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About the Author
Steve Saccone is the author of Relational Intelligence and Protégé. He is a regional executive for unrestricted education at Southeastern University.
Cheri Saccone is a freelance writer and a registered nurse with a background in psychology.
Read an Excerpt
NOT FEELIN' IT
Where is it written that two women have to have this talk at a coffee shop?
Seems like a rule. If you're going to have a serious session of soul talk, you take it to a neighborhood café. I don't know why, but there's no time to wonder about it right now.
Today's "Jesus over Java" conversation is with a young woman named Jen.
And to be honest, I'm a little nervous about this meeting.
Nerves come with the territory, of course, but I do know Jen is somewhat cynical. And while I recognize that the skeptical tone is, to some extent, the voice of our age, I'd rather just talk straight up, without the extra dab of attitude.
But that's not something you can say in a conversation like this one.
We take people as they are, don't we?
There's a kind of spiritual geography to these encounters.
I'm on one side of the table, with my worldview. Jen, or whoever, is on the opposite side. Between us is a frontier — represented by the table — over which we dialogue and negotiate. If I push too far over to her side and am too aggressive, too propositional, then she begins to build a wall. She goes on the defensive.
On the other hand, if I hang too far back in my world with my "live and let live" tendencies, no real questions will be raised. There will be no chance of spiritual transformation. I do have a way of wimping out, of pouring on so much unconditional acceptance that I obscure what Jesus asks every one of us: What is the ultimate truth? And will you orient your heart toward it no matter the cost? Whether we are willing to lean into this or not, as human beings, we can't escape sensing Jesus' pressing questions within us.
The table doesn't come with a grid, like a football field. I have to be incredibly sensitive to my location on that frontier — between pushy and passive. And love and sincerity should count for something. In the frontier between us, we hope to find some common ground on which there can be true communication.
And from there, I hope and pray that I can point beyond the two of us, beyond the room, beyond the physical world to a realm where faith begins.
And that little defense mechanism called cynicism can really block the view.
I think about other questions too. (It's strange where the mind will go in these moments.) I ponder, for example, the questions of free will and persuasion. The idea is for my friend to say at some point, "I choose to leave the old life behind and start a new life under the reign of God." But my friend can and may decline that choice. Instinctively I will continue to reason and persuade. But again, where is the line that once crossed means it's time to punt? When is it fourth down ... when I must acknowledge God has given me many gifts but not the ability to change another's mind?
As followers of Jesus, another gift we haven't received is access to the end result. We speak, we reason, we share, we pray, and then we leave it to God. Sometimes it's the hardest moment of faith, simply trusting that soul to heaven.
As I climb into my car, my head is spinning with nothing but ideas. Now I'm supposed to add some high-grade caffeine to that?
I sit for a moment with my hands on the wheel, then look at my hands and slowly pull them away. You take charge, Lord. Let me rest in the knowledge that You've got this. Help me do my simple part, which is to love my friend and trust in Your Spirit.
I'm thinking of Jen again as I turn the key in the ignition. She's what we like to call a "spiritual explorer." She isn't a follower of Christ but is open for discussion of the subject. That's what she's been doing in a six-week group that has been meeting to explore our faith. And that's what she's agreed to do with me today.
Jen knows about the radical things Jesus claims for Himself and the equally radical ways He calls people to live. What else do I know about her? She has a tendency toward cynicism, but she is also thoughtful and respectful. The conventional wisdom is that she enjoys batting it all around, but she's nowhere close to considering a serious commitment.
But the group leader disagrees. He watches Jen and feels that there's more going on, that beneath her outward appearance — the little jokes, skepticism, "just here for the ride" act — there is a true, questing soul wanting to hear answers she can take hold of and trust. Going to a group was one thing; saying yes to a meeting with me, to go a little deeper, is something else entirely. Until she says no, it's wise to pursue the possibility of yes.
I talk to God, asking for wisdom to find the stance that's just right for this dialogue. I ask Him to help me be myself rather than some cosmic sales representative.
Prayer helps, but it's impossible not to feel a little antsy. If I didn't, I wouldn't be taking seriously what's on the line here. This is a child of God who stands at a place of profound deliberation. It's a huge calling for me. And even as much as God does the heavy lifting, it doesn't mean I can't screw things up. The stakes are so high, and if I didn't acknowledge that, I would be spiritually reckless.
At this point the little voice inside says, Fine, but why keep stimulating your fears? Why set up camp in the field of doubt? Go home or go courageously. Take the leap or take a U-turn. If you choose faith, then use faith. It's as simple as that.
