Archive for November, 2014

Worth Reading

November 19, 2014

On a regular basis the media seems obsessed with raving over the latest ‘discovery’ that throws doubt on the historicity of Jesus or alleges things that directly contradict the Biblical witness.  Almost without exception, these discoveries are nothing new, and invariably date from hundreds of years after the life of Jesus and are written by groups well known by the historical church for their contradictory teachings.

So it’s really nice to read an article (which will never be published in the mainstream media, I can guarantee) about a text from a well-established historical writer that purports to recount an encounter with Jesus.  That’s just what this article is about.  For more information on the author, you can view this summary.

This is a rather extraordinary find, to say the least.  It provides yet another extra-Biblical source that not only affirms the historicity of Jesus, but actually describes one of the miracles Jesus was known for (though not one from the Gospels, John makes it clear in John 20:30-31 that the Gospels are not intended to be received as a comprehensive detailing of all Jesus’ works & teachings).

Art Tuesday?

November 18, 2014

Motivation has been low this week – always is when the family is away.  So for your better edification here is an article on a fascinating painting.  I strongly recommend opening up the image itself in a separate tab or browser window so you can refer back to it as you read the article (not the best article on the painting I’m sure, but it was an interesting enough start for me).

I’m a very poor student of art, knowing next to nothing about it other than a few big names and a sense of what I do and don’t personally like.  Dali’s Christian art has been a source of fascination to me, though, considering how unconventional it is.

What are some of your favorite artists and individual works, Christian or otherwise?  Maybe that would be an interesting thing to do here on a regular basis – explore how Christianity has inspired art.  Hmmm.

Saving Church

November 17, 2014

A former neighbor forwarded me this article.  It’s a good article that challenges the oft’ voiced, rarely substantiated assertion that changing/modernizing the music or the liturgical-ness of congregational worship will result in more people coming to worship.  I like the article as a whole and agree that it is not generally the format of the worship that matters.  We all have preferences, to be certain, but it isn’t the format of worship that matters as much as the formation of the worshiper.

So I disagree slightly with where the author ends his sermon, with a call to service as the means by which, basically, church grows and church is saved.  Mission-mindedness should be a part of personal Christian formation, and less specifically the programmatic aim of a particular congregation or church entity.  If we need our church to define a mission area for us to participate in, we probably aren’t personally doing a very good job of loving our neighbors as ourselves.  Or even knowing who they are.

What got me thinking though was the concept of saving the Church, particularly in combination with the beautiful hymn (one of my favorites) that the author segues to (Built on the Rock).  What is it that we think the Church is, and how do we see it in need of saving?

I begin this consideration with the assumption that the Incarnate Son of God meant what He said when He promised his disciples that his Church would, indeed, stand.  In other words, it is not the Church – that fluid membership of followers of Jesus Christ – that needs to be saved.  There will always be followers of Jesus Christ because Jesus promised us this (Matthew 16:18).  I, therefore, do not save the Church.  You do not save the Church.  We do not save the Church.  Councils and committees and programs do not save the Church.  The Holy Spirit of God saves and preserves the Church.

Our duty is not to save the Church, but rather to be the Church.

Crumbled indeed may the spires be in many lands, and even in our own lands, the historic bastions of the faith as our knowledge and connection to the larger world has deepened and widened.  Steeples are not the Church.  The faithful in Christ are the Church.  It is not the preservation of the spires, per se, that we are committed to.  We are not spires, but we are the Church.

But what we often mean when we talk about saving the Church is saving my church.  My congregation.  My parish.  My sanctuary.  My fellowship hall.  My classrooms.  And if we conflate these things with the Church, then we may well need to be very active in saving the church, because Jesus never promised that hell would not overcome physical buildings or plots of land.  He promised hell would not prevail against the Church.

My church property may need to be saved.  Many people are spurred to panic or even, as a last resort, evangelism, in order to save the church property.  In order to ensure that the doors stay open and the light stays on and the pastor gets paid or at least the organist.

The Church as we see it visibly may appear to be faltering.  Doors are closing, congregations are shrinking and aging, traditions are getting lost in the shuffle.  But the Church remains wherever two or three are gathered in the name of Jesus the Messiah.  The Church remains wherever the leading of the Holy Spirit predominates even if human organizational systems are not needed or even possible.

