Archive for the ‘Reflections on Certain Things’ Category

I realize that by posting the following, I will send more readers to a specific post that I believe is so profoundly theologically flawed that it is dangerous.  However, ipso facto I cannot remain silent.

In a piece published by CharismaNews, a certain preacher, hereafter referred to as “the writer” or “the author,” reminds us that the “mark of the beast” has been a dominant subject in eschatology (the study of biblical prophecies of the end of the age) since the first century, and many things have been called this that turned out not to be so. However, we know it will come, and it may be upon us.”  The danger arrives in what the writer states next.  He continues that, “few events in history have so remarkably fit the biblical scenario of this mark as the potential U.S. Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage.”

Seriously?  “few events in history have so remarkably fit the biblical scenario of this mark as the potential U.S. Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage.”

The writer spends the first of a 3-page article equating “same sex marriage” to the mark of the beast, only then to retract that statement by saying “even if this is not the mark of the beast, it will be for those who are now losing what they, in some cases, have given their lives to build, because they would not compromise their religious convictions in order to buy, sell or trade.” This is simply nothing more than manipulation and sensationalism.  If he honestly believes that God’s wrath will be poured out on this nation over the issue of homosexuality, he has not read scripture and his memory is failing him.

Has the writer forgotten that this country indentured an entire race of humanity and affirmed the ethos of slavery by holy scripture and proclaimed its “rightness” from the pulpits? Has he forgotten that this country eviscerated and continues to eviscerate communities of innocent men, women and children in Iraq, Afghanistan, Panama, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Hiroshima, Nagasaki and Manila all in the name of American Imperialism or in the least, to satisfy our insatiable appetite for oil.  Does he not realize that this nation has blindly accepted the rhetoric of self-absorbed power-hungry greedy politicians who claimed (and claim) these acts of decimation to be “God’s wars?”

Has the writer so easily forgotten the bulldozing of affordable housing and the creation of concentration camps on our soil called “ghettos.”  Is he not aware of the systemic injustice perpetrated upon our black and white poor so as to rack up huge fines and fees, thereby funding city government on the backs of those who can least afford it? Does he not realize that the number of references to usery in scripture far outnumber any references to homosexuality? How can the writer fail to see that the abomination of usery is part of the very DNA of this nation.  The love of money, which is the root of all evil, under girds the systemic injustice in this nation that is daily doled out by our banks, our courts, our police departments, our legislature and even our churches?

Micah_6_8_          Where is the author’s righteous indignation over this nation’s total disregard for the environment and our resources? And since the writer lifted up Ronald Reagan in his article, let us be reminded that it was President Reagan who un-installed the solar panels from the White House that his predecessor had installed as an example and call for Americans to be better stewards of the earth and the resources that God had given us.

Where is the writer’s righteous indignation over this nation’s hatred toward  the alien and the foreigner?  Where is his righteous indignation over the families who’ve fallen through the cracks in our healthcare system; the mommies and their babies that sleep in their cars because there is no “room for them in the inn?”  Read the Old Testament.  It is for these reasons, time and time again that the Prophets declared the impending judgment and wrath of God.

How dare the author isolate one sect of the American population and lay blame on their shoulders for all of the evils, atrocities and moral failings in our nation.  It’s theologically reckless.  It has been done in history, numerous times, and the results are always horrific, apocalyptic and anti-Christ.  There’s your beast!

One thing of which the author writes, however, is true.  We stand on the brink of a “new awakening.  The new awakening will be global and it will affect not only religion, but politics, education and economics; every fiber of our lives is going to change.  It’s a giant re-set.  In the words of Phyllis Tickle, it’s “a huge yard sale.” (3)

Awakening is the result of what New Testament writers referred to as metanoia.  Metanoia is a change of perspective and outlook that moves human beings beyond chaos toward a new harmony with God and divine things. (1)

Diana Butler-Bass writes in her book, Christianity After Relgion, “The Shepherd of Hemas defined metanoia as “the great understanding, or the practice of discernment through which human beings move from darkness toward the light. Metanoia necessarily implies human agency, and early Christian thinkers almost universally agreed that metanoia involved recognizing our estrangement from God and neighbor and turning of the heart and mind toward love.”