I feel my right foot pressing down the gas pedal just a bit more.
When I arrive, Jen is waiting at a table, nursing a welcoming smile and an espresso. I grab my own beverage, sit down, make some polite conversation, and momentarily consider a little joke or something as a transition sentence — such as my observation about soul talk in coffee shops. But that would sound a little facile, a little rehearsed. Instead, I just relax and say, "Tell me about you. Why do you think you've come to this place?"
"You mean the coffee shop?"
I laugh. "No — well, that too! But mainly I mean this moment. This curiosity about Jesus that you've expressed." Her body language reads relaxed, which is a good sign. It suggests I must appear relaxed too. Tension is infectious. I want Jen to see I'm not going to slam her with a King James Bible and demand the sinner's prayer right here in front of the baked-goods display.
"Oh man," she replies. "Where do I begin?"
And the story unfolds. As always, I'm amazed by the complexity of people and their stories. It's easy to look at people, apply simplistic labels, then find each is a "label" unto himself or herself.
"I grew up Buddhist, but I'd call us 'cultural Buddhists.' We didn't make a big deal out of religion. As far as I was concerned, it was a nice belief system that didn't get in the way of my life. I was cool with it but just not attached to it.
"However, as I grew older, I began to understand the real religion in our house was something else entirely. It was called Success. I was maybe three when my mom and dad started in about education, being career minded, getting somewhere in the world — all those kinds of things. If I wanted to please my folks, I needed to get perfect grades and be successful in every activity. That was what counted in life.
"And we did that — my brothers and sisters and me. We succeeded, so we were happy and our parents were happy. But when you scraped off the veneer of Buddhism, achievement was the true ideal."
I say, "I get the impression it didn't stay that way. At least for you, or we wouldn't be having this conversation, right? What broke down so that you were no longer happy?"
She pauses, wrinkles her brow. "Hmm. I wouldn't say anything broke down, really."
Well, there it is: my first mistake. I was probably on the right track but at the wrong time. Why couldn't I just let her story unfold and see where she led me? Note to self: Don't rush the process.
"I actually had an awesome life," she explains. "I had lots of friends, lots of fun. Maybe too much fun sometimes." We both smile.
"I loved college. Loved it. I sailed through academically, and the honors and accolades just kept coming. Then one day I met Alex." She fixes me with her eyes in a way that says, Here's the turning point.
"When we first met, I wasn't really into him in that way. He was persistent, you know? Really pursued me, and it was flattering. We got to be good friends, and all the while I kept telling him this was all I was open for. But he wouldn't give up. And I guess his determination wore me down. After about a year of being 'just friends,' I realized I was in love with him."
"I guess you could know for certain his love was real by that time."
"Exactly. It had been like he could love me without receiving anything in return. I still don't get how that works. I mean, I could never love someone who didn't return my feelings. Alex is probably the best human being I know."
"Know, present tense. So, are you guys still going strong?"
"Yes, we are! Two years on and I can't imagine my life without him. And that's different for me. For so long I was sure I didn't need a man in my life. I kept life simple, and it worked. Now I realize that without Alex, life would be empty."
She stops to sip her drink, and I realize we've come to an important place.
"So, it sounds like a happy ending to me," I say. "But at some point, you joined a group to explore an alternate view of life. How do we connect the dots?"
Jen isn't completely comfortable yet, but I get the sense she is ready to open up about what has led her to this place. She is here because she wants to be here. I may or may not be reading her right, but asking thoughtful questions can never lead me wrong.
"The answer is ... Alex. Again. For the longest time I had no idea he had any kind of religious belief. Every Sunday he'd take off somewhere, and I won't say he was secretive, but he simply never talked about it. I was curious — where was he going? Months later, he told me that, of all places, it was church. It was shocking. I would've had an easier time believing him if he said he had been taking knitting lessons.
"Not that it was a huge deal. But up to that point, if you can believe this, I'd barely known a practicing Christian. And now I was joined at the hip with one!"
"So you're dating this guy, and you must feel like you know him deep down, and then you find out he has these core beliefs he never shared. I'm curious how you felt about that."
(Me? I'd be furious! But this isn't about me.)
"Well, I'd say surprised. Confused. Not mad or emotional. I mean, why would I be? He had a faith that wasn't pushy or obnoxious. I respected that. It was his thing, and he didn't need my approval or participation in it, or anyone else's. Cool. But it made me want to know more about this belief inside him. So I actually asked if he'd take me to church."
