Friday, August 29, 2008

::Heavier things

Tuesday evening, I sat down on my couch to watch The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.
Within fifteen minutes, I was weeping.
It chronicles the experiences of French journalist Jean-Dominique Bauby in the aftermath of a massive stroke.
The early shots are entirely representative of his point of view so that we, the viewers, are seeing and experiencing the world precisely as he would have.
In 2002, a similar situation befell my grandfather, Robert Earl Borst (1913-2004). Thoughts of him and his indescribable grace and patience overwhelmed me until I became hysterical with fresh grief.

My brain embarks on long, complicated journeys of thought sometimes.
The departure depot could be as simple as "corn on the cob" and very soon I have somehow arrived at "satire in modern American literature."

This train, though not as "random" (a buzz word I tend to loathe), started with a subtitled French film, took a detour to my deceased grandfather, and led to the state of funerals in America.

One thing that I adore about the church I attend is that death is treated with the sorrow it warrants. Our pastor never sweeps grief under the unsightly rug of "There's no reason to be sad, they're in Paradise with Jesus!"
I'm no Biblical scholar. I have no seminary education. But I have a hunch that God would have a problem with people being commanded to swallow their grief because "death for a Christian is a celebration!"
Jesus wept at the news of His friend's death, and I read one commentary that suggested that His tears were - at least in part - due to the sorrow of death itself, because it was never supposed to happen.

According to the Bible, death has certainly been ultimately conquered by Christ, and I fully understand the hope that Christians claim alongside their grief. What I cannot abide, however, is those who deny that unmistakable coexistence.

I lost a close friend - Aaron Johnson - when he and I were both eleven.
During the summer between fifth and sixth grades, he was on vacation with his family. A lifelong asthma sufferer, he was plagued with an attack so profound that it ultimately killed him.
I lost two more close friends in fatal car accidents, one at sixteen and one at eighteen.
I've noticed that, at funerals for Christian young people, it seems that unabashed grief is more acceptable. They were "called home so soon", it's such a "horrible tragedy", it's "so unfair," etc.

I have been to many funerals for older folks, however, where open displays of grief were strongly discouraged.
I have heard the officiating pastors say, "This is not a funeral. This is a celebration!"
All four of my grandparents, all Christians, have passed away.
At two of the funerals, I was actually reprimanded for crying, with the obnoxious platitudes of "You wouldn't wish them back now, would you? Be happy for them!" and "Come on now, don't cry. You have to be strong for your parents."
To which I of course wanted to reply, "You know what would make me feel really happy and strong? If I could stab you in the forehead with a fork."
At a funeral for a friend of my grandparents', I noticed a very tearful woman hugging the deceased man's widow.
A nearby mourner actually said to her "Stop that right now! Rejoice in the Lord always! I will say it again, rejoice!"
I was speechless.
I still am.

Death, at any age, with plenty of time for preparation or none at all, is inevitably sad and guaranteed to be painful.
Denying these truths only serves to render their sting ever more powerful.

While discussing some of these concepts on the dining hall porch swing at Lake Louise with my friend Pastor Zachary, he said "I don't know how anyone who thinks funerals aren't supposed to be sad manages to find their way into their pants in the morning."
Amen, brother.


ZSB said...

That's a thought-provoking post, Stacey. I agree that it's telling how it's considered "okay" to cry when Christians die young, but not when they die old (even when they leave behind a life partner of 65 years).

When I hear "called home too soon" or "home with Jesus," I always remind the speaker that HEAVEN IS NOT MY HOME. Or yours. We're earthlings, for heaven's sake!

And there is the great tension of our faith and its blessed hope. If you're looking for some thoughtful reading on the subject, check out:

Heaven Is a Place on Earth by my good friend and mentor Michael Wittmer
Not the Way It's Supposed to Be by Cornelius Plantinga
Heaven Is Not My Home by Lela Hamner Gilbert

You should teach a class on this stuff at your church. When the church realizes that THIS IS WHERE WE'RE SUPPOSED TO BE, it's amazing how everything else falls into place.

mediamogul said...

Hi Stacey

I seem to recall a verse, "A Sad Face is Good for the Soul." Too bad we often forget that.

NT Wright has a new book that says our final home will be a new earth. I need to read it soon.

Hope you're well. Thanks for the thoughtful post.

Anarchrist said...

Unfortunately, Job's words to his three friends still ring true too many times today, "Miserable comforters are you all!"

Not that anyone probably cares, but Mediamogul's verse he referenced is Ecclesiastes 7:2-4.


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