July 26, 2012
People Who Mourn, People Who Hope
A reflection on calling by Lisa Rieck
I know I'm prone to be too serious, too analytical, too introspective. Case in point: some of the best dating advice I've received from friends, in the midst of processing a Date #3 and the relationship as a whole and our individual histories, passions and perspectives as I had perceived them thus far, was to go roller-skating on the next date. Roller-skating? I thought. Vague images of colored disco balls and Tiffany's "I Think We're Alone Now" emerged from the recesses of my brain, which had been right in the middle of an insightful analysis of the Boy's previous relationships and his (mis)understanding of hospitality . . .
Well, yes. Perhaps, three dates in, I was overthinking things a bit.
With that said, though, I think even the most fun-loving among you would agree that there are times when introspection and soberness are the most appropriate response to an event. And I'm pretty sure I'm safe in saying that death is such an event.
There's been plenty of physical death for me to ponder lately--two dear friends of my good friends, both moms in their forties, lost to cancer; a twenty-two-year-old in my church who collapsed in front of his fiancee and couldn't be resuscitated; moviegoers in Aurora, Colorado; my uncle, a Marine whose seventy-eight-year-old body couldn't take another battle. Watching people grieve, feeling overwhelmed by people's pain, attending my uncle's funeral, hearing about the funerals of others--these have all brought me face to face with a specific calling we have as followers of Jesus: "do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope" (see 1 Thess 4:13-18).
The instructions are very clear, but not overwhelmingly helpful. What does that look like? Tears are tears. There's no sign that appears over the heads of grieving Christians that says, "Mourning with hope, just FYI." Even Jesus' weeping, I imagine, outwardly looked the same as everyone else's. Bystanders at the scene of Lazarus's death, for example, noticed that Jesus was crying but saw no sign of hope in his tears, no rosy glow emanating from him that prompted them to hope for a miracle. If anything his tears seemed to bring about a new wave of grief for Lazarus's friends: they lamented that Jesus hadn't gotten there before Lazarus died, when he could have done some good. Now, they assumed, there was no hope for their friend who'd been dead for four days already.
What I've come to think is that our call to mourn with hope is fleshed out in what Jesus does after he weeps, in the midst of the weeping around him: He speaks the truth. Specifically, he calls people to believe. He acknowledges that his Father has heard him. And he speaks directly to dead, embalmed Lazarus, because he knows the life in the Son of Man is stronger even than the death that had temporarily claimed his friend. We mourn with hope when, in the midst of our tears and in defiance of the despair that tries to overtake us, we speak the truth about what should not be (cancer, heart failure, senseless shootings) and what is: Jesus is alive. His Spirit is continuing to restore his creation and bring his kingdom to earth. He has defeated death. And what should not be one day will not be, as Christ will be crowned the full and final victor over death and sin.
My cousin experienced this powerfully at the recent memorial service of a close friend of hers, Tammy, who had battled brain cancer for twelve years. At one point in the service, a man leaned across the aisle and asked a woman seated at the end of the row how she knew Tammy. When she replied that she didn't know Tammy, he then asked how she was connected to Mark, Tammy's husband. "I don't know anyone in their family," she replied. Thinking she was arriving for a regular church service, she had seated herself in the sanctuary only to find that she was at a funeral. "If this family can go through what they have and still have hope, there must be something more than what I've got in my life," she acknowledged. Tammy's husband and two girls, her extended family and church family and friends, mourned with hope at that service, declaring the goodness and faithfulness of God, the truth about Tammy being in his presence, and their hope in getting to see her again.
In a world full of physical and spiritual and emotional death--broken relationships, murder, disease, deception, jealousy and abuse--we are called to be people who declare the truth even as we mourn the darkness, day after day, until the day comes when our faith becomes sight: "And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, 'Look! God's dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. "He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death" or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away'" (Rev 21).
Posted by Lisa Rieck at 12:40 PM
July 3, 2012
Quick Thoughts: Hot as Haiti
A quick thought from David A. Zimmerman.
My power's out at home. Current estimates for restored power are 11 pm, July 4, 2012. That's still thirty-four 100-degree hours from the time of this writing. I've never been so happy to go to work, where the air conditioning is free flowing and you can open the refrigerator whenever you like. But eventually my bosses kick me out of the building, and it's back to my house, where it's currently hot as Hades.
I'm reminded of a passage in Following Jesus Through the Eye of the Needle by Kent Annan, one of the best writers I've ever had the pleasure to edit. The book recounts Kent's early experience living and working and building a home in Haiti. Having grown up in the air-conditioned United States, Kent had to adjust not only to the abject poverty, the political corruption and the woeful public education system that he went hoping to help improve, but also to the heat. Here's an excerpt that made my wife and me laugh last night as we simmered in our own sweat.
***It's mid-afternoon--very hot outside and even hotter inside, with no windows, as the heat radiates down in palpable waves from the tin roof. Dough on our little table would turn to bread. I'm sick. I lie on the bed, sweating profusely, reading a book, searching vainly for sleep, hoping to tap a yet-undiscovered source of energy. Shelly comes in. We've already spent a good seven hours together during the day. She lies down right next to me on the bed. . . . I mutter just loud enough, not with meanness but not with tender loving care, "Get away from me."
I wasn't being hostile. It was just too hot already, and her being close made it hotter. I had the energy to muster a maximum of four words, and "Get away from me" was the most efficient way to express "Leave me alone and take your body heat with you." . . .
Being pushed to my limits in every way brings back Jesus' question to the rich young man. I've answered in part but still feel like I'm being asked, "What are you willing to give up?"
So you gain everything by losing everything. What does that mean in real life?
There are plenty of people peddling definitive theoretical, self-help and theological answers. It's the personal answers that are more interesting--and demanding--though. Really personal. What am I willing to give up to follow Jesus and to help others? Things that make life comfortable. The little and big lies (mostly to self and some to others) that make getting through the day easier. There's money, of course, and all it buys. There's being successful, being hip, being right, being good, being respected. There are ambitions and lust.
These days, whether living around the corner from a Burger King or living here, where the nearest bacon double cheeseburger seems a million miles away, I think part of the answer is another pair of questions: What is in the way of my loving more? And what am I going to do now to starve this desire--so I can hunger for something better?
Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 12:58 PM