Every Christian's dream, and the guy wasn't even trying for it. As far as I knew, anyway.
"What did he say?"
"He said, 'Sure.' And that's how I ended up here at your church."
"So, as they say, how would you rate your experience?"
"Very, very good. No complaints. The people are all nice, and the pastor is always interesting in his talks."
She stops, takes another sip of her coffee, and waits for another question.
"So you're fine with the people and the topics. What about Jesus Himself? What are your thoughts there?"
She simply gazes at me. For the first time in the conversation, she has nothing to say. So if she can't write me an essay, I'll give her multiple choice.
"Has it been ... strange? Intriguing? Moving? Or none of the above?"
"Cheri, that's the problem! I like so much about Christian religion — I really do. But I just don't feel anything when I'm at church."
"Hmm. So you don't really find an emotional component. Let's think about other places and how you relate emotionally. Do you have those feelings when you're off by yourself somewhere, when no one is looking? That's the time when a lot of us sort through our emotions. Sometimes that's the place where we understand our feelings best."
Jen squints, looks upward, and considers this.
"No, not really."
"Okay, then. You don't feel what you don't feel. And emotions are important. The question is, Why have you kept on with your exploration of God and of faith when you haven't really felt anything to validate it?"
I feel I've asked a key question. Jen looks off in the distance for a moment.
"Well, I guess it's because of Alex. He says he wants to marry me, but he can't or won't unless I come to a genuine belief in Christianity. I told him I'm okay with his attending church. I'll even go with him and enjoy it. But he says this isn't enough — that I have to really believe."
I can't help but think that Alex stinks. So he figures it's okay to date a girl for a year without sharing his faith, but then, all of a sudden, she's informed she has to believe or leave? There must have been a better way for him to handle this. Of course he's being wise in refusing to marry a nonbeliever, but why bring her along this far if that issue was only going to become a bigger deal?
I'm pretty upset with this guy so I have to watch what I say. What a mess!
"That has to be tough," I reflect. "You fall in love with this guy who has loved you so deeply, so unconditionally, only to come to a deadlock because of a line in the sand you can't cross with personal integrity. I would think this would be one area where you would have some of those feelings we've been talking about."
"Yeah. It's been hard for me because I don't get it. We really love each other, and we're great together — isn't that enough? I'm ready to move in with him and go to the next level. You know — like test-driving a car before you buy it, right?"
Odd, but suddenly Jen seems as though she's the one selling something to me. She says this in passing, as if it's no big deal. But her statement is loaded with hazardous thinking. Here is one of those places where I have to abandon being passive.
"Do you really want my opinion on that? Because if those are just rhetorical questions, I won't impose my thoughts."
She raises her eyebrows. "No, I'd like to hear what you think."
Here we go.
"Well, the first question is of being together without sharing a faith. There's so much to say there. I can see how it seems love is enough, especially since it has gone so perfectly up to now. But a lot of things will lie ahead in life, and I believe I can speak for Alex on this one. Faith is the thread that runs through every big decision, every plan, every important idea. It's the point around which everything else for him revolves. And you can see why the two of you would need to be revolving around the same sun, so to speak."
She looks confused. I'm not surprised — I've been down this road with people more times than I care to count. But I still don't understand why this is confusing to others. How does the hugeness of faith in an intimate relationship not register with so many people out there? Lord, help me show Jen why You make such a difference, why You make all the difference!
I continue, "Jen, as an example among many, Steve and I have an autistic son, and adapting to his diagnosis has been one of the hardest things we have ever gone through in our lives. Our perfectly sweet, normally developing baby suddenly began to vanish before our eyes at eighteen months old. A few years have passed, and it feels sometimes that our boy is hidden behind a neurological wall we can't penetrate."
"I'm so sorry."
"Thanks. I appreciate that. The thing is, my husband and I face this hardship with our faith. It's just what we do. If he didn't share my faith, we might as well be in two different places. Our hearts and minds couldn't be tied together through this struggle the way they are."
Jen has a look of horror — as if she's watching a car head toward a cliff, but she's helpless to stop it.
"Without our faith, a thing this big might well have torn us apart. Instead, it has done the opposite. There have been late nights of tears, endless prayers, sharing our ideas about what God may be doing through this. Now if I turned to Steve to share both my suffering and my faith, and he could only nod without comprehension, I just couldn't handle it. There are times when love isn't enough. It finally comes down to core beliefs, no matter how strongly you commit to each other. Because, realize it or not, you're each revolving around something — an idea, a belief, a person. If it's not the same sun, you fall into eclipse with each other."
