Moving On and Moving

I’ve had a chance to notify many friends, most family and some colleagues that daughter Laura and I are beginning to make our plans to move back to Little Rock.

This week I hope to contact a repair person to take care of some home inspection obstacles, and soon after I hope to contact our realtor to put the house here in Webster, North Carolina on the market.

Laura is no longer engaged, and has been on board for this move. She’s very interested in attending a small college in Little Rock, and I could not be happier about that. I would like to be able to say she’s the reason for the move, but I know it’s just as much for me as it is for her.

We need to be a lot closer to her brother Matt and her Gran, Harriette — a lot closer than 650 miles. We need to be closer to friends we left behind more than 3-1/2 years ago now.

And I need to be around the place where I still had Angi in my life, rather than the places where I lost her. In that place — when I visit, even her grave — I have fond memories for which I’ll always be grateful. In these places here, I just see and hear the might-have-beens and the gone-too-soons.

Maybe that’s silly, but it’s the way I see things — and I think I have seen it that way for a long time without even realizing it.

This is a change of plans for me. I thought I’d be working here at WCU for another 3-5 years and then retiring to Eureka Springs, Arkansas. But that plan is on hold for now.

I don’t know what I’ll be doing professionally when I return to Little Rock, but when I approached my supervisor and his boss about working as a long-distance remote employee, doing news web work as I did for the Abilene Reporter-News 15 years ago, they seemed to be considering it as a possibility. (At least they didn’t reject it out-of-hand!) Still, it’s a bit of a leap of faith.

Speaking of faith ….

It was painfully difficult to tell my church family at Sylva Church of Christ that I would be moving on. I have taught there for more than two years now in lieu of a full-time minister. But they are family. And, God love them all the more for it, they understand.

The process will doubtless take weeks to months. I’ll need to sell here before I can buy there.

So I earnestly covet your good wishes and prayers in the interim — that everything will go smoothly, and that doors will be opened and closed as they should be.

I just really think I need to be moving so that I can be moving on.

Thanks, and love to you all.

On Her Own Terms

This will be a very, very long post.

On June 30 of last year, I found a secret diary that my late wife Angi kept 13-1/2 years ago (2002) when she was seeking diagnosis and treatment for a difficult, painful and widespread skin condition. She feared it was cancer. Though I knew of her condition, I never knew of her fear.

The diary revealed that one doctor’s diagnosis was that the condition might be melanoma, and of a rare type that often proves fatal. Another doctor disagreed. I didn’t know this, either.

Angela BrentonShe took light treatments for many years, and the condition improved but never really resolved. We would pray about it together, but she didn’t share the contradictory diagnoses.

All this while our children were 9 and 6 years old, and her career was really taking off.

In the diary, she poured out her heart: her fears, concerns, love for friends and family.

This is what she wrote:

7/15/02

Today marks the fifth week of living with the possibility I may have a rare form of skin cancer — cutaneous t-cell lymphoma. On June 13 I went to my dermatologist, giving one last shot that someone could give me a cream or lotion that could rid me of the unsightly red blotches that had increasingly appeared on my legs over the past 4 years. I thought my worst problem was appearing in public in shorts or a swimsuit. I came away wondering if I will live to raise my children, Matthew, 9, and Laura, 6.

My doctor and I decided that we would wait for the biopsies until I returned from the vacation that started three days after my appointment. He told me not to alarm myself by reading all the stuff on the internet. It’s sobering when you consider yourself a youngish healthy 49-year old to have a disease with a limited life expectancy. If they catch it early, the prognosis is good — 32 years. But stage 2 drops to 12 years — barely enough to see Laura through high school. And if you’re at stage 3 or 4 the numbers drop to 2 or 3 years — scary stuff. It’s amazing how the new knowledge plays with your mind. Only yesterday I felt young and invincible. Now with this new knowledge, I touch a lymph node in my neck. Swelling in lymph nodes is a sign of stage 2 or 3. Is it slightly enlarged? Is that recurring abdominal pain a sign of something? Are there lymph nodes in the abdomen?

Yet with all the uncertainty for five weeks now, I’m amazed how God has responded to my prayers by bringing me a tremendous peace. I don’t know what lies ahead for me, but I’m confident that God will be beside me, and that he will resolve the situation for the best. He can heal me if he chooses to, no matter what stage the disease. There may be some reason I can’t understand now — perhaps knowing they have a shorter time with me will give my children more openness to my influence, or maybe it was never God’s plan for me to take them all the way to adulthood. Maybe that is someone else’s role.

