Friday, April 13, 2007

After the Easter Lillies Wilt

I'm in Omaha tonight. It's my mother's 60th birthday. She's just a little upset about turning 60. I can understand it. I didn't particularly relish 30.

We're giving Mom a party. So I've been digging through old pictures and memorabilia in their basement. I found a picture of Mom being surprised at a birthday party for her when she was 34. I remember this party. And now, next month, I will turn 33. It's sort of strange when you get to be the age that you remember your parents being.

And it's a little strange for your parents to be 60 and not seem OLD to you. They don't seem old to me at all, but I know that at one point I considered 60 old. If I were really being honest with myself, I think I would have to admit that my dad is pretty bald, but he's been bald almost as long as I can remember and anyway, there are 23-year-olds at seminary who are bald. But he does have a few wrinkles. Mom's knee bothers her. She would argue that it has nothing to do with age and she's probably right. Still, there are little things that tell you they aren't completely untouched by time. Yet if you met my parents you would NEVER guess they are 60. It isn't just because they bought a Wii for themselves or that my mother likes to start a squirt gun fight every year at our Fourth of July party; they look young. Good genes, which I am pleased about, and they don't either of them drink or smoke or go to places where there is smoking. And they eat vegetables and my mom drinks milk.

The other day I was carded to buy a bottle of wine and the woman almost didn't let me get out of the store with it because she was convinced I had to have a fake i.d. I almost kissed her. I don't care when my students think I am supposed to be in the class, rather than teaching, on the first day. It's nice. When I was in high school and college I didn't like it much though.

I was studying the passage from Paul in 1 Thessalonians about the dead rising first. It makes me wonder always about how this is going to work. Do we get our bodies. In a class the other day someone was joking that she wanted her 19-year-old body. I think I'd take 24. It's a strange concept to think about. And then to think about cremation and the little problem of conservation of matter (assuming it will apply at the eschaton) and all the people who have existed and will exist. Who knows where we'll go. We'd probably just be too heavy for the earth if all people were alive bodily at the same time (Maybe it would just be believers? And anyway we'd have our 19 year old bodies so we'd be lighter.) The idea of the resurrection of the body is an interesting question. It is something I think about more and more at Easter time. Maybe we'll get cool walk-through-doors bodies like Jesus. Likely we will all be bodily resurrected to a place and in a way that we just don't understand now, but during this last Holy Week, I thought about it quite a lot.

My sister died when I was a child. My Godmother died last year. I've lost grandparents and friends and aunts and uncles and all sorts of people I love. As my parents get older, I am confronted with the finitude of their existence. I cannot imagine a world that is missing some of the people in my life. And perhaps the hardest part about grief, for me, is that I know that you live through it. You laugh other days and you do laundry and you go to work, even when someone in your life dies. And one of the reasons you are able to go back to life is the belief we all have in the life to come, the everlasting promise of Jesus on Easter.

And yet, I think about the resurrection of the body. And I think about all of that and I think that I would rather not know anything after I die if some of the people I have loved in my life, people who were not Christian, will not be wherever I am. And I would rather not know anything after I die if my baby sister will remain trapped inside of her infant body for eternity, unable to ever talk or understand the love that my family has for her. And I would rather my dad could have the afro-like hair back that he naturally had until it fell out.

I am comforted by the Easter message, but then I doubt. I doubt and I worry and I don't know how to accept that God is going to take care of all of my concerns and fears in ways I can't imagine. But I doubt.

In this post-Enlightenment world we live in, oftentimes non-Christians see Christians as those who just believe. Maybe the non-Christians think we are silly and superstitious for believing because they believe in something else (after all, belief in total logical positivism is itself an act of faith, but that's another blog). Maybe they think we are people who just happen to have this monolithic gift of faith that they don't. Sometimes I think we want to show people the love we feel in Christ so much, that we forget to show them our doubt, our struggle, our questions. What would it be like for us to say "Yes, I question all the same things that you question, all the things that seem foreign to our worldview. You don't have to believe all the time on every level to be Christian. You do have to nurture the little seedlings of your faith, but not believing all the time doesn't mean you are an unbeliever." Would the concept of Christianity which has so spread around our society by the more radical wings of Christians be affected if people heard Christians say "I doubt, but I believe too." Sometimes I think we say we believe, tell ourselves we believe because we are so afraid of doubt. And sometimes I think we build up false idols around things we can believe, around dogmatism, just because we can comfort our own doubts by having a strict litany of things we rehearse in our head as what we believe. Especially in a world of doubters that sees clergy as unfailing believers, perhaps the human frailties of doubt might not be a bad thing to show now and then. After all, Peter denied Jesus three times. Peter, whom the church was to be built upon, doubted. We've all heard sermons on "Doubting Thomas" and how he gets a bad rap. It's probably true. How powerful an image is it that Jesus didn't really get mad at Thomas. Jesus was patient and showed Thomas what he needed to see. I don't know why we live in a world where God allows doubt, but I do know it is one of the types of suffering that exists in this world.

I doubt, but I believe too.

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