Christianity plays a central role in the memoir and has a transformational impact on the lives of Denver, Ron, and Ron’s wife, Deborah. For each of them, as they engage more deeply with Christianity and with God, they are compelled to look beyond themselves and strive to love others. Just as significant, when tragedy strikes, their faith becomes a potent source of hope and a vessel through which to find meaning in the midst of pain. In its depiction of Christianity, the memoir thus argues that one’s Christian faith can be a powerful motivator to look beyond oneself and serve others, and that it can also serve as a comfort in times of sorrow and a means to find meaning in tragedy.
For many of the characters, their Christian faith compels them to follow Jesus’s example and find ways to love and care for the downtrodden, demonstrating the motivation that Christianity can provide to love and serve others. As Deborah commits herself to her Christian faith, she feels led by God to reach beyond her own sphere of the world and look for ways to help those less fortunate, leading to her involvement in Union Gospel Mission, the homeless shelter where she and her husband meet Denver. Deborah sees the homeless as “God’s people” and feels compelled to love them in any way she can, illustrating how the tenets of Christianity can compel an individual to see the value of other people regardless of their status in life. As Deborah’s burgeoning faith rubs off on Ron, he becomes less preoccupied with his career and making money and shifts his focus to his wife, his family, and the Christian calling to serve others. Although Ron will still have to wrestle with his own ego, the influence of his Christian faith prompts him to reorient his life towards other people. Even Denver, who for decades keeps himself hardened and isolated and holds everyone at a distance, is softened by the witness of God’s love that he sees in Deborah and Ron at the Union Gospel Mission. Denver is inspired to consider how he can help the homeless people around him, such as secretly caring for a disabled homeless man. Like Deborah and Ron, Denver finds that his own Christian faith compels him to look outside himself and serve those around him.
For Ron, Deborah, and Denver, their Christian faith becomes both a vital hope in the face of tragedy as well as a way to ascribe meaning to it, offering the reassurance that all of the pain they experience is not in vain. This further demonstrates that Christianity can help people cope with and make sense of terrible tragedy and overwhelming pain. When Deborah is diagnosed with severe liver cancer, her faith in God provides hope that despite how grim the doctors’ prognosis is, there is still the chance that she could be miraculously healed. This hope compels her to defy the doctors’ advice. Emboldened by her faith, Deborah battles cancer and survives much longer than even the most optimistic forecasts. Even when her death is in sight, Deborah, Denver, and Ron’s confidence that God is in control and that Deborah will have a new life in heaven sustains them and helps them to face the future. Although their faith does not negate the pain of loss, it does them to hold onto hope and to cope with the fear and anxiety of death. Both before and after Deborah’s death, Denver hears God telling him that though tragic, her passing will give birth to something new. This is a critical support for both himself and Ron, who struggles to understand why God should allow Deborah to die at such a young age. Denver’s belief comes true: as he and Ron share their story and they speak publicly about Deborah’s life, many people are inspired to donate hundreds of thousands of dollars to combat homelessness in their city and the work of the Union Gospel Mission greatly expands. Denver’s ability to find meaning in the tragedy of losing Deborah, spurred by his faith, does not take away the pain of her departure, but it does help all who knew her to find some comfort in the fact that God used her death to give life elsewhere. This powerfully illustrates the capacity of Christian faith to help its proponents make sense of sadness of the world around them.
Despite the characters’ powerful testimonies, the memoir presents a nuanced picture of religion, as it is careful to recognize the occasionally manipulative elements of Christian faith, ultimately suggesting that although it can be a powerful force for good, it can also be misused. In the early years of Ron and Deborah’s budding faith, they meet many people who try to manipulate them into believing in God in the particular way that they do. Ron looks back on these interactions with disdain, gently condemning the aggressive and manipulative nature of it. In the same vein, faith-based homeless shelters sometimes force the attendees to listen to a sermon before they are allowed to eat a meal. Ron finds this similarly manipulative, condemning it as a way to bait people into hearing a message when really they are just hungry and deserve to be fed. Ron’s observations help to temper the story’s depiction of Christianity. Though it is a force for good, he also recognizes that it can be just as well misused or misconstrued. Indirectly, Ron’s narrative suggests that Christian faith should not be manipulative or concerned with being right, but should instead focus on simply loving people.
By sharing both the good and bad that they see in Christianity, the authors seek to provide a testimony that is powerful without seeming unrealistically optimistic. Ultimately, they argue that although Christian faith will not prevent one from pain, it can be critical aid in enduring it and, when used rightly, compels people to love each other rather than just themselves.
Christian Faith ThemeTracker
Christian Faith Quotes in Same Kind of Different as Me
Things was a-changin. Uncle James took sick and died, and Aunt Etha moved away. Last time I seen her, she was cryin. I couldn’t figure out why God kept takin all the folks I loved the most.
[Deborah and I] had actually been labeled “lost,” “nonbelieving,” and “unsaved,” possibly because we had no fish stickers on our cars. (Which reminds me of one friend who, though newly “born again,” retained the bad habit of flipping off other drivers while barreling down the road in her Suburban. […] The Holy Ghost prompted her to scrape the fish off her bumper until her finger got saved.)
It seemed manipulative to me to make the hungry sit like good dogs for their supper. And it did not surprise me that even when Brother Bill split the air with one of his more rousing sermons, not a single soul ever burst through the chapel doors waving their hands and praising Jesus. At least not while we were there.
Our prayers for healing at Rocky Top had not beaten back the lethal invader the doctors discovered inside my wife. Wounded and nearly blind with fear, I clung to the scriptures:
“Ask and you shall receive…”
“Pray without ceasing…”
“I will do whatever you ask in My name…”
Grimly, I shut another verse, this one from the book of Job: “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away.”
[…] Sometimes we just have to accept the things we don’t understand. So I just tried to accept that Miss Debbie was sick and kept on prayin out there by that dumpster. I felt like it was the most important job I ever had, and I wadn’t gon’ quit.
“Let’s forget about only living one year, and let’s just trust God,” she told me. “Dr. Goldstein is just a doctor. We serve the living God, who knows our number of days. I intend to fulfill each one of mine.”
“You asked the man how you could bless him, and he told you he wanted two things—cigarettes and Ensure. Now you trying to judge him instead of blessin him by blessin him with only half the things he asked for. […] Cigarettes is the only pleasure he got left.”
Pulling out a picture of Jack, [Michael] moved to the edge of the bed and placed it in Deborah’s palm, gently folding her fingers around it.
“Will you watch over him from heaven?” he said. “Be his guardian angel?” The moment later became a mystery. No one ever saw that picture of Jack again.
Quietly, I asked the nurse to remove the tubes and IVs that had bound her for a month. Then I asked the nurse to give us a few minutes alone, during which I held my dead wife and wept, begging God to raise her as Christ had raised Lazarus.
When He didn’t—and I truly believed he could—my heart exploded.
Still, I can’t deny the fruit of Deborah’s death—Denver, the new man, and the hundreds of men, women, and children who will be helped because of the new mission. And so, I release her back to God.