What I fear the most is not the pain of chemotherapy, radiation or bone marrow transplants — all possibilities if the condition is advanced. I fear leaving my family. I love them so much. They are the best part of my life. I fear for Laura. She’s already lost her birthmother through adoption and at some subconscious level that affects her so deeply. Can she recover if she loses another mother? Her little emotional identity is so fragile now. She follows me like my shadow. I am her security, however flawed I am at times. She’s my heart. How can I leave her?

Then there’s Matthew. I’m so proud of the person he’s growing to be. I never thought I could love anyone the way I love him — have from the first moment I saw him when he was 4 weeks old. He is everything I’ve ever wanted.

And Keith — my soul mate & love. We took too long to find one another but have had such a joyous 12 years together. Keith is so strong & so good. I know he would do better than most as a single parent. But he would feel incomplete without me as I would without him. Could he make it without my income? I’ve checked on taking out  additional life insurance, but if I get a negative diagnosis it may be too late.

All these imaginations haunt me during the darker hours. Most of the time, however, I’m just leaning on God’s strong arms. He’s prepared me to trust him through so many times in my life when I was helpless — from my divorce to infertility to adoption. God has led me to the point where I know I can just put my life in his hands & lay all my burdens at the cross. After all, Jesus knew the agony of anticipation & uncertainty, praying at Gethsemane for the cup to pass, yet submitting himself to God’s will. I’m trying to do the same.

There have been so many life lessons I’ve drawn over the past weeks of waiting. One is that going in one day from feeling healthy to a painful realization that health may only be an illusion is so much the same reaction as truly confronting our own sinful nature as we stand before the cross. One day we can feel complacent as good-self-sufficient people but confronted with the image of the cross we must acknowledge the disease of our sin and our utter dependence on God.

I thin I’ll fast & pray tomorrow. It’s about time to get the biopsy results back. I need the special peace & reliance on God that I feel when fasting to receive the news — whatever it turns out to be.

Funny, I’m having knee surgery day after tomorrow. I would have been dreading the pain & effort of recovery. It seems like a minor interruption now.

__________

7/20/02

Well, it’s several days later and I’m still waiting. I had knee surgery Wednesday and the Lord has blessed me with a good recovery. Still no word from the biopsy. I called last Tuesday, but the advanced tests required for t-cell lymphoma just take longer. There was a time when I would have gone nuts waiting six weeks for such news. I know the peach I’ve experienced has to come from God. Only this morning when preparing to teach 1st grade class, I was led to Matt 6 and the passage on worry. It was a comforting reminder. I cannot control if I have lymphoma or what stage it may be. I can only wait, pray & trust.

I had another startling discovery this week when I found a small lump on my left shin. Could it be a tumor connected with lymphoma? There are so many questions & so few answers right now.

While I wait for the results from my biopsy my doctor has prescribed UVA light therapy. I stand in a big metal light box 3 times a week. It is a recommended treatment for an inflammatory skin condition whether I have lymphoma or not. The first few treatments burned me badly — funny how you have to get worse to get better at times. My skin looked so much worse after the first few treatments it was hard not to become discouraged. Reminds me of our spiritual walk & how we must often be forced to confront how bad our sin is before we seek the healing power of Christ’s blood.

It’s frustrating to me now that my dermatologist in Abilene recommended light treatments 3 years ago. He didn’t say anything about the potential seriousness of the condition & wanted me to come in every day. It didn’t seem as important as the work I’d have to miss. How I wish I had followed through then.

After 3 weeks, I can see the light treatments are helping. I just hope they can help enough.

There’s so much I’m unsure of now. But the important things I know. Christ has won the final battle over death & Satan. God is strong enough to give me & my family the courage to face whatever is ahead. He will never leave me. He can use this challenge for his glory. That is enough.

___________

7-28-02

The results of the biopsy finally came last Thursday. I was sitting in interviews in Benton on the Saline County water study. It was Dr. B——– and the results were positive for CTCL — cutaneous t-cell lymphoma. I had wondered how I would react if the news was bad. I just felt mainly relief to finally have an answer, to finally have a some direction, something to do. I dread what lies ahead, but it feels good to be out of limbo. Dr. B——– suggested I might contact drs. in Houston at M.D. Anderson or drs. at Yale in Connecticut. This is such a rare condition that it’s hard to find drs. with expertise. We decided that I would first see the head of dermatology at UAMS, the local academic medical center & go from there. I was fortunate to get an appt. w/ Dr. T– H— on Monday. We’ll have discussions on follow-up & treatments after that.

God continues to be faithful. I feel hopeful & strong. I am so grateful that somehow I had the urge to see another dermatologist. It was also really providential that I ended up seeing the doctor I did. I was scheduled to see another dr. that specialized in skin allergies, but he wasn’t on my insurance list. I almost didn’t see Dr. B——– — more insurance issues, but he decided to make an exception for me. Going to someone who made me aware of the CTCL possibility may have saved my life.