So we don’t need to save the Church.  We need to be the Church.  We need to be serious about discipleship in the way that Acts 2:42-47 describes it.  And it describes it in terms that many of us might feel uncomfortable with.  The intimacy.  The amount of time devoted to silly things like growing in faith through teaching, to fellowship, to sharing meals and prayer.  Not much mention of missionality in the sense of finding a Cause to commit the church to.  Individuals led by the Holy Spirit to live out the reality of their faith’s primacy in their lives.  Making it clear to themselves first and therefore to those around them that nothing was more important than their Lord and Savior.  That kind of living will get people’s attention naturally.  We won’t have to organize feeding lines for the hungry or clothing drives for the homeless or political action committees in order to build relationships to maybe share the Gospel.  I suspect that people will beat a path to our door if we’re crazy enough to actually prioritize our time based on what we claim is not just the most important aspect of our identity, but the defining aspect – being the Church as opposed to trying to save our church.

Reading Ramblings – November 23, 2014

November 16, 2014

Date:  Christ the King Sunday —November 23, 2014

Texts: Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24; 1 Corinthians 15:20-28; Psalm 95:1-7a; Matthew 25:31-46

Context:  Christ the King Sunday is the last Sunday of the liturgical church year.  Next Sunday, November 30, is the first day of the new liturgical church year.  I’ve opted to end this liturgical year as we began it, with the 3-year Revised Common Lectionary readings (as further revised by the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod for reasons nobody has yet to explain to me).  The emphasis of this Sunday is Jesus ultimate glory and victory.  What He began in obscurity and accomplished in ignominy will be concluded in exaltation.   As the people  of the Old Testament looked forward to God answering his promise to Eve of a deliverer, so we as New Testament people look forward to God answering his promise of Jesus’ return, and learn from the Old Testament that God can be trusted to fulfill his promise!

Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24 — The first ten verses of Ezekiel 34 are an indictment against the shepherds, the overseers of God’s chosen people Israel.  They are not doing their job.  They are seeking their own comfort and enrichment at the expense of those they are to be watching out for.  So God will strike and scatter the shepherds.  But there will be a time when God gathers his scattered flock.  The implication is that there will be a time of suffering before the coming of God’s promised, Good Shepherd, the descendant of David (v.23).  David is already dead when this prophesy is given, so the reference to David is a reference to one of his descendants.

What should God’s people expect as we await the return of this Good Shepherd?  That there will be those who are lost.  Those who stray.  Those who are injured—sometimes by the people of God!  Those who are weak—sometimes because the people of God have not cared for them!   And all those who have grown strong at the expense of God’s people will stand under his judgment.

Verses 20-24 make it clear that this is not simply an indictment against those outside of God’s people, who can be expected to abuse God’s children, but against those who are of the same flock, and who ought to know better.

1 Corinthians 15:20-28— This is a critical passage in 1 Corinthians.  In part, because it contains reference to what is almost universally acknowledged as one of the oldest Christian creedal statements (vs.3-8).  For those who like the idea of Jesus without the resurrection, or God without Jesus, Paul makes it clear that our hope in God is through our hope in Christ, and that our hope in Christ is manifest and secured in his actual resurrection as the hope for our own bodily resurrection from the dead.  Christianity boldly asserts that we will live again—bodily, and that the resurrection of Jesus is proof of this.

Psalm 95:1-7a— Many of you may read these words and hear a song that was made from them some years back.  This seems appropriate given the beautiful expression of praise they contain.  We give thanks to God first and foremost and always for who He is and for what He has already done.  Everything that we hope from him, whether temporal relief from some affliction or trouble, or eternal life and hope in him is based upon what He has revealed of himself in human history and affairs thus far.  This song is a beautiful expression of our posture of praise and anticipation of our Savior’s return in glory!


Matthew 25:31-46— Part of the glory of our Lord’s return will be the final, unfailing, and uncompromising delineation of good and evil.  While this should in some respect fill us with terror for those who appear to be firmly in the camp of the goats, it should also fill us with hope and joy.  Evil will finally be judged and banished.  No where else to hide, no means of mitigating or softening or avoiding the righteous verdict of God against evil, beginning with the chief perpetrator, Satan, and extending to all those—spiritual and human—who have fallen under his spell of destruction.

