Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Joy Cries

The beast is back
It's deep inside
Time it's been biding
Trying to hide
Creeping and seeping
And crouching so low
To break you and take you
With nowhere to go
The quickness of sickness
Comes on like a flood
To steal and to kill
And to rape bone and blood
It lives for your life
It feeds on your tears
To fill you with empty
And kill you with fears
But you won't be broken
Not in your spirit
Your voice raised in praise
For all who can hear it
In sickness, in health
In life or in death
Your love for your Lord
Lives in each fleeting breath
Your flesh may fester
The body may die
But nothing can conquer
The joy in your cries

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Death Be Not Proud

DEATH be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for, thou art not so,
For, those, whom thou think'st, thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poor death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure, then from thee, much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul's delivery,
Thou art slave to Fate, Chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy, or charms can make us sleep as well,
And better than thy stroke; why swell'st thou then;
One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die.

John Donne
Holy Sonnet #6

Friday, February 13, 2009

"It's OK"

Sunday night before Judy died on Wednesday, we were just getting settled in the hospital room. Her oxygen had been tripled, and she was beginning to calm. She said she needed to go to the bathroom, so I called the nurse for assistance. The nurse's aide came first; Blanca was her name, a young Nigerian. I thought I would step out and do an e-mail update on Judy while they were with her, so I went down the hall to the family room where a computer would give me quick access to the web.

I sat there no more than three or four minutes when I saw Judy's nurse run past the window to a closet. I sensed something was wrong, so I got up immediately and headed for the room, just in time to see two other nurses scurrying to Judy's side. I walked in to see Judy in distress, staggering and gasping halfway between the bathroom and the bed, laboring for breath and struggling to get to the bed.

"What happened?" I asked.

In the midst of the panic, several explanations followed, translated as "Blanca misjudged the length of the oxygen cord and it pulled loose while your wife was in the bathroom."

The following seemed to happen in two seconds: Judy, gasping for air and in distress, looked at me, knowing that in our nine-year history with cancer only twice had I scolded nurses, both of whom deserved it. She sensed my anxiety immediately, but she quickly turned away from me and looked at Blanca.

Judy's little left hand crossed her body (her right hand was holding the oxygen mask in hopes for air) and gently patted Blanca several times; then Judy smiled and said to her, "It's OK."

My heart stilled. I thought of the grace in Judy at that moment of despair, to be so kind, so comforting, so soothing, so consoling, and so concerned for Blanca, and for me.

Within a few minutes she was at ease again.

Since her death on Wednesday, I have often thought of that tender hand, that generous smile, and those two little words of kindness, compassion, and concern.

In my grief I think that she is touching me now, touching us now, and telling us, "It's OK."

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

You Must Be a Special Lady

"I've never seen anything like that."

Those were the words of the nurses' aide that rolled her in the wheelchair from her room to the waiting car outside.

"I've never seen anything like that."

That to which the young woman referred occurred four weeks ago as Judy was dismissed from the hospital after an eleven-day stay. It took us all day to work out the release; we were so happy to go home. We gathered up the incidentals as we prepared to leave the room. As she always did, Judy made me check every door and closet twice, then under the bed and in the bathroom again, just to be sure I had not overlooked anything. I typically did.

Then into the wheel chair, out the door, and into the hall. That's when the convocation occurred. One-by-one, every nurse on our wing of the fourth floor, every technician, and every aide, as they noticed Judy exiting her door in her red pajamas, wheel chair, and nasal canula; one by one they gathered, a small crowd in white and blue surrounding Judy.

Many hugs followed, many smiles, and then the tears.

"You're so wonderful," someone said; "You're the sweetest person," said another; and another, "We'll miss you." Hugs, smiles, and even kisses. Judy had won their hearts, one by one, with her kindness, with her goodness, with her gentleness.

They all knew Judy was headed for hospice care, and they all suspected they would never see her again; they didn't; she died four weeks later on a different floor.

"Before I leave," Judy said, "I have a verse of scripture for you all." Their attention arrested, she said,

"The LORD bless thee and keep thee; the LORD make his face to shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee; the LORD lift up his countenace upon thee, and give thee peace."

More goodbyes and hugs and tears followed.

The young aide rolled us down the hall. I asked her about her education, her plans; "I want to be a nurse," she said.

When we reached the car, I opened the door, and just as I began to raise Judy from the wheel chair, the young aide said, "I've never seen anything like that before."

"Like what?" I asked.

"All the nurses and staff around you. I've been here two years and have never seen that before. You must be a special lady."

"She is," I said.

Indeed, she was.

Friday, February 6, 2009

The Resurrection Paradigm

Why should it be thought a thing incredible with you, that God should raise the dead? Acts 26:8

Thomas Kuhn famously used the terminology “paradigm shift” in his influential 1962 work, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. The Kuhnian “paradigm shift” described a change in basic assumptions within the ruling theory of science.

Subsequently, the descriptive terminology which Kuhn so aptly applied to the scientific endeavor has been seized upon by many (in varied fields) to describe the change in thinking and/or outcomes when a new paradigm is adopted (i.e., when the paradigm “shifts”).

