Book Two in The New Kind of Christian Trilogy
The Story We Find Ourselves In is the sequel to Brian D. McLaren's award-winning book A New Kind of Christian. His witty and wise characters take on difficult, faith-busting themes--from evolution and evangelism to death and the meaning of life--and reveal that the answers to life's pressing spiritual questions often come from the most unlikely sources. Dan and Neo (and some new characters as well) invite reflection on the story we find ourselves in--that is, the narrative of God's presence and meaning in the world now and in the future.
|Publisher:||Augsburg Fortress, Publishers|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.10(d)|
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Tears on My Neck
* * *
Date: August 5, 2001
Subject: Request for help, urgent
Dear Dan, It;s terrible after you havent heard from me for so long for me to finzlly email you aking a favr. This is rude of me inded but this is a favor th doing of which will also be a favor to you Im sure.
A good friend of mine is coming to the DC area. It appears she has a rare form of cancer (relapse) that the National Institutes of Health is interested in trying tp treat.
I wonder if you can vist her she has no friends in the area there.
I told her about you an Carol and your three wonderful kids. Having NIH interested in your disease is not a good sign. She need some friends and probably doesnt have much time to make them (you understand, cancer very serious) You are one of the b3st I could offer. The fact that you are a m8nister of the gospel is no small advantage at a time like this in her life. (I could presume on Fr. Scott too but he has just retired and moved back to his hometown, Minnsota * think?)
I kn0w you are busy, too many duties and demands already, but if I were in hos[ital with a bad prognosis I know you would be there for me, and if you visit this dear friend, I will consider it more precious to me than if I were the one being blessed by your com-any and suppor.
Her name is Kerry Ellison. from Australia but she lived in California for many years and is a U.S. citixen. Shell be arrive tomorrow. Shell foll you in about me and my current situatiOn including why you havent hear from me in so long. I hope to come up and visit her and you to as soon as possle. I wanted to accompany her on the flight but as shell explain myown condition doesnt permit right now (not to worry).
It extremely hard to get internet time here in the islands so Ill close with the assurance that you are in my prayers Daniel as is you family. No need respond as I'Sm using Kerry's account just this once and wont be able to check for you rreply. — Neo (Phil 1722)
P.S. She arrives BWI American #1776 from Miami at 1122 p.m. Monday night and will take cab to hotel near NIH.
She mets her doctors at NCI 9 am on Tuesday.
* * *
It was a Sunday night, the evening air still warm and moist after a hazy, brutally hot, and humid Mid-Atlantic day. I was tired. For some reason though, I felt that I should check my e-mail before going to bed, something I normally avoid doing because it often keeps me up too late, and most things can be handled better the next morning anyway. I had just returned from leading the evening service at Potomac Community Church, where I serve as pastor.
Those of you who have read the first account of my friendship with Dr. Neil Edward Oliver (whose friends always address him by his nickname, Neo, derived from his initials) can imagine how my eyes widened and my heart began to race as I realized who had sent me this e-mail. I remember slowly lifting my hands from the keyboard as I read, as if I were being arrested or held up.
I hadn't heard from Neo since he left for a 'round-the-world voyage some eighteen months earlier, and had worried about him (and prayed for him) more and more as each month passed. Now, reading this message from him, I began asking myself a dozen questions about his whereabouts and well-being. (His reference to his "condition" was disconcerting — I reread it several times. Also, Neo normally was as meticulous in his spelling and grammar as he was in his dress, so the flood of typos in the message told me that he was writing in extraordinary circumstances.) The references to Miami and the islands made me think of the Bahamas, or some other Caribbean islands, and then (of course!), Jamaica — Neo's place of birth.
By the time I ran downstairs to tell my wife, Carol, about this long-awaited contact from our friend, I had leapt from a hunch to a certainty: "Carol, Carol, wake up," I said, "I just got an e-mail from Neo in Jamaica."
Carol is one of those Southern-born people who sounds sweet and acts civil even when she's being torn from sleep.
"Neo ... an e-mail? Let me see, Dan!" She hopped out of bed, grabbed a robe, and beat me upstairs to my attic office.
"There's nothing about Jamaica here that I can see," she began, leaning toward the computer screen, "but we'll have to set up the guest room for his friend. I reckon she must be terrified. Of course you'll pick her up at the airport, right?" Neo hadn't expected us to put up his friend, but of course we would.
