An inclusio is a literary device used by writers of the Bible. Simply put, it is when a writer begins and ends a section of text in a similar fashion, whether it be with the same exact words or a similar event, to “frame” or “bookend” the section. Since they didn’t use punctuation and capitalization like we do today, nor did they separate blocks of text into paragraphs (as modern English translations do), an inclusio serves as a clue to the reader that a block of text is a single unit where a certain theme is emphasized.
Instead of writing out my testimony in a standard way, I’ve decided to use an inclusio. I really have no good reason for doing so other than I thought it would be fun. My “bookends” for my inclusio will be the movie Fight Club.
So, she says something to me about packing all our DVDs. She says she split them up into two boxes, one for me and one for her. She says I should look through them to make sure I was cool with how she divided them up.
I mumble something about it not mattering to me and I didn’t need to look through the boxes. Shortly after, she leaves, leaving me alone.
I wander aimlessly through what had been the apartment we shared. She had ended our marriage about two weeks ago, which was about one week shy of what would’ve been our three-year anniversary. We lived together for several years before getting married, and we were a couple for eight years all together, from the time we started dating to the day she ended the relationship.
So, who cares about some DVDs? My marriage was over. The woman who was still my wife only in legal terms had made this quite clear. We were living separately, and the last place we would ever live together was being packed up and emptied. What did it matter what stupid DVDs she took?
But after I mope around the apartment, the anger returns. My emotions had become a pendulum, swinging back and forth between deep sorrow and injured anger. I think about how she ended our marriage over the phone. Yes, eight years, and she ended it over the phone. I think about how she blindsided me, never talking to me about whatever feelings she was wrestling with. No discussion. Not even arguments or fights. Just a sudden phone call from Maryland telling me she was leaving me and moving away. I tried to convince her to go to marriage counseling before making any big decisions; she refused, and then said she would, and then she refused again. My marriage was over, and I had no say in it whatsoever, and I still wasn’t any closer to understanding what had happened.
So, the anger came. And suddenly DVDs did matter. Well, they didn’t really matter. But they did matter at the same time – in principle. Understand?
I open the boxes and rifle through the DVDs. To be honest, I was surprised she did such a good job of giving me the movies I would’ve chosen. But when I go through her box, I find a movie that had slipped my mind: Fight Club.
Fight Club is essentially about a group of men who feel emasculated by modern, middle class life in America and start getting together regularly to beat the snot out of each other. The movie is violent and crude and not for the faint of heart, but it’s also a great social commentary on materialism, commercialism, and masculinity with great lines like “The things you own end up owning you” and
“…an entire generation pumping gas, waiting tables; slaves with white collars. Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy [stuff] we don’t need. We’re the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our Great War’s a spiritual war. Our Great Depression is our lives.”
It was a movie I could relate to in many ways, especially since I had been doing martial arts for several years. Of all the movies in the two boxes, this one was undoubtedly mine. I even laughed to myself and said in my head, “Oh no, you’re not taking my Fight Club.” You can destroy our marriage and throw my whole life into turmoil. But you’re not taking my Fight Club.
This all started when my (now ex-)wife was hired by U.S. Customs and Homeland Security and they sent her to Maryland for two months for training. Shortly after we were married, she had gone to Africa with Rutgers University, so we had been through something like this once before. On the bright side, Maryland was only a six-hour drive away. Yet, something felt askew this time. She didn’t seem all that upset about being away from me for so long as she did when she went to Africa. Once she was gone, I had a hard time getting her on the phone. When I visited one weekend, she acted distant. I had been sensing this for what I would guess was about a year, but it was hard to say exactly. When I would try to talk to her to understand what was going on, she would say she was upset about her brother, who had drug problems and had been doing some jail-time. After I visited that weekend, things grew worse. I felt like a high schooler getting blown off by a girl he had taken on a date or two. I called and left messages and would not hear back. The few times I did get her, she was terse and quickly got off the phone.
Then I received the call. And my marriage was over. I drove the six hours to Maryland to confront her. I returned home as the sun was rising, having no more insight into why my marriage was over, though sure she no longer loved me. I lied on the floor staring at the ceiling for a while, and then I called my older sister. She came and picked me up and brought me to her house. I was a mess.
My sister wanted me to stay with her family for a while, and my brother-in-law said he would drive me to a teachers’ workshop in New Brunswick I was suppose to attend for work the next day. I tried to get out of the workshop by telling my boss (who was also a friend) what had happened, but he encouraged me to go any way. He said the last thing I needed to do was sit around pondering things, and we would be going out in the evening and it would be good for me to be around friends and colleagues. I reluctantly agreed.