This passage can be confusing in that it appears to equate good works with salvation.  Arguably a better interpretation of this passage is that faith is not present where there are no good works.  The works need not be impressive on the scale of Mother Teresa, but to expect that where there is no compassion, no consideration, no empathy, no tangible concern for another human being, to expect that in such a person love of God in Jesus Christ holds sway is unthinkable.  Faith without works is dead, James declares, and  Jesus affirms that here.

But since this is not about the good works themselves but the faith that prompts them, we must also be cautious not to blindly assume that good works in and of themselves are a sign of saving faith, or that anyone who does enough good things will be saved.  This parable does not deal with those subtleties of the heart.  It deals strictly with one obvious distinction between those in Christ and those outside of Christ.  It is not the only distinction, but it is the one highlighted here.

This is in keeping with Jesus’ teaching of the previous chapter and a half.  He is preaching about the end times and the impossibility of knowing the day and hour.  As such, we are to occupy ourselves in the things that are demonstrative of our love of God—namely love of neighbor.  To put off the love of neighbor with the assumption that there will plenty of time to become more loving and kind and considerate later on is a dangerous revelation of true lack of faith and gratitude for what God the Father has done in Jesus the Christ.  We do not put off for some future date the love of neighbor that should rightly flow from our love of God here and now, today.  Efforts to do this may find that at this imagined later hour, we no longer feel the need of such love of neighbor, having effectively lost sight of whatever love of God we once had.

Wet Bar Wednesday – Gin & Tonic

November 12, 2014

I’m not a big fan of gin, or at least I didn’t used to be.  It’s too astringent tasting to me, the juniper-berry flavor a bit too bitter for my tastes.  At least traditionally.  It’s possible that I simply encountered bad gin early in life.  Lord knows there’s plenty of that out there, as with any liquor.  One gin that I do appreciate somewhat is Hendricks Gin.  Even if you don’t like regular gin, this is worth a taste.  Milder somehow.

But the other night I was making drinks before dinner and our current foreign-exchange student, Simona, said she would like something with gin in it.  I opted for simplicity with a gin and tonic.

  • 1 part gin (I prefer Hendricks, but also recommend Bombay Sapphire)
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • sweetener – sugar or agave syrup or honey or what-have-you
  • ice
  • tonic water to top

Squeeze the lemon juice in, then add the sweetener and gin and stir.  Add ice and then top with tonic water.  Stir.  Taste to make sure that it is at the right sour/sweet level for your tastes.  Remember the ratio for future mixing!

Tonic water used to be used medicinally against malaria, as it has quinine dissolved in it.  Modern tonics have much less quinine in them, but retain a somewhat bitter taste (as opposed to club soda, which is basically just carbonated water).

The wife and I enjoyed this the other night, hopefully you will too!

Is Equality Always the Goal?

November 11, 2014

More fun in political correctness.  In Montgomery County, Maryland, the school district has decided that there will be no religious holidays.  There will be days off in the year that magically correlate to religious holidays, but they will in no way be designated or acknowledged as such.

Of course, this is being done in the name of equality.  Muslims in the area had pushed to have one of their religious holidays included as a school holiday, just like Christmas or Easter or other religious-themed holidays.  Instead of trying to figure out if this was reasonable or not, the school board simply eliminated the idea of religious holidays entirely.

The school board insisted that the basis for holidays was based on dates of high absenteeism.  In other words, on certain religious holidays a larger number of both students and staff would call in sick.  They generally coincide with significant religious holidays.  If you know that a significantly larger percentage of your students and staff are not going to be in school on those days, then it makes sense to designate it as a holiday and plan the year accordingly.

It isn’t specifically a matter of religious accommodation, according to the school district.  Whether you believe this or not is a secondary issue.  The issue as they define it is numerical, not theological.  As such, responding to the request of another group – religious or otherwise – to have a day designated as a holiday should be a matter of numerics.  What is the percentage of students and/or staff that needs to be absent regularly enough on a particular day of the year to make it reasonable to acknowledge it as a holiday?

The article indicated that statistical data reflected that on the days that Muslims wished added as holidays to the calendar, there was no real difference in the absentee level for students and staff on those particular days compared to the week previous.  In other words, there was not a need to designate a holiday because of operational impact.  But the Muslims are arguing that the issue isn’t operational impact but religious equality.  If other religions get to have days off, then the Muslims should as well, even though there doesn’t appear to be any quantifiable data about how many Muslims actually live in the school district and have children that attend those schools.

