hearse thief

Medical schools starting two centuries ago faced a continuing need: corpses.  They needed recently healthy corpses.  They needed the pregnant, children, old or diseased and mostly: fresh corpses.

Dying as a pauper in London or New York made a fair wager — your corpse passed to a dissection class before a grave.  Medical schools harvested no corpses. Needing plausible deniability, there arose a trade providing corpses, and these men were bizarrely titled Resurrection Men, spitting on Christians’ hope of resurrection.

If caught, they faced grave robbing charges.  Or worse, if police suspected he hurried anyone from this life to help doctors-in-training learn surgery — he faced death — and of course, a final turn ‘through’ medical school.

Grave robbers.  Hearse thieves.  Everyone — murderers, thieves, prostitutes — looked down on them and feared, desperately feared passing through their hands.

Christians were offended at such a title for these men.  This ‘resurrection’ horrifically twisted hope in Christ.

But God has, if anything, a profound sense of humor, and a deep, deep sense of irony.

So Jesus hiked from the north country through valleys southward.  At evening, He climbed up from the road to tiny Nain.  Maybe Nain was built on Shunem’s ruins or nearby.  And in tiny Nain where birth and death were bookends for few surprises, everyone could recite a time when God let a town woman push the great Prophet Elisha to attempt, to ask the impossible.  All these centuries later, every child and agnostic knew the story.  Elisha promised her a son.  She bore him, and on a hot day in harvest he died.  She rode hellbent for leather straight to Mt. Carmel where prophets commune with God.

And she answered the Prophet’s servant pointedly asking, “Is all well with you?”

“Yes!”

“Is all well with your husband?”

“Yes.”

“Is all well with your child?”

And she lied, or she believed more than a cooling corpse waiting in the Prophet’s room she built for him.  “All is well!”

It shook him.  Such faith.  Such hope.  Elisha rushed from the mountain to spend an afternoon begging God to relent and resurrect the child.  God gave him back.

Centuries ago.  Where legends live.

So, Jesus walking into Shunem/Nain stopped a funeral for an only son: a widow’s final hope.  And disregarding all civility Jesus touched the hearse to talk to — the dead boy.

Who responded.  Jesus helped him from the hearse, gave him back to his mother, and everyone paraded back into town, leaving a bewildered hearse driver scratching his head.  The first victim of The Hearse Thief, doing a dress rehearsal for Himself soon enough, and all of us soon enough.

If Jesus wept at a later funeral, He surely smiled at this one, and God, as usual, had a laugh on any who call hearse thieves by such an exalted, holy title as Resurrection Man.

Special Consideration

I deserve special consideration.  At least, I think I do.

Honestly, it’s in my script.  I was born in America when only a fraction of my friends went to war.  A baby boomer; I attended school in a rich district, where being white got me benefits blacks schools did not get.  My church brought in Oxford scholars. I had an IQ to enjoy accelerated classes, was a doctor’s kid.  Nothing I earned.  All came unasked, undeserved.

I sensed I was called by God to serve Him, so I got to do that for years, with pay, and believed down deep, I got special considerations.  Get out of Jail Free cards.

The problem with special consideration, though, is that it has nothing to do with me.

Years ago, Jill and I boarded a Delta flight and were happily surprised to find the Captain was Darl Henderson.  We had been to his house often, eaten, and skied behind his boat while serving as a youth minister in Coral Gables.  I would never have known he flew C130s in Vietnam so close to the action that he got combat pay, if I had not wandered down a hallway to a bathroom (two were in use!) and seen photos on a wall.  He was quiet like that.

Darl was kind.  We found our seats and buckled in.  As we ignored the safety talk, a stewardess asked Jill and me to move to First Class and take new seats — at the Captain’s request.

We ate with real silver ware, a meal we only dreamed about in “last” class, and were too excited to sleep in the huge chairs while Darl flew.  Special Consideration.

I think I deserve special consideration, irrespective of any fact that I ever deserved any of it that has come before.

