Archive for the ‘Suffering’ Category

Books on Death

Posted: September 27, 2010 by joelmartin in Book Reviews, Devotional, From the Heart, Suffering, Theology

Since my Mom died, the subject of death interests me in more than an academic fashion. I have pulled out some books on death, grief and the afterlife that I plan to read or skim in order to solidify in my mind what is going on. One thing that is key to remember in this situation is that my Mom is now experiencing life after death but that it isn’t the goal or the end of the story. The final act is what N.T. Wright calls life after life after death – the resurrection of the dead. That can get lost in all our talk about heaven. Our future isn’t a disembodied state in the clouds. It’s in our body, perfected and raised, in a new heavens and new earth. Mom was buried (as I believe all bodies still are) with her feet facing east. Why? Because Jesus comes from the east and when we are raised, the presumption is that we will face his glorious appearance.

So, the books I am looking at so far are:

1. C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

2. N.T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God

3. Philippe Aries, The Hour of Our Death

If I can, I’ll share some things I find interesting out of reading these texts. Hopefully they will help me deal with my Mom’s death. As great as the Christian hope is during the death of a loved one, the inability to communicate with that person over the gulf of death is (I think) one of the cruelest parts about death. I am thankful for the example of Jesus, who wept at the death of Lazarus, and for the fact that the Bible calls death an enemy, although a defeated one. We don’t have to be pie in the sky, happy at the time of death. I’m not in favor of trying to “celebrate” at death. I want a grim funeral with the 1928 Book of Common Prayer liturgy when I die. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Yes, we have hope. Yes, the future will be glorious. But yes, the pain is real and the loneliness in the midst of a world that keeps turning and doesn’t care that you are here today and gone tomorrow is real. It all has to be worked through somehow.

“I want a real chaplain who believes in a real God and a real hell…your uncertainty is making things worse…I need someone who will look me in the eye and tell me how to find forgiveness because I am running out of time!!!”

My story –

When I visited my dying grandpa, I was in the role of a chaplain of sorts. It was incredibly awkward…this is the grandpa who modeled for me stability, love, and strength. I admired the man more than any other. He was full of humility and would speak ill of no one. I cry now thinking about him. I loved him. Anyhow, he wasn’t a church goer and believed that all “good” people essentially would end up in heaven. He also said that he has always sought to live his life according to the 10 Commandments. While a teen, I would simply nod– who was I too challenge my grandpa?

Well, as my grandpa was ill and not knowing if this would be the last time I would ever see him alive, I felt a “burning in my bones” that couldn’t be constrained. I could not watch him die while simply nodding my head in affirmation to his thoughts of being good and going to heaven. I looked him in his eyes and suggested that He ought to love the lawgiver more than the law. I told him about Jesus. His eyes watered. He was the most decent man I had ever known and who was I to convince him that he was a depraved sinner in risk of hell fire? I had to, for the sake of his soul, I had to…I wanted to. His watery eyes then looked hopeful as I pleaded with him to believe upon the work of Jesus for his salvation. I held his hand and prayed with him.

My grandpa Norman Hogaboam ended up returning home. I visited him and he asked me to do his funeral when he passed on. I looked down and agreed to do it, holding back tears. He was at peace with death. He died shortly after. I did his funeral, crying the whole time, and was able to share the hope I had spoken to him about and his acceptance of the lawgiver. My tears would have otherwise been full of guilt and remorse, even to this day. I can’t help but think that some other chaplain would have simply nodded in affirmation and patted him on the back for a life well lived…comforting him into hell.

I look forward to seeing my grandpa again and am grateful that God granted me the strength and boldness to share the Gospel with him.

An Insight from Jean Vanier

Posted: April 16, 2010 by Scott Kistler in Suffering

A while back I listened to an episode of Krista Tippett’s Speaking of Faith program that had a profound statement by Jean Vanier.  Vanier founded a community in France called L’Arche that has volunteers live with people with disabilities (called the “core members” of the community).  Many similar communities have been founded globally.  As a Dominican monk, Vanier founded L’Arche on a broadly Christian foundation, but “at the same time L’Arche itself has become more ecumenical, and in some places—I know the communities in India are interfaith. That you have Muslim and Hindu and Christian residents and assistants,” according to Tippett.

That said, I thought that one of the quotes that Tippett played from Vanier was striking:

I remember when a man who had gone through a very deep experience in one of our homes had been kept awake all night by one of the people who had screamed all night. He came to see me the next morning and he said, ‘You know, I wept all morning. I was in the chapel. I thought I could have killed him.’ And we talked about it, and I said to him, ‘You know, I think this is probably one of the most important days of your life. You came to L’Arche thinking you could do good to the poor, and you have. You’ve done a lot of good. But today you are discovering that you are poor.’ We all need help, and it’s only as we discover that ‘I have a handicap,’ that ‘I am broken,’ that ‘we’re all broken,’ and then we can begin to work at it.

So service can lead to greater dependence on God and His grace when we realize that we aren’t able to serve as we ought to.

