November 19, 2017

Another Look: Wisdom and the Fog

Note from CM: I have an extraordinarily busy week since I’m covering for our other chaplain’s caseload as well as my own. So, on Mon-Wed I’m re-posting some of my favorite stories and reflections from my work as a hospice chaplain. If I don’t get to clear comments that get held right away, please be patient. I’ll do my best.

• • •

Many plans are in a man’s heart,
But the counsel of the Lord will stand.
What is desirable in a man is his kindness…

• Proverbs 19:21-22, NASB

• • •

I stand on top of a rise in the road. Before me, a valley stretches, still shrouded in fog. Behind me, the sun has burned its way clear and I can see the ways I’ve come. I can make out a few of the sharper turns, various forks and crossroads where I chose this way or that for one reason or another, spots along the way where the road disappeared into a dark wood, then emerged on scenery wholly new. Well past halfway on my journey, I’ve forgotten more than I remember, and some of what I recall I don’t trust. In some ways I’m more sure of my path, in other ways I’ve never been less able to plot my course.

This week I will officiate the funeral of an old friend. Several years ago, our families attended the same church and we were part of the same social small group. We spent New Year’s Eves together, played cards, laughed a lot, and talked about our families and work. A simple guy, he didn’t talk much, and wasn’t much of churchgoer. We weren’t close, but I was there as a pastor and friend at some important times, and he always seemed genuinely happy to have us in his home. About my age, now he’s gone. Over the years, we’ve only seen each other rarely, and he and the family have had their struggles: finances, house problems, mental illness in the family. Last I heard he and his wife were getting divorced, he had a girlfriend, and it wasn’t pretty. Complications from a chronic health condition took his life suddenly and unexpectedly last week.

And I get to speak words of “wisdom” to comfort his family and friends at the funeral.

Which is a funny thing, because at this point in the journey, I’m not sure I know what wisdom is. I have some hindsight, for sure, and plenty of experience. Maybe that qualifies. I have a deeper trust in the sovereignty of God than ever before, but it is not the kind of trust that can be expressed in “answers.” The thought of God’s sovereignty is like the fog in the valley ahead of me — a mystery that envelops the world but obscures my view. To think that I would appeal to such a concept as comfort for myself or others seems kind of crazy, to tell the truth. People don’t generally expect the guy down in the mail room to be able to delineate the intricate decisions of the CEO. About all I can say is, “I have no idea how to explain it, but I guess he knows what he’s doing.”

Recently we saw another couple who had been members of a congregation where I served on staff in the past. We haven’t really talked for about ten years. They’ve been to three different churches since then. Their son now tours with a punk band and they didn’t seem interested in going into details. They did want to discuss how the husband is making plans for retirement, and since they have been very diligent about money matters, it looks like they’ll move to the Rockies and live the dream. They seemed reasonably happy, but you never know.

On one level, I’m not a big fan of the book of Proverbs. Read in certain ways, it cannot help but promote self-righteousness. Dividing the world into “wise people” and “fools” leaves little room for nuance. Pharisees love it because it organizes life neatly into divinely demarcated divisions and makes the rules and rewards clear. It is elder brother theology par excellence. It scoffs when the silly, sentimental old man loses his mind and runs out to welcome home the wastrel.

A guy with whom I used to coach Little League told me the other day his son and girlfriend and new baby are moving into their house for awhile. It will be a crowded situation with many opportunities for irritation, conflict, and hurt feelings. Been there, done that. I know they didn’t expect this, and I’m sure they are wondering where this will all lead. They have a good spirit about it (or at least they put on a good face about it), and I hope to spend more time with them in days to come. They are some of my favorite people in the world, and I’d love to be a friend and an encouragement if possible.

In the end, I guess that’s what I will say at my friend’s funeral. The world is broken, and I don’t have a lot of wisdom to offer. I won’t pretend to tell you what God is doing. But I know that love is real. I’m here to be your friend today, and I want to encourage you to be friends to each other. That’s how Jesus showed his love to us — by befriending us and laying down his life for us. We’re here to do the same for one another.

It’s foggy ahead, and the way is not clear.