Between our two boys, Jill miscarried in the same month that her horse died.  We were devastated.  We fell from special consideration, but no more than the one in five pregnancies that abort universally.  Even there, at a prayer service where Mildred told us she had born two children full term to lose both, Charles Burnside quietly gave us a check — covering all our out-of-pocket costs to the odd dollar amount we would be billed for!  How could he know?

At the core of my faith, I believe, I hope, that beyond a special consideration of salvation, God in Christ plans for me, that He builds on, extends that special consideration.  And He does; just like 50,000+ names on a black scar of granite in a hill on The Mall; just like the 168 who died in the Murrah Building blast; or teens murdered in classrooms in schools across the country or on our highways.

You see, we denigrate the term, squandering it on temporary dwellings: bodily and material.  We denigrate it as we fear it: God’s special consideration means Heaven, with Him.  I want that, but fear it might be today, so, like Freud said, I binge on trivia and seek winnings, upgrades, great prices on steals, and so on.

I fear the ultimate upgrade, the last special consideration.  Not Darl.  Somewhere flying over battles covered in the Evening News collecting bullet holes in the fuselage except around his seat, he quietly found true special consideration.  Like God in Christ, Special Consideration is meant to push us to be creative in making it happen for others.

 

 

Spare Write

I assign and grade a lot of writing for college students: diaries, papers, biographical analyses, idea pitches, investor papers and more.  So, I now understand a joke from seminary.

So, do you have professor ____?

Yes.  Is he interesting?

I think so, but he assigns lots of papers!

How does he grade?

By the pound.

I had the good professor, and he did assign papers and I know he did not read them (mine).  I put wild things about him in the papers, and they came back with a letter grade on the front page: all else undisturbed.  “A”s mostly.

He assigned a notebook.  I bought a ream of notebook paper with hole punches.  I divided the ream into two halves.  I inserted one half in the middle of the front half of my notes, and the other half towards the end of assigned papers.  I did not intersperse new pages among my notes, readings, and other printed materials.  They remained nice, white blocks of virgin paper in two slots.

I made an “A”.  It made me sad.

But my students write like that.  Many write to fill ten pages rather than to say something.  I enjoy the 15%  who do write, who do struggle to say something.  With some of them I edit everything as mercilessly as Pam Schlueder did for me as an aspiring writer in Journalism 2021 at UT.

My first goal with her was a Pulitzer Prize.  My second goal became to receive a paper with more black ink than red ink.  She taught me to write.

My fat baby ways, my porcine fillers were slashed.  They offended her.  “There are” and “There is” vanished on sight.  Passive verbs, axed.  “That” obliterated.  Intransitive verbs seemingly followed a red pen stroke to the edge of the paper before tumbling to the Abyss.  Multiple prepositional phrases, gerundizing, participial verbing — all vanquished.

So today, when a student shows promise I strive to show writing as a craft, a skill.  And like playing the piano; you practice hundreds of hours mechanically before genius flows over proficiencies mastered and draws in the listener.

They are shocked when I hand back 60% of their paper and it says what they attempted, only better.  More than that, they are shocked when I hand back the paper.

And some are learning to write and communicate.  Some even buy into the fact that writing better forces them to think better.  Maybe I should join them!

Why I Know so Little

As a young scholar I said trite things like, “We learned about Calvinism today,” and “I studied relativity last week”.

It turns out that Calvin’s voluminous Institutes inspired commentaries, opinions, and reactions to fill hundreds of thousands of papers, books and ministries.  It also seems that papers and experiments pursuing all Einstein laid out amount to untold billions of dollars.   Trillions if you count weapons.

I barely caught an introduction.

It helps, though, if someone reduces it for me, so I pass a short quiz or pay for a short course and skip the quiz.  In a world influenced by academia: I “learned it”.

We memorize Kubler Ross’ stages and think we know death.  We say amazing silliness like, “I got married last night!”  No, you took a first, possibly easiest step in a journey of a thousand miles and you don’t “know” marriage until you come to the end of yourself and your failings and she somehow, amazingly decides to travel on with you.

“I bought a house last week.”  So, you paid cash?

“We were in New York last month.  I love New York!”  Yes, you love the tiniest sliver, and even those who love her a lifetime cannot live a thousandth of the City.

