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Posts from the ‘Death’ Category

The Lord’s Insight

I mentioned Christian Wiman’s latest book in my last post. It’s a marvelous read animated by one central question—the question of all questions: “What is the central hunger and longing that drives our peculiar species?” As always, Wiman expresses our options in such compelling ways:

One obvious answer is God—the end, in both senses of the word, of all human longing. One devious answer is death—“an urge inherent in all organic life to restore an earlier state of things,” as Freud put it. One fashionable answer is that there is no answer at all: it’s all just nature, genes rotely ramming home their mechanical codes one by one. We want because dissatisfaction equals survival: we are designed to improve and impart our hunger, breeding descendants with ever-keener teeth.

If we are conscious and honest, each of these answers will likely seem right at various times of our lives. If we are conscious and honest, each of them, at another time, will seem wrong.

At this point, Wiman shifts gears a bit and muses about the soul and whether or not such it is even possible to imagine an irreducible human identity that survives death and has continuity to our “selves” and the stories they have contributed to. He quotes Anglican priest and theoretical physicist John Polkinghorne who says that it is perfectly coherent belief “that the faithful God will not allow [our souls] to be lost, but will preserve it in the divine memory.”

31CAxu7TYYL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_That we might be remembered: what an almost impossible thought that is. That there is a consciousness capacious enough, merciful enough, to recall each of us in our entireties just as we recall our own fragile but meaningful moments. That our lives might be the Lord’s insight.

I’ll confess that sometimes Christian Wiman writes sentences so arrestingly beautiful that I’m tempted to quote them even though I’m not entirely sure I know what they mean. That last one, for example. I like the idea that my life might be something like “the Lord’s insight.” And that yours might be, too. I can’t say for sure what Wiman means, but it strikes me as an aspirational phrase of the best sort—like the sort of thing that you can’t not want to be true.

It brings to mind another beautiful passage that I barely understand but somehow still love and long to be true:

For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

— 1 Corinthians 13:12

We Are Placed Among Things That Are Passing Away

Grant that I, Lord, may not be anxious about earthly things, but love things heavenly; and even now, while I am placed among things that are passing away, hold fast to those that shall endure…

I read these words in my prayer book this morning. I have prayed these words before, at times rushing past them mechanically, at times supplying a quick inventory of the things in my life that tend to make me anxious, at times pondering the heavenly things that I ought to be loving instead of the earthly things that so easily take hold of my fickle affections. But I’ve never spent much time on that middle clause: “even now, while I am placed among things that are passing away.” Read more

For Those Who Want to Grieve in a Religious Way

I’m in Saskatchewan this week for a speaking engagement. Of course, no matter where I go, all anyone is talking about is last Friday’s horrific bus accident, which claimed the lives of fifteen members of the Humboldt Broncos junior hockey team. It is a story for which there are barely words. It’s made headlines around the globe. Not surprisingly, here in the Saskatoon area (about two hours from the crash site) it’s ground zero. The grief is raw and palpable. Hockey culture runs deep in each of Canada’s prairie provinces. Many people (myself included) have personal experiences of blasting down wintry roads in terrible conditions to play a hockey game. But in Saskatchewan, a sparsely populated province where vast distances often must be traversed to get from town to town, hockey culture is a different level altogether. Hockey binds these far flung communities together in a way that few things can.  Read more

When I Grow Up I Want to Be a Human Being

Two recent conversations have me thinking about what I want to be when I grow up.

The first was with a recruiter for a Christian university over coffee a few days ago. I asked her about common questions that she gets from parents considering post-secondary education for their kids. She sighed, and listed off what was an unsurprising itemization of the requisite programs and degrees that would get their child the right kinds of jobs in the future. We mused about how little interest students (or educators) seem to have these days in things like virtue or being properly formed as human beings. Education is about dumping facts into brains so that these brains can then go out into the world and make money. You can figure out what kind of a person you want to be on your own time. Or not. So it seems, at any rate. Read more

Mediation on a “Therefore”

Therefore God lifted him high, 
and granted freely to him
the name above every name,
so that in the name of Jesus
every knee would bend,
in heaven, on earth, under the earth,
and every tongue constent.

——

So began today’s morning reading in the prayer book that I sometimes use. The words are familiar, as they represent an alternative wording of the famous Christ hymn of Philippians 2. Many scholars believe that this hymn represents one of the earliest liturgies of the early church, possibly even going back to a few decades after Christ’s crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension. It thus gives a fascinating window into both how the early church worshiped, who they understood Jesus to be, and what it all meant.

Therefore, God lifted him high… Read more

Cross My Heart

“I have a complaint to make.” The comment was made by a member of our church who periodically drops in on me Tuesday mornings. The twinkle in his eye and the grin on his face signaled that this “complaint” was more of an observation or a conversation starter than an actual grievance. “We must have been the most “crossed” church around on Easter Sunday morning,” he said. “I counted at least four!” I thought back to our service and found that I couldn’t disagree. Read more

“I Don’t Really Care If I Die”

I was precariously winding my way through snow-covered streets in my neighbourhood a few days ago, trying to keep moving so as not to get stuck. At one point, I glided through and unmarked intersection coming out of an alley, and just as I crossed the sidewalk I noticed a young man less than a meter from my side window. I wasn’t going fast—certainly not fast enough to do any kind of damage—but it still felt like a bit of a close call.  Read more