But alas, as we can read from the author’s rhetoric in the CharismaNews piece, it is not a new awakening that he is waiting for, rather he is calling for a return to “what-was.”  What we witness in this piece and others like it is actually a counterreformation of nativism which is, in reality, opposed to the new awakening.  The writer’s rhetoric is a shrewd manipulation to play on the emotions of the fearful and forward a conservative political agenda designed to turn the course of history back toward an “absolutist, death-dealing” God. (1)  The journey toward new awakenings is always rife with these kinds of voices; the fear-mongers who would take us back.

But we can’t go back.  

I believe God is calling American to both “mourn and repent;” collectively and individually.  But our “mourning and repenting” must be over a host of atrocities committed by this nation in the name of God, not the least of which is a self-loving arrogance that allows us to believe that we can label and condemn one group of people and incite hatred and violence toward them. (all in the name of God. Can we please stop using God’s name in vain?)

The next great awakening is coming, but it won’t be a return to “what-was.” It will be an advancement into God’s dream for creation. “Thy Kingdom come, on earth, as it is in heaven.”

As it approaches, I for one had rather be a bridge builder than a fear-monger.

1.  Christianity After Religion, Diana Butler-Bass, HarperOne Publishing, 2013

2.  White America’s Greatest Delusion: They Do Not Know It and They Do Not Want To Know It, Tim Wise, http://www.alternet.org/white-americas-greatest-delusion-they-do-not-know-it-and-they-do-not-want-know-it#.VU3tJcrDf-w.facebook

3.  The Great Emergence: How Christianity is Changing and Why, Phyllis Tickle, Baker Books, 2008.

Mourning_Dove_2006
          Recently, during the practice of lectio divina with a small group of friends, the chosen scripture text was Psalm 62:1-2.
“For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation. 
God alone is my rock, my salvation, my fortress; I shall never be shaken.”
          As is the practice with lectio divina, you eventually narrow your focus and attention to one word and you meditate on that one word.  It is in those moments of meditation that your being becomes still and in that stillness God speaks in various and wondrous ways.  I felt drawn to the word “silence.”
For God along my soul waits in silence…
      
