Facing reality

by Richard on February 26, 2007

Wood wonders if British Christians today can really face up to the reality of death.

What strikes me most of all is that even though we make a show of accepting the reality of death, we actually don’t. The death and pain we’re singing of are familiar, comfortable; we disconnect its true meaning from our personal experience. We personalise it, and yet it becomes distant. We describe it in detail, yet we make it picturesque, romantic. We’re not even the bride of Christ: Jesus, like the man said that time, is our collective boyfriend, our crush, our squeeze, our S.O.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. There are few better writers in blogdom than Wood.

{ 23 comments… read them below or add one }

1

Pam 02.26.07 at 6:34 pm

Is complaining about being too romantic about suffering and death being too romantic about suffering and death?

2

Wood 02.26.07 at 8:33 pm

Well, I don’t think so. I’ve seen a lot of death in the last year or so.

3

DH 02.26.07 at 8:59 pm

Wood, I know you have gone through so much this past year and I really want to be an encouragement to you. I know we haven’t been on “the same foot” but I thought I would reach out to you here with this question for encouragement:

First a little comment before the question:

I agree many people romanticize death, however, we should be encouraged about the afterdeath part. (I mention this in that the Apostle Paul says “encourage each other with these words”). What encourages me, and I hope for you as well as a Christian, is that have the encouragement of knowing that this physical life is not all that there is. We have the coming resurrection from the dead as well as the eternal life thereafter being with the Groom Jesus forever.

I mention this passage (sorry for the length) as a strong encouragement to you Wood. I know this may seem strange in light of our past conversations but I do care about you. I sense from the HS that you are going through a really hard time. I know we all do but sometimes it can be hard any consolation:

The Lord gave me a Scripture for you, you probably have read it before. Let me know what you think and if it was a help to you. I am praying for you Wood and I pray with all my heart that God would strengthen your Faith in Him and that you can truly with all of your being understand How God is right there with you every step of the way:

2 Cor 4:7-18

“But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us. 8 We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed— 10 always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. 11 For we who live are always delivered to death for Jesus’ sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. 12 So then death is working in us, but life in you.
13 And since we have the same spirit of faith, according to what is written, “I believed and therefore I spoke,”[a]we also believe and therefore speak, 14 knowing that He who raised up the Lord Jesus will also raise us up with Jesus, and will present us with you. 15 For all things are for your sakes, that grace, having spread through the many, may cause thanksgiving to abound to the glory of God.
Seeing the Invisible

16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. 17 For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, 18 while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.”

God bless you Wood. Your not alone in this. You have the fellow Body of Christ as well as Jesus there to help you. That’s a lot more than those who don’t have a relationship with Christ and Body of Christ. :)

4

DH 02.26.07 at 9:01 pm

Okay it turned out not to be a question. THe Holy Spirit in midstream changed it from a question to an admonishment. :) I truly care about you in the Lord. Your fellow friend in Christ. DH

5

Pam 02.26.07 at 9:46 pm

Well, I don’t think so. I’ve seen a lot of death in the last year or so.

I apologise, then.

6

Pam 02.26.07 at 10:26 pm

I’m not sure for what purpose Richard quotes the post. Looking at Wood’s blog (which I didn’t before, so I apologize for that), it seems to be about very understandable grief. Richard seems to be posting this as a generalised complaint against the Christian church.

So here is my response from my part of the Christian church - I will trust Richard to remove this post if he deems it insensitive or inappropriate.

The youngest person in the churches I serve is 42. I’d say the median age is about 75 and there are a number of people in their 80s and 90s. As one might expect, a number of these people are very ill and live with pain all the time. Quite a number cannot perform any daily fuction that I take for granted as a 50-year-old without the help of another person. Certainly, people in their 70s are living with the constant death of their contemporaries. I am constantly humbled by the way many of these people conduct their lives with dignity, generosity and a kind of profound thankfulness to God that I can only admire profusely.

I will agree that our culture in general - the culture qua culture -cannot deal with grief or death. We don’t want to think about it, we sanitise it, we gloss over it.

I honestly do not believe that the members of my church “romanticise” death. As for “Jesus is my main squeeze”, frankly I have a very hard time seeing any of these dignified men and women thinking that this is the core of their faith. Some of them want to live as long as possible. Some of them “secretly” confess that they are dog-tired and want the Lord to take them home, thinking that I will never have heard this before and that no-one else feels that way. I honestly don’t think that any of these people are romanticising death; nor do I think that their faith is shallow and meaningless.