By this logic, the holidays of literally every single religion or philosophy on earth would need to be included in the school calendar, which I’m pretty sure would result in very few days left for actual school.  Is religious equality really the metric that ought to be used here?

The school board needs to – and has apparently promised to – work out the actual mathematics.  At what level of absenteeism, regardless of the reason, should a day be declared a holiday because of substantial operational impact?  Then it would be a relatively simple issue of saying these days in a year will be holidays.  They might correspond to religious dates (which we can name in the calendar, regardless of what religion they represent), and they might represent other factors.  The district has a means of arbitrating requests for holidays then.

So, This

November 10, 2014

Regular readers will no doubt know of my interest in apologetics – the application of the mind to the defense of the faith.  This is a long-standing activity for Christians engaged with a world foreign to and sometimes hostile to the Gospel.  Apologetics is not evangelism, per se.  I like to talk about apologetics as the process of removing intellectual roadblocks that might keep someone from hearing the Gospel, so that the Gospel can be proclaimed.

A few years ago I learned of an apologetics seminar in Strasbourg, France.  Of course I was interested, but hardly able to justify the expenditure.  Now, through an invitation, a scholarship, and an extremely generous offer, I might be able to attend this seminar if I can raise the necessary funds to cover travel expenses!  Your prayers are appreciated!  Anyone else interested in attending?!

Reading Ramblings – November 16, 2014

November 9, 2014

Date:  Narrative Preaching #20— OT in Review —November 16, 2014

Texts: Genesis 3:14-19; Deuteronomy 18:15-22; Romans 5:18-21; Psalm 150; John 20:30-31

Context:  The final installment of the Old Testament Sunday School Story Survey!  The goal here will be to tie the various stories we’ve gone through together both historically and thematically as they evidence God’s plan of salvation worked out in through human history.  The goal of Scripture in this respect is to outline God’s working of his plan, and the fulfillment of that plan in his Incarnate Son, Jesus of Nazareth.  This is a great way to conclude, since next Sunday is the last Sunday of the Church year—Christ the King Sunday, and then the new liturgical Church year begins with Advent.  I’ve opted for several additional, short Scripture readings from various places in Scripture to help bring this extended series to a close. 

Genesis 3:14-19 — These are foundational verses, describing briefly the core problem facing humanity—we are not as we were created to be.  We are under a curse, a curse brought to bear through sin, rebellion against the Word of God.  Yet in the curse itself the cure is promised (3:15).  God will work through humanity to undo the sin that came into power through humanity.

Deuteronomy 18:15-22 — In this passage Moses functions as prophet, directing the people of God’s attention forward.  As the greatest of God’s leaders in the Old Testament, the inclination of God’s people to look back to him for guidance and example is here tempered by his own urging of his people to look forward, past and beyond him to one who will be greater than he.  This messianic message is fulfilled in the coming of the incarnate Son of God, Jesus the Christ.

Romans 5:18-22 — A brief description that ties together the centrality of the person of Jesus of Nazareth as the promised solution of Genesis 3:15.  Jesus is the one who comes to undo the power of sin and death.  He is the one who bruises the serpent’s head, even as He himself is struck and wounded.  In him, death is allowed brief reign so that you and I may be free from death eternally.   The greatness of God’s mercy is shown in his powerful and irresistible dedication to rescuing us from our own demise—a demise that we both inherit and rightfully deserve in our own sinfulness.

Psalm 150 — The final psalm, summing up the psalter with a mighty call to praise.  It seems appropriate to conclude our series with the conclusion to the Old Testament book of worship.  God is to be praised always!  He is praised where He is, reigning in glory, unseen at the moment by our sinful eyes.  He is to be praised for what He has done in human history and in our own lives.  He is to be praised simply for who He is, the ultimate one.

Our praise can and should take many forms.  Every creature finds an appropriate way to worship and praise God who created us all, and our praise should reflect the diversity of God the creator.  Ultimately this praise will be harmonized into a single, beautiful thread of praise echoing throughout all eternity.  We argue about what is and isn’t appropriate an appropriate format for praise while missing the point entirely—God is to be praised!  Quit arguing about how to do it or not do it and just do it!


