Death & Dignity: what’s the point?


Next week I head to Guatemala for the Lemonade International Blogger’s Trip. Having been introduced to this organization, I’ve been following their blog closely, trying to get to know them more and more.

A couple of days ago, they posted about a tragic loss. A member of their school, Herber Giovanni Sandoval, died a couple of days ago at the age of 17. In the conclusion of their post, they said this:

“We are especially grateful to the youth group at Lifepointe Church in Raleigh, NC for sponsoring him while he was still attending the Limón Academy.”

I immediately had the image of the youth group kids or sunday school class at that church who probably spent years following the story of Herber. I wondered how they would feel and respond to this news. How would the leaders help them process this? Would it impact the kids at all or would they be too removed from it?
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On Easter Sunday: “Oh Death” [a song]

[I wrote this after my grandfather died in 2010 after a long battle with throat cancer. It really affected me, and I wrote this to redeem this moment for him and me. You’ll find a recording of the song below. It’s simply a piece of cathartic lament in light of pain, and is not meant to be “high art”.]

I here your footsteps coming
The floorboards they scream
I pray to my Father
to wake from this dream

I’m tired, so tired
when will this end?
I’m tired, so tired
Your strength, won’t you lend?

Oh Death, here is your sting
Oh Death, I hear your voice ring
Through echoes and ages and days gone past

Oh Death, here is your sting

This breath, you can take it
This body, is yours
This voice you have stolen
My eyes are now dim.

Oh this sweetness you’ve taken
I taste life no more
This life, I release now
But this love you can’t have!

But I’ll rise….
But I’ll rise…

I’ll awake from this nightmare as daylight draws nigh
The tension of ages breaks before my eye

This breath I’ll take back. This life will be His.
That body, you can keep; I’ll get a new one from him

Like daybreak it’s new and as strong as fired steel
The demon like dew is gone, ’cause I am healed.

His vict’ry now better: of this conquest we’ll sing
Your vict’ry now bitter:you will taste it’s last sting.


Oh Death, you’ll taste your last sting
Oh Death, I’ll hear your voice scream
Through echoes and ages
and days gone past

Oh Death, here is your sting.

Oh Death….
taste it and weep,
for oh Death,
I no longer sleep.

Because, Oh Death,
I’m no longer thine;
And, Oh Death,

The vic’try’s now mine.

[read my other Holy Day poetry here]
all writings licensed: Creative Commons License

Palm Sunday: Future-Tense [photo sermon]


Continuing WordPress’ uncanny timing of photo challenges with the Christian Church calendar, this week’s theme is “Future-Tense“. In essence, they’re wanting pictures that anticipate something to come; something that’s being waited for; some future thing who’s presence is felt in the picture, even in its absence.

This is most appropriate today, as it’s Palm Sunday of 2013.

It takes some real significance for an event from the Bible to find itself as a major Church Holiday. Considering that, it can be odd that Palm Sunday is one of these: there’s nothing really unprecedented or special about it in and of itself.

There are other places in the gospels where Jesus is proclaimed king, proclaimed Messiah, prophecies are fulfilled, large groups believe in him, and even several times he enters Jerusalem. So what’s so special about this moment?

The future.
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Resurrection Gives Us Joy in Lent & Death

La-Pieta-IYes, as cliché as it is, I’m watching the new Bible mini-series on the History Channel. I’m actually enjoying it. A few things are odd (the ninja angel, for one), and they made some interesting choices on what to leave out (was the extended Sodom sequence really worth cutting out the entire Exodus story, Wilderness wandering, and golden calf rebellion?). But there is still a sense of ownership, that this is our story.

(Side note: for those of us that study the Bible and don’t necessarily think historicity is the highest purpose for which it was written, it’s encouraging to still feel that feeling of identity-formation when encountering our story–even when it’s seen as “just” a story.)

Anyway, a review of the show is not why I’m writing today. I just had a brief thought I wanted to share.

In Episode 1 of the mini-series, we see Pharaoh’s son die at the end of the plague sequence. Watching him carry the pale, lifeless body of his son, it reminded me of Michelangelo’s la Pieta (a version of which you can see above). It was actually quite moving, and I was surprised that I only realized now the sadness of this part of the story. Continue reading

Marveling in the Cross: Lost in the Details [photo sermon]


For several months now I’ve been doing the WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge. Honestly, I’ve gotten a little tired of that, so I’m going to start mixing it up with some weekly “photo sermons”, taking the weekly theme, picking an appropriate photo, and writing up a short meditation on the theme. We’ll see how it goes. This week’s theme is “Lost in the Details“.

One of my best (and oldest) friends is named David Schrott. He’s an incredible photographer, and an even more incredible man of God. He’s currently been spending an extended period of time back in his hometown of Lancaster, PA, recovering from surgery.

In this time of recovery, he’s only grown in his intimacy with God, his love as a friend, and the depth of his experience of spirituality. Recently, when I asked how he’s seemingly unlocked this door to the depths of the spirit and, as he puts it “longing for the resurrection in ways I never have”, he simply said this:

“Suffering! Without it, it is hard to long for anything but immediate pleasure.”

I love that guy.

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Weekend Photo Challenge: Home (the one to come)


This week’s WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge theme is “Home“. (I put up a funny response yesterday. Today is the serious one.)

I’ve been thinking a lot about death recently. I’m not quite sure why. Perhaps it’s because of that paradox of sanctification in which God grows us less by medicating us than by exposure therapy. Nothing exposes my inner-atheist like thinking about death and reminding myself of my shocking lack of confidence in the hereafter.