7

Richard 02.26.07 at 10:55 pm

I quoted Wood’s post because
a. It was a good piece of writing
b. I know where he’s ‘coming from’ (in more ways than one)
c. Wood’s a good mate and I want people to read his blog

You’re right Pam. Wood is writing from a very specific situation and perhaps I took the point he was making and over-generalised it. On the other hand, the kind of romantic “Jesus is my boyfriend” stuff that Wood talks about is pretty widespread. You just don’t find it much in the sort of congregation you’ve described.

8

Kim 02.26.07 at 11:10 pm

Hi Wood,

Knowing you, I reckon you’re probably onto something here, but it is not at all clear to me what exactly that something is.

Is it a specifically Christian pathology you have in mind, or the general cultural marginalisation of death, both in theory (e.g. the gospel of youth and health) and practice (e.g. the fact that since the late fifties, the home has ceased to be the scene of most deaths, as more and more people die in hospitals, residential homes, and hospices)?

And if the former, anything specific? Sentimental hymns and the signals they send? The pressure on clergy at funerals (”Please, Vicar, no tears, just celebration”)? Or the clergy themselves at funerals colluding in denial with readings like the theologically banal “Death is nothing at all… I have only slipped away into the next room …” (though to be fair to Henry Scott Holland himself, this passage is taken well out of context)? Or Christians themselves arranging happy-clappy funerals (a colleague of mine once had such a funeral for his wife and small child, killed in a road accident, and he later wrote about the lasting psychological/spiritual damge it did)? Or the fear in some folk of “letting the (church) side down” by mourning, as if grief itself demonstrated a lack of faith (this goes for the dying too)? Or thereduction of the faith to an insurance policy for “heaven” (which I am told is particularly prevalent in the US)? Or the reduction of heaven itself to a reunion with loved ones, as if being with the Lord and the beatific vision were mere sideshows? Or the theological nonsense - which really is a denial of death - of the “immortality of the soul”? Or all of the above?

Personally, I’ve always thought that Christians should be great grievers: because we know how precious life is, and therefore how awful is its loss; because however “natural” death might be, yet we sense that there is something “wrong” about it (and we are right); because God himself shares our griefs - and we must share his. On the other hand, despair is, if you like, forbidden the Christian: we may grieve but, as Paul says, not as those without hope. I sometimes begin funerals by saying that, actually, Christians don’t have “funerals”, we have services of death and resurrection.

Does any of this strike any chords?

9

Pam 02.26.07 at 11:13 pm

Richard, my own personal experience is that I found “muscular Christiainity” to be full of too many easy answers for my liking and, weirdly, it’s happy-clappy worship to be much more close to the “Jesus is my boyfriend” thing than anything I’ve found in Methodism. To me, “muscular Christianity” seems to have so much tensile strength, that it is unable to bend with the wind. I think I’m so out of tune that it’s probably time to leave here. I do apologise to Wood and I send a prayer for the peace of God that passes all understanding; I have no easy answers that I’m going to try to peddle.

10

Richard 02.26.07 at 11:23 pm

Not at all Pam - I think you’re right on the money here. No need to apologize!

Kim — yes, that strikes lots of chords for me.

11

Eugene McKinnon 02.27.07 at 2:50 am

I was sharing those same sentiments with a friend last night after evening service. I was telling her that the euphemisms for death (passed away, crossed over) almost deny the existence of death. I also agree with Pam that muscular Christianity has failed to recognise the reality of death. Even new churches now don’t have churchyards. Nobody prepares their congregations for death, and when one hits then it’s chaos and pandemonium over the loss of someone instead of the hope of the resurrection.

Blessings,

Eugene

12

Wood 02.27.07 at 8:29 am

Perhaps if I quote the parts of the hymns that occasioned the original thought back in October, and which got sung again on Sunday, perhaps you’ll understand. Here’s one of them:

Crucified
Laid behind the stone
You lived to die
Rejected and alone
Like a rose
Trampled on the ground
You took the fall
And thought of me
Above all.

And:

YOU CHOSE THE CROSS with every breath,
The perfect life, the perfect death:
You chose the cross.
A crown of thorns You wore for us,
And crowned us with eternal life:
You chose the cross.
And though Your soul was overwhelmed with pain,
Obedient to death You overcame.

I’m lost in wonder,
I’m lost in love,
I’m lost in praise forevermore.
Because of Jesus’ unfailing love
I am forgiven, I am restored.

That second one particularly needled me.

13

Kim 02.27.07 at 9:10 am

Yup, I knew it - a “worship song”. Isaac Watts (”When I survey”) would turn in his grave at such sentimentality. Throw in the tune - I can just imagine it! - and throw up in the pew. And, theologically, the song’s “salvation egoism” (Bonhoeffer) is not only %£*&^, but also &”!*^. On a diet of such junk food your church, Wood, should be having a serious Lenten fast.

