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Death Grief and Hope: Songs for the Shadows (2)

So, then, to continue from my last post, If we are not to grieve as those who have no hope, and not to hope as those who have no grief, then only one conclusion is left to us.  We should grieve as people of hopeso what does that mean?

Here is where grace enters in powerfully.  “Grieving as people of hope” means that God’s grace is in the picture with us as we sorrow in life.  Grace does not magically take away our pain or make it hunky-dory wonderful.  I have heard preachers stand up and talk about heaven and hope in a glib and superficial silliness that emotionally slaps the faces of the grieving ones sitting in front of him or her.  If it gives them a moment’s comfort, the dark shadow will soon come.  If Jesus wept over Lazarus, there is something important in it for us as well. Whatever we believe about the life to come, it is always in faith, in part, clouded by the contrast between the only reality we know with some certainty against a promise that is yet to be.

Paul helps us in a second passage from the New Testament. In 2 Corinthians 4:7-9 he wrote, “But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; s_s_hopestruck down, but not destroyed; Afflicted but not crushed.”

  1. Perplexed but not driven to despair
  2. Persecuted but not forsaken
  3. Struck down but not destroyed

What sustains us in life is not to escape affliction, questions, persecution and suffering.  It is being rooted in the life that transcends it. This means accepting

  1. The reality of death—as well as the truthfulness of grace. It not only does not avoid the worst features of human life, it enters into them.  Grace is seeing the worst about us and still loving us. I once wrote a song to try to express the anguish of this, called,
  2. The necessity of grief— Grief is part of life just as death is on its path. If we are to imbibe life as a gift, we have also to taste its bittersweet transience.  In the nineteenth century, Ray Palmer wrote the great hymn, “My Faith Looks Up to Thee,” and penned these wonderful words:

When ends life’s transient dream,
When death’s cold sullen stream shall o’er me roll;
Blest Savior, then in love, fear and distrust remove;
O bear me safe above, a ransomed soul!

I have written about 110 songs at this point, bits and fragments of maybe 250 more, but looking over them, I realize how much time grieving has occupied in my mind. I am sure much of this has to do with my vocation–I cannot avoid walking through the valley of someone else’s shadow weekly–but I am also impressed with the massive  energy spent on avoiding the subject in our culture–and the price we pay for it. One song on this subject for today, “Trying to Remember” Read the rest of this entry

“The Blind Side” Gets Blindsided

We prefer a safe mediocrity to a persuasive truth telling.

Baptist news wires recently carried the story about a successful protest by a Baptist preacher to remove a movie from Lifeway stores.  The movie is “The Blind Side,” starring Sandra Bullock.  It was based on the book by the same name by Michael Lewis, who also wrote, Liar’s Poker and Moneyball.

Michael Lewis

I happened to meet Michael Lewis years ago when he was writing the book, and he told me he was working on a “really interesting story.”  It was about a young man from the meanest streets of Memphis who was adopted by a family and placed in a white private Christian school.  The story is well known by now—Michael Oher went on to be a football star at the University of Mississippi and now plays for the Baltimore Ravens.

I bought and read the book when it came out, and went to see the film.  Football movies are pretty well required viewing in Alabama.  So I was more than amused with all the other moral problems at the moment—debt, wars, racism, the disintegration of families, and do I need to go on?—that a PG-13 movie could cause such an uproar.  According to the report,

LifeWay Christian Stores will no longer sell videos of “The Blind Side” after a Florida pastor proposed a resolution for next week’s Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting protesting the sale of a PG-13 movie that contains profanity and a racial slur…[the stores decided to] pull the movie, an inspirational film starring Sandra Bullock that tells the true story of a white Christian family that adopted a homeless black teenager who went on to play in the NFL, to avoid controversy at the June 19-20 SBC annual meeting in New Orleans.  [The pastor who brought the resolution] said there is much about the film to be commended, but there is no place in a Christian bookstore for a movie that includes explicit language that includes taking God’s name in vain.

I get it.  It’s Baptist to speak your mind.  I know language has become debased and misused.  And, it’s the right of any store and its owners to sell or not sell what it wishes.  Still, it stirred a few thoughts about the mostly non-existent tie between Christians, especially evangelical ones, and the world of the arts.  And why fewer people want to be Baptists.

Walter Brueggemann once said that in the book of Leviticus, which for some odd reason has become a moral center for a lot of people today, there is an emphasis on holiness as “purity.”  There are other forms of holiness in scripture—moral and ethical righteousness, for one, that sometimes comes into conflict with the notion of purity.  Jesus encountered this among the Pharisees, who could not do the deeper right things for fear of disturbing their own ethic of remaining personally removed from what might compromise, taint and violate their ethic of purification holiness.

I have thought a lot about Brueggemann’s distinction since I first read it.  Somehow, a fully biblical notion requires more than avoiding “impurities.”  Yet purity is important.  An obsession seems to lead always to a rather puny moral energy that dispirits more than it inspires.  Inevitably, it ends up with an account of morality that is always boycotting, removing itself from sinners and sin, and circling the wagons.

Read the rest of this entry

The State of the Union–of Love and Truth

Gary Furr

Love and truth belong together.  So why is it that they are so often found separated?  Moral life arises from the recognition of eternal truth, the acceptance of the reality of others in that same truth, and the sensitivity to feel the connection between them.  Puritan preacher Richard Baxter said love for one’s neighbor is akin to hunger and food connecting.  It makes possible a new and different conversation.

Truth and love cannot live divorced from one another.  Otherwise we are, in the former case, driven to principles rendered only as power, devoid of kindness and the graces and kindnesses of feeling for the other. Read the rest of this entry