Saturday, December 24, 2011

Death of the Matriarch?

It was the winter of 2011. I was at work. I saw that I had received a phone call from my dad. The message was, “Hey, why don't you give me a call.”

I was pretty sure this was the call I had been dreading to get ever since my mom's mom had been diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's disease two years prior.

I sheepishly called him back, fully expecting to get the news.

I call, and get my mom, “Hey, what's up?”
“Grandma died this afternoon.”
“How are you holding up?”
“Oh I have my moments,” my mom said through the tears, “She asked Aaron to get her in her chair this morning because she wanted to look out the window. She hasn't been in her chair in three weeks, she's been too weak.”
“Oh yeah?”
“Yeah, Aaron then went to check on her and she was breathing real hard. He got her back to her room where she passed shortly after.”
“How's Aunt Cheryl doing? Is she a basket case?”
“Oh, she's doing alright. Grandma did a good job of preparing all of us before she left.”
“When are the services?”
“All of us kids are getting together tomorrow and I'll let you know after that.”
“Ok, I love you mom.”
“Love you too.”

I had two days of work before starting my bereavement leave. I guess it was just business as usual at work, must not have exuded a state of mourning. I was actually back-handedly accused of abusing the bereavement policy when I told my boss I was going to take the full three days even though we weren't leaving until Thursday morning. Oh well, next time I'll come to work with tears in my eyes, or act depressed, or maybe I'll just wear all black for a month so that people know I'm still mourning the loss of a loved one.

The truth of the matter is that Grandma would have never wanted people moping about over her. The very thought that someone would shed a tear over her passing would have been enough to make her live forever. Even so, I knew that the distance between home and Grandma had maybe dampened the impact of the news of her passing. And that as we got closer and closer to the wake and funeral, it would become real.

The services were the end of the next week in Grand Forks, ND. A short six hour drive on interstate from our place. It's amazing how much you can process in the span of a six hour drive. Especially a drive of that magnitude through the flat plains of eastern South Dakota and North Dakota. There's not much to look at, and if there's no ice, you can pretty much set the cruise and go. This is what we did. As Corrine and the kids slept through the drive, I did think a lot about Grandma. I thought about her and my grandpa, and how they had been married 40 years before I was even born, 46 in total before Grandpa passed in the late 80's. And then I thought about how Grandma had lived so independently for over twenty years. I thought about a woman that came from a small family in rural North Dakota. How she married my grandpa and went on to have six kids, 14 grandchildren, and a whole slew of great grandchildren. I thought about how she had to endure my uncle Jeff's sickness and passing in 2003. I thought about how hard it would be to have to bury one of my kids. I thought about when she was diagnosed with ALS and how her charisma and passion for life didn't change. I thought about how an 86 year old woman that has been diagnosed with ALS could be the strongest person I've ever known. And it's that strength and passion for life that wasn't there when I looked into the coffin at the wake.

When we got to town, we quickly changed and went over to the funeral home. I was greeted with many familiar faces, relatives I hadn't seen since the summer of 2002 at our last family reunion at the lake. Many I hadn't seen since well before that. It is unfortunate that an event like this is what brings us together, but that's life I guess.

Corrine and I took the kids up front to see Grandma. It's an interesting thing, a Raymond family wake. The family member who has passed sits in the front of the funeral home while everyone else stands in the back catching up. There's always big stories, big laughs, and big characters. As I was saying hello to everyone, I wondered if Grandma was lonely up in the front of the building. Either way, Corrine and I made our way to the front.

We saw Grandma, she was all done up. I don't know if it was the rigamortis or what, but she looked as if she was made. Her jaw looked clenched, lips a little pursed. It's like she was getting ready to raise her crooked pointer finger and give someone the business. She did look good though. But she wasn't there. It was the same feeling I felt when uncle Jeff died. Here was a person that looked like someone I knew, but was void of all life, love, laughter, and everything that made them who they were. The sparkle in their eye, the tenderness of their embrace, all gone.

It saddened me to see my grandma laying there. The choke started trickling up into my throat. I held the tears back and started to the back. As I was walking back, I started observing the rest of my family. Here were aunts and uncles that had also lost a mother and grandmother. You could tell they had sorrow in their eyes, but it was tempered with the relief that Grandma was not longer suffering. And it was through that relief that led them so quickly back to the joy and happiness that Grandma was known for. As I talked with my relatives, it was as if Grandma were there saying, “It's alright, I'm ok, now quit fussing and go on living.” It was in this moment that I realized that my Grandmother hadn't died, that she does live on. Her spirit is one of compassion, love, and joy. It's because of the foundations that she laid by living how she did, that her family can laugh at her wake and funeral.

I wonder if this is how it was in the final days before Jesus' death? And I wonder if this is the reason that Jesus came back for so long after he died? And I wonder if this is the ultimate testament to a person's life, are people crying or laughing at their funeral?

I know all of our time is limited on this planet, some more than others. But when my final day comes, I know I want people laughing.