John 20:30-31 — These are important verses, not just for the book of John but for all of Scripture.  I encounter lots of questions trying to probe beyond and behind the Word of God.  Why don’t we know more about Jesus’ childhood?  Why doesn’t God tell us this, or that, or the other.  But John sees clearly that what He has been inspired to put down has been put down for a particular purpose, and that purpose is not the exhaustive satisfaction of every question that might come up through the ages.  Rather, what has been recorded has been judged adequate for faith.  They are adequate to show that Jesus of Nazareth is the Incarnate Son of God.

Our questions are not all answered.  If the Bible did answer them all, we would come up with more and different questions and so still be in the same situation.  We are called to trust God.  To trust what He has said about our condition, and to trust his remedy to the situation.  That is all.  Nothing more.  That trust brings with it life.  Refusal to trust leaves us in death.  The situation could not be more simply described.  The Word of God intends to bring us to faith, to call us to trust that the God who created us is the God who redeems us, and that this God is at work even now within us.

There can be (and are) many questions that lead us to divisions within the Church, and this is lamentable.  But we should always keep our eyes firmly fixed on faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God and the means of life.  All other matters will ultimately be resolved, and I trust that there will be much mutual surprise when that happens.  But what binds us together now and for eternity is not our understanding per se, but the object  of our trust.  Do we trust ultimately in ourselves, with science and psychology and all the other useful but limited tools God has given us?  Or will we trust in God?  It is the same question that Adam and Eve faced.  They failed to trust in God.  It is the same question Jesus himself faced repeated, but He remained obedient in his trust of God the Father.

You and I and every human being must answer this question.  It is to this end that Scripture stands not as the great and final answer book, but as the source of faith and trust and hope in God.

Applied Theology

November 8, 2014

Let’s start with this video clip of George Lucas explaining the meaning of Star Wars.  I grew up on Star Wars, and as I got older it was interesting to sort through the sort of theology or meaning that appeared in the film.  Lucas’ own words here are interesting, but he promotes a popular misconception – that all religions are essentially the same, and therefore it doesn’t matter what you believe because it all winds up in the same place.

You likely hear this a lot.  It’s not true.  Anyone who spends more than five minutes or so learning about each of the various religions of the world (five minutes each, not five minutes total!) will come away with the very clear understanding that they are not the same.  Not at all.  None of them teach the same things about the world and each other and God/whatever-higher-power-they-happen-to-believe-in.  The casual, uninformed person ought to be able to deduce this pretty quickly.  If they all basically believed/taught the same thing, we could have combined them years ago into a single, pan-humanity religion.  But it doesn’t work that way.  Hasn’t, doesn’t, won’t.  Thus you have multiple very distinct world religions.

If, however, you study the religions of the world for less than five minutes (again, each!), you may indeed come away with the impression that all religions are essentially the same.  In less than five minutes what you can likely expect to cover is the way they encourage people to live their lives.  Their moral and ethical codes.  And indeed, at first blush these look remarkably similar.  Be nice to each other.  Don’t be a jerk.  The Ten Commandments aren’t particularly unique in their moral/ethical imperatives.  So a good Buddhist and a good Muslim and a good Christian all ought to be more or less equal in their capacity to be good neighbors.

Last weekend our congregation hosted a graduation ceremony for twelve men and four women who completed a one-year residential treatment program for drug and alcohol addiction run by the Santa Barbara Rescue Mission.  It’s a privately funded, Christian program.  You don’t have to be a Christian to go there or to graduate, but you’re going to hear an awful lot about Jesus every day while you’re there.

As I was preparing to address the graduates during the ceremony, it struck me that maybe I should emphasize the Christian nature of the program and the overwhelming support of the Christian community for the program.  It took me a few minutes to realize that of course there would be Christians supporting it rather than Muslims or Buddhists.  It was a Christian recovery program!  (I do not profess to be the sharpest tool in the shed, and there are days and days where I sometimes wonder if I’m even in the shed)

Then I started to wonder – how did other religions deal with recovery?  What options were there for Hindus or Buddhists or Muslims who wanted to recover from chemical dependency?  Surely there must be similar options to the huge number of Christian centers dedicated to recovery!

I was shocked when I started Googling.  Perhaps I shouldn’t have been, but I was.  I couldn’t find a single reference for a Buddhist, Hindu, or Muslim recovery program similar in any way to the many Christian programs that are out there.  Not a single one.  Now, I only scanned through a few pages of Google results for each, and perhaps there are some buried deeper down in the results list.  But nothing on the first few pages of each search.  A Muslim-based option is not really a program but more like an accountability partner setup.  There were no specifically Buddhist or Hindu listings beyond a New Age kind of place based in Sedona, Arizona (surprise, surprise).  There were lots of articles about addiction and how to address it based on these various other religions, but no other programs.  There were articles about how to apply the principles of these religions to addiction recovery, but no centers that were actually doing it.

