Monthly Archives: March 2013

Grandma Great Has Left the Building

Several weeks ago, my wife rushed to the hospital emergency room where her grandmother, nickname Grandma Great, had been transported after a fall. Fortunately, Grandma Great did not break any bones when she fell. However, the doctor determined that she fell because her heart was malfunctioning and her blood pressure would randomly plummet. The doctor said Grandma Great would not be with us much longer. She passed away a couple weeks ago at the ripe old age of 99 ½. (I wonder why we refer to the elderly as “ripe.”)

Anyhow, I was disappointed because I had rooted for Grandma Great to make it to one hundred. But bodies wracked with age eventually wear out on their own timetable. Time is not our ally. Thankfully, Grandma Great had a simple childlike faith in Christ. She was humming and singing old Christian hymns nearly up to the day she passed away. Grandma Great had lived a colorful life and I suspect she would freely admit mistakes made along the way. I anticipated her funeral would be ripe with stories of her exploits and the times in which she lived.

Her funeral was arranged at the church where she had attended before dementia forced her to scale back her way of life. Family members came from far and near, some of whom had rarely, if ever, set foot inside a church.

The pastor stuck to a formal funeral liturgy that was a lot like a Sunday morning service. It was a beautiful service complete with prayer, singing, Scripture reading, responsive reading, doctrinal instruction, and a dose of proselytizing. Yet one family member reported hearing an occasional sigh of impatience from one or two folks in the pews. (That’s my wife’s side of the family.) Yes, Grandma Great was mentioned in her funeral. And she was also honored at the reception after the service. But Grandma Great’s actual funeral service made me cringe a little. Not because I was embarrassed to have Christ openly proclaimed to believers and unbelievers alike. It is just that we sometimes don’t know when we are overdoing it. How so? Here is an example.

I have attended weddings where the entire service, as well as the reception, was almost exclusively about Christ and matters of faith. Don’t get me wrong . . . they were beautiful weddings with elegant receptions. But nearly all the talk from those at the microphone was religious in nature. Before you call me a heretic for suggesting that Christ not take center stage at milestones in our lives, hear me out. When I go to a wedding I look forward to hearing about the young couple getting hitched. I like to hear about their romance and courtship. (Yes, I know that is a little odd for a manly man like me.) I like the celebratory and emotional toasts to the couple. I like to hear humorous stories about the newlyweds. It is also fun to hear about their childhood exploits. Then, at the perfect time, a strategic and well placed Scripture or example of how Christ has influenced the lives of the newlyweds can have a powerful effect on those in attendance. (Especially if they’ve already knocked back a couple glasses of wine.)

If we focus excessively on religious talk we can come across as . . . well, like a couple going on a first date where the guy talks exclusively about himself. (Ladies, you know the type of dude I’m talking about.) Weddings and funerals can be great opportunities to share the good news of Christ, just so we don’t drone on to the point where peoples’ eyes glaze over. I am not suggesting we exalt ourselves. I know the message of Christ is the most important thing non-Christians need to hear in this life. But religion speak in bulk is not always the best way to go about it, especially on a first date. I’m just sayin.’

Extreme Christianity: Embracing the Zealot

Yesterday I spotted a wild turkey trotting down the shoulder of a freeway. No wonder they are called WILD turkeys. The bird wasn’t even going with the flow of traffic. Trotting down the shoulder of a busy California freeway is akin to extreme sports such as base jumping or running with the bulls. (Actually, driving on a California freeway is a lot like running with the bulls.) And by the way, where does a turkey need to go in such a hurry that she feels compelled to use the freeway? Regardless, that bird was willing to take a risk and move in an unconventional way, at least for a turkey.

Is there a spiritual lesson here? (I doubt it, but here goes.) Within the ecosystem of modern Christianity there are some who believe American Christians have become too comfortable, that the American dream has hijacked our faith. They argue that the pursuit of the American dream has derailed us from a life of trusting God while taking risks to spread Christianity in unconventional ways. Perhaps they are right. But on an individual level there are still brave souls who break with convention to step out in faith and take risks to spread the message of Christ. For example, young couples who sell everything and move into dangerous inner-city neighborhoods to toil among the poorest of the poor and share God’s love deserve our encouragement and support. We need such zealots in the world.

Even so, living an extreme or unconventional form of Christianity is not necessarily something all Christians must do to perpetuity. Life is too fluid in some ways and constant in others for a one-size-fits-all expression of faith. Everybody is different and some people thrive at living on the edge more than others. But even those who thrive on it probably won’t do it all their lives. I am sure that turkey is not going to spend the rest of her life running down the shoulder of the freeway. That would be crazy, even for a wild turkey. But for a short while, that turkey was living on the edge. How exhilarating!