It is a sobering time, and I know there are hard times ahead. I still feel fortunate. One young man at church is battling terminal cancer. My best friend C—- lost a baby to a chromosomal abnormality. I’m sure either would have chosen to be in my shoes instead. My friend C—- is a physician & has been so encouraging to me. Of course Keith is a rock — so loving, so dependable & so unflappable. I am blessed to have him by my side. God is good.

______________

7/30

Yesterday I met with the head of dermatology at UAMS, the state medical school complex to get a second opinion. It was frustrating that none of my medical records or the slides of my biopsies had been sent to him. In many ways he was in the dark, yet on a brief physical exam and my account of the biopsy results, he indicates a real doubt about the diagnosis of CTCL. He is also cautiously critical of my doctor’s decision to do UVA therapy. It means that we can do no further diagnosis because my skin has been treated. He is going to get the biopsy slides, do an independent analysis & let me know what he thinks late next week. My emotions are on a roller coaster again. On one hand, it would be a great relief to learn I do not have a potentially fatal disease. On the other hand, I would be back to uncertainty about my condition. The doctor was encouraging in his assessment that if I have CTCL, it would be extremely early & no aggressive treatment would be indicated. Overall I came away impressed by the knowledge & currency of information of this doctor.

I will make a shift to using him as my dermatologist or “the quarterback directing the game plan,” as he phrased it.

I got really annoyed today reading a column in the newspaper. One of the columnists is getting married this fall & was agonizing ad nauseam because the post office had discontinued the love stamp, leaving her without an appropriate choice to send her wedding invitations. I had the strongest urge to write her & say, “I’ve been wondering for most of the summer whether I’ll live to raise my children. You need to stop wasting time & energy on things so utterly unimportant. Focus on the joy of your wedding and on building your relationship with your future husband.”

I wonder how often God wants to send the same message to me about my anxieties & how I’ve ordered my priorities. If nothing else, I hope this experience produces in me a permanent shift in valuing what matters & treasuring each moment with those I love.

I wonder about how I’ll look back at this summer. Will I be thinking, “That was the summer I thought I was dying” or will I look back at it as the turning point when my perception of myself turned from strength & invincibility to frailty?

I had a moment in Indiana this summer that was so poignant. Keith, the kids and I had gone to Nashville, IN with Keith’s sister and brother-in-law. They decided to ride a “train” that gave a brief tour of the tourist town. I opted out both because I wanted to avoid the sun & I could spend a few moments in artist shops without kids. I stood waving on the sidewalk as the train started off with Keith & the kids accompanied by Aunt Linda and Uncle Dick. A part of me wondered whether I were seeing the future — Keith alone with the kids, supported by his sweet family. It was all I could do to hold back the tears.

Maybe the book hasn’t closed yet. I’m continuing to hope & to trust God.
_____________

8/5

I stayed with Mom most of last week as she had a procedure to remove basal cell carcinoma from her nose. It was of special concern because she had the same procedure three years ago in Dallas. If this was a recurrence of her previous cancer this was very bad news. Mom told me about her diagnosis just as we were returning from vacation. At the time it felt like the straw that broke the camel’s back. I just didn’t know how much more stress & uncertainty I could stand. In a way hearing about her condition was worse than worrying about my own health. Mom is 84, and i know I won’t have her too many more years. But I love her so much & she has been such a source of strength & inspiration to me, it’s hard to think about. We’ve both really been dreading her surgery for the past month.

Again, God was so good. He gave us both the strength to get through it & the results were good. There were only a few cancer cells — in a spot different from her previous surgery. Because it was such a small spot, the plastic surgeons was able to do a skin graft rather than the more extensive reconstructive surgery we were told to expect. She came through the surgery great & has suffered little pain as she recovers.

It’s amazing how my spirit has lightened this week. I feel like I’m emerging from a long, dark tunnel. There has been so much to dread & fear. As I’m passing each marker, God has shown mercy & has provided strength & courage to meet each challenge. Each challenge has confirmed that as I trust my Father, I have nothing to fear. God will not remove all challenges, but he will give me strength sufficient for each day.

The diary ends there.

To address the obvious question: I do not know if she sought, or received, a final diagnosis on the skin condition from Anderson or Yale or anywhere else. All I know is what you’ve read. I doubt that she did; I certainly wasn’t aware of any travel.