In seminary, I was thrilled to “learn” the word for “know” is the same as a husband and wife enjoying their most intimate times together that they share with none others.  You scratch the surface of that knowing in a decade or so.

I need humility, and out of that a bent to life long learning: in this life and the next.  I know that.

Tiny Things

I hopped out of the car, arguing with myself whether I get wetter by running or walking in rain, and settled on a fast walk.  Winter was not relinquishing her fingers on our weather.  This spring it has swung from cold to temperate or hotter four times.  I marked each occasion with four rounds of the same allergies.

I kept the rain off with my Yankees hat and a down vest and layers on the sleeves.  Jill was not along, so I quickly hunted the three things I needed for dinner and returned to the entrance to Walmart, groceries in two of those ephemeral bags that someone should figure how to build houses using.

And rain came down heavier making people pause before heading into the north wind delivering rain that soaked in the cold to the bone.  Then I was out and in it and laughing that I had not used a cart as I opened the door and flung groceries ahead of my hurrying hulk into the driver’s seat.  I turned on the car and heater.

And I had parked right in front of the cart return corral so I watched him shove his cart into the corral while shivering.  Then the young dad shoved his in behind him, and the shivering lady trying to shrink inside her T-shirt against the elements wheeled by and around the end to push her cart in.

In the cold and rain, they were returning carts and I marveled.  I have seen carts stranded in Walmarts….in other cities and neighborhoods.  It is a tiny thing for people to return carts in the cold and wet, but it is perched at the top of a slippery slope.

The nigh before I talked to a friend from Syria whose family was nowhere near the gas attacks.  Okay, alledged gas attacks.  Right.  I texted another friend in Nicaragua where unrest was spilling into the streets, and in our little country, people were taking another minute in the cold rain to stack carts to return to service.

In the same instant, putting carts away was as ephemeral as Walmart bags; more stolid against the chaos than I have reason to hope.  Someone has smiled on us, but we seemingly attack tiny things that have made us great; like a tower of Jenga blocks, we wonder how many we can pull out without crashing down the whole.

So I sat there warming up as the heater kicked in and a cold spring wind blew — grateful that in the cold, these people’s character had them pushing carts into corrals thinking no one saw, on a day when others do not.

Ouida: Famous Warrior

Ouida McGinty.  A tribute.

Ouida is a girls’ name of English and old German origin, meaning “famous warrior”.  Duh.

Ouida is also a city in Benin in West Africa, which only helps if you’re trying to understand her love of leopard print everything.

Ouida danced in life, actually she danced through life.  Mostly, she was joyous even exaggerated, but in sadness, she slowed down for a dirge, but even there, she was probably patting a foot ¾ Ouida could not not dance.

Her number one dance move was a wide open hug.  It took awhile to realize it was always the same dance moves.

Ouida gave me money from time to time.  To get past my discomfort, she started a hug: a fast one, like a linebacker wrapping up a ball carrier.  She hugged before I could, pinning my arms to my sides.  She then swept one hand across my back, found my hand and shoved a folded bill in it between the hand and bible I was carrying: faster than I can describe it.

She backed away quickly, her face smiling as if she had just pulled off a daring heist, giving me a conspiratorial smile.   The Apostle Paul told us in 2 Corinthians 9:7 that our giving should be purposeful and that God loves a cheerful giver.  Paul actually used the word “hilarious” and that was Ouida’s face after giving anything to you.  I never figured who Ouida was hiding the giving from, but she got away with it, and enjoyed it more than anyone else I have ever met.

We asked Ouida to play the piano in worship.  It scared her.  Having heard her play, I didn’t get it.  Later, I understood.  Playing piano for worship was intensely personal for Ouida.  I finally saw why.  More than play the piano; she danced with it.  She was our only pianist who made hymns sound like they were being played by a very reverent swing band.  If she was into it, when she worshipped: her feet danced.  Her seat danced on the bench.  Her arms exploded all over the keyboard as if she might accidentally leave a note feeling neglected.  Her playing was all over her face, and when she looked at whoever was directing music it was more like a girl at her first dance who is in love with the night, in love with her beau, and is checking the worship leader to find if he is loving this dance as much as she is.

