On Life, Brief yet Abundant

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It’s certainly been a thrill ride of emotions these past few days. I’m not sure whether the swirl of thoughts will slow down for me to tame them, or this exercise leaves me chasing the whirlwind.  Guess you’ll find out along with me (if you’re willing to take the ride).

Our live are short. Ecclesiastes tries to pound that point into our stone-hard brains but I figure life itself must serve as the teacher for such a remarkable lesson.

My friend’s dad has died.  We all knew it was coming, but that didn’t make it any easier to accept when it finally came. Cancer is an evil beast, a scourge that I hate. “Dying well” has a great ring to it until one comes to the dying part.  Getting to enter Aslan’s country (“further up and further in!”) must be a remarkable journey, but this is still the valley of the shadow of death.  Not full darkness, but definitely a deep shade.  The hope of the resurrection lights our walk through that dark place, but it doesn’t release us from the hard task of trudging through.

So my heart has been heavy for them.

On Sunday morning, a young man at Erskine took his life. It is a tragedy that shook us all.  Recent memory cannot identify a similar incident in the college’s history; if it’s happened before, it was back in the days before Kodachrome or radio.

My office, being the hub of “communications” (so says my job title), found itself wrestling to come up with the words to say to “everyone out there.”   Though I didn’t know the victim, I could not help but be moved by the deep sorrow of our entire Erskine family. Death is not a welcome visitor in our world. It was not meant to be here.

I went to a crisis counseling workshop hastily planned for the day following the student’s death. Any faculty or staff who wanted to understand how better to help the grieving community were invited to attend, and I found myself there. Not really sure why, to be honest — I’ve spent my times in the foxholes of tragedies.  But there I was, listening.

And then the waves started — unbidden memories flooded my brain of every tragic upheaval that rolled through the NCS world during my years there. The work was so relational, so communal, that those experiences are ground deep into my soul. I didn’t expect them to show up for this meeting. I was emotionally unprepared.

It’s November. Even as a fringe member of the Clemson community, I pause and remember Luke Perry two days before Thanksgiving. Every year.  I remind myself of the hard and painful lessons we learned as a faculty in the wake of Luke’s death – that you need to pull grief into the open where it can be faced, named, embraced, eventually reduced to something a little more manageable.  It’s like physical therapy but in the emotional realm – and no one recovering from an injury loves their physical therapist. Not when the therapy itself is causing more pain than the original injury.

Erskine takes criticism for not being as Bible-y as a Christian college is supposed to be.  Nobody stands around and takes attendance at chapel; the dorm staff don’t keep tabs on who went to church last Sunday and where. But there’s a vibrant spiritual life on campus, one that has risen to a flood and washed over the campus in recent days.

There’s nothing like seeing young people rise to the challenge and love one another. I hope that any struggling student, alienated and alone, will now have the hope that someone at Erskine truly loves them.  You don’t have to face life alone.

I went to my Barth class today as usual, but feeling even more behind at work than usual. (It gets ever harder to walk away from my desk on Wednesdays at 12:50, knowing I won’t be back till 4:00p.)

Mind. Blown.

Seriously. This was one of the most intellectually rigorous days in the course, the day we marched at rapid pace through Barth’s doctrine of revelation. The one that gets him shot at by liberals and conservatives alike.

What I actually have found, having waded through more pages of Barth’s dogmatics than I’d like to count (but way fewer than assigned – I keep leaving my reading for the last minute, and then keep falling asleep over it at 11:30pm on Tuesday nights), is that Barth’s view of the 3-fold Word of God is just stunning.  It’s a masterful, beautiful reflection of Trinitarian truth, the power of God, the immense Grace of God.

And terrifying. But that’s another post.

Barth wailed away against the Modernism that cut the legs from under revelation at every turn in the 20th century (to be fair, this was merely the just fruit of the Enlightenment run rampant). Barth was no friend to the rationalist, empiricist hubris that insists God get inside the test tube before the Enlightened man will believe. As if God can fit in our test tubes….

Last evening, Coart & I took an hour or so to see an interesting show at Centre Stage in Greenville, SC.  Their Tuesday evening “Fringe” series takes a chance on unusual or new scripts. This one, titled Freud’s Last Session, posits a fictional conversation in 1939 between the 80-something Sigmund Freud and the brilliant C. S. Lewis.

Ron Pyle, whom I remember from my BJU days, played Freud brilliantly.  Brilliant!  Really.  He was a delight to watch. The character of Freud serves as the quintessential Modern man, refusing to believe in a God who allowed Hitler, cancer, and war into this world.

C S Lewis, by comparison in the play, never really found his footing (to me). I wondered if perhaps the playwright just could not grasp Lewis’s literary brilliance (which is a totally different matter than philosophical or theological brilliance). Or perhaps this particular production missed the spot here.  I’ll have to read the script to find out. (It’s sitting on my dining room table, patiently waiting for me to get off the computer.)

C S Lewis, who so wisely recognized the fulness of God’s revelation in Christ — a God never bound by Modern Man’s petty demands for “science” and rational proofs — would not have let Freud silence him with the threat of evil.

The Problem Of Evil.  It deserves all caps.

The death of a loved one, the suicide of a young man, the bombs that ravaged London throughout the War with Germany, cancer, the genocides that mar human history, the selfishness that dogs my every step through this world — it’s all related.

Jesus came that we might have life, and that we might have it more abundantly.

Our short lives. Our puff-of-air lives. These vapors that linger on the wind for a moment and then dissipate in the sun.

No, if Lewis had met Freud, really — they would have smoked together, with Big Questions About Life hanging in the haze near the ceiling. Lewis understood Abundant Life.

To know the revelation of God in Jesus Christ is NOT to get an answer to all of your questions. Sometimes it barely even gives you the question. But …. it is enough.


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