Along with the obvious reasons, my reluctance was due to that my ex-wife had gone to Rutgers University, so we had spent a large part of our early days hanging around New Brunswick. New Brunswick is where we became boyfriend and girlfriend. New Brunswick is where I first told her I loved her. I couldn’t be in New Brunswick now, I thought. I would die.
I remember sincerely believing that. I was not suicidal, but I remember feeling that I was going to die. I would simply lie down on the bed at my sister’s house or crumble to the ground somewhere and never get up.
Sometime before my brother-in-law dropped me off at the hotel in New Brunswick, my sister reminded me that she and her husband would be going to Mexico with their church to build houses for poor families the following week, and she invited me to go along. She said they would even pay for my plane ticket. She thought it would be good for me to get away for a week and do something positive. It was an attractive invitation, and I appreciated it, but the idea of spending a week with a bunch of Christians was not appealing at all.
My father was raised Catholic but had nothing to do with any sort of religion anymore. My mother’s father was a pastor, and she brought us to a Baptist church growing up, but she struggled with her faith, and other than Sunday School and church, totaling only two hours a week, I had little Christian influence in my life. Most of my friends were Catholic who went to weekly mass and CCD, then acted however they wanted the rest of the week. Simply, I was not close to any Christians strong in their beliefs, and I knew no one who was living out his or her Christian faith. I listened in church and thought about how God wanted me to live, but there was little reinforcement anywhere in my life.
I don’t remember exactly how old I was (which illustrates how casually I took it), but in middle school, I went on a church retreat with other preteens and our pastor broke down the good news of Jesus for us. He explained how all humans have sin, and this sin separates us from our perfectly good God. It was a hopeless situation, so God became man and took the punishment we deserve and served as the supreme, final sacrifice as Jesus Christ dying on a cross. This gift from God was exactly that: a gift. It couldn’t be earned, but it had to be received, like any other gift. I liked what I heard, and not long after, I came forward in church to accept Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior, and I was baptized.
But shortly after that I started doubting the stories in the Bible, and by the time I was out of high school, I strongly doubted the existence of God. I was quite sure all religion was fantasy. Throughout college and my twenties, I was unbending in my views that religion was nonsense and God was a myth. I wavered between agnostic and all-out atheist. On some days, I was confident there was no God. On others, I was sure if there was a God (a very big “if”), there was no way we could know anything about him (or it), so why bother debating about it? My cousin and I had a hardcore/punk band, and the opening lyrics I wrote for a song said, “Our true selves have been smothered by the son of a virgin mother and other fallacies promoting mental lethargy.” This gives a pretty good summary of my opinion of Christianity at that time.
Mostly, I felt like I was surrounded by people who said they believed in God, yet lived like they didn’t. Then, these same people would give me dirty looks and shake their heads in shock when I said I was an atheist. At least I’m honest, I often thought. They say they believe in God, but they don’t live like it.
Sometime during this period, my older sister began going to church again and became the only true Christian in the family. Though we had polar opposite views on God, we had always been close and honest with each other, and anyhow, after just having my wife end my marriage, I was in no mindset to be subtle. So, when she invited me to Mexico with her church, I basically said, “You know how I feel about Christians. I don’t think I can be around them like that.”
I can’t tell you what the workshop in New Brunswick was about. I do remember one of my co-workers realizing I wasn’t acting like myself. He whispered to me in a concerned tone in the middle of a presentation, “Are you all right?” I answered honestly: “No.”
In the evening, since we were all staying overnight in the hotel, we headed out into New Brunswick for drinks. At the first bar, a stylish lounge, I sat feeling miserable as a friend went to get us beers. As I sat there going through everything concerning my marriage in my head yet again (I could think of nothing else) I did something strange: I talked to God in my head. It was something I had done when I was a kid – hold conversations with God in my head – but it had probably been about fifteen years since I had done that or did anything closely resembling prayer. Prayer was as much a practical option to me as someone telling me I should invent a time machine and go back in time and save my marriage. Yet, as I sat there pondering, I said something to God in my head. It just happened. I didn’t think, “I’m going to reach out to God.” I just said it in my head, and immediately I recognized the oddness of it. I remember clearly thinking, “That’s weird. I just talked to God in my head like when I was a kid.”