After a night of little sleep for either Carol or me, and after a Monday that seemed even longer than most, I arrived at the airport at 11:00 P.M., only to read "Delayed" on the screens that report the status of flights. At the American counter, I learned that the delay was due to tropical storm Chantal, twirling out in the Caribbean. The woman at the counter gave me my first doubt about my Jamaica theory as she explained that Flight 1776 was a continuing flight from Quito, Ecuador, with a stop in Miami. Ecuador? I remembered wondering what "ec" stood for in the return address of Neo's e-mail, and now at least I knew that piece of the puzzle.
If you fly a lot, you know how these things go. It was 2:46 A.M. when Flight 1776 finally arrived. The last person off the plane was Kerry, being pushed in a wheelchair down the jetway and through the gate.
Three things struck me immediately about Kerry. First, she was strikingly attractive. With her blue eyes, suntanned skin, and graying hair pulled back in a youthful ponytail, she reminded me of a woman whose name I couldn't remember, someone I'd seen in a National Geographic, that woman who worked with chimpanzees. (Later, I remembered the name, Jane Goodall, and the resemblance was stronger the more I thought about it, though Kerry was a bit taller.)
Second, I could see on her face a dull tiredness or pain, even as she managed a smile at the attendant who was helping her to her feet and helping her get a bag over one shoulder and a cane into the other hand. She'd smile, and then wince, and then smile again — then another wince as she assured the attendant that yes, she could walk, yes, she was fine, thank you for your help.
Third, as she stood, I noticed — there's no delicate way to say this — that she had no breasts. She wore jeans and a black T-shirt that revealed a chest as flat as any boy's, and before I could fully process what that meant, I was shaking her hand and introducing myself. As she dropped her cane and threw her arms around my neck, I could feel her ribs pressing against my chest. She started to cry.
I felt her tears on my neck as she hugged me. "Neo told me you might be here," she said, "but I didn't want to get my hopes up. Thank you so much for ..." For some reason, I started crying, too.
Then came a flood of apologies that the plane was so late, and more thanks for picking her up, and questions about a good hotel, and assurances from me that Carol and I insisted she stay with us and consider our home her new home. She had no baggage beyond the carry-on bag that kept slipping off her shoulder. I took it and slung it over my shoulder. The attendant was watching all this from a few yards away, and he now returned and invited Kerry to sit back on the wheelchair, and she accepted. We left the gate, proceeded down the long concourse, past security, through the automatic doors, and out onto the sidewalk, where the attendant again helped Kerry to her feet and said goodbye. The two of us slowly walked across the road to the parking garage, and we were home by 3:45. She mentioned our mutual friend briefly on the way home. "I promised Neo I'd give you a full report on how he's been doing, Dan, but we'll need a few hours for that. A few days would be more like it!"
Carol was still awake when we arrived, and she and Kerry met with a warm embrace. There was no question of any further conversation; we needed to get Kerry to bed as soon as possible and save all talk for the next morning.
But that wasn't to be. The next morning, we faced the pressure of fighting Maryland traffic to get our new friend to Bethesda for her intake at the National Cancer Institute at 9:00 A.M. In fact, it wasn't until that evening that Carol and I got a chance to talk with Kerry at length.
That day, the kids needed Carol's help with their usual stuff (soccer practices, shopping), so I drove Kerry and then stayed at the hospital all day, waiting, reading magazines, doing a little work on my laptop, making a few calls on my mobile phone, visiting the candy machine a couple times in lieu of lunch. Carol joined me in the waiting room later in the afternoon. Kerry was almost finished with her tests, a nurse told us, and would be settled in her room by seven o'clock. Carol and I caught dinner in the cafeteria, and then cautiously entered Room 516. Kerry, sitting up in bed, eating her hospital dinner, welcomed us in.
"Quite a day," she said, as we settled in the squeaky vinyl seats at the foot of her bed.
"I can't imagine," Carol said. And with that, the conversation began and flowed until visiting hours ended at nine o'clock. It was kind of strange, but kind of natural too — as if we were already long-time friends, even though we hardly knew each other. We had immediate trust and warmth; now all we needed was the facts, which Kerry offered.
She was fifty-one, a biologist employed at the Charles Darwin Research Center in the Galápagos Islands, six hundred miles west of Ecuador. She had first been diagnosed with breast cancer five years earlier, back in California. She had undergone a bilateral radical mastectomy, along with an experimental form of chemotherapy, and had been free of cancer ever since — or so she thought until a few days earlier. Her first symptom of relapse had been a slight but nagging pain in her left leg, and then a few days later, while snorkeling in the ocean, she felt something erupt inside her armpit. "It was as if a golf ball suddenly popped through my muscle and bulged beneath my skin," she said. "I couldn't put my arm down normally, and right away, I knew I was in deep trouble."
