We are on vacation enjoying a week of lake-life with my folks, and a neighbor’s high-speed internet lured me online briefly last night. I came across a very short video featuring a few thoughts shared by our friend, John Goldingay, on what concerns him about the church today. Listening to John in this video reminded me of another esteemed Fuller prof, Miroslav Volf, speaking to our class one Monday afternoon, growing animated as he described what went on in the pulpits of most churches he encountered in the area. I remember perfectly clearly the way his blue eyes blazed when he said that we would be better off if the sermon were scrapped altogether and the Scriptures simply read aloud, big chunks of them at a time.
We got back from the lake late, late last night after leaving Spokane in a thunderstorm and driving with fierce wind across the state. The kiddos slept, mercifully, and we got a call part-way from Doug’s twin brother that we are Aunt and Uncle to a precious new little girl who is much too far away in Florida.
This afternoon I will head to University Presbyterian for a wedding rehearsal and dinner in preparation for a wedding I will officiate tomorrow. The bride is someone I have known since I was a kid and our families have been dear friends for many years. I have great memories of babysitting the bride and her sister when they were kids.
How fun to celebrate with this bride and groom and their family, and what an honor to stand with them as they make their vows to one another tomorrow!
The desire for personal post-race status is an impulse I encounter frequently. Without fail, it comes from well-intentioned white people looking to be absolved of whiteness – not through their politics, but their biographies. They listen studiously to my take on race privilege, then raise their hands to identify themselves as white but gay, or white but Irish and thus part of an ethnicity that was once considered nonwhite, or white but from an all-Dominican neighborhood.
My response to such statements is always the same. I have no desire to belittle any aspect of your identity, I say, but either you walk through this world with white skin privilege or you don’t. There’s no such thing as being pulled over for Driving While Wanting To Be Black. Sometimes how you ‘self-identify’ is irrelevant. You could be a gay Irish dude from the heart of Washington Heights, with a Senegalese lover and a degree from Morehouse to boot. The cop and the judge and the loan officer and the potential employer are only going to check one mental box. And when they do, you’re going to benefit from the way they see you, like it or not.
…The problem is that post-race inevitably implies post-racism. To conflate the two ignores the very nature of oppression.
UPDATE: Apparently the article is no longer accessible. I am looking for a repaired link and will correct it when I can. It is an excerpt from the book: The Speech: Race and Barack Obama’s ‘A More Perfect Union’ by Adam Mansbach, originally posted at The Root.
“But in her life, God’s strength sure came into its own in her weakness. One of our friends in an email spoke of his “vivid memory of the day you told me of Ann’s illness all those years ago, and of your faith then that God was in it and with you and always would be.” Forty-three years ago, it was, and God has been in it, and with her, and with me, all through.”
An excerpt from John Goldingay’s eulogy for Ann found on his Fuller web page: scroll to the very bottom under “Articles and Papers”.
It can be the most unlikely person who impacts us the most deeply. It was not surprising that, as a student at Fuller Seminary and as a lover of all things Old Testament, I would find myself challenged and provoked and delighted by a man named John Goldingay. Purple shorts and Coldplay T-shirts and a winning accent sort of had me at hello! What I did not expect was to have my life changed by the mostly silent woman who sat in a wheelchair who was his wife, Ann.
Ann Goldingay was a steady presence in my Fuller experience. So much of how John offered himself to us as scholar and friend bore the mark of her life impressed upon his. As he would teach, it often felt as if she were there in the classroom with us. Ann and John also welcomed each class into their home nearby campus every quarter for tea and treats and occasionally a movie or some other diversion. And Ann and John were faithful in their attendance at chapel every week, much more so than I. Their worshiping presence was something I could always count on, seated toward the front and on the left.
Since leaving Fuller, we have seen the passing of David Scholer and Ray Anderson, two giants of faithful instruction at Fuller and beyond. And last week I received word that Ann Goldingay passed away. Ann too was a giant, and her life, and John’s life with her, instructed so many of us. Knowing Ann, and sharing the life of a community with her and John, is one of the enduring treasures from my years at Fuller.