If I were her, I’m not sure I would have asked for one. Without knowing how limited your future is, you are free to live your life as you wish. You don’t have to tell your spouse because you don’t know. You don’t have to face the temptation to lie. You don’t have to endure the looks of pity and the awkward silences from others. You can live, knowing that — just like everyone else — someday you will die, because only God can cheat death, and He only does so on the rarest of occasions. The cost of not knowing is that you live the life of Schroedinger’s cat. You’re alive but you aren’t. But at least in not knowing, you can have a kind of peace.

That’s just the way I feel. I think that’s the way she felt. And I think I know her heart.

Angi continued to take UVA light treatments for many more years. Sometimes the skin condition would flare up a little; most of the time it seemed no more than a slight discoloration.

And so she lived — really lived — for another ten years, until a few months after moving to North Carolina to serve as provost for Western Carolina University, when another kind of cancer reared up within her cells, stage IV pancreatic cancer, which usually snuffs out life using a very short fuse. I suppose it’s possible that the second cancer could have metastasized from the first, but that process usually moves faster than 10 years as I understand it. I’m no doctor.

She passed from this life on May 8, 2013 — our daughter Laura’s 17th birthday.

Today would have been Angi’s birthday. But she still had a few things to share with us and tell us, a gift left behind for us.

This brief diary is something that our children and I can cherish so that we can know how much she loved us.

It also has answered a big big question I’ve had these two-plus years since Angi passed away: How did she face the threat of stage IV pancreatic cancer with such utter calm, grace, and resolve? How did she keep working, decide on the degree of treatment aggression, manage to have so many things prepared ahead of time in case she passed away?

Because she had already faced death and decided on the terms of engagement a decade before.

She left us this final gift, discovered among the work papers and documents that I waited a couple of years longer to examine and sort: her thoughts, her feelings, her decisions about how to face the worst and be stronger in faith even when physical, intellectual and emotional strength can fail.

I am still learning so much from her.

____________

Read Angi’sDiary in her own handwriting.

By Keith Brenton Posted in family

What Would Have Been

Today is the day.

Today would have been the 25th wedding anniversary for Angi and me.

We only made it to 22 before she went on to her next life a few short months later.

Angela BrentonI had plans for today, or at least a day somewhere in the neighborhood of today. I started thinking about our 25th when we first moved to North Carolina. I had plans to commemorate the day we became engaged — and remember our 20th on Napa Valley’s wine train. I had hoped we could enjoy a luncheon excursion on the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad. This tour would have been nice, to Dillsboro where we used to live.

Of course, it won’t happen now. It’s a what-would-have-been.

Life is full of what-would-have-beens. Things we hope for; things we plan; things that ought to happen, but never do.

Maybe there’s a continuum in eternity for all the would-have-beens to actually take place.

Maybe that’s where they belong.

Because life is also full of what-we-shareds and what-we-achieveds and what-we-were-givens, and those are real. You can look back on them and treasure them and celebrate them, and no one and nothing but fading memory can take them away from you, ever.

So today is the day for all of those.

Today is the day for what’s real.

For memory that persists. For plans that did happen. For dreams that did come true. For what we have and what we’ve had.

Today is that day.

Who Then Can Be Saved?

The title for this (hopefully short) blog post comes from Jesus’ conversation after the rich young ruler has sadly walked away, though my use of it has little to do with being rich and everything to do with following Jesus:

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, “Who then can be saved?” ~ Matthew 19:23-25 (see also Mark 10:24-26 and Luke 18:24-26, where the reading is essentially identical. Someone got off by a verse when numbering Matthew 19.)

I wish that I could believe in universal salvation. I would like to. I would like to hope that people who have committed even the most heinous of crimes and sins might have a chance to view the glory of God, turn their hearts, bow to His sovereignty, and be saved forever, reconciled to Him eternally.

I would like to.

Universalism as a doctrine answers the question “Who then can be saved?” with “Everyone!” but goes a bit farther to say that everyone, eventually, will be saved. I disagree with this teaching.

While it is clear from 2 Peter 3:9 that God’s desire is for all to be saved, it is also clear that His desire is for all to come to repentance. Repentance is what was taught by every good leader and prophet of Israel right up to and including Jesus. It is predicated upon faith in God’s goodness and a willingness to be a part of it. It’s leaving behind what self wants and doing/saying/being what God wants. God gave people choice, beginning in the garden east of Eden, and has shown His respect for that power of choice ever since — including His permission to let consequences befall the one who makes a choice and all those whom it affects, and His promise to punish those who choose evil and reward those who choose good (Matthew 25:31-46; Revelation 20:11-15). This is pretty basic stuff, really. You’d have to re-wire scripture pretty thoroughly, start to finish, to make it say something else.