That was quite a surprise, but theologically, it makes sense, and demonstrates that while all the world religions look similar on the surface, they are actually different there as well.  Christianity is unique in that the central tenets of the religion center on humanity’s brokenness and our inability to fix ourselves, along with a divine promise to fix us centered around the person and work of a man who claimed to be the Son of God incarnate and backed up his claim by suffering execution and burial and then turning up alive again three days later.

Every other religion and philosophy in the world, at one place or another, says that humanity is messed up but that we have within us the ability to fix it.  We can fix ourselves, and in fact, we have to.  Islam says this is accomplished through obedience to the divine law.  Buddhism and Hinduism aim for enlightenment (sometimes with a helping hand from outside entities but ultimately your own responsibility).  It makes sense then that these religions would be less focused on helping people with real-world issues such as addiction.  The expectation in each of these religions is that the power for change and healing and growth and whatever already lies within you, you just have to access it.  Only Christianity claims that this power is not within us, so we are dependent on power outside ourselves.  As such, Christians have devoted themselves for two thousand years to helping other people – both Christians and non-Christians.  Not that individual Muslims, Buddhists, or Hindus haven’t also been very charitable.  But for Christians it stems directly from our theology (well, not everyone knows or could articulate that, but I just did, so we’re covered).

So I could (and did) encourage those graduates to take their faith every bit as seriously as their recovery – more seriously in fact.  While AA allows for people to choose their own Higher Power, there’s only one Higher Power that makes no bones about the fact that we rely on Him completely, and cannot heal ourselves or one another apart from His power, His forgiveness, His grace.

The Meaning of Life

November 7, 2014

One of my favorite humorous books is Douglas Adams’ A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.  It is part of the world’s first, and likely only, five-book trilogy.  That gives you a bit of an idea of the kind of humor (British) that pervades the book.  One of the sub-plots in the series is the search for the meaning of life.  Adams’ hypothesizes the answer, and lets just say it isn’t quite as illuminating as one might hope.

But the meaning of life is all the rage these days.  Brittany Maynard is dead, having followed through on her plan to kill herself with the means of her choosing on the day of her choosing, rather than deal with the repercussions of a debilitating, terminal disease.  She has garnered more than media attention, she has galvanized and personalized the right-to-die argument, providing it with the attractive and sympathetic face that Dr. Jack Kevorkian never could.

Inevitably I get asked about this.  Wasn’t her decision noble?  Isn’t compassionate death something we should be supportive of?  The confusion is real and deep because it touches on notes of fear that many if not all of us share deep inside.  The older we get, the less invulnerable we feel, the greater the yearning to sidestep the unpleasantness of growing older and feebler that we start to be aware of.  I don’t want to suffer.  I presume that most people in their right minds don’t want to suffer.  Isn’t an option to eliminate suffering ultimately good?

It struck me yesterday that this issue has created sort of a split personality in our culture and society.  Most people would agree that suicide is a terrible thing.  Robin Williams’ well-publicized suicide a few short months ago is a reminder of how deeply ingrained it is that killing oneself is a horrible thing to do.  Horrible for the person now dead, and horrible for all the people around them who have to live on with the idea that they weren’t enough, they weren’t there for that person when they were most needed.  They never knew, they never understood, they failed somehow.  While we certainly wish to be sympathetic to the struggle of people who end up taking their own life, we also maintain that such a decision is not rational and is not healthy.  It is not beautiful, but rather tragic.

Unless you’re physically ill.  Terminally, physically ill.  Then it’s OK.  Then it’s noble.  Then it’s beautiful.

In attempting to maintain these two stances, we force ourselves to redefine life in a very narrow scope.  Life is not life with all its ups and downs and eventual death.  Life is only to be good.  Life is only to be health.  Life is only to be vigor and energy and sexiness and youth and joy and possibilities. There is nothing to be gained or learned in dealing with illness and disease, nothing to be received or shared.  When we have arbitrarily decided that our life is no longer worth living, we should be free to end it.

