Are You Afraid to Die?

Girl and Man Walking
 
Today’s post is courtesy of Connie Moser, local writer and community activist. I think you’ll find her story touching and inspiring.  Thank you, Connie, for allowing me to post your writing.

Are You Afraid to Die?

I must have asked that question 20 times while walking with my Grandpa. We often “Went for a Walk”. When he asked me if I wanted to go for a Walk, I thought in capital letters, like it was the title of a book. My Grandpa was one of the smartest people I knew. He wasn’t “book smart.” I don’t think he even finished high school because he was born in 1899 and enlisted in the Army during World War I. I think he may have lied about his age because he fought in that war, was shot and captured and spent time in a prison camp before returning to Jeffersonville, Indiana.

He had several shrapnel and bullet wounds and the scars in his shoulder and leg were rough and the edges were jagged, as you can imagine from surgery in a prison camp. He didn’t talk about that much, although I peppered him with questions, especially after we would watch a war movie on television. He always just told me, “When it’s time for you to go, you’ll be ready.”

On our walks, we often traveled through the cemetery because Grandpa knew lots of people there. Some of the stones were beautiful, especially in the Catholic section. I never had the creepy feeling that kids often experience. I didn’t shriek or “e-w-w-w” if I accidentally stepped on a grave. I think my Grandpa made me understand there was nothing there beneath my feet. Just a box in the ground and the person whose bones were still there no longer existed.

Catholic school had Mass every morning, and of course I went on Sundays, too. The sisters and priests painted a different picture, filling my imagination with people in heaven, seated near Jesus, dressed in white robes, looking healthy and happy. I had a pretty hard time understanding how they could look like that in heaven if their bones were still here on earth. Still, the clergy didn’t scare me about dying, either. I thought it may be pretty cool to live in the clouds, with or without a harp.

In all the intervening years I’ve never become afraid of dying. I am afraid of pain or a long suffering illness. My biggest fear about dying is not actually dying, it’s about living my last days dependent on others. So many things about the end of life are not about dying, but actually are about living poorly.

A friend of mine, Kathie Conn has begun a movement here in Prince William County that has already achieved popularity elsewhere. It’s called a Death Café, and if that sounds morbid to you, I assure you it is not. It is simply an opportunity to talk about death in a way that won’t freak you out or make you say, “e-w-w-w-w”!

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The Pride of Man

explosion

Ezekiel 28:2: This is what the Sovereign Lord says: “In the pride of your heart you say, “I am a god; I sit on the throne of a god in the heart of the seas.” But you are a mere mortal and not a god, though you think you are as wise as a god.

Now, normally, I am not an apocalyptic sort, either sociologically or theologically, but this week there seems to have been some reminders that all our achievements and all our accomplishments as humans (which are many and marvelous, have no doubt), and not the be-all and end-all of our existence.

There was the woman whose car was forced off the Bay Bridge after being rear-ended by a tractor-trailer. This in spite of safety laws and measures on the bridge.

The nose wheel on a Southwest 737 collapsed on landing at LaGuardia airport. Southwest flies this aircraft exclusively and probably there are more of the type flying than any other passenger jet today.

And then there was the terrible derailing of the Spanish high-speed train with at least 78 lives lost.

Each of these tragedies involved some amazing engineering. Each involved a failure of some sort, probably a combination of human and technological factors.

This is indeed a beautiful world in which we live, fully of marvelous things. But it is also a fallen world, prone to accident and danger and harm. We are not gods, and when we act as if we were, we find out differently. Praise to the one true God who reigns on high!

 

For Unto Us a Child Is Born

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Isaiah 9:6
For unto us a Child is born, 
Unto us a Son is given;
And the government will be upon His shoulder.
And His name will be called
Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
 

I’m sure that, unless you live under a rock (which sometimes I think I would enjoy) you’re aware that  son was born yesterday, July 22, to Prince William and the Duchess of Cornwell. Excitement in England and in the media has reached a fever pitch. I saw one estimate that the  royal birth was worth about $400 million to the economy. That’s a lot of baby booties.

I wish the young family well and hope that they can avoid being hounded to distraction. There’s no more difficult work than being a parent, and none more glorious. They are embarking on an incredible journey of wonder and discovery (and colic and messy diapers). Godspeed to them all.

I couldn’t help thinking about another birth long ago that at the time received little to no attention. It was, ironically, the birth of a peasant baby in the meanest of circumstances but at the same time the most royal of births.

I was put in mind of a familiar summary of the life of that baby born so long ago. Most people are familiar with it, but I think it bears repeating here as a reminder of what truly matters in this world.

