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.

 

 

Jodie, on the occasion of your surgery

I cannot begin to tell you how emotional it was when, as an infant, you were diagnosed with diabetes, and then the worst  brittle diabetes.  Your mom wept for days.  She wept sticking you repeatedly to find your blood sugar level.

I was in the hospital last week.  They pricked my fingers three times a day.  I used all my fingers on one hand.  Did you celebrate your 10,000th prick?

Then they told your parents your life expectancy was 12 years … possibly.  So we heard story after story in the night, in the morning, in the bathroom, in the bedroom when everyone in the family — including pets — took turns awaking for no particular reason (God must laugh when we say silly things); to walk in, check you, and find you had cratered.

Your family created a “new normal”.  Jodie cratered.  Jodie’s out cold — and we must calmly, intentionally work our way out of this.

This latest series of debilitating headaches, leading you through a new, bewildering forest of conflicting diagnoses, crashing and ascending hopes — has drained all of you.  Draining Jill and me ten hours away is a lot less than your mom and dad.  That draining, doesn’t even include the bills. . . .

So, next week you return to Houston, to Ben Taub where your grandfather loved his traning as a physician to remove your outsized pinneal gland.  Being twice as old as doctors said was even possible, helps me pray that you lick this thing and flourish.

Scary Answers

I teach a class called “Imagination” as part of the core curriculum for Entrepreneurship at OSU.  The OKSU OSU.  I teach and assign projects in an “Open Ended” manner, on purpose.  Even when I explain, “If I tell you how to do a journal entry, and what topics to cover, I would not have seen the 20+ formats I have seen work creatively for  so many students.”

Three students will drop the class immediately when we leave the room.

One bright eyed, intent student will ask, “How many words do you want in an entry?”

We have taught students in years of schooling that there is one correct answer, the teacher’s way of doing things, and no matter what the teacher says, she is absolutely looking for one answer in the discussion.  She will smile through all the other answers, but she ends the discussion when we arrive at the right answer.

In creativity, and in innovation, we can find hundreds of answers, and all might work. — with work.

Christianity seems similar.  Many people accept that we are a mess, in need of saving, and God did this elaborate, astonishing thing in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus that we only have to accept.  One answer.  Does not demand too much to accept.

Craig Groeschel preached this morning in his Selfless series.  He described how to see God in the moment (even in the grind) and develop new answers, new growth, see the tough things through to the end.

Crickets.  Twenty people applaud, and the rest sit in super quiet mode, eyes a little glazed over.  Millions of correct answers — with work.  Too much for some people.

The on”oanswer fits all” is a great way to build audiences, to increase church attendance.  The millions of possible answers, the kind we must work out not knowing if we are right, trusting through the falling on your face times, and trusting God is guiding — builds Christ followers.

Graduate from the answers Someone else constructed, so you only have to answer “I accept” or “I am afraid” to the answers that mutate, grow, stretch us, slap us into next week, and force us to depend on God to follow God.

It is scarier, more demanding, and full of pitfalls, like all good adventures.

Nabeel, faith and noes.

Nabeel Qureshi was a most educated youth minister.  Most never attend med school, maintain the years of A’s it takes to get and stay there, and they don’t face proliferating possibilities like Nabeel faced.  He wrestled to be a doc on three continents, to retell his conversion from Islam on six continents, and encourage this newest generation’s dreams.

I suggested he write a book.  To keep it simple.  To reveal his story as a form other Muslims could follow simply.  Not easily, but distilling complex questions into simple steps Nabeel took to follow God, Allah, he thought.

He grew into a warrior.  I watched postings to YouTube and the web and laughed aloud, “Be the first on your block to merit your very own fatwah!”

Then Nabeel was married, having a beautiful child and dying of stomach cancer as Muslims cheered wildly at life’s cruel judgment.  I prayed God to heal him.  I posted one such prayer to this blog.

God said, “No.”

People apologize for God, and bend the light on the matter saying, “God healed him, He just healed Nabeel by taking him to heaven.”  Touching sentiment.  God said, “No” to healing Nabeel and extending his impact here.  Nabeel died.

How does faith look after that?  For Nabeel, watch his haunting YouTubes on our hope in Christ out of this world into the next.  Beautiful.  Courageous.  Faith-filled.  Watch them.

For me it’s a gut kick.  Worse than watching your college team get man handled by a 3A high school squad.  Having been injured to the point of dying, I know that if I choose who prays for me, I want them praying for me like I’d pray for me to live.  If you hide behind, “whatever is Your Will, Father” in some non-invested theologically secure place, then save your breath.  No one knows if those prayers get answered.