At the same time, scripture also describes God as having freedom of choice Himself. He is sovereign. He says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.” (Exodus 33:19. Also quoted by Paul in Romans 9:15.) Yet He is also described as One who “does not show favoritism, but accepts from every nation those who fear Him and do right.” (Acts 10:34-35) It’s really difficult for us to be both impartial and selective. How can He be both? He’s God, and as Jesus explains in that discourse quoted above, everything is possible with God.

God is able to rule and judge equitably. (Psalm 9:8; 67:4; 75:2; 96:10; 98:9, etc.) He is able to do that because He is both just and merciful, righteous and gracious, a balance that is difficult-to-impossible for you or me, but simply His divine nature. (Psalm 116:5; Romans 11:22)

And He expects us to imitate the good He has shown us:

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. ~ Micah 6:8

That’s really difficult to get our heads, hearts, souls and arms around, even though we may love Him with all of them just as He desires. So there are all sorts of doctrines besides Universalism about salvation: Calvinism (usually called “Reformed Thought” these days), Arminianism, teachings of the churches of Christ … they’re all out there. It’s soteriological soup.

To the very best of my understanding, here’s what scripture says:

We make choices.

He makes a choice.

Everyone can be saved … everyone who chooses good; everyone who chooses God.

So let me just reiterate that we can trust God to make a good choice, a fair choice, a just choice, a merciful choice. All of that may be beyond us — though we are called to imitate Him in making our choices — but all of that is not beyond Him.

Once again, right after the conversation as it was related above:

Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” ~ Matthew 19:26

Salvation that’s beyond our capability calls for our choice to live the life of the One who is capable and chose to give up His life for us, to satisfy His own just and merciful nature.

The fact that scripture describes God — in the person of Jesus, the Christ — judging mankind, to me, is the single most persuasive argument that mankind must be judged; that those who are wicked by choice and impenitent about it have no place in the eternal life of peace with God; and that the life to come would be essentially no different from our lives now if evil was not destroyed in an ending to this life … except that the selfishness and hatred and greed and oppression and harm and rape and torture and attempts at murder would simply continue forever.

Psalm 96:13 | Ecclesiastes 3:17 | Isaiah 3:13 |Hebrews 10:30 | 2 Timothy 4:8 | Revelation 20:12

The post I used to hate seeing

I used to blog here.

Every once in a while, I see my bookmark for this place, and I think “I ought to post something.”

But I don’t remember what I used to think was important enough for me to write about — as if I know anything about anything.

I think I used to write because I was a spiritual person. Then one day, that person got up out of my chair and moved to a different planet and never looked back.

So I’m posting this instead, which is not important at all. I used to see posts like this, and I hated seeing them:

“Nothing to post, but I just thought I’d let you know I’m still alive.”

So now you have something to hate reading, too.

Blue

I am sad most of the time.

Occasionally depressed; not too often. Mostly just sad.

Call it blue.

There are all kinds of reasons contributing to that, most of which don’t bear going into.

Oh, I can put on a smile and muddle through. I can keep it together in most social situations. I can sometimes even call on a show of sharp wit and an illusion of charm.

But I spend most of the time sad, and it’s a pain in the soul because sadness makes it harder to think, to focus, to perform, to excel, to multitask … even to uni-task. Sadness makes it harder to prioritize, socialize, look into others’ eyes. Sadness makes you alone and keeps you alone and alone makes sadness both less and more difficult to bear.

Less because you’re not burdening others with it.

More because your bearing it yourself.

Sharing it can make it worse because you may find yourself sharing someone else’s sadness too, at a time when you don’t feel you can bear your own.

Sharing sadness can make it better because you sometimes find someone who can help bear it with you.

When I am profoundly sad and alone, there is something that makes it bearable even when nothing can make it better.


He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem. ~ Isaiah 53:3


When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. “Where have you laid him?” he asked.

“Come and see, Lord,” they replied.

Jesus wept. ~ John 11:33-35


Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”

Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” ~ Matthew 26:38-39


In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. ~ Romans 8:26


For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. ~ Hebrews 4:15


Don’t get me wrong. None of this magically takes away the sadness. None of this miraculously eliminates the reasons contributing to it. None of it is rainbow unicorn photos on Facebook with cheery Bible verses chasing away clouds on brilliant sunbeamy backgrounds. None of it is a guarantee. None of it is a promise of better soon or think positive or pray confidently or best life now.

It’s simply an account of a Man who is God, who understands and shares. So much so that He shares His own Spirit within us to groan with us when words simply will not suffice.

I taught Romans 8:26 last Sunday. I confessed that until I studied the verse last week, I had always misread into it a misconception: that somehow the Holy Spirit provides the words God will understand when we don’t have the words to say. That’s not what the verse says at all. It says that the Spirit intercedes for us through wordless groans.