One Solitary Life

Here is a man who was born in an obscure village, the child of a peasant woman. He grew up in another village. He worked in a carpenter shop until He was thirty. Then for three years He was an itinerant preacher.

He never owned a home. He never wrote a book. He never held an office. He never had a family. He never went to college. He never put His foot inside a big city. He never traveled two hundred miles from the place He was born. He never did one of the things that usually accompany greatness. He had no credentials but Himself…

While still a young man, the tide of popular opinion turned against him. His friends ran away. One of them denied Him. He was turned over to His enemies. He went through the mockery of a trial. He was nailed upon a cross between two thieves. While He was dying His executioners gambled for the only piece of property He had on earth – His coat. When He was dead, He was laid in a borrowed grave through the pity of a friend.

Nineteen long centuries have come and gone, and today He is a centerpiece of the human race and leader of the column of progress.

I am far within the mark when I say that all the armies that ever marched, all the navies that were ever built; all the parliaments that ever sat and all the kings that ever reigned, put together, have not affected the life of man upon this earth as powerfully as has that one solitary life.

[This essay was adapted from a sermon by Dr James Allan Francis in The Real Jesus and Other Sermons © 1926 by the Judson Press of Philadelphia (pp 123-124 titled “Arise Sir Knight!”).]

Running the Race

Run the Race

I was listening to the a Washington Nationals game on the radio a while back, and the announcers were talking about the pitcher for the opposing Florida Marlins, Jose Fernandez, an All-Star this year and an ace hurler. They were talking about his coolness under pressure and how he had tried to defect from Cuba three times before he succeeded on the fourth try. The first time he was thirteen, and was sent to prison for several months with adults. During the successful attempt, his mother fell off the boat taking them to freedom. Sixteen years old, he jumped in and saved her. They made it to Mexico and then to the United States where they stayed. Fernandez’s unlikly progress to becoming a major league pitcher was chronicled in an article that appeared in the Miami Herald: http://www.miamiherald.com/2013/04/07/3327810/miami-marlins-young-phenom-jose.html

I admire Fernandez’s courage, persistence and energy. Paul wrote of the same qualities a Christian should evidence in Hebrews 1:1-3: Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us,  fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

Amen and amen.

Bright Hope for the Future

Eagle Eyrie

 

This week, Becky and I have been teaching at Virginia State  Music Camp at Eagle Eyrie, the Baptist Assembly outside Lynchburg.  Actually, the real name of the event is Music and Worship Arts Camp, sponsored by the Virginia Baptist Mission Board in Richmond.  Baptist churches are independent but cooperate through agencies like the VBMB for missions and support. This gathering is an arts camp  with a decided musical emphasis for fourth grade through high school students.

The assembly at Eagle Eyrie is 57 years old and perches on the side of a steep mountain. It had fallen into a state of disrepair several years ago, with peeling paint, broken fences and walls, and old fixtures.  A largely volunteer committee, headed by our former senior pastor at Manassas Baptist Church, Bill Higgins, restored the property.  Today it looks fresh and new, with beautiful plantings and landscaping.

The Music and Worship Arts Camp is coordinated through the Worship and Church Music Ministries division of the VBMB, headed by Tom Ingram, Field Strategist/Worship and Church Music Specialist, and Debbie Cobb,  Administrative Assistant to Empowering Leaders Team.  They are dedicated, humble, Spirit-filled servants who essentially put together a school for 350 children each summer, along with their other duties during the year. They work with a committee to establish a theme (this year’s was, believe it or not, “The Gift of Christmas.” The kids have been singing Christmas carols all week. That helps to counteract the extreme heat we’re having here closer to the sun) beginning in February.  Becky is on the committee as are several other Virginia church musicians such as Fred Horn and Bernadine Donovan.  (I don’t know the names of the others on the committee.)

Tom and Debbie are assisted at the camp by several energetic interns either in college or just out of it, Laura, Hilliary, Ariana and Megan. There were thirty-eight faculty members this year, along with numerous chaperones of church groups.  These faculty members are incredibly talented and experienced musicians who are  a joy to watch work with the children.

I slid in as a teacher by teaching a class in song-writing, using my experience teaching writing which is more developed than my musical skills. The class was called “Lots of Lyrics,” and the students showed great insight and creativity writing words to familiar tunes, writing poems based on the Psalms and writing a Christmas carol. One of their songs was used in a worship service.