Grandma Peaches and family.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Book Review: Love Wins by Rob Bell

About a month ago I picked up a copy of Rob Bell's new book, Love Wins. The book has unleashed a torrent of reactions ranging from celebrated praise to down right outrage at the message contained within. Bell has been through the meat grinder of interviews being accused of "Rewriting the Gospel," "Preaching only what people want to hear," and of course being judged to hell in all the fanciful ways that we Christians like to do it.

First off, let me say that I'm not a Calvinist. That being the case, I enjoyed this book. But I can definitely see why Calvinists (i.e. John Piper) would have a big problem with this book. And the conflict that Calvinists will have with the book are the topics of "salvation" and "choice". It's easy to see why Calvinists would have an issue in these areas because he talks about how we have Free Will, and that salvation may be for more than what the Calvinists think. Just the thought of something maybe being a little more gray-area-ish, would be enough to nudge any black-and-white thinking Calvinist to condemn this book and Bell. But that's the core of the conflict, some people only want answers and Bell asks some tough questions that the answer people don't have. And it's the uncertainty that drives the answer people crazy. So if you hate tough questions, don't read this book.

Now because of this book, Bell has been called everything from a heretic (again) to a universalist. All of which, I believe, is due to the accusers not grasping the scope of Bell's intent. Bell spends a fair amount of time writing about the Christian Universalist view on salvation. Which people have taken and made their accusations. But that is all preceded by Bell stating that everything we stand on for life after death is a guess. (Which I will tell you made me think, "Then why should I care?" And made it tough for me to finish the book...AKA why it took me so long to finish.) Which is just pure honesty in regards to the afterlife. But a Universalist doesn't believe in Hell, right? So if this is the case, Bell is NOT a Universalist because in many of his sermons and his previous books he talks, and sometimes precisely states, that he believes in heaven and hell.

Bell continues on in his book laying out Christian Universalism and how it might be possible. He uses scripture and logic to come to the conclusions that Christian Universalists hold. But he never says, "THIS is how it will be." If he did this, he would contradict what he lead with. But throughout the book, he poses tough questions based on the "accepted" stances within Christianity. Questions that I've had, questions that you've had, basically he delves into the questionable areas of our faith where there are no fantastic answers.

But the climax to the book, and I fear the part of the book that most negative reviewers never made it to or they were too mad to understand, was the last two chapters. In the last two chapters Bell brings it all together by describing how God's grace and love are greater than all views we hold of the afterlife, free will, and salvation. These two chapters really saved the book for me.

Bell discusses how since we can't be absolutely positive how the afterlife will play out, we can be absolutely positive that there are people in this world that are currently living in hell. He talks about a woman in his church that, for some time now, brings him a little slip of paper with a number written on it up to him after church. He says that the number is sometimes large and sometimes small. And what the number means is how many days it's been since she last cut herself. He talks about how the message she needs to hear is that she is unconditionally loved by a god that can help her overcome the addiction to self harm. But even more so that God loves her now, no matter how high or how low that number is, God's love and grace is never unattainable.

Now, the questions I have for us as Christians. Are we willing to actually believe that God's love is greater than all theologies and doctrines of salvation? Are we willing to believe that when John writes, "God is love," that this statement is one of the most profound statements in the Bible? Are we willing to believe that only through love, not judgement or condemnation, can we bring true glory to God?  Or are we going to continue to live within the stereotype that Christians are stuck up, arrogant, hypocrites that don't practice what they preach? Maybe the better testament to Christ is not how our devotions or prayer lives are going, rather, how have you loved one another today?

My $.02.

Monday, August 22, 2011


The past few months Corrine and I have been looking for a place to live in Worthington.  It's been a tough road since the housing market in Worthington is absolutely ridiculous.  If it's not overpriced, it's terribly neglected, and a lot of times it's both.

Well we finally found a rental in Worthington that's within our price range.  We heard about the place last Sunday and hadn't even seen it a week ago. So within two days we had to see it and decide if we wanted it. It is a lot smaller than our current house. But our current house is way to big for a family of three. So after we get done downsizing and moving, we'll finally be living in Worthington. And THAT is good news.

There are many different reasons why moving to Worthington is going to be good for us. There's the $300/month that we'll save in driving to work. There's the extra hour each day we'll have at home and not commuting to work. There's the savings in utilities that we're anticipating in a house half the size of our current one. But one of the huge changes that we're excited about is that it will allow me to get back into youth ministry as a volunteer.

Our church, Journey, doesn't have a formal youth ministry.  And I think a lot of people wouldn't like having such a huge program driven ministry. One of the big credits to Journey is that we are very relational based in our ministry. And having a big youth ministry program would seem to go against some of the key aspects that makes Journey such an impacting community.

Over the last couple months, Pastor John and I have been discussing how I can get involved in leading a growth group. Growth groups are what really fuel the discipleship at Journey, they're what strengthens our community. When Pastor John first asked me to lead one I was a little hesitant. I was still dealing with past betrayals and very potent emotions. It took a few months to heal those wounds and with God's help, endless patience, and overflowing love, my heart feels healed. Scarred, but healed.

I think the scars that we endure are, a lot of times, marks of wisdom. There's the saying, "Hindsight is 20/20." I believe it's through these scars that we get shaped into a stronger and wiser person.