He groans with us.

So that we do not have to groan alone.

I wish that I had gained that insight earlier in life, sooner than a week ago.

It would have made the aloneness less alone. It would have made the blue less midnight and more aqua. It would have made the sadness lighter to bear.

Lighter by half.

Dear Angi,

The problem, of course, is that I still miss you every day like I just lost you the day before.

And I know I should move on, but I don’t know where or how or why.

Whenever I moved before, since I met you, it was to follow you wherever you wanted and needed to go, and to cheer you on from the sidelines, and to be there for you and our wonderful kids.

But now you’re gone and they are grown and I have to start over somehow.

“Re-invent yourself.” That’s what you used to say. “You’ll just re-invent yourself.” And as long as I had you by my side, I always could and did.

There’s no “just” to doing that now, though.

When we moved to Missouri or Texas or Arkansas or North Carolina, I’d always consider how fun it would be to try to persuade you about us retiring to Eureka Springs and visiting Ireland again, with some extended side trips to England and Wales, and riding on trains all over this continent.

You know, to celebrate the day we became engaged. Like we did on our twentieth anniversary on the wine train. Like we did any time we rode any train, with or without the kids.

Now it would not be the same, not without you.

I can’t even talk to you about any of the things we used to talk about, or any of the things I would tell you now. I don’t know if you can see this, read this, know this … if you just don’t exist for a while, and then will again later … if you’re still part of time, or outside of time, or totally transcendent of time.

I have no clue how the eternity thing works.

All I know for sure about it is that you’re not gone. But you’re also not here.

And that nothing, no time, no place, no one can take your place ever.

I don’t know how to feel about any of this.

For the most part, I just don’t.

I don’t feel.

And for now, that has to be all right.

Theodicyus

Call me Theodicyus.

I’m on an Odyssean journey, like many others, to comprehend why God permits evil, suffering and pain.

cosmic-christMost of the time, I’m on board with the direction God wants that journey to take. I may not like that direction, but I’m willing to pursue it at least for a while, to see if it comes to a logical conclusion … or at least a depot or a way station that makes some kind of sense to my pathetic wounded heart.

But this morning I literally awakened, as I often do from a restless sleep, with a “What if?” that knocked the horsepower right out from beneath me. I didn’t know if I could go and teach my church family this morning. I didn’t know if I could even crawl out of bed.

This was the “What if?” in my soul when I woke up:

“What if God has been trying all along to communicate to us that the obliteration of evil is good, whether it is in one’s own soul or annihilating those who have sold their souls out to evil?”

Oh, it didn’t come all in a rush and it didn’t come in those exact words. I’d been dreaming about trees and limbs falling — probably because I’d had two huge limbs fall off one of my front yard trees to the sidewalk below a month before, and falling trees had been in the national news last night. No, probably my first thoughts as I surfaced from the ocean of dreams were probably more along the lines of “It cost a lot to have my whole tree removed and thank God no one was hit or injured and I didn’t get sued and I hate to have a living tree cut down just because it’s so overbalanced the rest of it will eventually fall across the street and why do tree limbs have to fall on people and hurt or kill them anyway?”

Followed soon after by the very mature pondering of “Why can’t trees just fall on evil people like ISIS terrorists who kidnap and capture and torture and rape and behead people?”

(I’m sure it didn’t help that I awakened with a colossal headache besides.)

Then came those sleepy musings about why God did or didn’t act in certain ways, expected ways, my ways in the Old Testament and even other places. Why a flood? Why utterly destroy two cities? Why strike people dead for worshiping another? Why the order to “dedicate/give over to God/often by utter destruction”? Why a cross, a dishonorable instrument of pain and death?

Okay, I can understand that is the way that Father and Son agreed that is how sin deserved to die, and that the Son was willing to bear sin to that ignominious death for us.

No, not really, not in my heart “understand” it; but in my mind at least I can comprehend the words and they make a kind of sense in the way that any concept of divine justice-and-mercy can make sense to a human being of fallible judgment using three pounds of sweetbreads for a logic processor.

But what if — in the flood-genocide and the Sodom-and-Gomorrah genocide and the worshiping-golden-calf-genocide and the order to Israel to give-over-whole-cities-of-baby-sacrificing-pagans-to-God-by-completely-destroying-them — what if those and all the other seemingly violent/callous/inconsistent acts of the Creator aren’t intended to cause terror/doubt/criticism of Him?

What if they are His way to communicate what His sovereignty defends: an ultimate good, a perfect comprehension of good that is so far beyond ours that He must use the most crude ways imaginable to get them across to us so that we can understand in our limited way?

