It was about seven years ago that I first met Chris. He was responsible for unlocking the gymnasium where Renovatus met for worship as we prepared to launch as a new church. He was a nice guy, he usually helped us unload our trailer that carried all our sound equipment, lamps, pillows, and other random things we hauled into that gym to make it feel cosy and worshipful. Through hiking adventures together, him and his girl friend volunteering at some of our community service events, playing basketball, etc. Chris and I eventually became good friends. Our relationship solidified as he and his
girl friend fiance asked me to perform their wedding ceremony. Doing weekly pre-marital counseling with them and my wife proved to be a very special time together as we got to know each other on a much deeper level. Couple that with Chris and Chrsitie committing to help us start a new discussion group focused around spiritual dialog and our friendship was in the bag. We began to know each other’s stories more fully and to walk through life together as much as we could figure out how to do so. Over the years Chris and I have grown closer together as we’ve worked through the messiness of life in pretty real ways. Eating lunch together almost weekly and being in a consistant and fairly high-commitment small group together has helped to develop our friendship into something unique and deep. I’m grateful for Chris and what he’s taught me about generosity, about intelectual honesty, and what it means to be a friend.
I will not attempt to capture Chris’ spiritual journey very fully here because so much of it is internal and I fear misrepresenting him. What I can say is that when I first met Chris he was actively working (or was he just actively talking about it?) on writing a book about why Christianity was wrong and why God did not exist. As a staunch atheist he found Christianity to be lacking on many levels–though one of his biggest pet peeves with my tribe was the fact that we’d sit around on Sunday mornings talking about Jesus and telling him how awesome he was instead of actually doing what he said. One Sunday morning we even invited him to share with Renovatus about the incongruencies that he saw in the church. To this day I still remember his words–challenging us to talk less about Jesus and to actually do what Jesus said. Over the last seven years and over many many lunch dates Chris has asked lots of good questions about Jesus. While he’s always thought Jesus was a good guy, a man worthy of being respected along the lines of Gandhi, Mother Teresa, and MLK, he never believed Jesus’ claims of being God.
I cannot really capture any sort of process or movement toward Jesus in Chris’ story as it has been played out over the last seven years of friendship and dialog. It was more reminiscent of a slowly dripping faucet than anything else–but the faucet was almost always running. There was no question over the last seven years that the faucet was running. I occasionally (and somewhat jokingly) told Chris that if he ever chose to follow Jesus we’d better all watch out ’cause Chris doesn’t do many things half ass. He’s either all in or all out, he’s either going to do it well or not do it at all, he’s either an obsessive freak about something or he could care less. Besides laughing at me when I told him this he also communicated clearly that he really wished he believed. He wanted to believe but he didn’t, he couldn’t, and he wasn’t going to fake it. Chris also knew that I was with him regardless of his belief, that we were doing life together regardless of whether he eventually chose Jesus or not.
His wife was a believer and Chris saw the benefits of believing, but he hadn’t yet had any kind of “aha” moment that had pushed him over the edge into belief. He talked often of an “aha” moment–that intangible ‘something’, that unexplainable moment that would draw/force/invite him into belief in a way that nothing else could. And so we all waiting for an “aha” moment to happen.Well it was while I was in Orlando back in April that I got an email from Chris telling me that he’d had his “aha” moment. Within the context of the messiness of life Chris felt invited to embrace love as a verb–to understand and accept love as something you choose. As he thought about my death (among other things) he grieved the fact that he was losing one of the people in his life who was helping him draw closer to Jesus. But why follow an apprentice (of Jesus) when he could follow the real thing? Why keep me in his sights when he could place Jesus in the forefront instead? If love is something you choose, then he could choose Jesus. There’s more that needs to be said here, but I hesitate to tell other people’s stories. Chris knows that I love him regardless of whether he chooses Jesus…but that doesn’t in any way mean that I’m not absolutely giddy about all of this! Seriously, when I found out that he was ready to take this next step in his journey I awkwardly sobbed like a little baby. I mean, I shouldn’t have been surprised ’cause in many ways it just makes sense–this isn’t an out of the ordinary or surprise thing because it’s just the continuation of what God has already been doing in and around Chris. Neither does this mean that Chris has “arrived” or come to some kind of spiritual end–he doesn’t see this as something where he’s secured his place in heaven and signed some dotted line to avoid hell (in fact, he talks freely of not being sure what he thinks about all that stuff). No, Chris just sees something in Jesus that he wants more of and he’s willing to risk his life on it. It’s simply his next step in his journey…albiet, a very huge next step! So in a few weeks we’re going to party. Hamburgers, hot dogs, chips, and the cool rite of passage that the church has embraced called baptism. I get to dunk my friend under water to symbolize both the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus and the choice that Chris is making to die to self and embrace the new life (resurrection) that Jesus offers. It should be quite the party, quite the celebration…and what better thing to celebrate than this? Love you man.