Remembering Gaia

"But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect." (1 Peter 3:15).

On January 3rd, 2018, I received an inquiry email to our website from a woman named Gaia that read: How do you feel about skeptics? I’m working on talking with Christians about why they believe what they believe. Would you like to discuss over coffee at NewLife?

This was certainly a unique email, the only time in 17 years of pastoring NewLife that an atheist reached out because they wanted to understand my beliefs. I jumped at the chance and met Gaia at Panera. She was indeed an atheist, someone with a church background who had experienced her share of hurt and disillusionment at the hands of Christians over the years. Gaia was trying out a method of communication called Street Epistemology that had been developed by Peter Boghossian in his book “A Manual for Creating Atheists.” It was a very similar method to the one taught by Greg Koukl in his book Tactics, which Jim Scrobko had taught at NewLife: basically, ask good questions that explore why someone believes what they do, in the hopes of revealing the incoherence or irrationality of their convictions. The big difference, of course, is that Koukl’s method aimed at converting atheists into believers. Gaia’s goal was to convert pastors into atheists.

On that day at Panera in January of 2018, I shared with her about my faith in Jesus and how I had come to devote my life to Him. I heard about Gaia’s life and views on Christianity as well, and we began a friendship. In 2019, Gaia began a podcast called Face the Sun (https://facethesun.podbean.com/), in which she discussed matters of religion, belief and unbelief. I was a guest a couple of times, participating in discussions about whether or not there is objective morality and whether or not there is sufficient proof for the resurrection of Jesus. In 2020, Gaia made a goal of visiting 52 places of worship in 52 weeks, and she spent one of those weeks visiting and podcasting about NewLife (COVID eventually interrupted her ambitious goal, leaving her stuck at 10 places). Despite our obvious differences, we genuinely respected and cared about each other.

Tragically, I found out this past Friday that Gaia died on April 22nd. We had been emailing each other the week before her death about meeting up in May, but unfortunately, I will not see my friend again. I only knew a small part of her life, but I truly appreciated her attempts to create spaces where people of differing opinions and beliefs could come together to explore the big questions of life.

In 1 Peter 3:15, Peter encourages us to always be prepared to give an answer for the hope that we have, but to do it with gentleness and respect. On January 3rd, 2018, Gaia gave me the opportunity to put that verse into action, and I am grateful for the friendship we shared.

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