That’s why this prompt for this week struck me so much. Having moved a few times in my life to vastly different places, and with my parents having moved away from the last place in which I lived with them, I still don’t quite know what to call “home”.
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a note on Grace from a friend (I miss you, Michael Spencer)

Two years ago (almost to the day), a dear friend of mine passed away. Michael Spencer (or, the “Internet Monk” as he was more widely known) encouraged me for years with his blog writing critiquing the wider church with both wisdom and bite (the site is being continued by one of his good friends and avid readers). He died of cancer, and in that death, the Church lost a great man. His one published book, Mere Churchianity, was published several months later. It’s a great summary of his life and thought. I highly encourage anyone to get it.

While he was still living, I wrote on this site about how he influenced and affected me. I also wrote this piece for Patrol Magazine after he died (I still remember the tears blurring my vision as I typed that up).

Anyway, another dear blogging friend, Lore Ferguson, is going on sabbatical from her own amazing blog and asked me to write a guest post on–of all topics–grace. I told a couple of my friends this the other night, and one of them said, “Wow! That’s you favorite topic!” It certainly doesn’t feel that way.

As I was thinking through that, I was reminded of the best thing I’ve ever read on grace, and I wanted to share it with you all. It’s an essay by Michael Spencer. I cried through this piece as well (a lot of crying in this post. Hmm…). It was the inspiration for the sermon I delivered at my church’s prison ministry that later was turned into a five-part series on this blog called “Holy Week & the Scandal of Grace“.

I want to give you the link to the article, an extended quote, and then the end of his piece that I adapted as a benediction at the end of the sermon. Enjoy. And grab some coffee. And some tissues.

Link: Our Problem with Grace: Sweat. Hand-wringing. “Yes, but…”
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Creation: a suffering world through a suffering Lord | Lent {4}

Lent is a season in which God’s people meditate on the slaying of Jesus on the Cross and all that is within them (and the world) that made that Cross necessary. To that end, we’ve been meditating on the fact that Christ is the Lamb who was “slain before the foundations of the world”. We’ve been thinking through what it might mean that Jesus, in some sense, has been suffering for all time (and some theological issues along the way).

So far, we’ve talked about how this is a reflection of an eternal attribute of Jesus. There has been an aspect of suffering and death woven into the depths of his nature and character since before time began.

But at some point, time began.
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On Easter: “Adam Killed a Bird, But Jesus Brought Him Back” (a poem)


Adam Killed a Bird, But Jesus Brought Him Back

Now looking through the glass not dim, Coltrane all around;
he sets a tone of dissonance, rightly now it seems.
For as the beauty clothes me in, a tragedy is found:
woodchips below – a resting place – long for love supreme.

For there he lies with outstretched span, stricken by a car;
afflicted by our fallenness, and smitten by our thorns.
He struggles with the weight of pain, not getting very far.
To stop, release his spirit’s breath – give way to Death’s dark door.

I prayed a prayer, and thought some thoughts, and something in me burned.
Oh I see my Savior, the pains he took! For me: protect,
for prone to wander, weak I am, to that which I once yearned.
Until you did in me and Him- my soul: You resurrect.

And thus to show He heard my prayer and strengthen my weak frame,
up pops the bird, into the air; and now my soul shall do the same.

[read my other Holy Week poetry here]

all writings licensed: Creative Commons License

My Grandfather’s Passing (Hope in Death?)

This past Sunday, the day after Christmas, I more or less watched my grandfather die (he managed to go at the one moment when no one was actually looking, just like he had hoped). This is the first death I’ve ever experienced of someone very close to me. Sure, I’ve known regular customers at jobs of mine who had passed, several old high school friends who were in car accidents, and a few people I briefly became close to in college who later died. But this was the first person that had walked with me (and I with them) for my entire life; on whose knee I had sat, been tickled by, heard legends about, and around whom I walked in a general sense of awe and disbelief.

His name was (is?) Lester Travis Williamson, or as I knew him for most my life: Peep (the result of a mispronunciation of the original attempted nickname by the first grandchild of the family). He represented for me a tenacity and determinedness of love that great stories of tragedy and triumph are built upon. As their old pastor said today during the funeral, he was a man that if you asked for a crumb would give you the entire loaf. Further, he would chase you out the door to give you another loaf on your way out. But this is not to be confused with the contemporary pictures of the gratuitously giving man we have today–cheerful, talkative, jocular, and always-optimistic. To be sure, he was the quintessential man of his generation–a “real man”–quiet, determined, and strong. He spoke with passion and intentionality in every syllable, meaning what he said and saying what he meant; he wasted no words for trivial things (except for maybe sports).
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“Gone Too Soon: An Email Exchange with Michael Spencer” – Patrol


[photo by David Schrott]

Well, this week’s Patrol article was interesting for me to write.  This past week, Michael Spencer, also known as “The Internet Monk“, died from cancer.  I had no idea how much it would affect me.  Really, for the past few months, I hadn’t even been keeping up with his site.  In fact, a good friend was the one that told me Spencer had died — I didn’t even read it on the site.

But it really has messed with me.  When you read my article, know that just writing it and getting it out there was part of my healing process.  I really am okay, especially now that I’ve put my struggles and frustrations into words.  As Spencer says in the email exchange I wrote about:

Some people live the Christian life in the mode of happy clappy. Others live it in lamentation. Disturbance. Some of those write it out to process it. That’s me.

That’s me as well.  And this article was how I processed his death.  Here’s the link:

“Gone Too Soon: An Email Exchange with Michael Spencer” — Patrol Magazine

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