Not of flesh nor will of man
But of heart by will of Him.
Deep within a shot was cast and burrowed in the bow
The fine line of ecstasy and horror homoousion‘d among
Obedience was found on worthy lips, blessing bestowed for ages come.
Yet the blessing’s joy was as a bell in the mist:
When I watched my grandfather die, the weirdest thing to me was that I had no idea what to feel or how to respond. Humans have been dealing with death for hundreds of thousands of years and we still are paralyzed by it. We click into any number of different responses ranging from shutting down to explosively acting out.
For my current class on caring for those at the end of their life, we went over some theoretical models for grieving and bereavement. Going through the history, it was fascinating just how desperately humans have wanted a framework for how we respond to death and dying.
Part of the problem is this: how do you define “successful” or “healthy” grief? Moving on with life while living a joyful, grateful existence full of robust social connections? I think most would agree that’s a good picture of it. But the real difficulty when you’re sitting in front of a grieving person (or are going through it yourself) is: how do we get to that place?
I think many of us believe that you really need to feel the sadness, stare it in the face, deal with it, process it, sit in it for a time. But why? My gut thinks that’s the way it should go, but the research says otherwise.
Plenty of people go through a huge loss, feel a twinge of sadness, and then get up the next morning and move on with life, with no discernible negative impact on the rest of their life or relationships. When people aren’t actively in emotional distress, there is little evidence that forcing someone to do “grief work” is actually helpful.
I’m currently in a class on caring for those at the End-of-Life. At the beginning of this course, we were given an assignment (which you can do yourself) to give us a baseline as to our feelings and experiences around death and dying, and begin cultivating an awareness of how we cope with it.
I thought I had a good sense of my relation to death in my life, but this really clarified and confronted me in some profound ways. I saw just how unacquainted I am with death, and struggled to recall times it had entered my life.
The first death I knew of was my great-grandmother, with whom I had an oddly strong connection. But I was 10 or 11 at the time and heard about it from my mom, I think, while we sat in the car in our driveway. I remember numbness and confusion, not really knowing how I was supposed to feel. I felt solace in how religious she was, and I felt a responsibility to carry on her “legacy”.
But still, we did not return from Virginia to Texas for her funeral. This meant that my first funeral for a little boy at my church who had drowned. I was maybe 14 at the time. I did not know him, nor his family, and had no connection with them other than we went to the same large church. I went more out of curiosity and was confused at how detached I felt.
My biggest acquaintance with death was that of my grandfather. It was the first dead body I saw, and I was present for the hospice care and process of dying and grief over the course of a couple of weeks or so. But I will have more to say about this death another time.
I am back in school. After having received my Masters of Divinity several years ago, I am now completing the other half of training for my desired career path: a Masters of Social Work.
I’ve been working in the social work field for over a decade and have known that I’ve wanted to move towards more clinical therapy-type work. All along, I have imagined this would be your run-of-the-mill outpatient counseling with adults dealing with addiction, marital issues, mental health concerns, etc. I have respected those that work in inpatient settings, with kids, with the elderly, and such–but I have not imagined that would be my route. And I still don’t.
However, here in my second semester, just as the Christian Church is in the season of Lent, I am taking a course on End-of-Life Care, and it’s shaping up to be one of those courses that will profoundly affect me in the long run.
I’m taking the class not only because my desire in clinical work is to try and bring some greater sense of wholeness, health, and dignity to the hardest parts of human existence, but because death is an aspect of human life I’ve not had a lot of experience with. I’ve had some family members, a few acquaintances, and plenty of clients die over the years; and I’ve walked with others in their grief over the loss of others. But still, I’ve had relatively little training and direct experience with it.
Also, while religious faith can provide a structure and a sense of resilience, coping, and meaning in the face of death–that’s certainly been true for me–it can also sometimes serve as a distraction from our mortality. It can be used to minimize death, prevent us from taking it seriously, or keep us from really grappling, internalizing, or accepting it.
Tomorrow, Lent begins. The Lent tradition began in the 3rd-century and is a 40-day season of meditation and repentance in anticipation of Easter celebration. Whether you are just beginning to explore Christianity, or have been a Christian for some time, Lent is a perfect season to allow God to shape your life in fresh ways.
Historically, Christians have used three broad categories of practices to engage in this season: fasting, prayer, and generosity.
These practices are external means and postures for shaping one’s soul and interior life. Fasting removes things to create space in your heart and life, prayer is a way to fill that interior space, and then generosity is giving out of the overflow we trust is there.
Below, you’ll find some brief words helping us think through these categories, followed by some ideas for how you can it in your life. Pick one, or pick several. The important thing is to try and do it consistently, and use times of frustration or skipping as a chance to meditate on your own limitations, and how God meets you in that. Continue reading →
As our country is consumed with politics since last week’s storming of the Capitol and next week’s inauguration of Joe Biden, I ran across these words from Saint Maximus the Confessor, and thought they were an appropriate reflection for all of us, both for the political season we’re in, as well as the Christian season of Epiphany.
O Lord our truest Ruler and King, many words have been said these past months leading to this election day. Far too many of these words have been hurtful, fearful, divisive, angry, and anxious. Being able to see our nation’s policies so tangibly, it is far too easy to equate this nation with your Kingdom, and so act as if this election were of supreme eternal importance.
Lord, forgive us, we pray.
