
But enough of my digression. My visit with Brooke came to its conclusion after running a few errands for her around the hospital. I needed to get home in time for dinner with my wife and Brooke shared her gratefulness for my visit. Before I left I gave her another hug, another kiss, and then told her that I loved her. Unlike the jello on her meal tray, she received my love, the love of a broken-God-lover, man-pleaser, unfinished yet in process, unsure yet hopeful, insecure yet faithful, and inadequate yet useful. In that simple profound moment I had realized that a lot had changed. While I’ve been praying that Brooke would change and come to Christ through this illness, I found myself changing and somehow entering into a deeper intimacy with Christ. On that overcast Saturday the person who needed to change was me.