                                   my soul waits in silence…
                                                                               in silence….
                                                                                                                       silence
          I find it is increasingly difficult for me to be silent.  The world is a noisy place and if I’m silent, I might not get heard; I might not get noticed; I might find myself last in line. Additionally, more and more, I feel the pressure to say the “right” thing—so much so, that even when I think I’m listening—I’m actually crafting what I’m going to say next.  So—I’m not really listening.
         Earlier this week, a bit of “1st world” chaos was swirling and it was rattling my existence.  I was stressed with too many left-overs on the daily to-do list.   Things were noisy and anxiety was building.   In that moment, I remembered that I had failed to return a phone call from earlier in the day.  It was late but, I picked up the phone and dialed the number.
          My friend and spiritual confidant, Kim answered.  She asked if I had time to “listen” to something.  (Listen?  Right now? Really?  Okay!  I agreed to listen.)  Kim wanted to read to me a devotional that she had prepared to share with her co-workers at a morning staff meeting the next day.   (As spiritual confidants, Kim and I test our theological grounding and understandings with each other on a regular basis.)
         I put my computer to sleep, turned off the television and gave her my undivided attention.   The house went silent and her voice began to speak.
                                     I “listened” intently.
                                                          Here are the words she spoke:
         When I was a young girl I liked to talk.  I liked to talk so much that I was often admonished for it on my report cards.  Beginning in the first grade and carrying all the way through my elementary years, my teachers wrote things like “Kim talks too much.”  “Kim needs to be quiet during class.”  “Kim is talkative.” One teacher even went so far as to bellow across the classroom one afternoon, “Would you shut up?”  But increasingly I find that I like to listen as I get older.  I particularly like to listen while I walk the greenway. 
Cardinal
         I like the way cardinals call out “pretty, pretty, pretty” as they flit from tree to tree.  The sound reminds me of my grandfather.  He used to tell me what the birds were saying as they sang.  I like the sound that great blue herons screech out.  It sounds positively prehistoric.  It even makes me think I might just happen upon a dinosaur, maybe just around the next bend.  And I love the soulful sound mourning doves coo at the dusk of the day.  It stills me… makes me even skip a breath. I also like to hear the little snippets of everyday life friends share with one another as they walk along the path… “So, she’s moving?  Yes, she’s moving to Raleigh, which makes me happy.  I want her to have a little bit of independence.” Although, I think I detect more sadness in her voice than happiness.  Or the woman who says, “You never did trust him;” which sends me into imagining what all he could have done to lose her trust.  Or the woman who excitedly says into her cell phone, “Tomorrow, tomorrow, I catch a flight to Seattle;” and I immediately begin to conjure up visions of a family reunion.  That sounds like fun. 
 FOT1138499
          I like the way the wind sounds rustling through scruffy shrubs, skinny pines, Tarzan-sized vines, and assorted knotty gumball trees.  It reminds me of the prophet who says “For you shall go out in joy, and be led forth in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall break forth into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.”  I like the way bicycles sound as they cross over the uneven boardwalk “clump in major, clump in minor.”  More than the sound though is the feel of the draft passing bikes make!  You really learn to look forward to bicycle breezes during certain parts of the year.  And I like to listen to all the sounds my dogs make—the younger one sharp, strong “Yap, yap, yap,” which I translate to “Joy, joy, joy!” and the older one “Ka, ka, ka” which is an altogether different kind of joy, joy, joy.  These are a few of the things that bring me joy.  I wonder what brings you joy…
In that moment, I realized that the Divine Creator cared enough about me to make me do what I needed to do most in that moment—and that was listen!
                                                       Listen.
                                                                           It is amazing what you hear when you really listen.
         Henri Nouwen understood listening to be an aspect of spiritual hospitality.  He wrote, “To listen is very hard, because it asks of us so much interior stability that we no longer need to prove ourselves by speeches, arguments, statements, or declarations. True listeners no longer have an inner need to make their presence known. They are free to receive, to welcome, to accept.
         Listening is much more than allowing another to talk while waiting for a chance to respond. Listening is paying full attention to others and welcoming them into our very beings. The beauty of listening is that, those who are listened to start feeling accepted, start taking their words more seriously and discovering their own true selves. Listening is a form of spiritual hospitality by which you invite strangers to become friends, to get to know their inner selves more fully, and even to dare to be silent with you.
 

The front entrance to this Presbyterian Church in this small rural North Carolina town is massive. It contains four towering white columns. Columns, which I am certain, provide support for the covered entrance as much as they pay architectural homage to the era in which the church was built. The soaring columns convey a sense of loftiness, most likely a reflection of a bygone era when this church stood at the center of public life and discourse in this small southern textile town.

On this particular Easter Sunday, the entrance to this Presbyterian Church is in disrepair. The paint on the soaring columns is peeling. The cement and flagstone porch, covered in years of neglect, screams for a pressure washing. The window frames are busting, peeling and losing their century long hold on the muted stained glass. In reality, the building looks and feels more like a mausoleum. The physical signs of neglect are outward manifestations of a local church in disrepair. From all indications, this church, like so many, is dying.