Take a hand and enter the fog together.

Don’t let go.

Comments

  1. Susan Dumbrell says:

    Hi Early Risers. Susan again.

    Today, my Clinical Psychologist has offered a number of suggestions for my mental improvement.

    Steps I which presume you will all be very thankfully received.
    Don’t expect miracles from me.
    I love you all. Promise.
    Love me with my inadequacies.

    Each day is now to be a challenge, Nutritionally, Physically, Emotionally, and Spiritually. Mostly in equal proportions.
    Otherwise there is imbalance.
    I share this so we all can be aware of the balance we need in our lives.
    No aspect is more important than the other.
    I don’t eat so I have to make an effort in that respect.
    Other stuff is a bit close to home for me to share with you, I might do so in a later post.
    I must not hibernate just because Winter is knocking at the door.

    I so appreciate the IMonkers blogs. We touch on so many topics, many of which leave me in the shadows wondering what the ….. you are talking about.

    Keep up the good conversations but please remember some of us sluggards take a time to catch up on your conversations.

    God’s Blessings be yours
    Love you all, Susan

  2. Robert F says:

    The world is broken, and I don’t have a lot of wisdom to offer. I won’t pretend to tell you what God is doing. But I know that love is real.

    Yes. The death of Chris Cornell has been on my mind frequently over the last few days; this post triggered it again. The world is broken. But there’s still love, and beauty:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Pt03oU6RHI

    • Susan Dumbrell says:

      Beauty is in those who stop me from falling over the edge.
      This is true.
      I know, I have been so close.

    • Rick Ro. says:

      Yep. And I find it odd that his death has affected me almost as much as David Bowie’s did. I was much more of a Bowie guy than a Cornell guy, yet…

      I pulled out my Chris Cornell stuff last week. Deep lyrics, much more depth than I remembered. While “Superunknown” was at one time my favorite Cornell album, I’ve since shifted to Audioslave’s “Out of Exlie.” Almost a whole album’s worth of rock brilliance.

      • StuartB says:

        YES. Incredible album. I’ve missed Audioslave so much. Apparently there’s another album or two worth of material out there, but Cornell put it away when the band broke up.

      • Robert F says:

        I feel the same, Rick. Cornell’s death has touched me in the same place, and with some of the same intensity, that Bowie’s did. Cornell had such a wonderful voice, a gift of the rock gods, and he knew how to use it with conviction and feeling. There is not another voice like his out there in the rock world, at least not one that I’ve heard. How sad that it was silenced so prematurely.

        • Robert F says:

          One more song from Chris, and then I’ll leave it alone. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IuUDRU9-HRk

          The peace of the Lord be with you always, Chris Cornell.

        • Rick Ro. says:

          –> “There is not another voice like his out there in the rock world, at least not one that I’ve heard.”

          Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters/Nirvana…not the same range as Chris Cornell, but his voice is a great rock voice.

  3. I get it, CM. I really do. But there is still a very vocal, very stubborn part of my mind that keeps shouting, “There MUST be reasons out there somewhere! What’s the point of being human if we can’t understand? Why hide, God, damn it! SHOW ME THE NAIL SCARS!!!”

    • I want my fundamentalist surety back.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says:

        > I want my fundamentalist surety back.

        Not even for a moment.

        “[Proverbs] scoffs when the silly, sentimental old man loses his mind and runs out to welcome home the wastrel.”

        Because the pompous proverbian does not understand what the silly sentimental old man wants – he wants his son. “Wisdom” failed, miserably, to bring me the things I wanted, as like the silly man, it cannot understand those things.

        • charlie says:

          Agreed, I would rather keep walking in the fog with friends who, like me, don’t need to see the road ahead with its bends, washed out bridges, quicksand (haha), but would rather live in the mystery of God’s sovereignty. My comfort is no longer ‘fundamentalist surety’ but knowing “the world is broken, and I don’t have a lot of wisdom to offer. I won’t pretend to tell you what God is doing.”

          I personally believe if we knew the road ahead, we’d be undone. I’m in the midst of reading Job, and God never told him the whole story–just told Job, His story! What else is there?