14

Wood 02.27.07 at 9:26 am

Thing is, right, this is actually the mainstream these days.

15

tortoise 02.27.07 at 11:55 am

Yeah. But at least the second one mentions ‘us’ (albeit briefly) rather than being entirely me-me-me.

“The perfect death” though? Perfectly obedient even unto death, OK. But “the perfect death”?

16

Wood 02.27.07 at 12:13 pm

Note also the line “you chose the cross with every breath”. Er, what?

17

DH 02.27.07 at 9:52 pm

Well to totally truthful from God’s Word it is BOTH me AND US when it comes to the Body of Christ and those individually who are in the Body of Christ. One can’t be overly “We and Us” and one can’t be overly “me,me,me”. “Except A MAN be Born Agian HE cannot see the Kingdom of God.” in conjunction with “WE are all member of the same Body but all members have not the same office so WE being many are ONE Body in Christ.” (The Body being a Body of Believers with those Believers part of ONE body and being the us.)

With regard to issues of life and death I believe this passage (2 Cor 4:7-18) really puts it into perspective. We live in a dichotomy this physical life and death in conjunction with the spiritual life and death to come. “He that hath the Son hath Life. He that Hath not the Son hath not Life.”

It is an equal balance: If we focus solely on this physical life and not the life to come we stay in the rut of “that’s all there is” when in fact it isn’t the case. If we focus solely on the life/death to come and not on this physical life one neglects the responsibilities the Body and those individuals within that Body have to Christ and thus disobey God therein. THat is why extreme fundamentalism AND post-modern Christianity (with its lack of mentioning the encouragement of the afterlife/death) are both equally wrong.

18

ee 02.28.07 at 1:46 pm

Alright, I’m not particularly fond of the songs in question, and Kim’s comments about spiritual junk food are fair enough. But how do you bridge the gap in church worship between a modern ‘me me’ culture and real Christian truth? I love old hymns in a way that I don’t love modern worship songs, but modern worship songs at least engage the emotions of younger people and point them God-wards in a way that old hymns simply don’t.

Christ calls us to die to self, he ‘bids us come and die’ to quote Bonhoeffer again. But younger people are deaf to the call of the old hymns. The modern worship songs are imperfect but they get people from an alien culture pointing in the right direction to start the process of dying to self and coming alive to God.

19

Wood 02.28.07 at 1:50 pm

Do they? The more I hear them, the more I’m convinced they go in the opposite direction.

20

ee 02.28.07 at 1:53 pm

I felt compelled to add (before I saw Wood’s comment) that this doesn’t mean we trot out any old tosh. And there is far too much of that.

21

DH 02.28.07 at 3:40 pm

I still believe the Word is both “ME,ME, ME” AND “US,US,US” Focusing on one without the other each have their problems. “Me” without “US” promotes pride and “US” without “ME” promotes a lack of personal responsibility to God and His Word and to the Body of Christ as well (a I go to church so I’m “Born Again”, I’m part of the “US” so I’m “Born Again”)
When it is Faith “Without Faith it is impossible to please God.”

THe same goes for physical life/death and spiritual life/death. Hense my previous statement “If we focus solely on this physical life and not the life to come we stay in the rut of “that’s all there is” when in fact it isn’t the case. If we focus solely on the life/death to come and not on this physical life one neglects the responsibilities the Body and those individuals within that Body have to Christ and thus disobey God therein.”

22

Kim 02.28.07 at 6:56 pm

Hi e.e.

It worries me when I hear talk about “engag[ing] the emotions.” It makes me check my pockets. You quote Bonhoeffer - the same Bonhoeffer, presumably, who said that God is not a god of the emotions but the God of truth.

And this gulf you open up between the young and old, the present and the past - the church is precisely the place where all people need to be disabused of this cloven fiction, where they need to learn about and be drawn into the living reality of the communio sanctorum (about which, I’m afraid - and ashamed - to say that Protestants are notoriously weak). Faulkner: “The past is not dead. It is not even past.”

This is the same dreadful line of though that leads to the educational marginalisation of the classics because they’re “dead boring, Miss.” In the church it has lead to widespread theological ignorance of the giants on whose shoulders we stand. Our age is dark enough without the church closing the curtains. We should be making our communities schools of character, cultures of learning, sanctuaries of sanctified hearts and minds.

Do crap worship songs - and, implicitly, crap theology - point in this direction? I’d be delighted to think that you are right, but I suspect that only crap can come from crap.

Anyway, thanks for your input - and great to meet you last night!

23

DH 03.02.07 at 3:18 pm

What are you guys take on my previous responses?

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