Since my surgery, not being able to lay down flat on my back or side, I found myself  living out of one of our recliner chairs in the living room corner for the last of almost 4 weeks.  It hasn’t been too bad actually.  I’ve got pillows stuffed all around me, my feet up, a little table next to me with the bare essentials: a water bottle, pain meds, chapstick, vicks rub, tissue, and handy laptop.  My pace has been really slow, and recovery, well, slow.  But I’m thankful for my family’s support and many helpful ways they have made this time a blessing.

So, without further adieu, on to the list (in no particular order)…

  1. pray
  2. sleep
  3. read, read, read
  4. eat/ have snack (kind of nice to be served, but for a wife and mom who’s not used to it, uncomfortable)
  5. give lots of hugs
  6. give kisses
  7. leg lifts
  8. arm raises
  9. sing
  10. blog
  11. facebook
  12. catch up on emails
  13. make those phone calls you’ve been procrastinating and catch up with some ol’ friends
  14. make a list of what you need to do when you’re better
  15. delegate chores, nicely 🙂
  16. daydream
  17. appreciate the help and love you’re getting
  18. count your blessings
  19. write a letter
  20. write out thank you cards (or ecards even)
  21. take a nap (does that count as sleep?) 😉
  22. order take out (but not too much)  😉
  23. text
  24. knitt
  25. crochet
  26. play games online (not condoning gambling though)
  27. expand your vocabulary and explore
  28. watch tv (i didn’t do much of this b/c it gave me a headache after a little while but still an option)
  29. listen to radio, news
  30. renew your mind
  31. homeschool (it’s possible! you likely won’t get everything done, but still could get some. This, I did do.)
  32. play cards with someone (in my case, war w/my 5 yr. old. one of her new fav card games)
  33. shake someone’s hand
  34. chat w/someone
  35. have a heart to heart

I also want to add, these are things to be thankful that you can still do, even though you may feel like a bum and useless during a time or healing.  because after being in a sense, crippled for so long, one may get the feeling of forgetting what it was like to be “normal” again, whatever that may be for each person.  I’m pretty sure there’s more one can do in a recliner chair but these were the spontaneous ones off the top of my head.

I may add to this again, one day.  Stay tuned…

thanks for reading.  =)

In a rare Colbert interview with Rolling Stone, he shared a bit on his Catholic faith:

Does faith still play a big part in your life?
Very much. I am highly variable in my devotion. From a doctrinal point of view or a dogmatic point of view or a strictly Catholic adherent point of view, I’m first to say that I talk a good game, but I don’t know how good I am about it in practice. I saw how my mother’s faith was very valuable to her and valuable to my brothers and sisters, and I’m moved by the words of Christ, and I’ll leave it at that.

But you do teach Sunday school?
I teach the seven year olds. I’m the catechist for their first communion.

Colbert also shared about how he left his faith while in college only to return to it after a Gideon gave him a New Testament, where Colbert subsequently opened it up to Matthew 5 and had an epiphany of sorts.

Colbert mentioned the presence of suffering in his life as the primary cause for his struggles in faith . Stephen lost his father and 2 brothers to an air crash when he was only 10 years old. Stephen opened up about suffering and was anything but the funny guy he is on late night Comedy Central…this is what he said:

“Not to get too deep here, but the most valuable thing I can think of is to be grateful for suffering. That is a sublime feeling, and completely inexplicable and illogical, but no one doesn’t suffer. So the degree to which you can be aware of your own humanity is the degree to which you can accept, with open eyes, your suffering. To be grateful for your suffering is to be grateful for your humanity, because what else are you going to do – say, “No Thanks”? It’s there. “Smile and accept”, said Mother Teresa. And she was talking to people who had it rough.”

I’m not about to defend Colbert as the bastion of orthodoxy and affirm everything about him, but I did think his thoughts on suffering were far more mature and edifying that what is preached from most American Evangelical pulpits.  I also appreciate his strong questioning of Elaine Pagels, Richard Dawkins, and other guests who question God’s existence, the reliability of the Bible, etc. I still crack up when he said that the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup proves the existence of God when interviewing God-hating atheist Richard Dawkins. It was funny, but Colbert was also serious…which is what I love about this guy.

Yesterday I listened to a podcast of a great episode of Speaking of Faith, originally from 2006.  Krista Tippett interviewed Chaplain Major John Morris about his role in ministering to soldiers during and after war (listen to the program or read the transcript here).  He started out with a very evocative description of Easter 2004 in Fallujah:

Maj. Morris: I was at a camp with the Marines, the 1st Marine Division. I was supporting Army special operations soldiers, psychological operations soldiers, who were supporting the 1st Marine Division as they began to lay siege to and take down that city. At Camp Blue Diamond, it’s the headquarters of the 1st Marine Division, and we had an early sunrise service, which actually was dangerous because the camp was being mortared occasionally. But, nonetheless, the Marines showed up in great strength, with a few Army personnel there.

And I celebrated with Father Devine, the 1st Marine Division Roman Catholic priest. And it was particularly memorable because, you know, it was the only service I’ve ever conducted where we were — we all knew that, by the end of the day, people who were worshipping in that service would no longer be on this planet. And so we talked about the hope of the Resurrection with a sense of fervency and urgency that I had never experienced before.