          Love that while take on Proverbs: not sure I’ll ever fully ‘recover’ from the older brother mentality–but, Lord knows, I’m hoping too…one day at a time.

        • Rick Ro. says:

          –> “I want my fundamentalist surety back.”

          –> “Not even for a moment.”

          But there are some people who NEED surety, which to me is oddly intriguing. You’d think that people, as they “matured” in Christ, would be less “needy,” but alas, we are fickle “what have you done for me lately” people.

          Similarly, while I’m very comfortable with not needing to know everything and I actually enjoy the mystery, there are others who cringe at such a thought. Showing such people that mystery is okay is like trying to get them to step out of the boat and walk on the water. Not easy.

          • Yep. What if nobody is there to catch you?

            • Robert F says:

              Then they won’t be there to catch you later on either; but eventually you’re going to have to get out of the boat anyway.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        “I want my fundamentalist surety back.”

        Then take the blue pill instead of the red.

    • Susan Dumbrell says:

      The nails in Christ’s hand and feet,
      The wounds burn hot each day in our souls, in the sides of those we push aside in disgust, in feet of those we tread on, the hands we discard because they are dirty and pleading. Hands calling out for food and shelter
      May God be more gracious to us as we fall beneath His feet.
      May our Lord be compassionate to us who are rejecting our brothers and sisters.
      May Christ not reject us.

      • Dana Ames says:

        Christ is risen! (last day to write that, as Ascension is tomorrow – to each season its own)

        Yes and amen. I need the Lord’s compassion – he knows how I look down on so many people. I am grateful he rejects no one. “Even if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.”

        Dear Susan, you are worthy of life, so please do eat, and eat healthily. I have the opposite issue – it seems we are both struggling with food. In the understanding of the Eastern Church, whatever holiness we attain comes precisely through struggle. We may not see it yet, but the Lord knows and cares.

        Don’t give up, and keep talking with us.

        Dana

  4. Lexiann says:

    Regardless of your schedule you always manage to get uplifing, enlightening or educational comtent here everyday. So I keep coming back everyday. Thank you very much for doing the Work of imonk!

  5. Susan Dumbrell says:

    Robert, The world is here, waiting for your blog, and mine.Peace to all

  6. Rick Ro. says:

    CM, this could be one of my favorite posts of yours. Nicely and elegantly stated and written.

    –> “I have a deeper trust in the sovereignty of God than ever before, but it is not the kind of trust that can be expressed in ‘answers.’ The thought of God’s sovereignty is like the fog in the valley ahead of me — a mystery that envelops the world but obscures my view. To think that I would appeal to such a concept as comfort for myself or others seems kind of crazy, to tell the truth. People don’t generally expect the guy down in the mail room to be able to delineate the intricate decisions of the CEO. About all I can say is, ‘I have no idea how to explain it, but I guess he knows what he’s doing.'”

    I was thinking that trying to explain the comfort I get from God’s sovereignty to those in the midst of crisis would be like trying to explain a five-course meal to a famished child in Africa. It may sound good to me, but all they have in their hand is three grains of rice.

    In other words, what gives ME comfort may not be what gives someone else comfort. Therein lies the fallacy of expecting my beliefs to be of any use to anyone else. One must be very careful to approach people where they’re at, not where I’m at.

  7. The pastor at the Lutheran church, where I’ve been temporarily going to adult Sunday School discussing Rob Bell’s Nooma series, in his sermons and teaching speaks in a tone of voice that some people think is appropriate to use with children, an exaggerated combination of smarmy gentleness and fake excitement and wonder. I find it beyond irritating. But knowing the people in the congregation, most my age or older, I have to admit it is probably appropriate. These people are decent, good-hearted, kindly, faithful, and surely loved by Jesus, but they are not interested in the slightest in growing up beyond their comfort zone. It exasperates me, but there it is, and for the most part there it is everywhere I look.

