Who Owes Me Three Dollars?

January 29, 2008

Again I quote #3:

Filed under: Uncategorized — ineedsheetmusic @ 8:37 pm

Psalm 34:1-9 OF DAVID, WHEN HE CHANGED HIS BEHAVIOR BEFORE ABIMELECH, SO THAT HE DROVE HIM OUT, AND HE WENT AWAY. I will bless the LORD at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul makes its boast in the LORD; let the humble hear and be glad. Oh, magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt his name together! I sought the LORD, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears. Those who look to him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed. This poor man cried, and the LORD heard him and saved him out of all his troubles. The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear him, and delivers them. Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him! Oh, fear the LORD, you his saints, for those who fear him have no lack!Romans 8:38-39 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

“As almost all of you know, a week ago last Monday night, driving in a terrible storm, my son Alexander – who to his friends was a real day-brightener, and to his family ‘Fair as a star when only one is shining in the sky’ – my twenty-four-year-old Alexander, who enjoyed beating his old man in every game and in every race beat his father to the grave.

“Among the healing flood of letters that followed his death was one carrying this wonderful quote from the end of Hemmingway’s Farewell to Arms: ‘The world breaks everyone, then some become strong at the broken places.’ My own broken heart is mending, and largely thanks to so many of you, my dear parishioners; for if in the last week I have re-learned one lesson, it is that love not only begets love, it transmits strength.

“When a person dies, there are many things that can be said, and there is at least one thing that should never be said. The night after Alex died I was sitting in the living room of my sister’s house outside of Boston, when the front door opened and in came a nice looking middle aged woman carrying about eighteen quiches. When she saw me she shook her head, then headed for the kitchen saying sadly over her shoulder, ‘I just don’t understand the will of God.’ Instantly I was up and in hot pursuit, swarming all over her. ‘I’ll say you don’t, lady.’ I said. I continued, ‘Do you think it was the will of God that Alex never fixed that lousy windshield wiper of his, that he was probably driving too fast in such a storm, that he probably had a couple of frosties too many? Do you think it is in God’s will that there are no street lights along that stretch of road, and no guard rail separating the road from Boston harbor?’

“For some reason nothing so infuriates me as the incapacity of seemingly intelligent people to get it through their heads that God doesn’t go around the world with his finger on triggers, his fist around knives, his hands on steering wheels. God is dead set against all unnatural deaths. And Christ spent an inordinate amount of time delivering people from paralysis, insanity, leprosy, and muteness. Which is not to say that there are no nature-caused deaths, deaths that are untimely and slow and pain-ridden, which for that reason raise unanswerable questions, and even the specter of a Cosmic Sadist – yes, even an Eternal Vivisector. But violent deaths, such as the one that Alex died – to understand those is a piece of cake. As his younger brother put it simply, standing at the head of the casket at the Boston funeral, ‘You blew it, buddy. You blew it.’ The one thing that should never be said when someone dies is it is the will of God. Never do we know enough to say that. My own consolation lies in knowing that it was not the will of God that Alex die; that when the waves closed over the sinking car, God’s heart was the first of all our hearts to break.

“I mentioned the healing flood of letters. Some of the very best, and easily the worst, came from fellow reverends, a few of whom proved they knew their Bibles better than the human condition. I know all the right biblical passages, including ‘Blessed are those who mourn,’ and my faith is no house of cards; these passages are true, I know. But the point is this: While the words of the Bible are true, grief renders them unreal. The reality of grief is the absence of God – ‘My God, my God why has thou forsaken me?’ The reality of grief is the solitude of pain, the feeling that your heart is in pieces, your mind’s a blank, that ‘there is no joy the world can give like that it takes away.’

“That’s why immediately after such a tragedy people must come to your rescue, people who only want to hold your hand, not to quote anybody or even say anything, people who simply bring food and flowers, people who sign letters simply, ‘your broken hearted sister.’ In other words, in my intense grief I felt some of my fellow reverends were using comforting words of scripture for self-promotion, to pretty up a situation whose bleakness they simply couldn’t face. But like God herself, scripture isn’t around for anyone’s protection, just for everyone’s unending support.

“And that’s what hundreds of you understood so beautifully. You gave me what God gives all of us – minimum protection, maximum support. I swear to you I wouldn’t be standing here were I not upheld.

“After the death of his wife, C.S. Lewis said, ‘They say,” the coward dies many times”; so does the beloved. Didn’t the eagle find a fresh liver to tear in Prometheus every time it dined?’