This is the part the story I used to rarely share with anyone because I didn’t want people to think I was crazy. Immediately after speaking to God in my head, I felt a presence. I know now that this was the Holy Spirit, but we’ll call it the Presence. This Presence came upon me so powerfully I could not ignore it. It brought me immediate comfort. It felt familiar, like an old friend. It was as if the Presence was telling me, “Look, Steve, you been denying me all this time, but I’ve been right here all along.” I understood God’s sense of humor through this event. I also felt unworthy. It made me want to laugh and cry at the same time. The Presence remained with me throughout the night, the whole time this Presence comforting me.
The first thing I thought when I woke up in the morning was, “Is the Presence still here?” It was. My brother-in-law had told me to call him after the second day’s workshop so he could pick me up, but after the workshop I felt the Presence urging me to take the train to my sister’s instead. I had been living in southern New Jersey near Philadelphia when my ex-wife was attending Rutgers and we were dating, and I took the train up many times to see her. I felt the Presence telling me, “Take the train. If you can make it back to your sister’s without breaking down, you’ll be okay. You’ll get through this.”
Just like I did not want to be in New Brunswick, I did not want to take the train. But I walked up to the platform and put money into the machine for a ticket. I had almost exact change but I was short ten cents. I also had a twenty-dollar bill, but if I put it into the machine, I would receive a pile of change in return. So, I had three options: (1) Use the twenty or (2) walk back down to the street and see if I could find a store to break my twenty or (3) call my brother-in-law for a ride. I didn’t want to go on the train anyway, and this was an excuse enough not to do it. This whole idea of the Presence telling me to take the train was ridiculous. I was going to call my brother-in-law. But then I felt the Presence telling me to look down. I did. At the tip of my sneaker on the ground, sat a dime.
I picked it up, put the dime in the machine, and caught the next train.
I realize that the preceding paragraphs make me sound crazy. Let me just say that the fact that I would confess them here is a testament to how sincerely I understand these events to have taken place. If you don’t know me, it will be easy to dismiss these events. If you know me, I hope you know me well enough to know that I would not make something like this up.
Returning to my sister’s, I told her I would go to Mexico with her and her church. God had gotten my attention, and though well over a decade of hardcore skepticism would not disappear overnight, God was no longer something I could ignore.
In Mexico, I saw for the first time Christians truly living a Christian life. These people spent their own money, traveled hundreds of miles, and sweated for hours in the grueling Mexico sun to love these families they built homes for because Jesus Christ loved them first. I saw firsthand what the love of Jesus Christ propels people to do, and what true Christianity looks like.
One evening, as we finished pouring the concrete for the front step of one of the houses – what would be only large sheds to a middle class American – my brother-in-law had the idea of pushing some rocks into the wet concrete in the shape of a cross. Later, when we would hand the keys over to the single mother, she would look at that cross in the step and weep, thanking God because she understood where her new home had come from.
I bonded with people while working with them, and one night I was brutally honest with one of them about my skepticism. She gave me perhaps the best advice I’ve ever been given. She said, “Just because you have doubts, it doesn’t mean you can’t read the Bible, pray, or go to church.” I couldn't argue with that, so when I returned home, I started doing all of those things.
Once home, another friend I made in Mexico, Rich, invited me to the weekly Bible study he held at his apartment. As I said, years of doubts (and harsh feelings towards Christians) don’t disappear over night. I accepted the invitation but had plenty of hesitation and unease about going. Having never even gone to a Bible study before, I didn’t know what to expect. Rich seemed like a cool enough guy, but I still barely knew him. All the negative stereotypes of Christians swirled in my head. How are they going to react if I’m honest about my skepticism? What if someone asks me if I’m a Christian? – I’m not even sure yet if I am ready to call myself one. What if this is excruciatingly awkward? What if they’re judgmental jerks? What if Rich is really a weirdo?
Rich had told me to walk right in, so I did. It was one of those apartments on the second floor, so after entering the front door, a person has to immediately climb stairs right into the apartment’s living room. I walked up those stairs feeling like I was walking blindly into trouble. I could hear voices; some people had already arrived. What would I find at the top of those stairs? Would they all be staring at me? Would I get grilled as the new guy? As I reached the top of the stairs, the first thing I saw was a rack holding Rich’s DVD collection. The first DVD I spotted was Fight Club.
I was going to be all right. I was in good hands.
This all happened in the summer of 2005. I’ve been pursuing Christ ever since and have only found more reasons to continue to do so.