The welcome sign out front, missing the letters “t” and “h,” reads “The Ear is the Lord’s.” The Sunday School rooms smell musty and seem purposeless. Bibles and songbooks and children’s toys look like they were left in mid-use; almost as if the rapture took place and sucked the life out of the building. The manse, too, is empty; vacated by a burned-out pastor under cover of night. Most Sundays, less than a dozen faithful members populate a sanctuary built to accommodate at least 250 living and breathing human beings.

Yet, on this drizzly and overcast Easter Sunday, at 10:45; fifteen minutes before the official start of worship, Janice is sweeping the front entrance at this Presbyterian Church. Yes…she is sweeping.

woman sweeping

Janice is in her mid-seventies. Her boney fingers clutch the broom handle with tenderness and while she sweeps, she tells me she has performed this task with regularity for the past fifty-some-odd-years. Janice sweeps in the face of death. In this geographical and spiritual location, where reality seems to raise its voice in verbose terms, “This is meaningless and unworthy,” she sweeps. I am tempted to join the refrain of reality and reprimand Janice for doing something as mundane as sweeping a porch when the church is dying. There are so many other needful things to be done!

But, as I watch and listen, the Holy Spirit grips my core and in one of those moments when heaven and earth intersect, I realize Janice is not unlike Joseph of Arimathea. For you see, Janice, too, even in the face of death, sweeps while “waiting expectantly for the Kingdom of God.”

Freedom For Ministry

According to Richard John Neuhaus, the Christian gospel is an interpretation of reality that bestows a “saving and order” upon our experiences. A holy imagination is mandated. Ministry requires it and cannot survive without it. It really is the task of the pastor, the preacher, the minister, or the under-shepherd (use whatever title you fancy) to hold in tandem the visible and the invisible.

In situations that seem desperately hopeless, as in the case of this particular church at this particular time, it is difficult, almost impossible, to “minister by hope beyond apology.” For I, too, am like those lofty columns. I am in disrepair! I battle a clamoring ego. I run from my own demons and I question the authority of the call. I am discovering how strenuous and grueling it is to buttress the invisible against the visible when the visible is so depressingly damning.

But, in spite of myself, and because I am drowning in an ocean of grace, I am set free to “sight, signal and support” the structure, albeit an imperfect structure, so that Janice, and countless others like her, can perform faithfully mundane tasks all the while waiting expectantly for the Kingdom of God.

The voice of Neuhaus, combined with an old woman named Janice and a good strong nudging of the Holy Spirit called me to “Repent and believe the good news.”  Because on this Easter Sunday Morning, the Kingdom of God has come near! It really has.

It seems like I strolled through the season of Advent; casually and leisurely experiencing the sites and sounds and festivities.  Then, Christmas arrived.  It came with all the finesse and force of a 200 ton locomotive.  Just minutes before the midnight hour on Christmas Eve, after a long, busy and challenging day, I was standing with several hundred other people holding candles singing perfunctorily, yet loudly, “O Come Let Us Adore Him,  Christ the Lord!”

As a child of the church, I can confidently say I have sung the familiar phrases and refrains of Adeste fideles at least 6,432 times. (Okay, 6,432 times is a slight exaggeration—but you know what I mean)  This is a song that I know by heart; metaphorically and lyrically.   But that night, in that situation and on that occasion, certain words and phrases began to lift from the pages of the new Presbyterian Hymnal.

Living and breathing within the melody, harmonies and meter of that song are profound and weighty words like

“God of God, light of light.”

“Lo he abhors not the virgin’s womb.”

“Very God begotten not created.”

“Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing.”

But these are only words.  Right?

No!  These are not mere words crafted to fit the rhyme in a melody or the meter of a song.  These words, when constructed in this manner to form these specific phrases have profound theological ramifications.