I truly believe it when Paul says in Corinthians that God will never put too much on our plate, but rather gives a way out in everything. Even though I didn't know if I would be back in a place where my heart could handle youth ministry again. I believe that in this past year I have become stronger, wiser, and have fallen more in love with God than ever before.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Love Wins

Rob Bell's book Love Wins has sparked a huge response in the church.  A couple weeks ago I picked up this book and decided to delve into the conflict. This post isn't going to be a review of the book. It's not going to be a theological discourse on why Rob Bell is right or wrong. Rather it's going to be a quick note on an idea that Rob Bell brings up in the book, almost in passing, and the importance of this idea.

Christianity as seen by the secular world seems to be a people group that has some wild beliefs about the world, creation, and living with a strong emphasis on judgmental legalism. They are a pious group that are more concerned with the do's and don't's within the scripture than the actual message of the bible. They are politically very conservative, willing to ban abortion, but unfortunately have little to no concern for the poor. When in doubt, the default to the "tough love" mentality in which a person should be self made and just has to tighten down his boot straps to succeed. They look to be given answers and will stand on the answers given to them even though the answers seem to contradict each other. They are a black and white people, they don't like questions that may have more than one answer and therefore hate it when people ask questions they don't have answers to. THIS is why evangelical christianity thinks that Rob Bell is a heretic. He asks tough questions and isn't content with the old standard Sunday School answers.

From what I've read so far, Rob Bell is presenting ideas that are no less supported by scripture than other more prominently held beliefs.

A big question Bell asks in the book is, what if Christians actually lives out the two great commandments? What if Christians were actually serious about the power of love? What if people actually loved their neighbor? What would the world be like if you loved, not only your geographical neighbor, but your neighbors in mankind? What if Christians were actually concerned about the poor and needy, not because it's something nice to do, but rather because it's a mandate from God, delivered by Jesus himself? It's right there in the bible. Matthew 22:36-40. The Pharisees ask Jesus which is the greatest commandment. Jesus responds, "Love the Lord with all your heart, mind, and soul. This is the first and greatest. The second is like it, love your neighbor as yourself. All the law and prophets hang on these two commandments."
Doesn't it seem a little silly that Jesus is asked for one great commandment and he gives two? Love God. First, greatest. Love your neighbor. Second. They are two different things, but aren't they actually inseparable? Is it possible to love God without loving your neighbor? I don't think it is. If you attempt to love God without a concern for your fellow man, you get a dogmatic list of dos and don't's to live by. You get religion, but no life. You get tradition, but it's dead. You die without ever knowing what love is. The simple truth is that God is love. How do we show our love to our neighbor? By going to church? By singing upbeat songs? By raising our hands during public prayer? By having a "come and join us" mentality? No. It's by going and entering in to the garbage that life gives our neighbors and saying, "I don't have all the answers, but I'm here so we can find them together."

The fact is that after the Greatest Commandments there is also the Great Commission in which the first word is "go". We were made to be relational beings. How do we live out the greatest commandments? By going out into the world and loving other people the way Jesus loved us. By being angry and injustice in the world, our country, our city, and our neighborhood. Tough love is tough, but it's not love. It's not good enough to exist under the Christian label. If we are unconcerned about injustice, how can we claim to be a people of love? How can we claim Jesus if we reject his purpose?

My challenge is to find ways, international or local, where we can confront injustice and pour love into it. Find says in which we can go and love. This is our greatest mandate. Are you willing?

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Not Good Enough Gospel

Corrine and I have been part of a great Christian community for the past six or seven months called Journey. One aspect of Journey is that we utilize sermon series by either Andy Stanley or Erwin McManus. We alternate between the two. Stanley's sermons are more practical in nature. Whereas McManus tends to be less practical in that he seems to lead you to the answer instead of just blatantly stating the point of the lesson. That said, I get WAY more out of the Erwin messages.

Well today we heard the last in a series from Andy Stanley. His message was about not putting Jesus in a box and trying to abuse your "relationship" with him. I get this. It makes sense. God is way bigger than a simple genie in a bottle. But Stanley seemed to be really heavy handed in pushing the "You're not doing this good enough" aspect of the message.  Which I believe may be stated and preached on too much.

My concern with this message is that it's only preaching to those that are lukewarm in their faith. I personally believe that many people are hurting and suffering and searching. My question is, where is the hope? Where is the love? Why wouldn't you.continue on in the message and say, "We're all screwed if we rely on Jesus in a can. But Jesus is bigger than this and is begging for a deeper relationship. We all fall short, but we all have access to a love, life, and relationship greater than anything we could.ever imagine."

My question is, are you willing to dive deeper? Are you willing to allow.God to fill your life with what you're lacking? Are you willing to fill the gaps and transform yourself? If not, that's ok, Jesus is patient...and still loves you through whatever you're dealing.with.


So the past few months I haven't posted anything due to lack of internet connection/no computer. But alas, the world of Android has given me renewed access to the world of the blog. It will take me longer to write and the posts may be shorter and my thumbs will probably cramp up and I will have more and more typos, but I will be back.

Lots or stuff has happened over the past couple months, and I look forward to writing once again!