Long Way Home

I did a very embarrassing thing this morning. I purchased Def Leppard’s latest album. This is not the sort of thing that any self-respecting human being of the twenty-first century ought to admit to, I know. A quick glance at my recent purchases in iTunes reveals a much more acceptable (I hope) repertoire: The Lumineers, Mumford & Sons, Basia Bulat, Radiohead, Of Monsters and Men. This is probably a more accurate gauge of where my musical tastes have drifted over the years. Def Leppard is the paradigmatic example of the unimaginative late twentieth century glam rock that was the soundtrack of my small-town high school experience. They were big hair, big power chords, soaring engineered harmonies, and mawkish power-ballad-y lyrics about love biting or breathless paeans to endlessly getting rocked or adrenalized or something. In response to the screaming query from 1988’s massive hit “Armageddon It”—Are you getting it?—I can only reply, “Yes, yes, apparently I really am a-getting it.” Or I just got it, at any rate.  Read more

Warning Signs

I was warned, this afternoon. Me and a few hundred others who had gathered for a funeral. Me and a few hundred others who sat, silently, grimly, in a cavernous and spare sanctuary while a stern man in a black suit stood in an elevated pulpit and admonished us with grave fingers wagging. I was warned that death was coming for me and unless I renounced the ways of the devil and repented of my worldly pride and attachments, that my fate would be a fiery and tortuous one. I was told that there was nothing good in me and that I could never stand before the righteous judge of the earth. I was told that God has his elect and we must never question God’s ways. I was warned to keep watch for the temptations of Satan because Satan likes to provoke criticisms and doubts during times of death. Read more

I Saw Death 

I seen the body, you know.

She’s maybe ten years old, a beautiful little girl with a blonde hair and a black dress. She has tears in her eyes and her face looks tired from crying. Her uncle is gone. There was a head on collision and a fire and then the descent of all kinds of family from all kinds of places and then the shedding of rivers of tears and now a church and a service and the long  goodbye begins… Read more

Lake of Fire

I read an article a few days ago… one of those articles that asked people what they liked or didn’t like about the church… what they expected or didn’t expect from their pastors… what they wished for more of… or less of…. Some of the words that came up frequently were words like “honesty” and “authenticity.” Ok, then. Well, in that light…

When I was younger, I imagined that people who inhabited the “pastor” role had some specific set of skills that made them uniquely suited to sift through the wreckage of human pain that they encountered. I imagined that they strode confidently into rooms where people were coping with tragedy and death and doubt and loss and grief and crushing pain and anger and fear armed with just the right words for the job, just the right bible verses, just the right insight into when to give someone a hug and when to give them space, just the right prayers, just the right ability to project just the right combination of warmth and decisiveness and spiritual authority (whatever that might mean), just the right combination of attitudes and attributes to make bad situations somehow better.

And then I became a pastor. Read more

The Things Jesus Doesn’t Do For Us

We often hear a steady stream of words about what Jesus “did for us” around this time of year, around this stage of Holy Week. Last night, at our church’s Maundy Thursday service, we shared a simple meal together and walked through the familiar story from Jesus’ arrest to crucifixion. We do the same thing each year, and each year something new stands out to me.  This year, I was struck the things that Jesus didn’t do for us as he walked the tortuous path to Calvary. Read more

“I’m a Person with No Address”

I was sitting in a hospital room this morning with a dear old saint whose last few years have involved being shuffled from home to home, to the hospital and back again, and whose next destination is unclear. At one point, this person looked at me with a mixture of sadness, resignation, and nearly defeated longing and said, “I’m a person with no address.” Read more

Thursday Miscellany

You know the drill, by now. “Miscellany” means fragmentary, unrelated mind scraps hastily assembled and lumped together for your reading, um, pleasure?

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I’ve talked to enough pastors over the years to know that I’m not unique in saying that I have some ambivalence toward the whole “visitation” thing. Some pastors are born for the task and seem to enjoy it immensely, but I’ve also had numerous conversations with colleagues that run something along the lines of, “Yeah, it’s not really my thing… It’s something I have to talk myself into doing… It’s hard to find the time…” And, of course, the ubiquitous, “I should probably do more of it than I do, but it’s just so hard…” Read more

Daughters

I ran into two friends this morning for whom the month of August is an excruciating one. Two fathers for whom August is the anniversary of the unimaginably painful loss of a young daughter. For both, August brings an acute reminder of the ever-present reality of the gaping wound at the heart of their lives. For both, August means the rehearsal of a crippling loss that no parent should have to endure.

It is impossible to think of these two friends and their losses without thinking more generally about fathers and daughters. Read more

What Do You Want Me to Do For You?”

When I was younger, I would often hear or imagine some version of the “If you could ask God any question in the world, what would it be?” I had a long list. What’s the point of angels? What’s with all the killing in the OT? How old will I be in heaven? Did Methuselah really live for almost a millennium? What was the point of the flood if wickedness has remained on the earth ever since? How did Jesus walk through the door after his resurrection, yet Thomas could still touch him? How did you make something from nothing? Why should we pray if you already know everything? How can you be everywhere at the same time?  Why did Eve take the fruit…  My list could have filled a book. Or a blog.  Read more

Nothing Can Separate       

I’ve been thinking often over the last few days and weeks about the last three verses of the magnificent eight chapter of Paul’s letter to the church in Rome:

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Read more

O Lamb of God, Forgive Thy Butchers.

And so, this is the day.

The day when the angry mob baying for blood gets their way, the day when they trade the Messiah sent to them for the Messiah they wanted, welcoming the insurrectionist Barabbas back from the dead, and sending the Lamb of God off to slaughter.   Read more