Columns Jeffrey Weiss: My Way to the Egress Opinion

At life’s end, a rare point of agreement

Willem de Poorter’s painting “The Parable of the Talents” from the 17th century. Image courtesy of Creative Commons

(RNS) More than three months into glioblastoma, I’m having some stimulating conversations.

GBM is a brain cancer with a median survival of about 15 months, so I’m considering my best path to the Egress. And people of many faiths have engaged me in some thoughtful discussions.

That’s just included a very public chat with the Rev. Trey Graham, senior pastor at First Baptist Church of Melissa, Texas.

The Rev. Trey Graham visiting Israel in January 2016. Photo courtesy of First Melissa

He and I have known each other for years. And he does a lot of radio work on the North Texas Christian station “The Word” (KWRD) at 100.7 FM. He invited me to join him for an interview.

Why not?

Hmm. We don’t much agree on theology.

First Baptist is “an autonomous, independent congregation of baptized believers” that is part of the Southern Baptist Convention.

My perspective is pretty much agnostic Jewish.

Is there a way to kibitz without fighting, if there are strong disagreements?

Too much of what’s out in the media, Twitterverse and Facebookland indicates that it ain’t easy.

But yep, it can really be done. The question of how one deals with a serious illness —medically and philosophically — is a topic that can be explored in a civil way. Talking with Graham was a total pleasure for me because we both were happy to be civil.

And he’s an exceedingly interesting fellow. His church website says he earned an undergraduate degree in leadership from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and a master’s in divinity from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He’s done doctoral work in Christian leadership at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. And he served his country for nine years as a field artillery officer in the U.S. Army.

Not exactly the median. Heh.

From his perspective, that of an aggressive evangelical conservative Christian, the Jesus stuff is first priority when he talks to people in my position. He follows the Southern Baptist belief that an embrace of Jesus is the only way to get to the Christian afterlife in heaven.

This season, coming up toward Easter, is prime time for him to focus on the story of crucifixion and resurrection and what Jesus offers according to Baptist theology.

But he also told me that he offers some practical, this-life focus when he talks to people looking closely at their path to the end, “the eternal and the temporal,” he said.

For that, he and I had a lot in common: “Make your priority list. What do you want to leave behind? What kind of legacy do you want to leave?”

His approach — WWJD, or What Would Jesus Do? — comes from a somewhat different angle than me. But the practical results are not totally different from the kind of guidance I find in Jewish (and other) traditions: What’s a morally good thing to do? Try to do it.

I like some Talmudic tales. He mentioned a New Testament story: the parable of the talents in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke.

“Parable of the Talents” paiting by artist A.N. Mironov from 2013. Image courtesy of Creative Commons/A.N. Mironov

This is a Jesus account of a boss who gives money to three servants before heading out on a trip. When he comes back, two have used the money to make some money. One simply saved what he was given. The boss (standing in for the Almighty) praised those who accomplished something and blasted the guy who didn’t even try.I like that perspective. I don’t know exactly what my path to the Egress will be like.Maybe I beat the odds and get more than the median? After all, half live longer than the median by definition. But focusing on the path seems like a good idea now. And I like thinking that there may be a Higher Justification for me trying to continue to accomplish some things that will be considered good when I’m gone.As Graham pointed out, the Jesus of the New Testament was connected to the Judaism of the day. I find it positive to think that differences in theology may allow people to end up in the same positive place, like different paths up a hill.

Maybe the Boss will reward me for my ambition when I hit the exit.

(Jeffrey Weiss is a longtime reporter who covered religion, faith and morality issues for more than a decade. He writes about beliefs and dying in the “My Way to the Egress column” at RNS)

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Jeffrey Weiss

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  • I am pleased at your willingness to engage others with a different theological perspective than your own, but I’m not at all surprised, it is the hallmark of a thoughtful mind; I’ve been waiting eagerly for further updates from you on your present journey as long as you are able to prepare them, which I trust will be for a long time to come. I hope you will not be offended if I declare that I have been striving to pray for you daily, both for your physical health and for your spiritual condition. Naturally, as you would have noted from my past posts to you, I endorse the same view as Pastor Graham. In all events I wish you well

  • One thing that you may want to consider in your search. Christianity is Christ reaching down to us. All other religions are many trying to reach up to Christ.

  • No other religions are trying to reach up to Christ, by definition they do not believe Jesus was the messiah.

  • If you really want to be understood…be understanding. That’s not a bad legacy to leave. Also anyone agnostic Jewish willing to spend time with a baptist preacher on a non Sunday must be a person with their sense of humor well engaged. Thanks for a story on two examples of civility.

  • It doesn’t matter what they believe. They are trying to reach up to God. That is the point.

  • From my perspective, my relationship with God is expressed through my relationship with my brothers and sisters. I have already lived most of my life. My current goal is to have more people say “Oh shit” upon hearing of my death than say “Good riddance”.

  • This is a tremendous piece about a Jewish person reaching out to an evangelical Christian. In my experience with the Southern Baptist Church when I was a young person, this church is ‘way too concerned with naming who is “saved” and making sure that oersib made a public declaration of their faith in front of the entire church. While not required, they encourage any person professing Christ, is completely dunked in the (cold! waters of baptism!

    I much prefer part of a prayer found in the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer, which refers to ” . . . those whose faith is known to God alone.” To me that includes our Jewish brother here, despite his claim that he’s a Jewish agnostic. In his dialogue with this Southern Baptist preacher, I hear a faint footstep in the direction of a faith to sustain himself, as he faces the ultimate demise. I’m sure that would include some who this pastor has already condemned as “sinners.” Only God sees and knows the human heart!

    The outstretched arms of a huge statue of Christ on a high mountain overlooking Sao Paulo, Brazil, makes a powerful statement that “we serve a Christ who’s arms stay outstretched, welcoming anyone who will come to Him!”

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