The author of the fourth Gospel was a craftsman and a wordsmith; he had an affection for words and was especially enamored with and specifically captured by “the Word.”  Hear the eloquence of his opening lines:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God.  all things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.  what has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” (John 1:1-5 NRSV)

Incarnation

“The business of the world is carried on by words,” wrote Sir Daniel Hall in his introduction of his Digressions of a Man of Science. (Hoskyns, p. 136)  Likewise, John the Fourth Evangelist felt the full weight and pressure of that supposition as he picked up his pen to write down the things he had seen and heard, witnessed and experienced.  He knew the majestic power of words for he had been confronted by the words of Jesus. And in that confrontation, John had witnessed God’s unmistakable movement toward humanity; the incarnation.

That Jesus once spoke is more fundamental for our understanding of John’s gospel than is the history of Greek philosophy or the story of the westward progress of Oriental mysticism; even more fundamental than the first chapter of Genesis or the eighth chapter of the Proverbs. (Hoskyns, p. 137)  John, too, is concerned with words, because it is his purpose to portray a Jesus who spoke.  Therefore, John’s Gospel begins not with “In the beginning was God,” but rather with, “In the beginning was the Word.”  John knew and understood that the business of the world depends upon the Word of God both for its creation and for its salvation.

From the beginning, John makes it clear that the words of Jesus are meaningless apart from their relation to the word of God.  The words of Jesus are not isolated maxims, detached aphorism, or disjointed commands, powerful, but without connected meaning.  Because of their essential unity with God, John is pressed from the plural to the singular, from words’ to word, and from a series of words to “the Word.” (Hoskyns, p. 136)  “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was God.”  (καὶ θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος)  The Word was not some lesser deity or another God, but everything that God was, the Word was and the Word has always existed.

Because John has witnessed the incarnation, his Gospel is full of movement and that movement is evidenced in the “Prologue.”  There is movement from the eternal to the temporal; movement from the divine to the human; movement from creation to revelation; movement from the Word to the Son of God.  The Word is God and in Jesus, the Word came forth from God.  History itself, for Christianity, is the symbolic locus of encounter with the divine.  The realization of the symbolic dimension of history was implicit and operative among Old Testament writers.  But in John 1:14, the notion of symbolic revelation becomes more focused and more explicit.  (Schneiders, p. 70)  “And the Word became in-flesh and tented among us.”  Theologian JoAnne Marie Terrell calls it “with-us-ness.” (Callahan, p. 186)

Regardless of the language you choose to communicate God’s movement toward us, John is intent and fixed on his readers understanding fully that God has moved from outside the bounds of history; invaded human time and space and set about revealing God’s live-giving purposes for humanity through and in the person of Jesus Christ.  Here, the humanization or “enfleshment” of the pre-existent Logos is flatly declared.  (Kysar, p. 45).

John Calvin used the language of accommodation to describe the movement of the Triune god toward humanity.  Karl Barth said the incarnation was an “extravagant condescension,” a movement downward that outweighs even the inconceivability of the divine majesty of God.  “Flesh, all that we are and exactly like us even in our opposition to Him.  It is become that he makes contact with us and is accessible for us.”  Now the Word, God’s self-revelation, has become human, incarnate, in order to speak to humanity in words that humanity could understand.  (Schneiders, p. 49)

For John, the “Word in-flesh” supersedes the philosophy of reason, the work of Lady Wisdom and the law given through Moses.  The Word in-flesh is an event of equal, if not greater importance than creation.  The identity of the Word has now been revealed, it is Jesus Christ, God the only Son.  John 1:17 is the first time the explicit name “Jesus Christ” has been sounded in the prologue, because that name only enters the story at the incarnation.  At the incarnation, the story of the Word becomes the story of Jesus.  Jesus is not the cosmic word of vv.1-2, but the Word in-flesh of vv.14-18.  (O’Day, p. 27)