As I have thought about Ann this past week, I have had different memories stand out in my mind. I remember the first time I was in their home, sitting somewhat awkwardly by her side, speaking with her without expecting any verbal response. I remember John, turning toward her with a smile and witty comment when she would cry out in the midst of a class visit. And I remember a September night when Ann and her wheelchair were carried up our long flight of stairs on Kenwood to join in a surprise celebration for my birthday.
In his book, Walk On, John Goldingay shares about his life with God through the journey of Ann’s battle with MS. In his chapter titled Calamity, he shares his thoughts on the book of Job. He writes:
“What we may be able to infer is that calamities do have explanations, even if we do not know what they are, for there is another feature of the story of Job that delights me every time I think about it, not least because it establishes a similarity between Job and us. It is that Job himself never knows about chapters 1 and 2 of “his” book. So he goes through his pain the same way we do. And he illustrates how the fact that we do not know what might explain our suffering, what purpose God might have in it, does not constitute the slightest suggestion that the suffering has no explanation…I cannot imagine the story that makes it okay for God to have made Ann go through what she has been through. But I can imagine that there is such a story.”
As I have thought about Ann these past days, I have been struck by a passage in Philippians chapter one that for me describes the kind of impact Ann has had on my life and on the lives of countless others. The apostle Paul writes of a different sort of bondage than that which robbed Ann of her movement and speech, but the truth of how that bondage impacted others I believe is the same. He writes:
“Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel…Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly…
Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help given by the Spirit of Jesus Christ, what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance. I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, so that through my being with you again your joy in Christ Jesus will overflow on account of me.”
I don’t know ultimately what Ann’s chapter one and two are that might bring meaning to bear on her illness and suffering. But I can testify with certainty that there are significant riverbeds of progress and joy that wind through my soul as a result of Ann Goldingay.
Ann, may the angels lead you into paradise: may the martyrs receive you at your coming, and lead you into the holy city, Jerusalem. May the choir of angels receive you, and with Lazarus, who once was poor, may you have everlasting rest.
Grief is an interesting thing. Sometimes there can be the strangest triggers for mourning.
Yesterday, I received a friend invite on Facebook from a young woman I knew back in Chicago. I have to say that Facebook and Myspace have both been really great for getting back in touch with youth I have known over the years. Sometimes I have been really surprised by who has looked me up and how they have found me. I accepted her friend request and sent her a little note yesterday afternoon, and after helping get kiddos tucked into their beds last night, I settled into my bed with some Isaiah commentaries and my laptop. At one point, I got distracted by Facebook and ended up going to the profile page for this young woman. I wanted to see if there were any other kids from the old neighborhood in her friends list, so I opened it and scanned through.
The friends list was ordered alphabetically by first name, and as I was scanning the names I suddenly felt this intense catch in my throat. I realized that I had come to the letter “J”, and that subconsciously I had looked for or hoped to see Jamar’s name. And when it wasn’t there, I was reminded that he won’t ever have the chance to have a Facebook page or reconnect with old friends or exchange notes with me as an adult. He is dead, and last night there was a huge gaping hole, a bullet wound of sorts, in a list of Facebook friends.
His name should have been there. It won’t ever be. I still have tears for this.
I had the privilege of attending my denomination’s Annual Meeting, held in beautiful Portland, Oregon, a few weeks back. I brought Mercy with me and she participated in the Covenant Kids program they provided while I attended the meetings. Doug took the boys with him to his Dad’s house for the weekend, and they had a ball too! The weather could not have been better during our stay and both Doug and I were reminded of how much we love the city of Portland!
I was honestly prepared to be a bit bored at this event. Having never attended before, I had in my mind that it would consist of long, drawn-out sessions that would not be altogether engaging. This was not my experience at all. I loved the event and was moved to tears on more than one occasion as our larger church “family” celebrated God’s work together.
I had the opportunity to sit with dear friends from Los Angeles, and to see their church-plant in Long Beach officially recognized as a new Covenant Church. I was also thrilled to have their pastor, John Teter, lead us in our corporate morning Bible study. It was one of those “worlds colliding” sort of moments, as I thought back on the many years of friendship we have shared with John and Becky, and to see that God has led them on a path into the Covenant church thrills me!