“When parents die, as did my mother last month, they take with them a large portion of the past. But when children die, they take away the future as well. That is what makes the valley of the shadow of death seem so incredibly dark and unending. In a prideful way it would be easier to walk the valley alone, nobly, head held high, instead of – as we must – marching as the latest recruit in the world’s army of the bereaved.

“Still there is much by way of consolation. Because there are no rankling unanswered questions, and because Alex and I simply adored each other, the wound for me is deep, but clean. I know how lucky I am! I also know that this day-brightener of a son wouldn’t wish to held close by grief (nor, for that matter would the meanest of our beloved departed), and that, interestingly enough, when I mourn Alex least I see him best.

“Another consolation, of course, will be the learning – which better be good, given the price. But it’s a fact: few of us are naturally profound; we have to be forced down.

“And of course I know even when pain is deep, that God is good. ‘My God, my God why has thou forsaken me?’ Yes, but at least, ‘My God, my God’; and the psalm only begins that way, it doesn’t end that way. As the grief that once seemed unbearable begins to turn to bearable sorrow, the truths in the ‘right’ biblical passages are beginning, once again, to take hold. ‘Cast thy burden upon the Lord and He shall strengthen thee.’; ‘Weeping shall endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning’; ‘Lord, by thy favor thou has made my mountain to stand strong’; ‘for thou hast delivered my soul from death, mine eyes from tears, and my feet from falling’; ‘In this word ye shall have tribulation, but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.’ ‘The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.’

“And finally I know that when Alex beat me to the grave, the finish line was not Boston Harbor in the middle of the night. If a week ago last Monday a light went out, it was because, for him at least, the Dawn had come.

“So I shall – so let us all – seek consolation in that love which never dies, and find peace in that dazzling grace that always is.”

William Sloane Coffin – Alex’s Death – a Eulogy Sermon 1982.

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January 24, 2008

Again I Quote:

Filed under: Uncategorized — ineedsheetmusic @ 10:34 pm

“A friend remarked after the funeral that what he had seen there was the endurance of faith. He added that this was the message of the book of Job. And I think he was right about both.

“The only thing that angered me in what people had offered was a small book someone gave me written by a father whose son had also been killed in a mountaineering accident. The writer said that in his church on the Sunday before his son’s death, they read Psalm 18. He now interprets verse 36 as speaking to him:

‘Thou didst give a wide place for my steps under me,and my foot did not slip.’

“His son’s foot had not slipped. God had shaken the mountain. God had decided that it was time for him to come home.

“I find this pious attitude deaf to the message of the Christian gospel. Death is here understood as a normal instrument of God’s dealing with us. ‘You there have lived out the years I’ve planned for you, so I’ll just shake the mountain a bit. All of you there, I’ll send some starlings into the engine of your plane. And as for you there, a stroke while running will do just nicely.’

“The Bible instead speaks of God’s overcoming death. Paul calls it the last great enemy to be overcome. God is appalled by death. My pain over my son’s death is shared by his pain over my son’s death. And, yes, I share in his pain over his son’s death.

“Seeing God as the agent of death is one way of fitting into a rational pattern God, ourselves and death. There are other ways. One of these has been explained in a book by Rabbi Kushner: God too is pained by death, more even than you and I are, but there’s nothing much he can do about it.

“I cannot fit all together by saying, ‘He did it,’ but neither can I do so by saying, ‘There was nothing he could do about it.’ I cannot fit it together at all. I can only, with Job, endure. I do not know why God did not prevent Eric’s death. To live without the answer is precarious. It’s hard to keep one’s footing.

“Job’s friends cried out to him their answer. ‘God did it, Job; he was the agent of your children’s death. He did it because of some wickedness in you; he did it to punish you. Nothing indeed in your public life would seem to merit such retribution; it must be then something in your private inner life. Tell us what it is, Job. Confess.’

“The writer of Job refuses to say that God views the lives of children as cats-o’-nine-tails with which to lacerate parents.

“I have no explanation. I can do nothing else than endure in the face of this deepest and most painful of mysteries. I believe in God the Father Almighty, the maker of heaven and earth, and resurrecter of Jesus Christ. I also believe that my son’s life was cut off in its prime. I cannot fit these pieces together. I am at a loss. I have read the theodicies produced to justify the ways of God to man. I find them unconvincing. To the most agonizing questions I have ever asked I do not know the answer. I do not know why God would watch him fall. I do not know why God would watch me wounded. I cannot even guess.