The facticity of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead requires an epistemic shift (i.e., a “paradigm shift” in thinking) from His followers.

For Christ’s followers, since His resurrection, death can no longer be considered “final.” Death, (loss of being) the existentialist’s “ultimate concern,” evaporates under the blistering light of the resurrection offered by the Son of God.

Resurrection erases death. Resurrection cancels death. Resurrection reverses death.

Death is not final because of any Hellenistic idea of an “immortal soul,” rather, death is not final for Christ’s followers because He (Christ, the Christian God) has guaranteed them a resurrection from death like His own.

The epistemic paradigm shift required of Jesus’ followers by the facticity of His resurrection has myriad implications, some of which can lead to confusion if not examined closely.

Consider two groups of persons. Group one believes (generally) that the event of physical death marks “the end.” Group two believes that the event of physical death is (merely) an intermediate step necessarily antecedent to resurrection. It should be obvious that group one and group two are operating under radically different epistemic paradigms.

The major differences between members of group one and members of group two (because of their differing paradigms) will be evidenced by what members of group one value, when compared with members of group two. Logically, members of group one will tend to value “things” that can be consumed over a relatively short time horizon. Members of group two, not constrained by the loss of being entailed in death, will tend to exhibit a predilection towards unperishables.

Also, logically, members of group one must be willing to expend any amount of resource to preserve their own lives (the cessation of which they consider “the end”), while members of group two are liberated (Hebrews 2:14-15) from the constraint of death, and thus enabled to allocate their resources differently.

The epistemic paradigm shift required of Christ’s followers by the facticity of His resurrection is so thorough that it can be considered a shift to “another logic.” In this logic, because death is not “the end,” all values held prior to the shift become open to radical reassessment and re-valuation.

What’s more, while members of group one and members of group two experience a common humanity, the radical divergence in their thought patterns (because of their differing epistemic paradigms) can often make members of one group seem irrational to members of the other group (and vice versa).

Since the resurrection paradigm is embraced voluntarily, remnants of the old paradigm (prior to the “shift”) often remain in members of group two. These “glitches” in intellectual programming can cause members of group two to seem schizophrenic. They make choices which, under the resurrection paradigm, are utterly illogical.

Only a detailed examination (a mental virus-scan) can identify and quarantine these intellectual glitches (2 Corinthians 13:5).

Free your mind! Break out of your matrix! Embrace the resurrection paradigm!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Three Visions of the World and the Absolute Point of Infinity

All forms of literature, even poetry, conform to one of three structures: tragic, comic, or tragi-comic. Tragedy begins at a high point and falls to a nadir. That nadir can be something other than death, such as when Oedipus murdered his father, married his mother, lost his kingdom, and gouged out his eyes; nonetheless, he lived. More often tragedy ends in death, as in such tragedies as Hamlet, The Great Gatsby, The Old Man and the Sea, Moby Dick, and Death of a Salesman. The tragic fall derives from the tragic hero's hubris or "overweening pride." Hubris is the tragic hero's resistance, even his hostility, to some antagonistic cosmic force greater than himself. That antagonistic force can be external or internal. Antagonists external to the tragic hero would be natural law, moral law, society, nature, family, fate, the gods, God, etc. Internal antagonists would be something within the tragic hero himself: unrequited love, hate, jealousy, revenge, envy, self-disdain, etc. Whether external or internal, the antagonist says to the tragic hero, "Hell, yes, you will"; the tragic hero says the antagonist, "Hell, no, I won't." The quintessential expression of this hubris occurs in Paradise Lost when Lucifer shouts to the heavens, "non serviam" - "I will not serve" -"Better to reign in hell than serve in heaven." The heroism of the tragic protagonist derives from his obduracy, his indomitable will; even though he dies, ironically he "wins" because his will remains defiant and thus he is crowned with the unenviable and withered laurel of death.

As opposed to tragedy that starts at a high point and falls to a nadir, comedy starts high, falls, and then rises again to an even higher apex. This pattern characterizes physical comedy when Charlie Chaplin or Peter Sellers actually falls down and then gets up again. Like the tragic hero, the comic hero faces obstacles but, in the end, antagonistic forces do not destroy the comic protagonist but rather he overcomes them all. The nadir of comedy is a brush with death, but not death actually, only a close call (Chaplin dangling from a highwire). Unlike buffoon comedy, such as Chris Farley or Chevy Chase, who epitomize comedy at its most vulgar level, classical comedy achieves its apex, not by ridiculous cynicism but by splendid wit, not in riotous and revelrous laughter but in emotional and intellectual triumph; therefore, a classical work we consider quite serious and not hilarious at all, such as The Odyssey, Wuthering Heights, or Crime and Punishment is nonetheless truly a comedy because the hero eventually triumphs. Of course the most intellectually elite comedy can also be quite hilarious to the quick of wit, such as Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest, or Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn.