Do-It-Yourself Cremation

Glasnevin CemeteryThis actually happened. There was a funeral for an elderly gentleman who was loved by many in the community. During the funeral, the decedent’s grandson read some touching words to honor his grandfather’s life. The grandson read the eulogy on his mobile phone. (No, he didn’t call in his eulogy.) He read the eulogy from notes in his mobile phone. (Do they have an app for that?)Times are changing.

Prior to his death, my father made all the funeral arrangements with a family-owned funeral home that had served his small community for generations. When my father died, it was a tremendous blessing for our family to be unburdened with making funeral arrangements in the midst of our grief. All we had to do was dress up and go the funeral. His funeral took place in the state of Georgia. But something unusual happened on the day of my father’s funeral; or it seemed unusual in the eyes of this Californian. A group of mourners had gathered at my stepmother’s home. We all got into our cars and drove through the countryside to the site of the funeral. Along the way, nearly every car going in the opposite direction pulled to the side of the road until our funeral procession had passed. I noticed that the men who pulled over took off their hats in a gesture of respect. Wow! I have never seen that happen in California.

It used to be that funeral homes were considered a ministry or a sacred community service. Not too many generations before, families assumed the grim task of tending to their dearly departed. Somewhere along the way society made changes in the way we mourn and dispose of our deceased relatives. Recently, I have read reports that the funeral industry has become excessively profit-driven. The implication is that many funeral homes take advantage of grieving families to nickel and dime people in a moment of weakness. I am sure there are still reputable funeral operators, but the thought of death used as a profit-driven venture with shareholders to satisfy . . . well, it has an irksome feel to it.

When I was a child, I occasionally hung out with a kid who lived nearby. His dad was a gruff logger. When his dad died of natural causes, his family shocked the community by insisting that they would dispose of his remains. Legend has it that they went up into the mountains where they built a massive bonfire and cremated the poor fellow. (That’s how we roll in my hometown.) Some in the community were horrified. Others were sympathetic because the family of the deceased was poor and probably could not afford a funeral. Even the police got involved because, apparently, do-it-yourself cremation was against the law. I sort of admired the family’s actions. (I must have Viking blood in my veins.)

Anyhow, as we age and pass away, death can still be a powerful opportunity for those who follow Christ. The only time many people darken the door of a church is at weddings and funerals. A funeral might be the only time a person will ever hear about Christ. As the massive baby boomer population ages and exits this life, there will be a lot of funerals. In fact, I am sure there will be a lot of unconventional funerals as boomers try one last time to express their individuality. I hope Christ is not forgotten in the mix. The important thing to stress is that for believers in Christ, the tomb is empty.

Sweet Dreams: Communication from God

Woman SleepingBack in Bible times, God occasionally communicated to people through dreams. For example, Joseph was warned in a dream to take Mary to a foreign land to escape Herod’s massacre of innocent children, thus ensuring the birth of Christ. My dreams are not so divinely inspired. Last night I dreamed I was in a duck blind in the middle of a marsh. I had a shotgun. There was also a minimart on an island in the middle of the marsh. A large formation of ducks flew over so I jumped up and shot at the birds. Two ducks fell from the sky. Wading through the water, I retrieved one deceased duck from the deck of a small boat in the marsh. I then searched for the other duck by scanning the water while driving around the edges of the marsh in a car with my hunting buddies. I spied the fallen duck diving under the water in a corner of the marsh so I bailed out of the car and shot at the duck. At that moment the duck changed into a man sitting on a dry little island with his back to me. I panicked, thinking that I had shot someone, but I was quickly relieved to see that I missed the man (which is a more realistic representation of my marksmanship). That’s when I woke.

Yeah, try to interpret that dream. (At least I wasn’t riding in the nude on a unicorn flying through the clouds.) Anyhow, that’s how my dreams roll. I’m fairly sure the Lord has never sought to wade through my eccentric subconscious to communicate with me through a dream. That said, it’s easy for us believers to become a little skeptical when the Lord doesn’t communicate with us through dramatic means such as dreams or angelic visitations. We believe in the supernatural so we long for a supernatural communication from God. I believe God still communicates now and then in dramatic ways, but also in some not-so-obvious dramatic ways.

In Christianity Today’s online magazine, I recently read the testimony of a self-described leftist lesbian professor who despised Christians until she met a pastor who asked her insightful questions about how she came to her conclusions and philosophy of life. She realized she did not know much about Christianity and so she became a voracious reader of the Bible. And something miraculous happened: she started to wonder if Christ’s story might be true. She eventually yielded to God’s love and converted to Christianity. Will everyone who reads the Bible accept its message of love, grace, and forgiveness? No. God does not thwart humanity’s free-will.

Nevertheless, the supernatural is not limited to grand dramatic methods God occasionally uses to communicate with a small number of people. The supernatural also resides in the piercing words of God, even though simply printed on paper for ALL to read.