What if His justice and mercy are one in the same thing (not in conflict with each other, as we so often perceive them to be)?

What if the total eradication of evil is the only way that good can triumph (and it MUST triumph)?

What if evil must be permitted to show how heinous and selfish and rebellious is truly is, in order for good to be illuminated for how glorious, selfless, and loyal to God that it is?

What if God expects us to grow to a point where we stop judging Him by our own ethic, our human standards, our selfish arrogant Eden-based value system (“I think I know better about this fruit than God does …”) and judge His goodness, rightness, and holiness by His own standard?

We’d have to understand it first.

So what if He’s given us the clues all along in scripture, and we created theodicy because we don’t want to see them for what they are?

I don’t like this possibility.

I want my old god back.

I want my pacifist god who, like me, hates to cut down a living tree; who couldn’t possibly cut down a human being, or allow a good human being to be cut down in mid-life, especially a wonderful human being like my beloved Angi. I want a god for whom those character traits are just unthinkable anomalies, “ways that are above my ways,” ways that I will never understand or be expected to understand.

I want back my old god; the one I can easily find strolling in the corporate hallway in the cool of the day in his cool business suit and take him by the lapels and shake him and shout “WHAT WERE YOU THINKING?” like Job did and feel justified about doing so.

I don’t want to understand God this deeply if it goes this deep.

It hurts too much.

It doesn’t fit my paradigm.

The journey doesn’t take a turn in my direction.

I don’t get to have my way.

Don’t Save Me a Seat on Your Bandwagon

I’ve had a week to think about it.

Bandwagon,_Circus_MuseumAnd I’m not going to pile onto anyone’s bandwagon regarding the Supreme Court’s decision to validate gay marriages in the United States.

I will admit that as an American, I am glad that the Supreme Court upheld a basic human right: to be joined in marriage before family, friends, the world and God. They did not set a precedent which might be twisted by some later generation to deny this right to people of a certain reproductive capability, age, ethnic background, or religious persuasion.

I will also admit that as a follower of Christ, I do not see anywhere in biblical scripture that marriage is upheld as an institution between people of the same sex or gender; only between people of the opposite sex from each other. But it is not the business of government to enforce as law the doctrine of any religion’s scripture, not even the one I espouse.

That could set a precedent that could be contorted by some later generation to apply to the writings of some other religion — any other religion — or some set of documented beliefs that made no pretense to be any kind of religion at all.

I have to admit that I can’t follow the hermeneutical/interpretational gymnastics it takes to ignore or downplay God’s displeasure with “man-on-man sex,” which is what I understand the literal phrasing of scripture to say. (The English word “homosexual” was devised centuries later.) There is nothing there that leads me to believe that such a relationship was ever His desire or intention for the children He created and loves.

So I can’t jump on the bandwagon that celebrates a notion that any sexual expression between consenting adults done in love is endorsed by God and should be recognized as such by all believers. Nope. It’s not what God wants for us. If it were, He’d have spoken it as plainly and clearly as “Be fruitful and multiply” or “Do not commit adultery” or “Do not judge.”

To the very best of my understanding, engaging in homoerotic sex is sin. It is what self wants for self against God’s wisest wishes, even when love for another is involved. Just like heterosexual breach of promise in marriage that has led to so many divorces and broken so many hearts and homes in this nation for decade upon decade now. Sin is always sin. Even when there is no seeming harm, no reason given for prohibition, nothing other than God’s explicit love for us and desire for what is best for us.

Sin is always sin.

Including lying, stealing, greed, envy, faultfinding or any other one you wish to mention.

Which leads me to the reason why I can’t jump on the bandwagon that focuses on one sin, then accuses, belittles, condemns, defames … do I need to go through all the synonyms beginning with the rest of the letters of the alphabet?

Because judging others is what self wants for self against God’s holiest desires for us, even when we would like to pretend that some kind of love for His righteous law is our only motivation.

If I conveniently focus on one sin — someone else’s sin — and loudly castigate it, that may take other peoples’ focus off all of mine. But I am called to speak against all sin, which includes my predilection toward judgmentalism and arrogance and self-righteousness. I can say “But I don’t sin THAT sin!” all I want to, but God makes it clear that any kind of sin separates me from Him. If I denounce one, I must denounce them all. And having participated in any of them in a less-than confessional and penitent way reduces my credibility to disavow them all.

There are really no other bandwagons left to climb onto.

We have divided into these two intransigent camps and sung our battle hymns and flown our righteous flags while riding our bandwagons to the front lines, just as people have done (to their own destruction) for centuries.