Yes.  It’s harder to pray like cheering for your team, like cheering for mom if she’s sick.  Yes, the let downs are harder, but prayers uttered in wildly cheering faith is what I hope for if it is me, my child, my wife.  Those answers stiffen your prayers for decades.  Will you ride with me?

When we get off, finally, on the other side, I’ll introduce you to Nabeel.  He cheers from the other side now, see?

 

Waste or Largess and yet.

I few minutes ago I had a brilliant insight into life and the universe.  It may or may not interest you, so I won’t bore you.

It struck me deeply.  I sensed two possibilities for my insight.  It resonated through me.  The insight gave me joy.   The resulting feeling suspended me “up” in a long, draining week for seconds.

Again, I see two possibilities for my insight, for a depth of feeling and realization words fail to convey.

Possibility one.  All we are today results from a profoundly long series of random outcomes, against the Second Law of Thermodynamics, gathering star-dust from millions of extinguished stars to donate elements farther down rows of our Periodic Table to fire-form a planet within a hair’s breadth of distance from a correct sun needed for incredibly sophisticated RNA and DNA to take on a job of blindly evolving past millions of blind alleys to get to us.  “Us” who can write, laugh, love, hear and even sometimes understand each other; and die.  All of my memories, depths, and sharing now a meal for worms blindly eating either my corpse or plants enriched by my ashes.  In a generation, at most, any who interacted or shared with me; join me in oblivion, as will we all.  A remorseless universe neither taking note, caring or laughing.

Possibility two.  A God described as having infinite capacity created the thought of me before assembling the iron and nickel for a core for Earth.  He brought my mother from her birth family to an adopted family so she could marry and unite again with my father after two miscarriages to birth me.  And so, minutes ago, this God shared my brilliant insight into life more intimately than even my wife could hope for.  And if all that’s written of Him is good, when I die I am resurrected out of time into eternity to get this — share that insight with Him and possibly at the same depth with those purchased by His grace — around a dinner beyond compare before we get back to work.

How it all works is above my pay grade.

Possibility one says as a terrorist dies, it holds equal lack of value with the deaths of Jesus, Gandhi — the named and the forgotten.  From nothing formed, and to nothing returned.

Possibility two gives me Hope to hold to values. I choose P two.  Probably as it demands more of me in faith, giving to, making a difference, loving and weeping — living.  If Hope is a crutch, then inscribe mine with the name for me in Heaven I don’t even know, yet.

See?  I can now say, “yet”!

i wonder if i can love enough

When I met and married Jill, I was in professional ministry: stuff we can now do for free.  As a seminary trained minister, I allowed me to think I was, what?  More spiritual?  A little better?  I am not sure.

It evidenced often.  Here’s a way.  Jill loved horses and Colorado.  Loves.  And I wondered subconsciously if maybe she loved them more than Jesus, or God.

When we married, I knew for a while that I loved Jill more than anything, but I “corrected” that by relearning to love Jesus first.  Again, I got paid to believe like that.

I spent another thirty years with Jill.  I resigned from church work, and I now play at being honest.  I say “play” because honesty without love or grace is an all-consuming monster.  Brave souls have faced it and been ground to dust.  Many write novels to journal it.

In my honesty I found nothing affects me like a horse or mountains move Jill.  Okay, I weep at some books or movies, but it’s different: not as structural, as fundamental as is Jill’s love for horses like Firefrost or Dartagnan; or the Princeton Valley, Chalk Cliffs, and skiing the Rockies.

I ride bikes.  Clear land.  Work in wood.  Ski.  Write.  Travel some, and nothing grabs me like being on a horse on a snowy day grabs, sustains, heightens, infuses Jill’s day with light and hope.

Which caused me to go back and hear John, whom I translated from Greek: [1 John 4:20] “For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.”

Jill loves her brothers and sisters, and we see them more than mine.  Jill loves our grand-kids, and goes to lengths to babysit them more than me.  Jill also walks our land and draws strength up out of the ground through her boots — when I see all that needs to be done.  Jill also loves Lewis and MacDonald as if they were fiances she lost in the war.

And John shattered my thinking.  Jill has been passionately crazy about people and things God has crafted for her and handed her — far more than anyone I know.

So God, by way of John, is using Jill, not my measuring stick, to show me: Loving who and what has been evidenced to me by God, is the first step in really learning to love the One who created them as evidence of His love to — me.

This may be a great year to learn to love more.