Beware: sentimental reflections to follow. You’ve been warned.
He came to us in our grief. Grief over the loss of our daughter, our nephew, and—on a much different level, of course—our beloved dog.
I say “he came to us.” I stepped out to our garage for my morning run in 2001, shortly before 9/11, and there was a puppy in the garage. It was clear that he was wounded. Abandoned, I guess. He was hungry and thirsty.
I brought him in thinking, “We’ve got to call the animal shelter and tell them he’s here.” The reaction of my eight-year-old son was different. “He’s our dog!!” He explained to me that he’d been praying for a new dog and God brought one.
So rather than create an early faith crisis (life has plenty of time for those I’ve learned), we claimed the puppy. A mutt. Eventually, a big mutt. Best we can tell a mixture of boxer and shepherd with who knows what else thrown in.
Chris’s friend Emily suggested we name him Moses, since he was “drawn from” the garage. (If the biblical reference alludes you, check Exodus 2:10.)
Before long, Moses became my running companion until I returned from Africa with a weird virus that struck my muscular system and kept me from running for a couple years. By the time I recovered fully, he was untrained and way too strong to jog beside me. But he was our loyal pet.
He watched over Chris as he recovered after a horrible wreck. He paroled the back yard during my many trips out of town. He even had a cameo role in a silly video we shot—adding his voice as I “sang the classics.”
Today we had to put Moses down. Too weak to face another winter. Too much pain. It was the right thing to do, confirmed by our trusted vet, Dr. Mark.
So today, as the epic movie about another Moses opens “in theaters everywhere,” I’d like to say to Pope Francis: “Almost thou persuadest me to be a Catholic.” Or at least I’d like to thank him for hinting to a small child who’d just lost his dog that perhaps it’s true: all dogs go to heaven.
Who knows? (That’s my response to many things about God’s future.)
But today I find some comfort in the thought. And I give thanks for this loyal pet.
Jarrod Robinson speaking on Galatians 3 at the 2014 Pepperdine Bible Lectures â?? part of the theme, “Enter the Water, Come to the Table.”
This is Jeff Childers debating Jeff Childers in a late night session at the 2014 Pepperdine Bible Lectures.
My journey with Easter has come in three stages:
Stage One: We don’t celebrate Easter. I was raised in a tradition that (barely) tolerated bunnies, eggs, and jelly beans. But not the rest of Easter. The reason? “Because the Bible doesn’t mention Easter. We celebrate the resurrection of Jesus every week.” The first sentence now strikes me—as one who sees Easter at the very center of the Bible’s story (even if it isn’t called that until later)—as funny. The Bible doesn’t mention Easter in the same way that the Chronicles of Narnia don’t mention Aslan. But honestly, I still have a deep appreciation for the second reason, for we are, indeed, the people of the resurrection. (Those who grew up in this tradition can appreciate the humor of someone’s “Hitler Easter video.”)
Stage Two: It’s ok to celebrate Easter. Yes, it was ok. Freeing, even. But just “ok.” Because as a person who often dwells in mystery and puzzlement, I found this to often be the church at its most “full solar spirituality” (to borrow from Barbara Brown Taylor). Extra assemblies! Bring in the visitors! Banish death! Promise healing, health, and forgiveness! Easter has a way of bringing out the kind of triumphalism that made the Apostle Paul queazy.
Stage Three: I can’t live without Easter.
This is my twentieth Easter since Megan died. For the first fifteen years, we held a small gathering of family and friends at her grave at sunrise on Easter morning. We read 1 Corinthians 15, listened to a song or two, exchanged Megan stories, and prayed. Marana Tha. For the last several years, I haven’t been in town on Easter Sunday, but different rituals continue. This morning, my three-year-old granddaughter and I visited the grave of the aunt she never knew, leaving Easter lilies and enjoying the beauty surrounding us.
Through the years, I’ve spoken and written a lot about Megan. I hope it hasn’t been just to work through my own grief. I’ve always had others in mind: those who have buried loved ones, those who live in fear, those who have failed big time, those who are suffering, those who don’t yet feel “strong at the broken places” (Hemingway). So “Megan” stories have been about an actual, loving, mentally-disabled child who died when she was ten. But they’ve also been metaphors for a larger human experience of brokenness and loss.
