Chuck, Paul, and Me
Note: This is the text of a sermon that I delivered for Dr. Dave Wood while he was out of town in January. The photos were added prior to posting it on my website.
I appreciate the opportunity to fill-in for Dave this morning. Interestingly, this sermon starts out actually with Dave and Windows 10. I asked Dave for a name of some college age student who knew Windows 10. I was used to Windows 7 but needed to find someone who could show me where things in are in Windows 10. I told Dave that it wouldn't take more than an hour, and I'd pay the student. That statement regarding paying money coming from someone who is Scottish showed how much I needed some assistance.
Instead of suggesting someone, Dave told me that he would help. He came to my home at 9am one Wednesday morning several weeks ago, and we went to my office. I closed down several programs so that he wasn't dealing with open files all over my desktop. While waiting, Dave just looked around my office and asked out of the blue, "How do you know Chuck Colson?" How many of you can recall who Chuck Colson was? He was from the Watergate era and the Nixon White House.
I wondered why Dave came up with that question and asked him. He replied that I had a letter from Colson on my wall, which I did. There above the top of a row of three windows and only a couple inches from the ceiling was Colson's letter to me. I sheepishly laughed.
Colson was from 1969 to 1973 the Special Counsel to Nixon. He was also called the "evil genius of an evil administration." In the wake of the Watergate firestorm, Colson was tried for his part in the Watergate cover-up, and he was convicted and jailed.
However, Colson had a conversion experience while in prison. As a result, he wrote Born Again, which was about him seeing the light. Having seen the light caused him to work for prison reform for three dozen years. He died four years ago a changed man...a radically changed man.
Politically and religiously, Colson and I have very little in common. However, what he did with his conversion impressed me, and I told him so. Instead of merely talking the talk, he walked the walked. I framed his reply, which I am holding now.
This brings me to Saul's conversion. Essentially, Saul was the Chuck Colson of the Jewish White House in Jerusalem. His job was to deal with the early church.
Talk about seeing the light; he was blinded by the light. Luke mentioned that Saul or now Paul couldn't see for three days, which is an interesting parallel with Christ's death and resurrection in three days. When Paul could see, he saw a different world than he saw prior to seeing the light.
Now, we have two conversions of two who were wandering in the darkness who have seen the light. Colson saw the light especially in prison and spent nearly four decades working for prison reform until his death. Paul radically changed Christianity from an Eastern religion to Western religion, based in Rome. That was due to his father being a citizen of the Roman Empire, which made Paul also a Roman citizen. Paul understood that to carry the Good News to the known world that Christianity needed to go west. That reshaped Christianity completely.
Two years ago, I returned from Myanmar, which used to be called Burma. It was a great trip, which was nearly a month long. I teach at the college level history, ethics, philosophy, and world religions. I wanted to interview Aung San Suu Kyi, known in Myanmar as The Lady. I wrote dozens of emails and failed to find someone who could forward my email request. However, I was able to interview Min Ko Naing who was essentially the second or third person after The Lady. Min Ko Naing is like Bobby Kennedy during the civil rights movement here in the States. It was an honor to interview him. My webpage has a video of that interview.
Min Ko Naing invited me to their version of our 4th of July celebration, which in Myanmar was on January 4th. I went to the luncheon and met the old guard, many of whom spent 10-15 years in the Myanmar gulags. Prisons in Myanmar are like Nazi concentration camps.
At the luncheon, Min Ko Naing invited me to their protest rally later that afternoon. Here I was in a military dictatorship being invited to a protest rally. Talk about excitement. In many ways, it was like the civil rights movement in the early 60s.
During the rally, I got to observe the old guard who were a part of the 88 Uprising in August 8, 1988. At that rally, Aung San Suu Kyi spoke at Sule Pagoda in Yangon (what we used to call Rangoon) to tens of thousands of onlookers. I walked around, took pictures, and listened. And what did I hear?
I heard, in the background, speakers who I had met at the luncheon speaking in Burmese. None of their speeches could I understand. However, what I did hear and understood was Joan Baez in my mind singing, We Shall Overcome. There I was milling around in a crowd of a couple hundred people near Sule Pagoda and heard We Shall Overcome. I would float back and forth between America and Myanmar while at the rally.