Bless the leaders of our land–those currently in office and those elected today–that we may be a people at peace among ourselves and a blessing to other nations of the earth. Let this be the conviction of every leader as they model for us, however imperfectly, political relations amongst both their fellow countrymen and citizens of the world.
A few weeks ago, my fiance Amanda and I got our wedding license. We’re getting married on October 18. Of all the surprises in that process, though, the biggest was me breaking down crying in the middle of this Chester County Courthouse office while signing papers. It took me a little bit to figure out why I was so emotional, and what was going on inside of me. But here it is.
First and foremost, I love this woman. I’ve known this. But (especially if you know some of my story) it was so powerful and surreal to see another human being willingly and joyfully sign on the dotted line to actually spend their life with me.
The past few weeks have seen an uproar of argument and discussion about the recent deployment of federal troops to Portland in light of ongoing protests there since the murder of George Floyd in May. The social media feeds of both “sides” in this have been inundated with either selective footage of “violent” protesters or selective footage of “police brutality.”
And of course, the debate has become over-simplified and reductive, as all national debates are. The Right keeps saying, “so you think it’s okay to burn down a federal courthouse”? And Trump keeps tweeting “LAW & ORDER!” The Left are talking about Fascism and Secret Police.
Since the Hamilton movie came out, it inspired me to restart my goal of reading through biographies on all the Presidents. Several weeks ago, I re-read Chernow’s Washington biography and am now reading two John Adams biographies side-by-side (David McCullough’s and John Ferling’s) and have come across some fascinating parallels to our current situation. Nearly all of the following footnotes and quotes come from Ferling’s book.
Lessons from the Revolution
The Revolution did not start as an intellectual or political movement, but as as a popular grassroots movement, led by young radicals like Samuel Adams. Many of the Founders, including Adams, Washington, Jefferson, and Franklin, weren’t bothered by much of what Britain did until much later in the process.
California has experienced a huge surge of COVID-19 cases in the past month or so. In response they have placed further restrictions on gatherings and businesses, including restricting churches with capacity limits and no singing.
On Friday, California pastor John MacArthur, with his elders, posted this piece saying they “respectfully inform our civic leaders that they have exceeded their legitimate jurisdiction, and faithfulness to Christ prohibits us from observing the restrictions they want to impose on our corporate worship services.”
First, I want to commend MacArthur and his team. Not enough churches engage in civil disobedience against the government, oftentimes letting political interests tempt churches into compromising their core values and commitments.
It was refreshing to see a large, conservative church say once again that Jesus is Lord, not Caesar, and to reclaim the sense that the Church is fundamentally opposed to the ways that government and politicians do things, especially when they will obviously receive the scorn of a watching world and local government for the sake of their convictions. However…
Good Faith, Bad Faith, Insecure Faith
I really want to avoid whataboutism throughout this piece; yet, one cannot look at MacArthur’s letter without some confusion. This is a church and denomination that has given themselves so totally to one party in our political system, they have little integrity in saying they are now following Christ, not Caesar.
This blog is not usually a place for commentary on the niche politics, scandals, and squabbles in Christian subcultures. However, I wanted to post an email I wrote to Reformation21, a media outlet for those, like me, in the “Reformed” family of Christianity.
Recently, theologian Aimee Byrd, one of their contributors, wrote the book Recovering from Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, in which she challenges the way women are viewed, treated, taught, and trained differently than men in conservative Christian circles.
For this, she has been the subject of mysogyny, onlinetrolling, mischaracterizations of her work, gaslighting, charges from her denomination’s leaders that she should be disciplined, as well as other bad faith indignities.
Most recently, she was presented with a list of 9 questionsfrom an anonymous group of men. Many of these questions are distorting and patronizing, come from an uncharitable reading of her text, or are more about ensuring she’s “in-bounds” to them than actually engaging her arguments.
What does one do with anonymous bad faith interrogators insisting you submit to their questioning? Aimee answered some of the questions and left others unanswered until such a time genuine and open debate could be held
So how did Reformation21 respond–this outlet for which she has written and podcasted for years? They removed her from contributing to their site. They did not defend her nor stand their ground. You can read Aimee’s account here.
In a statement they said this decision was not made by contributors, but by the board, and not because of outside pressure. Yet they said they dismiss people who cause “our audience to respond in a largely negative way”. Further, they said it was fundamentally about Aimee’s not answering these other questions from the anonymous group.
I wrote the below email to them in response. I have edited it for clarity. I’m open to being wrong with more information, but this is my evaluation best as I can see based on the public facts.
Today in the Christian Church Calendar is Ascension Day, where we celebrate Christ ascending into heaven after his resurrection and now sitting at “the right hand of God the Father.”
The Useless Ascension
“Ascension” doesn’t get a lot of attention nowadays in the Church. This, in spite of the fact that it’s an essential part of all the Church’searliestdoctrinalformulations. Additionally, the New Testament sees it as the primary proof of Jesus’ divinity and “lordship” and it’s the subject of the most-quoted Old Testament verse in the New Testament: “The Lord says to my lord, ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool.’”
Maybe we neglect this because the Ascension isn’t really a “doctrine”–it’s an “event” and a “declaration”; and we western Christians love our systematic “doctrines” that we can pick apart ad nauseam and/or figure out how to “apply it to our lives” so we can feel like “good Christians.”
But honestly, the Ascension isn’t “useful” to us in that way. There’s not much we can “do” with it.