Does time help? Oh, yes. But it doesn’t remove all the pain. I’ve written before about a buddy of mine, a physician, who saw an 84-year-old patient and asked how she was doing. “I’m a bit sad today,” she said. “It’s the anniversary of my daughter’s death.” He immediately imagined what it must have been like for her to lose her adult daughter. He wondered if this daughter had her own children and perhaps grandchildren.
“I’m so sorry. How long ago did she pass away?”
“Sixty-two years ago,” the woman replied.
We grievers are so thankful for time, for friends, for memories, and for unpredicted joys.
But the real key is hope. And that’s what Easter is all about. It declares that God’s glorious future has broken into this world through the resurrection of Jesus. It announces the invasion of God’s kingdom of love and justice. While it doesn’t promise that all illnesses will be cured or that all depressions will be removed, it does offer a vision of the future that is secure. God will wipe away all tears.
“The resurrection of Christ is terribly relevant for those who’ve been victims of injustice. For those who’ve been gutted by rejection or betrayal. For those who’ve faced every day with pain—of whatever sort. Or for those who’ve stood on a wind-kissed hill to pay final respects to a spouse, a child, or a friend.
“‘I am the resurrection and the life,’ said Jesus. Either he is or he isn’t. It depends on what happened that weekend in Palestine. For those like me who believe that he was raised by his Father, there is wild hope. Suffering and death do not have the final word. A day is coming when pain, failed relationships, bitterness, depression, and death will be put behind us. Jurgen Moltmann had it right: ‘God weeps with us so that we may someday laugh with him.’ That’s the outrageous joy called Easter!
“‘It makes a big difference whether we think someone is dead or alive,’ Luke Timothy Johnson puts it baldly. ‘The most important question concerning Jesus, then, is simply this: Do we think he is dead or alive?’
“What we believe about that question makes all the difference in the world.”
We’re down to about a month before the 71st Pepperdine Bible Lectures. As we focus on the meaning of baptism and communion (and as they guide us in understanding gospel, discipleship, community, mission, and eschatology), we want to experience them.
So instead of just talking about baptism and the Lord’s Supper, we will participate!
Some will perhaps want to be baptized during the week (April 29 – May 2). In addition to the Pepperdine pool which is just outside Firestone Fieldhouse, leaders of the University Church will be Xanax on hand to assist anyone who wants to be immersed in the Pacific Ocean. (We don’t want to lose anyone!)
Then on Friday night after the evening session, tables will be set up outside the fieldhouse and around the upper part of campus where the late night sessions are held. Everyone will be invited to participate in communion. It will be an amazing experience of unity and commitment to the mission of Jesus.
It’s not too late. Come on! “Enter the Water, Come to the Table.”
She lies, drug-induced and feverish, in bed, awaiting gall bladder surgery.
He sits in his wheelchair.
It’s sometimes difficult to recognize him:
this state boxing champion, this five-time runner of the Boston marathon, now weakened by the ravaging blows of Parkinson’s;
this expressive man whose face has now lost so much of its bandwidth of emotion, flattened out by the disease;
this steady man who now shakes with tremors.
Then I watch in amazement:
As if dancing, they both lean toward each other. She—this amazing woman!—rolls and stretches her hand, moving around the IV in her arm; he presses with limited flexibility as far as he possibly can, leaning forward in his wheelchair toward her. And they touch. They hold hands. If a picture is worth a thousands words, this scene is worth a million. They don’t speak. They just . . . touch.
Through it all,
Please don’t assume it’s been a perfect marriage. To be honest, perfect marriages don’t interest me. They seem plastic and unattainable.
A poem by my maternal grandmother about her own marriage seems to fit:
Ours is not the meeting of two meadow streams,
The quiet fusion of slow and placid waters,
That start from gentle springs
And meander softly to each otherâ??s arms.
Ours is the whirlpool union of two rivers,
That issue from the crags, close to the skies,
And leap the rocks, and spill tempestuously
To canyons far below,
Where, with steam and vapors rising,
Fired by earthbound mutterings,
And in a maelstrom we mate, and run our course,
Parallel, but never merging,
downstream to the sea.
Go ahead: tell me about your signs and tongues and miracles. I’ve learned not to frown, winter Christian though I am.
But that doesn’t mean I don’t believe in miracles. Back in the same little hospital, in the same little town, with the same two people—after 57 years that passed in a flash—I witness a wonder, a marvel that stirs my soul.