So long as there is a terminal illness involved.

Evidence from Europe and those countries that have legalized assisted suicide shows that the last sentence of that paragraph doesn’t stand very long once assisted suicide is legalized.  What happens instead is that a very slippery slope leads quickly to softening the standard for who is eligible for assisted suicide, and even who makes the decision about assisted suicide.  Suddenly non-terminal conditions are considered eligible for assisted-suicide.  Suddenly depression or physical/mental developmental issues become grounds for euthanasia.  Suddenly spouses are arguing (and receiving) the right to assisted-suicide because they don’t want to live on after their spouse has died or been euthanized.

The scope of what constitutes a life worth defending and protecting at all costs shrinks and shrinks and shrinks.  Who am I, after all, to say that the psychological or spiritual suffering of someone is less brutal than the physical suffering of someone else?  Who am I to say that the existential angst of living with a terminal disease for years and years is less severe than someone who expects to be dead in a very short time from an aggressive cancer?  I can’t.  So by opening the door to glorify death in one situation, I must open the door to glorify death in all of these various situations.

As near as I can tell, nobody ever promised us life would be a rose garden.  Pretty much universally, humanity has understood this to be the case.  There will be good things in life and bad.  Easy and hard things.  Health as well as sickness and disease.  Youth and old age.

I will likely be criticized for making statements on something that doesn’t directly affect me.  To the best of my knowledge I have no terminal disease.  Nor am I faced with caring for a spouse who has a terminal disease.  Who am I to stand in judgment of another person’s decision of what they can or can’t face?

Except that’s not true.  I am suffering from a terminal disease.  So are you.  So is my wife.  So are my children.  So is every single person in this world.  That terminal disease is death itself.  And as optimistic or hopeful or desperate as some scientists may be to undo the threat of death, it is a certainty that every single one of us lives under.  We gradually grow more conscious of our eventual demise as we get older.  It becomes realer and less of a hypothetical issue.  And some people face death much sooner than others, at an age that we arbitrarily decry as too young.  We have expectations and hopes of living to old age – expectations and hopes that have been dramatically buoyed by very recent developments in medicine and hygiene and are limited to a fraction of the world’s population.

So Brittany Maynard’s argument that she wants control over her death falls a little flat.  None of us really have control over that.  We’re all going to die, the only uncertainties are when and how.  Those are big uncertainties, granted, but they are also more or less universal.  The fact that a young woman dies sooner than someone else doesn’t necessitate that her suffering is the greater, or that she somehow deserves to end her life on her terms.  In fact, Brittany and others with a terminal disease have a clarity of vision that most of the rest of us don’t have.  Knowing how time short is likely to be provides an opportunity for really focusing on the things that matter.  We can’t all live our lives as though we will be dead or incapacitated in the near future, but there is a great deal to be gained by keeping the reality of death alive and well in the back of our minds.

Something our culture has patently walked away from.  Our glorification of youth requires a denial and hiding away of death, of aging, of suffering.  Why are we shocked when people suddenly choose death as a means of avoiding these things?

I know very well that I’m going to die one day.  I have ample examples in my life of the various forms that death might take.  I no longer live under the illusion that I did not so long ago that I will simply continue on the way I always have, with a few more wrinkles and a little less energy, until I just don’t wake up one morning.  There’s a reason we consider that a blessed and fortunate death.  It isn’t the typical death by a long shot.

So I pray here and now for grace to live in the light of my death.  Whether that comes unexpectedly in a stroke that reduces my physical or mental capabilities, whether it comes in a diagnosis of cancer or a terminal disease, or whether it happens rather out of the blue one night as I sleep, or as I sit working at my desk.  I pray not simply to avoid death or suffering, but more specifically for the faith and grace to bear up under it,.  To live with dignity in the midst of suffering, knowing that my dignity is not limited to my self-perception or the perception others have of me.  And I ought to pray for those around me who may need to care for me in those eventualities.  Or who I may need to care for if they encounter them before or instead of me.

And I pray that in the midst of these sufferings, God would be glorified – the God who has promised in the resurrection of his Son that suffering and death are not the final words in my life.  The God who has declared that one day sickness and disease and infirmity will themselves die, and I will be free of them.  Just as you can be.  My hope ultimately is not to avoid these things, but to triumph over them through God the Father who created me, God the Son who saved me, and God the Holy Spirit who lives within me.