She paused to glance at the IV tube hooked to her left forearm. "We immediately flew to Quito for some tests," she went on, leaving me wondering what kind of "we" she and Neo constituted. "The doctors in Quito talked to my oncologist in California, and they agreed that I needed care that I couldn't receive in Ecuador. Then my oncologist contacted NCI, and because my cancer is a very rare one, they agreed that I should come here, and Neo contacted you, and so ... here I am."
In the back of my mind, I wanted to ask more about Neo, but with Kerry sitting there in her hospital gown, an IV dripping into her arm, it hardly seemed right to talk about anything else but her and her condition. She told us about the first day's tests, and what she had been told to expect in the next several days. (She'd be getting some strong chemo, and her hair would be gone within a week, for starters.)
She was pleasant, and her accent was charming, and her eyes were sparkling and alive, but I kept noticing those subtle winces. And the tiredness in her face was unmistakable. When it was nearing nine o'clock and I suggested we let her get some sleep, she didn't quarrel. She just said, "Well, after that tardy flight last night, you must be wiped out too. I'm fine, and I'll never forget your kindness to me. You couldn't have been kinder. I feel bless — — ... uh, fortunate indeed."
Her stumbling over the word "blessed" caught my attention — we pastors notice such things. Carol told her we'd be back the next day. And we were. In fact, either Carol or I or both of us visited almost every day for the next few weeks, not because we had to, but because we wanted to.
Soon enough, Kerry began telling us about her friendship with Neo, and the story that brought her to that bed in that room in that hospital that first evening. The chapters that follow recount her story. When Neo arrived some weeks later, and when I, later still, met many of their mutual friends, I was able to supplement Kerry's recollections with those from her wider circle of friends and fill out the narrative in much more detail. Her story, and theirs, became entwined in the fabric of an even larger story into which my own life and yours too are also woven.CHAPTER 2
On the Floor of the Shower
DURING OUR VISITS over the next week or so, between Kerry's IV changes and vital signs checks by the nurses, over hospital meals on white Styrofoam trays, often interrupted by ringing phones and hospital voices on the intercom, Kerry shared her story, and Carol and I made a new friend. There were still sermons to preach and appointments to keep and soccer games to attend and crises to solve at church and at home, not to mention traffic to endure between all of the above, but somehow we managed, and Carol and I look back over those weeks as a rich time, full of wonderful memories.
Kerry Ellison — Dr. Kerry Ellison — had always dreamed of being a biologist. She grew up in Alice Springs, a hot desert town in the outback, populated by poisonous snakes and bizarre lizards like the thorny devil, the bearded dragon, and the huge perenti monitor. It seemed unusual for a pretty girl like Kerry to develop a love for reptiles, but then again, not that many girls grow up in a place like Alice Springs.
Kerry's father had been a minister in a denomination called the Uniting Church, a coming together of various Methodist and Presbyterian denominations in Australia. Like many a pastor's kid — like my own three children, Jess, Corey, and Trent — Kerry's childhood was marked by the rhythms of Sunday school, youth retreats, summer camp, and mission trips. "I never doubted God," she said, "and in fact I think I had an extraordinary love for God, up through my last year of secondary school."
That year, her youth group was assigned a new leader, the old one having returned to Sydney. This handsome young fellow, aptly named Steve Young, came from a more zealous religious background than the Uniting Church — Baptist or Pentecostal, she thought. His spirituality was more fervent and intense than that of anyone she had ever met. She was quite taken with him.
"He believed that my father was too loose in his biblical interpretation, and that our whole denomination was too 'lukewarm.' So he wanted to reassert the biblical truth as he saw it, starting with us kids," she explained. That fall term (starting in March down under), he led them through a study of "creation versus evolution," something quite popular back in the 50s and 60s.
"I suppose, like most public school kids, I never doubted evolution as my teachers presented it, but under Steve's influence, I became a fervent creationist," she said. "I even got permission from my high school science teacher to present a class on creationism at school. I was his prize student, and I think it pained him terribly to see me going off into something that seemed horribly antiscientific to him. Steve coached me on the presentation for weeks, and the whole youth group was praying for me. I didn't convert anybody, but I at least sowed doubts about evolution in some of my classmates' minds. And I managed to alienate my teacher too; he never regained the respect for me that he had before."