That evening, I returned home, and as chance would have it, I had a routine doctor's appointment with Dr. Marchand, my cardiologist. He asked about the trip while examining me. After the exam, he said I was fine, and he would see me in six months...unless I had any questions.
I seized upon that question and asked, "Why am I so wound up and wired?" Initially, he dismissed my question with saying it was merely my endorphins. I replied that it was more than endorphins. Then he realized that there had been change in me. He paused, looked directly at me and waited until he had my full attention and said, "You have seen the light." He continued to stare directly at me until he was sure that I had gotten the message.
As with both Colson and Paul, I had seen the light. However, Paul saw the world again within three days. It took Colson and me awhile longer. Actually, it took me several months to possess it all. During that time, I went out to dinner with someone who wanted to meet me. We met at a small restaurant in Chicago.
He asked me to tell him about myself, which I did...during the entire dinner. I told him about prostate cancer and my fall off a ladder resulting in a traumatic brain injury. I told him about what I wanted to do in life. I told him about my drive. Dave calls it my determination.
At the end of both the dinner and my introduction of myself, he asked, "Have you seen Randy Pausch's Last Lecture?" I replied that I had not and continued to tell him about what I wanted to do. He was very polite and waited until we left the restaurant and said that he'd email the link to Pausch's Last Lecture.
I went back to my home. The next morning, I went to my computer to teach and write. However, I checked my emails first. There it was, the link to the Last Lecture. I decided to watch Pausch's Last Lecture before starting to work.
After an hour plus lecture, a vast majority of the pieces of my life started to come together. It included my dancing with death twice and my trip to Myanmar. I had seen the light and understood the light...finally.
When you dance with death, you are free to experience life at a whole new level. Finally, I got it and understood the new me. Things were great. I wrote and taught. Then about six months ago, I had another medical issue arise. I took every test imaginable locally and went back to U. of Chicago where they saved my life during one of my dances. I talked to a specialist in internal medicine. I gave her all my dozens of test results, which were all negative. While I didn't want to do my third dance with death, I can't expect to be lucky all the time.
My doctor said that she would suggest a couple additional blood tests, but she said that they would probably come back negative like all the other tests had. Nevertheless, I went to the lab where they drew a handful of vials of blood and returned home to wait for the results.
While waiting, I wondered, what if that doctor found some strange, rare deadly disease. Many of the other dancers with death, like Randy Pausch, Steve Jobs, and Oliver Sachs, doctors told them to take care of their personal matters ASAP. In a couple of weeks, would I be sitting in her examining room hearing similar news?
Then it dawned upon me, if she tells me to get my things in order, because I was going to die in six months, that frees me to live life fully. I won't need my retirement funds to live on for another 10-20 years if I would be gone in several months. That was almost an exhilarating feeling. I could use my retirement funds and sell my house to assist my three children and three grandchildren financially. Additionally, I could return to Myanmar, Nepal, and Tibet and help some friends that I met there.
I don't want to die, but I do want to live...to really live. And that is done by helping others.
So this sermon was about three people who have seen the light and acted. Conversion experiences are not all the same. They vary. What I am asking you to do is to watch the Last Lecture. Go to my website, and watch Randy Pausch's Last Lecture. You might have missed a dance with death and seeing the light. I missed both. I get it now.
If you haven't done the dance, be aware what might be ahead for you. It was the most transformative event in my entire life. I learned to live. As others have helped me, I want to do the same for people here and aboard. Isn't that what we are all about...caring for our sisters and brothers whoever they are and wherever they live?
One final comment, if you know someone who has and is dancing, I'd love to talk to that person.
Visit the Burma Independence page to read more about this topic.
Visit the On Seeing the Light page to read more about this topic.
Visit the Connecting the Dots page to read more about this topic.
Visit the Darkest Before Dawn page to read more about this topic.
Visit the The Last Lecture page to read more about this topic.
Visit the Dancing with Death page to read more about this topic.
Visit the Best and Worst of Times page to read more about this topic.