I knew Scarlette before Ouida.  Scarlette’s razor sharp mind enjoys a secret pleasure in coloring outside the lines in reading God’s Word.  She doesn’t just read. She studies.  She immerses herself in it, and is sharper at it than many preachers.  I wondered where she got that.  When I met Ouida, it explained a lot about Scarlette.  Ouida never interrupted in a small group study, but once she trusted you, she had a bankroll of questions.  But I had to return to the classroom and hear students’ questions before I heard Ouida’s real questions.  She was always asking, “Is there more here than you’re telling?  Is there more to our hope than we let on?  Ouida helped me formulate my best, most rational response.  She was the first to coax from me, “Oh, I sincerely hope so!”

Forgive my attire, please.  For Ouida’s party, I should be draped in bling.  Long before bling was a thing, Ouida had mastered it, arrayed herself tastefully in it, and somehow used it to appear even more alive.  When I saw her Tuesday night in the hospital, she was regal in her bling, and ebullient.  I collected my hug.  I prayed with her and Bob.  I asked God to heal her, but if He had other plans, if He was taking her Home, then that was what we all signed up for, isn’t it?  I got in my truck and thought, “Why did you pray that?”

So on Thursday, when I walked past Jill talking to Tony on the phone, she stopped me to say something in a way she never has before.  She simply said, “Ouida’s gone!” and I stammered, “Home?” and my voice cracked.

I knew we were both correct.

Thanks, John (Pastor) Bugg, and the family for letting me horn in on this dance.  I simply had to say how much I love her and miss her and, she now knows why we all signed on in the first place.  You KNOW she’s dancing, and this time when she looks at the Guy leading the worship and the Father receiving it, they are both loving it as much as she is!

Practicing Helplessness

In Texas Children’s Hospital’s sprawling buildings, sits a food court a few floors up.  Light from spacious, more-than-two story glass floods the space.  Surprisingly great smells usually fill the colorful space with half of everyone clad in med chic and the rest in civies.  The closer to Christmas, the fewer the clientele, and on a Saturday, it was spooky quiet.  Only clean air came from dark kitchens.

My oldest son, Colt was upstairs in Coronary Intensive Care.  He resembled a splayed frog with 27 bags dripping into him in all four appendages it seemed, to leverage him out of the 48 hour night following his surgery.

Our kind surgeons were great, but honest.  They carry a small, but unflinching number of souls who do not exit that 48 hour night on this side of life.  Colt was in great shape, but twice as old as others having surgery.

I hate that food court.

All my knowledge and training was suspended.  I could do nothing but pray, like other parents scattered at tables eating to subsist and get back to their kids.  Nothing but pray as had other parents whose children fell into that small, unflinching number.

Life’s stunning gift looms larger than what we barely understand.  My son in the most sterile place we can make, still carried more hitchhikers in him than we have identified.

If he lived, I could thank surgeons, doctors, nurses, vampires, specialists, the hospital concierge, and cleaning people.  But all their best, left me with an inexplicable space.  Who or what fills the space between proficient practitioners and a child leaving the hospital alive?  Christmas loomed.  I thanked God Who entered that inexplicable space.  His Son was wrapped in non-sterile swaddling strips and laid in a dirty manger.  His caretaker,  a teen with zero medical training, took Him to Egypt in an endurance event.

It was as if the God who sent His Son, held my son upstairs, and popped into my food court for a flicker for a father learning helplessness.  Practicing it.

Colt came out of CCICU.  We spent nights in his room.  He joked about the food, matching scars, and enjoyed friends travelling hundreds of miles — to see him.  He rested in life’s guaranteed moments of helplessness.  Amazingly, we made it home for Christmas.

As I write, my sister Mitzi Deal, and her beloved Greg are practicing helplessness as their daughter, Jodie, has a tumor on her Pineal Gland excised in one to five hours, followed by a day or so in ICU, just a block down from my food court.

Mitzi is funny.  She will tell you she’s learning faith, not helplessness.

Actually, I savor my moments in that food court in the late afternoon sun reminding me of Who lights all inexplicable spaces.