Infect You with Life

John Coffeykennedy 2Sometimes, odd & seemingly unrelated events or people meet at an intersection in my mind.  It can be a strange intersection, like when the doctors from the Centers for Disease Control,  Stephen King and Ted Kennedy show up.

           This week, the Centers for Disease Control issued stark warnings about the spread of the H1N1 virus, popularly known as “swine flu”.  They estimate that ½ of the US population could be infected this fall/winter and that up to 90,000 people could die from it.  Yikes!  No vaccine will be available until October and until then the word of the day is: “wash your hands!!!” This virus can infect and spread rapidly…and bring death. 

          Stephen King is neither a favorite author nor movie source for me.  I’m not a big fan of the horror genre.  But I have always been intrigued by The Green Mile.  The movie version stars Tom Hanks as death row prison guard Paul Edgecomb, whose life has been twisted into cynicism by the constant exposure to the worst of humanity and death.  That is, until John Coffey comes under his watch.  Coffey is a giant, near 8 feet tall with huge hands, convicted of killing two young girls—but is a tender soul afraid to sleep without a night light. 

            In time, we discover that Coffey has a unique gift.  He can see deep into and reveal the deepest parts of people’s hearts. He can heal—even cancer—by a touch of his massive hands, or by breathing his breath in and sucking disease out. It turns out that he has been wrongly accused and is unjustly executed.  And in the final scenes, we discover that Edgecomb, who was healed of a terrible bladder infection, is telling the story as a man who is 108 years old—having outlived all others of his generation.

So, whether King consciously did this or not (and I suspect he did), John Coffey (initials JC) is in fact a Jesus Christ (JC) figure in the film. He carries himself with strength, knows the deep places of souls, is marked by love, tenderness and compassion, heals and removes the threat of disease, is unjustly convicted and killed – and leaves life in his wake. 

When Paul Edgecomb reveals his story to an older female friend at the retirement home where they live, he says that he thinks that Coffey “infected me with life.”  In King’s twisted thought, the forever life is its own kind of sentence, but the idea of being “infected with life” remains fascinating.

            Ted Kennedy was neither a favorite politician nor cultural icon for me.  I’m not a big fan of far left-wing policies, even if some aspects of such legislation are very helpful for society.  But I have always been intrigued by the Kennedy family and its mystique, tragedy and commitment to public service.

            The memorials in the wake of his death this week from a brain tumor have shed new light for me on Kennedy, the man.  He was described by his family, colleagues, friends and acquaintances as a man who leaned hard into life and lived it with what can only be described as gusto. Nothing was done half-way or half-heartedly.  It was done with energy, enthusiasm, passion, love, compassion and most often, laughter.

            And it wasn’t just partisan politics and legislative process that got this investment.  It was sailing into the breezes off Nantucket Sound.  Singing show tunes around the piano. Serving as father to his slain brothers’ children.  Making phone calls to hundreds of families of 9-11 victims.  Encouraging notes and phone calls and unannounced visits to friends going through hard times. History walks with the grandkids in his beloved Boston.  Enjoying his wife with evident passion. Christmas parties with staff—dressed as Elvis. Other costume parties. Encouraging his children when they battled cancer or asthma.  Debating after dinner about faith, politics, and more. Family vacations where everyone ended up injured, exhausted and joyful. Throwing out the first pitch for the Red Sox. Dealing with political opponents with respect and collegiality.  Battling for the underdog. And on and on. 

            Apparently, dozens, even hundreds of people had a personal encounter with Ted Kennedy. And they walked away somehow changed—laughing, crying, hoping, encouraged, loved, surprised, etc.—but never indifferent. This was a life that impacted other lives with a sense of life.  He “infected them with life”.

            John Coffey and Ted Kennedy brought a kind of  life where they went. They spread life.  

Now, if a fictional character and a politician can do that, what about those who follow the Prince of Life?  Jesus is “the life” (John 14:6).  He offers all people under death’s curse the promise of “resurrection and life” (John 11:25) His heart is that right now we might experience “abundant life…more and better life than [we] ever dreamed of” (Jn.10:10). But it’s even more, for Jesus gives the “hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:7).  That’s more than a numberless quantity of years.  It’s a quality of life fragrant with heaven, rich with mystery and transformative in power. Once your soul has been touched with Jesus’ life, you are forever changed. You are infected with life.

And those of us who know Jesus are then called to spread that  life.  It’s more than merely sharing a “plan of salvation”.  It is living His life wherever we go, in our ordinary everyday lives:  His love, His compassion, His joy, His hope, His surprise, His mercy, His wonder, His healing, His grace, His peace, His patience, His strength, His courage, His life.  

The Christian life is so much more than going to a church building for meetings, repeating rituals, choosing Christian activities or media, engaging in family-friendly political action or being a nice, relatively inoffensive, moral, good-neighborly person. 

It is simply living to infect every person we meet with Jesus’ life.

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