John will invest his entire gospel efforts showcasing the identity of the Word in-flesh, relaying the power of the words of Jesus and pointing to Jesus’ function as revealer of God’s life-giving purposes.    In the Gospel of John, Jesus, the Word in-flesh will confront the unjust and death-bringing ways of the ruling elite (John 2:13-22), He will bring wholeness, healing and abundance (John 6:1-4), He will constitute a community of believers and give them concrete ways of being together (John 13), He will effect forgiveness and release (John 20:23), and he will open the door to the Household of God.  (John 1:12; 19:27).  John has borne witness to these words and actions of Jesus Christ.  John sees and knows that the world, including God’s chosen people, is dark, fallen and sinful and in need of spiritual re-birth.  John knows that re-birth is only available through the preexistent, enfleshed Word.  (Kostenberger, p. 41)

In making the journey to that “far distant country,” the second person of the Trinity laid aside his heavenly garments and slipped into the flesh of a naked new born.  His mother wrapped him in a piece of cloth and placed him in a feeding trough.  The significance of God taking on human flesh cannot be overstated.  And the Gospel writer adds richer nuance by use of the verb ἐσκήνωσεν. (John1:14)  The verb is most often translated “lived” or “dwelt,” but it literally means “put up camp or tented for a while.”  The meaning would not have been lost on John’s first readers.  God has come to take up residence among humanity in a way even more intimate than when he dwelt in the midst of Israel in the tabernacle. (Kostenberger, p. 41)  Even deeper, ἐσκήνωσεν intimates that Jesus is on a journey and camped out in this world for a time as part of his itinerary.  (Kysar, p. 45)  The Gospel writer will further develop this theology and employ the words of Jesus Christ to invite his readers to respond and participate in the journey.

It is important to notice the introduction of the first person plural pronoun in John 1:14.  With its appearance, the perspective of the prologue shifts from observation to confession.  This incarnation is both human and divine, both transcendent and immanent.  Jesus Christ was fully God and fully man; not a mixture of the two, not a spiritual mode, nor a mythological marvel and certainly not a super human being.  “What is at stake,” as Athanasius said, “is our salvation.”  “The doctrines of transcendence and immanence,” wrote Martin Luther King Jr., “are both half-truths in need of the tension of each other to give the more inclusive truth.”  (Callahan, p. 186)

Therefore, when we hear the word, even speak the words and our hearts are pricked by the power of the holy Spirit, we move from observation and mere utterance to confession: “We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father, through him all things were made.  for us and our salvation he came down from heaven, was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and became truly human. (Nicene, 1.2)

So Christmas comes, but it does not come silently.  Christmas comes with the full force of an invasion proclaiming the Word of life.  “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.  We saw the glory with our own eyes, the one-of-a-kind glory, like Father, like Son, Generous inside and out, true from start to finish.” (The Message, John 1:14)

So, when we put words to melody and sing Adeste fideles, we are not just singing another Christmas song. Rather, we are articulating the theological profundity of the faith of the ages.  God has come.  God is with us; God is for us and God is in us!  “O’ Come Let us Adore Him—O’ Come Let us Adore Him!  O’ Come Let us Adore Him—Christ, the Lord!!”


 

Attridge, Harold W., Editor. Harper Collins Study Bible / New Revised Standard Version. San Francisco: Harper One, 1989.

Barth, Karl. Church Dogmatics I.II.  Edinburg: T. & T. Clark, 1956.

Callahan, Allen Dwight. True to our Native Land: An African American New Testament Commentary. Minneapolis: Fortress Press , 2007.

Hoskyns, Sir Edwyn. The Fourth Gospel. London: Faber and Faber Limited, 1947.

Kostenberger, Andreas J. John. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic , 2004.

Kysar, Robert. John, the Maverick Gospel. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press , 1976.

O’Day, Gail & Hylen, Susan E. John. Louisville: Westminster Knox Press, 2006.

Schneiders, Sandra M. Written That You May Believe: Encountering Jesus in the Fourth Gospel.  New York: Crossroad, 2003.

The following thoughts were written at Thanksgiving 2010.  My mother died 5 months later.  I reread these words every holiday season to remind myself of the important things in life.  So, forgive me for posting something from the past, but indulge me.  You might find it meaningful for you this holiday season.