Kerry's spiritual intensity began to flag during her freshman year of college as she began to realize that her form of faith was mockingly labeled "fundamentalism" by her professors. In Sydney, exposed to a welter of religious and nonreligious viewpoints, she began to feel that the faith Steve had inspired was slipping through her fingers. "You can't have it both ways," Steve had always said. "It's either God's wisdom or man's. It's either God's authoritative Word or man's autonomous word. It's either creation or evolution."
This either-or dichotomy gnawed at her until one bright fall morning in November of her sophomore year. That day something snapped inside her; something gave way in her mind and heart. She was studying for a taxonomy exam, sitting on a bench at the University of Australia, identifying lists of plants and animals by "kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, species." Suddenly, the beauty of the pattern of speciation overwhelmed her. The pattern seemed so clearly in sync with the theory of evolution, exactly what one would expect if evolution were true in its broad outlines. In an instant, her faith seemed to disappear, to evaporate, and she was left with nothing.
Nothing, that is, but a mixture of fear and elation. The fear ran along these lines: Does this mean I'm going to hell? What will my father think? The elation ran along these lines: Finally, finally I don't have to hide from the facts. Finally, finally I don't have to defend something that I was never really convinced of anyway.
Kerry wasn't the kind to pretend. That Easter break, she visited her family in Alice Springs and told them everything. Her father tried to be stoical and mature, but his quivering lip betrayed the calm and measured tone of his voice. Her mother got angry and blamed the "extremism" of "that Steve Young." But they weren't ugly or harsh about her loss of faith, and she never felt that their love for her was threatened by her rejection of almost everything they stood for.
The following years were spent in a whirlwind of studies and degrees: a B.S. in biology-herpetology (University of Australia at Sydney, 1972), an M.S. in reptile ethology and conservation (UCLA, 1974), and a Ph.D. that focused on island biogeography, extinction, and the recovery of endangered species (also UCLA, 1980). She married a fellow graduate student, a Californian, and their only child, Kincaid (named for her father), was born about a year later.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Story We Find Ourselves In"
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Table of Contents
Preface to the Paperback Edition vii
1 Tears on My Neck 1
2 On the Floor of the Shower 9
3 La Cena Santa 18
4 A Mate for Lonesome George? 25
5 Honking and Thudding 32
6 Being Giving Being to Beings 38
7 A Story of Emergence 45
8 A Signed Work of Art 56
9 Torquing Normal Modes of Thinking 65
10 Too Smart, Too Powerful for Their Own Good 72
11 The Global and the Personal 80
12 A New Kind of People in the World 87
13 A Resistance Movement Against Evil 93
14 Conversation: God and Humanity 100
15 Priests and Prophets 106
16 Poets and Philosophers 112
17 One Arm in a Cast, the Other Hooked to an Iv 118
18 The Thrill of Fishing 128
19 Still in Process, Still Young, Still Moving Ahead 133
20 More Than Even All the Windows Can Show 140
21 Something Special, Something Holy 152
22 The Revolution of God 159
23 Beautiful Music of Truth and Goodness 165
24 Sent Out to Play 175
25 Plotting a Spiritual Revolution 180
26 Kenyan Double-Roast Caffe Latte 191
27 A Junior High Kid at a Dance 199
28 Ending and Beginning at the Same Time 207
29 Everything Comes Home 212
30 Da Mind Dat Stretch Big 219
31 A Little Scary at Times 226
32 When We Dream of That Kind of Future 235
33 To Christmas 245
34 Like a Wire into the Wall 254
35 Everything We Consume, We Turn Into … 261
36 No Better Benediction 269
37 It Ain't Over Yet 275
The Author 287
A Reader's Guide for The Story We Find Ourselves In Timothy Keel 289
Sneak Peek at The Last Word and the Word After That
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This book, like the others in the series are quite incredible. Although McLaren is not exactly the best fiction writer, there are so many rich moments in these books that bring up points which cause you to stop and think. This ability more than makes up for the story, which seems to lack in some points and drag on with parts that don't really seem necessary. Overall, I would say that there is much that can be learned from this series, and it is a shame that many refuse to read it and solely criticize him because he can be controversial at times.
Strongly recommended for both followers of Christ and those who are curious about Christ, but turned off by the contemporary church.