Class selections include handbells, a vocal ensemble, banners, guitar 1 &2, instrumental ensemble, interpretive movement, make it/give it (students make an item which is give to an orphanage or shelter), orchestra, piano, ‘scapes (visual art project), puppets, stomp (students play trash cans, pots and pans, and some other more or less indescribable instruments), voice, drumming, and worship leadership. Each student is also part of a choir, Alpha for younger children, and Omega for the older ones.  The choirs are usually directed by musicians from out of state, although Becky directed the Alpha choir a few years ago.  Imagine directing a choir of 135 children!

There is also a Delta level for high school students, who help with classes and learn what is involved in being a worship leader.

The Worship and Church Music Ministries division also sponsors an All-State Choir and Orchestra in February, with students chosen by audition from all over the state.  They work with a director and produce some beautiful music.

I think you can tell this week, while exhausting, was a mountaintop experience for me, both literally and figuratively. Seeing the leaders work with the children, who were exceptionally well-behaved and enthusiastic (with some exceptions–they are children, after all) was uplifting. One of the teachers in another class I overheard was talking with his students about eventually taking the places of the church musicians now working.  Their experiences at camp are a start, he said, and they could work until they are ready to step in at some point in the future when we can’t minister any longer.  Judging from what I saw this week on the mountaintop, thanks to the efforts of a lot of people and the grace of God, that future is very bright indeed

A Child Shall Lead Them

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Isaiah 11:6: And a little child shall lead them.

I met a mother yesterday who told me heartbreaking story of her daughter’s illness, painful decline and death at age 10 from bone cancer. She told the tale and recounted its effects on herself, her younger daughter and her husband and their lives with honesty and courage.

Alyssa died on New Year’s Eve of 2012, and her mother Lynn and sister Lexie have told her story on the CaringBridge website. Here is a link to her page (you might have to sign up for an account, but it’s well worth doing so): http://www.caringbridge.org/visit/alyssadivers

God bless them all.

A City upon a Hill

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I suppose everyone at this point within listening or viewing distance of mass media has heard about the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the death of Trayvon Martin fourteen months ago. So much has been written about this case and this trial. I find it difficult to add much to the conversation, except to note that it has been marked by polarization and widely differing opinions and interpretations. Again. We seem to go through this sort of thing every so often, and this makes me sad.

So, what to write? First, I think it notable that most people (myself included) gain their information and draw their conclusions based on mass media, which invariably has some sort of bias. Some outlets claim no bias, but in this world, that’s not possible. I used to tell my students that the important thing was not finding an unbiased source, but being aware of the bias and adjusting one’s conclusions accordingly.

So, we are left with the questions: was George Zimmerman a wannabe cop, an overzealous Neighbor Watch member, a stubborn, irrational young man who lost it on a child? Our younger daughter went to school with him and his brother Robert (she knew Robert better than George), and said they were nice guys from a solid, religious family. Was he a conscientious citizen trying to keep his neighborhood safe who was threatened by a menacing young fellow up to no good? What happened to George, and why?

And, was Trayvon Martin a gangsta thug in a hoodie up to no good? Or was he a child innocently walking home, in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong person. We will never know the truth of what happened that night. George Zimmerman knows, but he is unlikely to tell all he knows. And Trayvon Martin cannot speak from beyond the grave. More’s the pity.

It seems to me that both young men in this case are victims. Trayvon is more obviously a victim of violence and misplaced anger, but they both are in another sense. Mass media has a tremendous impact on how we see ourselves, and it looks as if both young men bought into some media stereotypes and roles for their age and gender. Perhaps Trayvon was acting like the kids depicted on television, in movies and in video games and music: bad dudes who prize violence and breaking the law. Maybe George had seen one too many Chuck Norris program and saw himself as a citizen upholding the law when the authorities wouldn’t. These are only my theories: the reality is one young man is dead and another’s life has been irreparably chhnged for the worst. And I do mean “worst.” Our daughter days the whole ZImmerman family has received death threats and are afraid to return to their homes.

So, what are we to do?

I think we need to be aware of the influence on mass media on our lives. We need to teach our children how to think critically about what they are exposed to, to make good decisions, and to reject those who counsel paths that lead to destruction. We need to treat each other with respect and love, regardless of our perceived differences. It is possible to have a just and righteous society: it takes a lot of work, and we’re obviously not there yet.

The Puritans who established the Massachusetts Bay Colony spoke of establishing “a City upon a hill” in the New World, one in which people would live in harmony and peace, with “liberty and justice for all.” In the nearly 400 years since that colony was established, we have made progress toward that ideal. The case of George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin shows that we still have a way to go. May we continue together on that journey.