Here I am sitting in my Mom’s and Dad’s little house awaiting the Thanksgiving meal. But this year things are different. My mother’s cognitive ability is slowly deteriorating. She is struggling to prepare the meal. It’s something she’s done with ease hundreds of times over the course of her life. Some days it’s the short term memory she fights to grasp. Other days it’s the long term memory that eludes her.

She talks to herself allot these days–almost constantly. Even the smallest mundane activities that you and I perform without thinking, she laboriously thinks through them then congratulates herself when accomplished with short words like, “Yes!” “That’s it!” “Nice” “Beautiful!” “Yes!”

In a very strange-bittersweet-but-inspiring-kind of way, God is reminding me today, that there is beauty in the “common and ordinary.” “Yes!” “That’s it!”

This morning God woke me up in a warm bed. “Yes!” “Nice!” “Beautiful.”

I got up without medical assistance of any kind and ate a good breakfast. “Yes!“

I will not go to bed hungry today. “Um huh. Yes!”

I will sit at table with my wonderful parents who have served God in full-time ministry for most of their lives. “Yes” “Nice!”

I get to worry and struggle over an Ethics paper and presentation due in less than 2 weeks. “Nice!“

I get to enjoy this amazing seminary journey with so many wonderfully articulate and compassionate people. “Beautiful!”

I get to face the struggles and challenges of ministry that will send me to my knees. “Nice!”

I get to go to work, interact with wonderful people, fight the day to day battles and make a living to support my family.  “Nice!”

God grant us the child-like faith necessary to see the beauty and experience the wonder of “flashing lights and lowering crossing bars!” (the common and ordinary) Help us to see life through the eyes of children and aging dementia patients. (It doesn’t take 9 volumes of Church Dogmatics and 4 years of seminary to expose the truth.) “Yes!” “That’s it!” “Nice.” “Beautiful!”

Be blessed, my friends, and be thankful! “Yes!” “That’s it!”

—-

In the later years of her life, after the cancer and multitude of chemo treatments had taken their toll on her body, my mother did not like to have her picture taken.  Of course,  we too could see the manifestation of the rapacious appetite of the drugs and disease and respected her request.  But, I always managed to get her to be in a photograph with me.  And although the photograph is not very flattering, it is a priceless picture, nonetheless.

Me & Mom 2011

This year, I had the amazing privilege of working with and for Hospice & Palliative Care Charlotte Region at Levine-Dickson Hospice House at Southminster as a Chaplain Intern.  The experience transformed my life, my ministry and my understanding of pastoral care.  I served under the very capable tutelage and direction of ordained minister and chaplain, Jane Mitchell.  Although the calendar tenure of my time at LDHH-S looks lengthy (April thru December), the actual experience seemed to have happened in the blink of an eye.

The experience was rich and deep, rewarding and fulfilling because end-of-life care does not let you skim the surface.  End-of-life care demands that you look life in the eye; address it, touch it and feel it for what it is.  I likened the experience to traveling by train.  When you travel by train, you don’t follow the well-landscaped hypnotic manicured interstate system.  When you travel by train, you travel the back roads; you see the back yards and back porches.  You see the treasures and the junk.  It’s raw; it’s real and it’s engaging—it is life in its purest form.  Ironic that so much living goes on at Hospice.  I will always be indebted to the staff and team at LDHH-S.  They are amazingly gifted human beings who showed me what true compassion looks like and they taught me how to trust.

It was gift to be part of the 2014 Light Up A Life ceremony at LDHH-S on Saturday December 6, 2014.  I was asked to share my thoughts on grief and the grieving process.  What follows are the notes from my reflection for that service.  I share them here, now, with you.

Dolom by Kyle Rhodes

“Dolom” a sculpted mask by artist Kyle Rhodes

In this moment—in this very second as these words leave my lips, there are persons who are feeling the full measure of grief. In this moment, we stand with them, and they stand with us. They are not alone. And we are not alone.

