Fearless Questions

Following our Questions to Freedom

Ping Pong & Awkward Conversations

So let me just admit it…I really enjoy playing Table Tennis…always have.

Some of you may prefer the name ‘Ping Pong’.  I can appreciate that. It’s certainly a catchier name and sounds like something that anyone can play.  At first mention I think it’s what most of us remember…just knocking the ball around.  As a shorter guy growing up, the most embarrassing aspect of playing was my inability to reach the ball sitting at the net while standing at the end of the table.  Every time my shot failed to clear the net, I either had to walk around the side of the table to reach it…or my opponent, weary of waiting on me, would stretch out and use their paddle to push the net into the ball, sending it back within my short reach. ping-pong-paddles2

Ping-pong: You ping…I pong…we laugh a little…eat some potato chips and call it a day.  I would play it regularly with my brothers and friends who would come by to visit.

Table tennis, on the other hand, was intense stuff.  My good friend Zach and I played tennis regularly.  During the summer we played as often as possible.  Arriving at daybreak to avoid the afternoon heat…then returning in the evening to play under the lights and listen to the radio while working on our game. 

When winter weather eventually drove us indoors, I think table tennis was a natural next step. 

We played keeping proper tennis scores.  40-30, deuce, ad-in, etc., and played full-on grand-slam tournaments as well.  Always best of 5 sets, even changing the color of ball being used depending on the tournament…yellow – U.S. Open, white – Wimbledon, Orange – French Open, and yellow again for the Australian.

Walls were dented, ceilings sometimes marked, but camaraderie was always present. In true friendship, we enjoyed the competition and we genuinely enjoyed the chance to talk about life while we played.

That is until it came to God.

You see…we could talk and laugh about girls, school, friends, politics and movies for hours on end.  There was a natural ebb and flow to the conversation.  No particular destination in mind.  Just two guys floating on the waves of friendship to wherever the current might take us.

When you talk about life with a friend in open-ended fashion, eventually you will come across deeper questions of life.

Enter religion.

I was raised in a faith tradition that put great emphasis on proclaiming Jesus Christ to everyone you crossed paths with.  Yes…the kind of faith tradition that has a display case in the foyer of the church building where you can choose evangelistic tracts/brochures with cheesy artwork to give to strangers in hopes of them coming to faith in God. 


It’s strange enough to try and give one of those pamphlet stories to a stranger.  To share that conversation with a friend is even more awkward.  Especially when you aren’t even sure what exactly you are trying to accomplish.

When it came to Zach, I was relentless.  I tried every trick in the book.  Casually slip a Christian song onto the tape mix…check.  Out of the blue, ask him what he thinks about God…check.  Have him read certain verses out of the book of Romans in the Bible, trying to guide him through my faith traditions’ faith basics…check.  Confuse the hell out of my friend by how I’m talking…double check.

Somewhere in our early college days Zach and I were playing table tennis again when I suddenly broke into an uninvited sales pitch for Christianity.  I’m not sure how long he had wanted to say it, but that day he just let it out:

Jeff, why is it that every time we talk about God you start acting so weird?

What a simple but profound question. 

I’m sure he was perplexed, as he had already been through Lutheran confirmation class and probably felt quite settled in his faith.

The great irony of my quest to convert Zach is that he had always been a better friend to me than I was to him.  He had incredible character, even at a young age.  Loyalty, kindness, work-ethic, empathy, humor, generosity, and a sense of freedom.  If it wasn’t for the leaders of my faith convincing me that I had life and he didn’t…I’d probably have been asking him for HIS secret to life.

A little bit of religion, a little fear-based sales pitch, a little bad timing, and no real understanding of what I was hawking…mix it all together with friendship over a table tennis match and that’s how awkward conversations are made.

If you’ve got good news to share with people, I hope you share it.  We all need good news. 

But, if like me, you are sometimes simply rehearsing a speech you heard someone else claim to be meaningful…well…it’s like Tim McGraw says:  ‘Talk is cheap and free advice is worth the price you pay.’   

For what it’s worth, I’ve since apologized to Zach for trying so hard to convert him and not just appreciating him for the great friend he has always been to me. 

He’s on his own faith journey. 

God is big enough to work things out with Zach without me in the mix.

But if he is ever in need…you can bet I’d travel across the country to be there. 

He’s my friend.

(He’d have to be in order to put up with all my awkward conversations.) 


Zach & Jeff circa 1995

About Jeff Blackburn

Jeff Blackburn is a Spiritual Coach and passionate Truth-Seeker. An alumnus of Oxford University, Jeff is someone who advocates for Freedom and Fullness of Life for All. He believes Jesus offers good news for people everywhere today…not just eternity. Jeff is the Executive Director of Fearless Questions, Inc. and has spent the past 20 years working with people searching for God.

2 Replies

  1. Zach Henderson

    Jeff, you are an amazing person I am proud to call friend. While I wasn’t ever certain as to why you were trying to convert the converted, I never doubted the unassailable fact that you cared for me and were a true friend. This fact has been reinforced throughout the years despite the different paths we took, different cities we lived in. As it relates to this specific subject, your post is illustrative of the deep level of self awareness that is the goal of asking “fearless questions,” sometimes of oneself. Your brand requires the honesty, humility and understanding you demonstrate every day. That is the true “witnessing” that those church leaders intended. So my personal assessment (other than my being a superior table tennis player) is that you have been successful in your mission in life. This venture is yet one more example.

    Again, proud to call you my friend.

    1. Jeff Blackburn

      There is a table here in Indy waiting for you anytime you’d like to take a re-test on your table tennis skillzzz 🙂
      Thanks for you kind words Zach.