If you know me now, you might joke about my ignorance of professional sports. I can’t tell you who won the 2018 Super Bowl, for example. Up until I was 16 years old, however, my life was dominated by sports. I revered Michael Jordan and Ken Griffey, Jr. I played basketball, soccer, baseball, and ran cross-country and track. I had hopes of running in college.
But my life, and the aspirations I had as a 16 year-old, all changed on April 18, 2001.
On that day, an arrogant young athlete and novice skier hit a tree at full force in Breckenridge, Colorado. I was in an induced coma for two weeks. I had eight operations to repair a lacerated liver. My formerly strong legs that could run a five-minute mile atrophied into the shape of tree trunks. I even had to learn to walk again.
I would never again compete in high school sports. My dreams of college athletics were over. Instead of running around a track and glorying in athletic competition, I battled Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
What does any of this have to do with reading books?
Before my skiing accident, the idea of reading provoked a yawn. In fact, I actively spurned the idea of reading and prided myself in harboring dismissive attitudes toward reading, critical thinking, and deep reflection.
But nearly dying at 16 reoriented how I saw the world. The sense of immortality that one is supposed to experience at that age was gone. I understood, in a profoundly real sense, how non-invincible I was and how fragile life can be.
I had become a Christian in October, just a months before my skiing accident. I truly believe on October 25, 2000, Jesus redeemed me, and on that night, a young girl named Christian (who would eventually become my wife) and my youth pastor, John Hume, led me in prayer as I accepted Jesus Christ to be my Lord and Savior.
With athletics out of the picture, my interests naturally changed.
One change was an openness to reading. Perhaps it was because I had more free-time, or because I was dealing with a lot of emotional instability as I adjusted to a new type of life without athletics at the center, that the idea of cracking open a book became more attractive. Maybe the sense of mortality I came to understand awakened my subconscious-self to questions about life, dying, and how to make sense of it all.
One book in particular, though, stands out as a major gateway for how I understood the relationship of Christianity to, well, everything. It was reading Lee Strobel’s book, The Case for Faith. In Strobel’s book, I saw how Christianity could be explained and defended, philosophically, against its critics. I never thought someone had to check their brain to be a Christian, but Strobel’s book showed me that Christianity offered sophisticated explanations (actually, more sufficient explanations than its opponents) for challenging questions like the problem of evil and the legitimacy of miracles.
For the first time, I was beginning to see that Christianity was not a pious religion. It was a belief system that addressed the major questions that linger in every human soul.
That book led to other books. I read Charles Colson’s Born Again while on a beach vacation. I remember sitting and letting the waves crash against my feet and reading the gripping story of a man’s confrontation with his own inner wickedness and the realization that a cunning political operative at the very heights of world power had no solutions for trying to save and redeem himself.
Then came C. S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity, maybe the most popular defense of Christianity ever written. In that volume, I read Lewis make credible arguments for the existence of God and objective morality. Lewis’ reprisal of Christianity seemed to connect with how I saw the world. Like Strobel, Lewis’ book showed me how satisfying reading works of theology could be.
Since then, I’ve read a lot of books. My walls and office are plastered with more books than I have time to read. But each of them signal a deep truth I would not have understood were it not for a tragic skiing accident: That exposure to Christian thinking turns one toward the world, not against it.
It was in seminary especially that my reading interests widened. Though I was inundated with books about the Trinity and New Testament theology, I was sneaking in time to read works by conservative political philosopher Russell Kirk. Though I would not have articulated it this way then, what I was discovering in my studies, both in undergraduate and graduate school, is that Christianity is a centrifugal force—its teachings spin off in all sorts of directions away from the center. As I reflected on the immensity of God making the world a place that humans could inhabit, that led me, naturally, to questions of philosophy, political theory, and ethics. But if I read about God’s act of creating, that meant I had to read about aesthetics and beauty. Reflecting on God’s creation and Jesus’ Lordship seemed, inevitably, to lead me to a new book on a new topic. What I have learned as a reader and as a Christian is this: A book leads someone where they may not have originally intended to go.
I do not wish that it took pain and anguish to teach me the importance of reading, but like the novelist Wendell Berry said one Sunday when a friend and I visited him at his home, every book that comes your way seems to come at just the right time. In a sense, that is how I think about my journey into reading. Everything, whether it’s a skiing accident or a book, seems to end up making sense in the long run when Christ is at the center of it all.