Three Ways to Navigate Anniversaries of Loss

 In a world of people that are regularly divided into “the glass is half empty” and “the glass is half full” kinds of people, I tend to be one of those people who is inclined to say, “Look, it’s 4 ounces, no matter how you look at it.”Part of that reaction is professional socialization. Academics are charged with thinking hard about a subject and then producing the evidence for the case that they want to make. (Or that’s the way it is supposed to be, anyway.)And part of that reac … [Read more...]

How Do Saints Respond to Suffering?

Why do bad things happen to good people? Why do bad things happen at all?Both questions lie at the bottom of an ocean of ink spilled over millennia, and I’ve made my own small contribution to the quest for an answer. Over the years I’ve become convinced of two things: One, there is no entirely satisfactory answer to either question. And, two, the questions themselves are not the ones to which the Christian tradition finally provides an answer.To put it baldly: The Christian faith does not … [Read more...]

The Last Enemy

At my brother’s funeral just over three years ago, the pastor officiating at the service brought us together in the church’s library and laid down the law. “There isn’t going to be any grieving today. We are going to celebrate Dave’ life.”He meant well.But then -- and even now -- I wanted to grab him by the lapels and say, “That’s easy for you to say.” Candidly, I’m sure the unedited, in-the-moment version was far harsher, but let’s leave it at that. I had things to celebrate, but I had a … [Read more...]

Dealing with Job’s Facebook Friends: 5 Thoughts on Suffering & Social Media

A dear friend who has navigated cancer of his own is now facing that journey with his wife.  Her cancer, sadly, is far more virulent and, tied as it is, to a genetic marker, the little monster is not going away.Like many of my friends, he has shared the progress of his wife’s treatment with his Facebook community, and the result has been just what one might hope for: words of encouragement and sympathy, promises of prayer, and offers from those who live close-by to help in one way or an … [Read more...]

Rare Prayer: Cries of Lament

According to Rebekah Ann Eklund a “lament is a persistent cry for salvation to the God who promises to save, a prayer that in a situation of suffering or sin,” is lifted “in the confident hope that this God hears and responds to cries, and acts now and in the future to make whole.”  “Lament,” she notes, “calls upon God to be true to God’s own character and to keep God’s own promises, with respect to humanity, Israel, and the church.”Eklund’s book (and the dissertation on which her book is bas … [Read more...]

Final Lessons: A Tribute to Rueben P. Job

In the fall of 2013 when I was installed as the first holder of the Rueben P. Job Chair in Spiritual Formation at Garrett-Evangelical, I understood well that I was not only assuming responsibilities for my students, but that I was shouldering the on-going work of the man whose name graced the chair that I hold.  His prayerful, measured, and visionary leadership stretched across six decades, touching people in the Dakotas, the Armed Forces in Europe, and Iowa.  His work on behalf of the United M … [Read more...]

No Cause for Celebration: Taking The Dave Test during the holidays, Question One

Question One: “Can I say life sucks?”Introduction to the seriesMy brother, Dave, battled a fatal brain cancer for nearly eight years and he died in January of 2013 as the result of a fall that was due in large part to his illness.  In reaction to Dave’s quest to find a durable faith and supportive friends, I wrote a book calledThe Dave Test. The book distills Dave’s quest into ten questions that any of us can ask ourselves, when we are in one of life’s hard places or when we are trying to … [Read more...]

A prayer and benediction for Robin, child of God, and for us all…

We are saddened and rendered fearful by the loss of one with so much energy. We watch the news that tens of thousands --- hundreds of thousands --- have died and hardly register the loss. But, then, someone who has lived so publicly, so fearlessly, so vulnerably, and joyfully dies and the dimensions of human loss are crystalized, brought to bear on a single life, a single loss, an individual tragedy. In response, we rehearse his gifts. We scour his life for an explanation. The most fearful among … [Read more...]