“C.S. Lewis, writing about the death of his wife, was plainly angry with God. He, Lewis, deserved something better than to be treated so shabbily. I am not angry but baffled and hurt. My wound is an unanswered question. The wounds of all humanity are an unanswered question.

“I am at an impasse, and you, O God, have brought me here. From my earliest days, I heard of you. From my earliest days, I believed in you. I shared in the life of your people; in their prayers, in their work, in their songs, in their listening for your speech, in their watching for your presence. For me your yoke was easy. On me your presence smiled.

“Noon has darkened. As fast as she could say, ‘He’s dead,’ the light dimmed. And where are you in this darkness? I learned to spy you in the light. Here in this darkness, I cannot find you. If I had never looked for you, or looked but never found, I would not feel this pain of your absence. Or is it not absence in which I dwell but your elusive troubling presence?

“Will my eyes adjust to this darkness? Will I find you in the dark – not in the streaks of light which remain, but in the darkness? Has anyone ever found you there? Did they love what they saw? And are there songs for singing when the light has gone dim? The songs I learned were all of praise and thanksgiving and repentance. Or in the dark, is it best to wait in silence?”

Nicholas Wolterstorff – Lament for a Son pgs 66-69

January 22, 2008

And I quote:

Filed under: Uncategorized — ineedsheetmusic @ 10:33 pm

“But there are difficulties. ‘Where is she now?’ That is, in what place is she at the present time? If she is not a body, she is in no place at all. And “the present time” is a date or a point in our time series. But unless she is proceeding at sixty seconds per minute along this same timeline that all we living people travel by, what does now mean? If the dead are not in time, or not in our sort of time, is there any clear difference, when we speak of them, between was and is and will be?

“Kind people have said to me, ‘She is with God.’ In one sense that is most certain. She is, like God, most incomprehensible and unimaginable.

“But I find that this question, however important it may be in itself, is not after all very important in relation to grief. Suppose that the earthly lives she and I shared for a few years are in reality only the basis for, or prelude to, or earthly appearance of, two unimaginable, super cosmic, eternal somethings. Those somethings could be pictured as spheres or globes. Where the plane of nature cuts through them – that is, in earthly life – they appear as two circles. Two circles that touched. But those two circles, above all at the point at which they touched, are the very thing I am mourning for, homesick for, famished for. You tell me, ‘she goes on.’ But my heart and body are crying out, come back, come back. But I know that this is impossible. I know that the thing I want is exactly the thing I can never get. The old life, the jokes, the drinks, the arguments, the heartbreaking commonplace. On any view whatever, to say ‘she is dead’ is to say ‘all that is gone.’ It is a part of the past. And the past is the past and that is what time means, and time is one more name for death, and Heaven itself is a state where ‘the former things have passed away.’

“Talk to me about the truth of religion and I’ll listen gladly. Talk to me about the duty of religion and I’ll listen submissively. But don’t come talking to me about the consolations of religion or I shall suspect that you don’t understand.

“Unless, of course, you can literally believe all that stuff about family reunions ‘on the further shore’, pictured in entirely earthly terms. But all that is unscriptural, all out of bad hymns and lithographs. There’s not a word of it in the Bible. And it rings false. We know it couldn’t be like that. Reality never repeats. The exact same thing is never taken away and given back. How well the spiritualists bait their hook! ‘Things on this side are not so different after all.’ There are cigars in Heaven. For that is what we should all like. The happy past restored.

“And that, just that, is what I cry out for, with mad, midnight endearments and entreaties spoken into the empty air.

“Others have said, ‘Do not mourn like those that have no hope.’ It astonishes me, the way we are invited to apply to ourselves words so obviously addressed to our betters. What St. Paul says can comfort only those who love God better than the dead, and the dead better than themselves. If a mother is mourning not for what she has lost but for what her dead child has lost, it is a comfort to believe that the child has not lost the end for which it was created. And it is a comfort to believe that she herself, in losing her chief or only natural happiness, has not lost a greater thing, that she may still hope to ‘glorify God and enjoy him forever.’ A comfort to the God-aimed eternal spirit within her. But not to her motherhood. The specifically maternal happiness must be written off. Never, in any place or time, will she have her daughter on her knees, or bathe her, or tell her a story, or plan for her future, or see her children.”

-C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed pgs 26-30.

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