A third kind of literary structure attempts to blend comedy and tragedy: tragi-comedy. Tragi-comedy is also sometimes described as "dark comedy" because in tragi-comedy the hero actually dies; nonetheless, his death accomplishes a marvelous resolution of some complex conflict, such as Charles Darnay in A Tale of Two Cities or Stephen Blackpool in Hard Times. Dickens is the master here.

The Christian literati recognize tragedy, comedy, and tragi-comedy as secular proofs of sacred truths. Tragedy witnesses to human fallenness, depravity, and the inevitable devastation of the iron will; comedy affirms the triumph of life over death; and tragi-comedy attests to the hard truth that human experience is sorely difficult, even deadly, but beauty, truth, goodness, and love win out in the end. Moreover, tragedy, comedy, and tragi-comedy characterize and summarize all human psychology, one's view of the universe; one's understanding of the meaning of life; and one's attitudes, motivations, and behaviors necessarily falling into one of those categories so that he sees the cosmos as tragic, comic, or tragi-comic. The atheist and nihilist must be psychological tragedians, the superficial theist a comedian, and the thinking Christian a tragi-comedian. Thus, unknown to them, Aeschylus, Homer, Sophocles, Melville, Hawthorne, Faulkner, Chekhov, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, et. al. were objects of common grace and vehicles of general revelation to inscribe ingenious visions of human existence and experience.

The brilliant, Christian philosopher Soren Kierkegaard recognized and understood tragedy, comedy, and tragi-comedy as legitimate visions of the human condition and cosmic meaning; however, Kierkegaard also recognized the unbreakable constraint that prohibited any literary genius from writing a genuine tragi-comedy. As Kierkegaard rightly observed, tragedy requires the death of the hero, and comedy demands the life of the hero; therefore, one can never really write a genuine tragi-comedy for, to achieve ultimate tragic force, the hero must die; one can speak of the good derived from the hero's death as accomplishing some kind of comic resolution, like a dead hero on a battlefield where his flag now flies, but the hero is no less dead, no matter how efficacious and beneficial his life (and death) may have been for others, he is d-e-a-d; thus, in its ultimate sense, tragi-comedy is impossible, and thus Kierkegaard's famous observation,
Tragedy and Comedy touch one another at the absolute point of infinity, at the extremes of human experience, life and death.
No writer has ever touched, no protagonist ever reached, "the absolute point of infinity" where tragedy and comedy truly converge in both death and life.

None but One.

Though he leaves it for his reader to discover, only a divine protagonist can actually die tragically and rise comedically.

The Bible remains, and ever shall remain, the only piece of literature in the world that synthesizes the realities of tragedy and comedy into a perfectly resolved tragi-comedy.

Jesus Christ remains, and ever shall remain, the Absolute, the Point, the one and only tragi-comic Hero, who synthesized death and life, touching them in that one Infinite Moment of extreme Human (and Divine) experience.

The secular voice ever echoes the Sacred Word, the earthly quill Heaven's Iron Pen.

Monday, February 2, 2009

He's Not My President

I have almost zero respect for Robert Schuller, but during the Bill Clinton fiasco, specifically immediately after disclosure that Billy Boy had lied to the American public (what idiots did not know he had lied?), Schuller appeared on LK Live and Mr. King remarked something to this effect, "But he's still the President, right?" to which Schuller replied, "He's not my President!"

My Schuller meter spiked, if only for a moment.

As I thought upon that quote in relation to the prior post "My President is Black" (which made an excellent point), I mused upon the history of kings and potentates in relation to God's chosen people, especially his prophets. Occasionally, a magistrate will be a convenient friend to sheep and prophets, such as Pharaoh to Moses and Joseph, Nebudchenezzar to Daniel, or Artaxerxes to Nehemiah and Israel. But in all those cases, royal favor is incidental and fleeting. The vast majority of instances in which the Bible views the sovereign in relation to God's people reveal that he is much more often the enemy than the friend, even when he rules directly over them. Consider the names Pharaoh, Ahab, Herod, Felix, Caesar, etc., etc. Most especially adversarial to such sovereigns were the prophets, who not only affirmed God's sovereign placement of kings, even evil kings, upon their thrones, but who consistently denounced their wickedness. This makes me wonder about contemporary "prophets," such as Billy Graham and Rick Warren, who find throne rooms so comfortable even when the policies and personal lives of Presidents are immoral, violent, adulterous, vulgar, unethical, and murderous. Perhaps it's just my rebellious nature, but I hope it's some prophetic indignation in me, that makes me distrust civil power even when it is benevolent towards me, and disdain and denounce it when it is ungodly.

It seems to me that all politicians' hands, like Pilate's, are always bloody, and that they are always scrubbing away at the stain, defending themselves publicly, and saying, "I am free from the blood."

I know we should "pray for kings and all that are in authority," and I should do that more often; I also know that the kingdom of God is "not of this world," so I am forever caught in the trap of loving and praying for my enemies.

As for Barack Obama (I'm already sick of his socialist rhetoric), within the first week of his Presidency, his swift moves to pro-abortion and pro stem-cell Presidential orders makes me an uncomfortable bedfellow with Mr. Schuller regarding our new President, and so I say,

He's not my President.