Three years ago on Palm Sunday, our family pet of 15 years took its last breath as I held it. The following Sunday, Easter Sunday, my Mom who had battled Mutiple Myeloma for 11 years, had some sort of mini-stroke, she feel, broke her wrist, was taken to the Emergency Room, and by 10:00am on East Monday, we found ourselves gathered around her bedside in Hospice Care in Greensboro North Carolina. The following Saturday, while my mother still lay in Hospice Care, I walked the aisle and graduated with a Masters of Arts in Christian Education from Union Presbyterian Seminary. My parents, who had supported that endeavor, were unable to witness the graduation. The following Friday at 6:04am, My Mom breathed her last breath with me holding her hand. Two days later we celebrated Mother’s Day with my Mother’s body lying in state at the Funeral Home. I wrote in my journal, those three weeks were like the swinging of a pendulum—-I moved from deep sadness to extreme joy, from extreme joy to deep sadness, joy to sadness, sadness to joy.

Last year, a bright young 15 year old artist who attends our church asked me a simple yet poignant question. He asked, “What is your favorite emotion?” It was a question I had never been asked. I engaged the young man in conversation and as we talked, I realized in the depth of my spirit that joy and grief come from the same place inside of us.

I am convinced that without the deepness of our grief, we can never fully understand and appreciate the richness of life. Without tears, our laughter has no value. With no struggle there can be no appreciation for freedom. Without loss there can never truly be any “having.” And, I am convinced without grief, there can never truly be any joy.

I answered Kyle’s question, “Grief is my favorite emotion.”

A few weeks later, Kyle presented me with a mask that he sculpted. He named the mask, Dolum. Dolum comes from the latin word “Dorlore” which means, “deep sadness, grief.” If you look closely at Dolum, you will see the tears of grief on his face—but don’t stop there—keep looking, you’ll see that those tears have dropped on fertile ground and in that place, new life is springing up.

In the chapel at the LDHH-Southminster, there is a journal. People who wander into the chapel are invited to share their thoughts. I found these words written in that journal:

How badly will this hurt?
How deep will the cut be?
How weighty the grief?
How badly it will hurt is dependent solely on how goodly I have loved;
The cut will be only as deep as the measure of joy I experienced.
And the grief? Well, while weighty, I am confident that the grief will be in direct
proportion to the measure of the life I mourn. And I would not trade either.

In closing, I give you the gift of these words from White Elk, a Native American sage:
“When you were born, you cried and the world rejoiced.
Live your life so that when you die, the world cries and you rejoice!”

Several decades ago, Lanny Wolfe was asked by his record label, the Benson Company, to write a Christmas Musical.  One of the songs he penned for that musical is “More Than Wonderful.”   However, the Benson Company determined that the song was NOT “Christmas enough” to make the cut—so, “More than Wonderful” was cut from the musical (Noel: Jesus is Born!).  Later, Lanny pitched the song to Sandy Patti, who shared it with Larnelle Harris.  Sandy and Larnelle decided to cut the tune as a duet and the song skyrocketed in the Contemporary and Church Music worlds.

When you read the lyrics and allow the melodies to flow over you like water, there can be no doubt that there is not song that represents Christmas more appropriately and as forcefully and fully as “More Than Wonderful.”

Our trio, Three Fold Chord, began singing an acoustic version of the song several years ago. It continues to move us, inspire us and focus us on the incarnational event that split history in two.  I am grateful that the Holy Spirit moved the pen of Lanny Wolfe to craft this beautiful song.  I am grateful that “the Word” was made flesh and moved into the neighborhood (as Eugene Petersen translates it in the Gospel of John).  And  I am thankful that “the finest words I know could not begin to tell, just want Jesus means to me.”

I hope you enjoy this music, its message and meaning as much as we enjoy singing it.