The walls of the chapel were adorned with posters with the name of every Marine that had been wounded in the Anbar province, and every Marine that had been killed. And I couldn’t help but think of that verse in Hebrew[s], as it talked about being surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses. You know, we were, and we knew that very quickly many of us could be on that wall.

So there was a sense of joy, and expectancy, and dread all meld [sic] together. All the Marines had their weapons. They were ready to go out on their mission. The place was packed. It was loud, as Marines can be. It was a participatory service. It was a beautiful, sacred privilege. And the service ended. And I went on my way to do my rounds of conducting Easter services for Marines and Army personnel all over that area. So it was an amazing time. A lot of Marines were killed, a lot of Army soldiers killed.

Morris gave a perspective on soldiers’ lives from a close perspective, which is welcome amid the rampant politicization of our wars by politicians and political media.  To me, it’s become clear that our political discourse has very little space for soldiers’ actual experiences.  The soldiers must be righteous executors of a righteous foreign policy (for supporters of the wars), victims (for mainstream opponents of the wars), or criminals (for far left opponents of the wars).  It’s sad that very few seem to be really interested in understanding what soldiers go through, but instead seem more interested in using the soldiers as political props.  There doesn’t seem to be a lot of room in any of those characterizations for a real human experience in war.

To lay my cards on the table, I believed that the Afghan war was justified in 2001, although I don’t know what to think now.  I opposed the Iraq war in 2003.  Although there have certainly been egregious actions committed by the soldiers from time to time, I have to say that I very much admire the military men and women’s patriotism and commitment to fighting as humanely and justly as possible in two awful, nasty, largely unconventional wars.  By and large, it seems to me that our military strives to fight the wars justly even if I’m not convinced that the wars themselves are just (which, in a civilian-controlled military, isn’t in the soldiers’ power to decide).

Morris is a United Methodist minister and now runs a program in Minnesota to help National Guardsmen, who have served and sacrificed much in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, to reintegrate into society.  He said that the active duty soldiers have an intentional reintegration program, whereas soldiers in the National Guard don’t have any such program.  He argues because war is inherently terrible, it doesn’t do the soldiers any good to ignore the fact that they are asked to kill, which is spiritually damaging.  He wants churches to step up and minister to returning soldiers.

For churches tempted to sidestep this reality of war, he and Krista talked about the importance of recognizing it:

Ms. Tippett: It seems to me that in congregations, where the choice is to support the war and to welcome our military personnel back as heroes, even there that healing might not take place because there might not be that nuanced acknowledgment still of what a difficult and damaging experience that is, even if it is deemed to be morally right.

Maj. Morris: Yes, you’re right. And we don’t have a lot of rituals, and we need one for this….

In Medieval days, in some parts of Europe, the priest would go with the soldiers, raised from the villages to go fight, and you know, hear their confession prior to going to battle, give them last rites, and send them to war. So that’s a very stark psychology. ‘Hey, you may die, so we need to make things right with God.’ Then when they came home, they were stopped before they entered the village. The village went out to meet them. They were not allowed in the village. Stripped off their clothes that they had fought in, bathed, heard confession again, celebrated the Eucharist, and then allowed back in the village. Now, what were they saying there? ‘You know, there needs to be some business done with God and with the community prior to allowing you to rejoin us. We need to leave the old out here.’ (more…)

Here is an excerpt from John Piper’s book, “Finally Alive” –

What Will It Take Today?

What will it take so that thousands of Christians in our churches become passionate about telling the gospel to unbelievers? One of the reasons we don’t do it as much as we should is that life in America is so entertaining that thoughts about desperate, eternal, spiritual need are hard for us to feel, let alone talk about. The world is just too interesting and entertaining. It feels awkward to make ourselves or others uncomfortable with thoughts about perishing people. It’s heavy. But life in America is light.

So perhaps what God will choose to do is what he did for the church in Jerusalem. They were not moving out from Jerusalem to Judea, Samaria, and the uttermost parts of the world in evangelism the way Jesus told them to in Acts 1:8. So Stephen was raised up to bear such irresistible testimony (Acts 6:10) that the only way his adversaries could handle him was to kill him (Acts 7:60).

And when they did, the persecution spilled over onto all the Christians in Jerusalem. “And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles” (Acts 8:1). And what was the result? Acts 8:4: “Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word” (Acts 8:4). Literally: “Those who were scattered went about gospelling the word (euangelizomenoi ton logon, Acts 8:4–5). They weren’t preachers. They were just ordinary folks, thousands of them (Acts 2:41). After they were driven out of their homes, they went everywhere telling the good news.[1]

God will bring persecution to awaken his children from their slumber if that’s what’s needed. While we shouldn’t pray for persecution per se, we should pray for another Great Awakening to sweep over Christ’s Church across. If God brings persecution upon the Church, then we should see it as a gracious providence intended for the salvation of many and therefore rejoice in it. Are you willing to suffer?

[1] Piper, J. (2009). Finally Alive: What Happens When We Are Born Again (171–172). Fearn, Ross-shire, Scotland: Christian Focus Publications Ltd.