I also rejoiced with Daron and Kristin as Alive Covenant Church was officially welcomed and recognized as a new Covenant Church in nearby Poulsbo. Kristin and I were roommates one year in college, and I can still remember the charge given to them at their wedding (a total fairy-tale wedding I will never forget!) as they sought to follow God’s call to seminary. Their wedding was a commissioning of sorts for a life together in ministry, and seeing them and their FIVE beautiful children, with Kristin’s parents, on the stage was a beautiful picture of those prayers being fulfilled.
I enjoyed dinner by the pool with a Covenant church-planter and his lovely family from Helena, Montana, who happens to be an old friend from high school who I had not seen SINCE high school. Matt’s journey into the Covenant denomination is one that likewise brings me great joy and delight!
I also had the privilege of being present for the recognition of those commissioned and ordained, and to celebrate those callings during the ordination service. I watched as a new fellow-pastor friend in Seattle, Leah Klug, received her stole. I cheered for John Frye, a blogging friend I had never met in person until that night, who is newly a part of our denomination. And I watched as always with deep admiration as one of my heroes, Brenda Salter McNeil, received the laying on of hands as one newly ordained. It is my hope that I will be ordained at next year’s Annual Meeting in St. Paul.
And speaking of blogging friends, I managed to make my way over to Brad and Cheryl Boydston to introduce myself, having followed Brad’s blog for quite some time now. Cheryl and Brad have just returned from time teaching in Guam, and Cheryl laughed when I introduced myself via the blog connection. It really can be a very small world.
Other highlights included lots of time spent reconnecting with old friends and making a few new ones, lounging by the Red Lion pool while Mercy swam to her heart’s content, sharing a hotel room with my daughter for three days, and loving every minute spent running around in downtown Portland with the crew from L.A.
Our denomination’s president, Gary Walter, made a point to emphasize that, in an age of denominational decline, the Covenant is not followoing suite. In his words: “We are growing. We are growing younger. We are growing more diverse. We are growing in conscience.”
We used to joke in L.A. that I should have an “I Love the Covenant” t-shirt made. If I had one, I would happily wear it.
Tonight our church family will gather to remember and celebrate God’s grace and goodness in the life of Dale Harper, a dear member of our congregation I have known for most of my life. We will also gather together to declare our confidence in God’s saving mercy and the truth of his promises of resurrection and eternal life. We will certainly cry and most likely laugh a great deal as we celebrate a life so well-lived: a life so fully devoted to loving God and neighbor.
Yesterday I sat down for a bit to work on my sermon for Sunday, and I was struck by how fitting the text is for where our community finds itself this week. The second chapter of Isaiah makes some pretty bold and profound statements about the different things we can pursue in life and where our allegiances and confidences will ultimately lead us. I won’t preach the sermon here, but let’s just say caves filled with bat and mole dung play a big part…
Since moving up here, what always struck me about my time spent with Dale was that it was as if he had already been given his eternal eyes, so to speak. The things he was excited for and committed to and anticipating were so clearly the places where God’s spirit was moving and working around him. It was like a veil of sorts had been lifted and he was able to plainly see what God was doing: and he wanted to be a part of it.
We all talk about wanting to “join God’s work” or “follow God’s spirit”, and most of us struggle most of the time to genuinely know and sense and follow where we see God lead. Dale had such clear vision, it seemed to me. He had been given eyes to see. The fruits of his eternal life were already being made manifest in our midst.
Dale’s life offers the opposing witness to the judgments found in Isaiah two. Dale did not waste himself on pursuits that lead to dark caves or treasures that end up covered in dung. Dale knew what the good stuff was. Dale knew what it meant to accept the prophet’s invitation and “come…and walk in the light of the Lord.”
I praise God for Dale and all that he was in our life together. I praise God for the witness Dale was, in sickness and in health. I praise God for Dale’s healing, which is now complete.
I will remember Dale with a lot of joy and thanksgiving in my heart. And I will miss him.
“May the angels lead you into paradise: may the martyrs receive you at your coming, and lead you into the holy city, Jerusalem. May the choir of angels receive you, and with Lazarus, who once was poor, may you have everlasting rest.”
For those who are praying for my friend in L.A.: she does not have West Nile as they initially believed. Her paralysis remains, and she now has pneumonia as well. Please pray for the Lord’s full healing and grace to be upon her and her loved ones.