And what we are called to do is walk together. To love. To show fellowship. Embrace. Encourage. Confess. Support. Seek to understand. Repent. Forgive.

Over and over and over again. Not until we get it right, because the odds are that none of us ever will.

But until we are called home.

We are all simply fellow sinners, called to extend the grace and compassion that was shown to us by the One who was able to live without sin.

And what His life says is, “It’s possible. It can be done. I did it.

“You can try.”

To be like Him — to accurately reflect His compassion, love, grace, forgiveness, and humility — we have to try the very best we can to be like Him in every way that we can.

That may mean celibacy. It may mean keeping judgment to one’s self. And let’s not kid ourselves — there are doubtless hundreds of thousands and more likely millions who lead lives that glorify God without having sex with anyone and/or having to inflate their own egoes by deflecting attention from the sins that so easily beset them and castigating others for their vulnerabilities.

They have learned self-control. They are trying to be like Jesus.

If they can try, we can try … walking the walk.

Talking less talk.

And leaving the bandwagons behind.

Jesus Wouldn’t

If you asked me why I do not support measures such as the recent state versions of the RFRA attempted by the states of Indiana and Arkansas (and wisely rejected by their governors as written), I would answer with those two words:

Jesus wouldn’t.

Yes, I am convinced that Jesus would not support laws which would encourage those called by His name to insist on their own way and seek legal remedy against those (especially unbelievers) who insist on their own way against the conscience of the believer.

First of all, because conscience is not the ultimate authority. That would be God.

Now Abraham moved on from there into the region of the Negev and lived between Kadesh and Shur. For a while he stayed in Gerar, and there Abraham said of his wife Sarah, “She is my sister.” Then Abimelek king of Gerar sent for Sarah and took her.

But God came to Abimelek in a dream one night and said to him, “You are as good as dead because of the woman you have taken; she is a married woman.”

Now Abimelek had not gone near her, so he said, “Lord, will you destroy an innocent nation? Did he not say to me, ‘She is my sister,’ and didn’t she also say, ‘He is my brother’? I have done this with a clear conscience and clean hands.”

Then God said to him in the dream, “Yes, I know you did this with a clear conscience, and so I have kept you from sinning against me. That is why I did not let you touch her. Now return the man’s wife, for he is a prophet, and he will pray for you and you will live. But if you do not return her, you may be sure that you and all who belong to you will die.” ~ Genesis 20:1-7

People can lie to us. Our consciences can be badly programmed. They can even become seared, so they no longer sense the difference between what is right and wrong. We need to go straight to what God says, without assumption or presumption of our own correctness.

Secondly, because the rights and desires of a believer — however “right” they might seem to be — are not to be considered by that believer as more important than those of others.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.” ~ Matthew 5:38-42

Jesus did not put conditions upon these instructions. He did not say, “If you agree with them on all doctrines,” “If they are morally upright in your judgment,” or “If it doesn’t infringe on your personal rights as an American.”

Third, because legal remedy and going to court in front of unbelievers is not what God wants us to seek.

I say this to shame you. Is it possible that there is nobody among you wise enough to judge a dispute between believers? But instead, one brother takes another to court—and this in front of unbelievers!

The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated? ~ 1 Corinthians 6:5-7

We admit defeat for the cause of Christ when we insist on our own way; when we are not willing to rather use the opportunity to show love as well as righteousness.

Have we let political parties in American politics dictate what is Christian and what is not? Have we let them convince us that protecting our own rights as believers is more important that engaging lovingly and firmly in dialogue with people who oppose our beliefs — but lovingly first?

Are the verses above — and many, many more — no longer taught in our churches?

Has someone crept into our homes and sanctuaries and clipped them out of our Bibles?

Have we really come to believe that the children’s “JOY” mnemonic “Jesus, Others and Yourself” has a scripturally-approved exception clause that says “But ME FIRST when it comes to rights!”a

As I understand it, the first amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America wisely and sufficiently protects what these proposed state acts foolishly sought to exceed, and does so with these words:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”

Seeking our own rights, our own way, even the right or Biblical or Christian way in a court of law defeats the very heart of Christianity: the selflessness of Jesus.

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
    and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father. ~ Philippians 2:5-11

I’m turning off comments for this post. I don’t care whether you agree with me or not, or what your reasons are. I don’t even care if you are inarguably “right” and I am indefensibly “wrong.” I’m simply expressing what I believe and why.

I won’t permit this blog to become the court of public opinion on this question. There are plenty of other places, and you can go to any of them with your arguments. I could debate them with you until we were both blue and red and purple in the face, and nothing would be gained by it, so I won’t. Mainly because, I believe …

Jesus wouldn’t.