I can only hope I've said that well. My impression is that she is transparent and appreciates me laying it on the line. But I have been careful to be as compassionate and non-confrontational as possible.
Jen thinks for a moment and says, "I understand. But there's still the issue of living together before marriage. For me, it seems unwise to jump into something you haven't carefully tested — to leap before you look. Isn't it just common sense to find out in advance how we do under the same roof?"
Excerpted from "Talking About God"
Copyright © 2018 Stephen and Cheri Saccone.
Excerpted by permission of NavPress.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Introduction: We Come in Peace ix
A Conversation With Jen: Narrated by Cheri
Chapter 1 Not Feelin' It 3
Chapter 2 Resurrected Regrets 17
Chapter 3 Turning the Page 27
A Conversation With Yash: Narrated by Steve
Chapter 4 Where Do I Belong? 39
Chapter 5 Which God Will I Follow? 53
A Conversation With Lacey: Narrated by Cheri
Chapter 6 Coffee, Art, and Spirituality 65
Chapter 7 I Once Was Lost 85
A Conversation With Jake: Narrated by Steve
Chapter 8 God at a Distance 95
Chapter 9 Breaking Free 103
A Conversation With Maya: Narrated by Cheri
Chapter 10 Unexpected Friends 121
Chapter 11 Taking Off the Mask 139
A Conversation With Eric: Narrated by Steve
Chapter 12 I Love Jesus But 159
Chapter 13 Wrestling with God 171
Chapter 14 Who Do I Listen To? 187
Discussion Questions 207
About the Authors 211
What People are Saying About This
I have several reasons to love this book. First, it’s honest. Steve and Cheri gain authenticity through their transparency in dealing with difficult subjects. Second, the power of story is unleashed: In their conversations with people about their life journeys, we find ourselves having conversations with ourselves and with God about our own pilgrimage. “What would I have said and done?” and “How would I have reacted?” inevitably lead us to discover something about our own beliefs and attitudes. Finally, I appreciate that this couple still understands who really is the Main Character in everyone’s plot.
I wish I had had friends like Steve and Cheri to patiently listen and speak grace and wisdom into my life as I journeyed toward Christ. The precious and sensitive conversations that they share in Talking about God are at once heartwarming and a road map for the posture and care that Christians have the privilege of offering to spiritual seekers. I love this book, and I’m learning! When is volume 2 coming out?
Talking about God is a déjà vu experience. You will find yourself thinking, I just had this conversation with someone! This is why this book is so important; it is so vividly real and not theoretical. You can now avoid the “I wish I had read this before and had some ways to respond” experiencesbecause Steve and Cheri show how to respond to and converse about questions that come up in today’s world.
I’ve known Steve and Cheri for more than twenty years and have watched them live out what you will read on these pages. Through six unique narratives, they remind us that “sharing our faith” has never been about power or rightness, but rather about a reflection of Jesus that moves us toward honest and caring engagement. I hope these stories will inspire and educate you as they have for me.
My friend Steve and his wife, Cheri, have written one of the most refreshing, thought-provoking, insightful, and practical books about building genuine relationships with people far from God that I’ve ever read. In a world that is polarized and hostile when addressing topics such as sexuality, politics, morality, and religion, this book provides fresh wisdom and practical tools. It will help you break down the barriers and build authentic friendships with those whose worldview could not be more different from your own. I highly recommend it!
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This book was very inspiring, encouraging and compelling to read with also provides fresh wisdom and practical tools that will help us to break down the barriers and build authentic honest conversation with God through six unique narratives can be very helpful in life. The story of this book was sharing from a real conversation with real people from their friend in an honor to pass on what God has taught us in this journey of sharing our faith with the stories of their struggles and many other are also facing. Talking about God is one of the most profoundly important things that we can do in this life besides actually living out our faith in God. Delving into these real conversations, which go in unpredictable yet God-directed places, provides a unique opportunity to help us to successfully talk about Gog to others too. I highly recommend to everyone must to read this book. “ I received complimentary a copy of this book from Tyndale House for this review”. Steve Saccone is the author of Relational Intelligence and Prote’ge’. He is a regional executive for unrestricted education at Southeastern University. Cheri Saccone is a freelance writer and a registered nurse with a background in psychology.