    The two neighbors I most enjoy drinking a beer with or working on a project, are both blue-collar, high school educated. One I can talk with about most anything at a high school level, and he is open-minded, sees pretty much what I see when looking at something. The other one looks out the same window as me and sees rain where I see sunshine, and our friendship barely survived the election because we came to an unspoken agreement not to talk about politics or current events outside the state. That unspoken agreement is also in effect at large in much of society at large where I live. I’m still waiting to find out if the Quaker meetings I was attending last year have survived the election. I don’t think those people are capable of internalizing that unspoken agreement, and they are all of above average intelligence and college-educated.

    More and more I am accepting that people just seem to live in parallel universes, but this is difficult for me, especially because I find so few that live in a universe close to mine. I think if I found myself in a large group of people I didn’t know and couldn’t leave, I would probably look for kindred souls from early teens down to as young as you can understand them talking, people not yet ruint. Occasionally I see someone my age I instinctively resonate with and we nod in recognition in passing, but usually old folks drive me crazy. Small talk is what lubricates most all of this, and small talk generally drives me crazy except in small doses. But given the choice in real life, I would much rather bypass the white collar contentious “what do you think about such and so” and go with the blue collar “what did you do today.” At the same time, I do still hang out here.

  8. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    And I get to speak words of “wisdom” to comfort his family and friends at the funeral.

    Stay away from Hellfire, Damnation, and The Altar Call and you’ll be starting ahead of the curve.

  9. StuartB says:

    Off Topic

    RobertF, you ask Pete Enns some good questions. I’ve got one waiting in moderation as well: what exactly IS sin anyways?

    • Robert F says:

      I’m on board for much of the deconstruction that Enns and others do. But I want to know what it is that we can reconstruct, not alone in our narrow, solitary personal worlds, but together as a community of love come together in Christ’s name, in his memory and its power. If this is all just an academic exercise, then f**k it. There are people in this very real world with real needs, and real joys, who don’t need to have their time wasted if there’s no there there.

      • StuartB says:

        Can I be honest and admit that sometimes I’m a “hopeful atheist” while still wanting to be a Christian? A lot of days, I honestly hope there is nothing there, that there is no god, that there’s just nothing. Kinda like how, some days, if I’m just thinking about myself and not those who are asleep, I hope there is no afterlife but just nothingness/peace.

        BUT. I love Christ and what he did and stands for.

        I still think there is a lot of good there, a lot of power, a lot of hope and love. The universe is beautiful but cold, and we need to know there is no end to love.

        • Robert F says:

          Of course you can be honest, StuartB. Only a fool would want to stop you. Now I may be a fool, but I’m not that kind of fool. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

          I hope Jesus is the real deal, but since I’m not God, I can’t be sure. And I hope there is no end to love, but I’m not really certain of that either. If death is the end, then it’s the end of me and you and all the others and Jesus and love and everything else too. In that case, love is just a flickering candle that will burn out into the blackness of endless, moonless, starless nothingness. It may be so. Neither of us can know for certain; after all, we came out of just such a darkness, and we may return to it. It was our original face before we were born, and may become our only image when we die. I just don’t know, but I’ll continue praying nevertheless…

        • I get this. For me it all comes down to the eyewitness accounts of the risen Christ and the drastically changed lives of the original apostles. I’m sure you’ve both heard it a million times.

          I’m betting on a Love and Life beyond our comprehension.

  10. Christiane says:

    “The world is broken, and I don’t have a lot of wisdom to offer. I won’t pretend to tell you what God is doing. But I know that love is real. I’m here to be your friend today, and I want to encourage you to be friends to each other …”

    reminds me of this from Anne Lamott:
    “”“Our preacher Veronica said recently that this is life’s nature: that lives and hearts get broken — those of people we love, those of people we’ll never meet. She said that the world sometimes feels like the waiting room of the emergency ward and that we who are more or less OK for now need to take the tenderest possible care of the more wounded people in the waiting room, until the healer comes. You sit with people, she said, you bring them juice and graham crackers.”
    (Anne Lamott)

  11. That’s Tucker’s old boat, after he sold her and they made a yacht out of her. I know exactly where you were.

    • >> I know exactly where you were.

      Which, looking at the fog, might have been of comfort to everyone involved at the time, and might have been more than a GPS would have known.