Archive for April, 2011

I didn’t plan to be standing in a cemetery on Good Friday, but somehow it seems as though it was the right place to be today.

Someone from out of state who was working on a family history project emailed me and asked me to take some pictures of the grave stone of one of his relatives.  It’s turned out to be a rather nice day and I needed a reason to get out of the office.  After finding the grave stone and snapping my pictures, I thought that I would wander around and look at some of the other gravestones.

As I wandered through the cemetery I began to realize that this had become more than just a burial place to me.  In many ways it has begun to tell a significant part of my story.  Before coming to Harper I was oblivious to the fact that I had any connections with this town or this church.  But as I walked through the cemetery I saw the gravestone of my great-great grandparents Sol and Mary Plank.  As I looked around I soon realized that there are people here who are directly related to me than I ever thought possible.

As I kept on wandering I saw my professional life begin to flash before me as I saw the graves of people who I had the honor to perform funerals for.  I saw Charlie Bickel, my first funeral.  I saw Olive Bare, a woman who I did the graveside service for.  I saw Loren and Florence Gerber, the couple in their 80’s who passed away together in the ICU holding hands, surrounded by family.  I saw Marlin Unrurh, and eccentric old man who I only came to know through amazing stories from family and friends.

As walked around the cemetery I also saw many graves that told the stories of the history of this church.  I saw the graves of people who were among the founding members of Pleasant Valley Mennonite.  I saw the graves of people of who I only missed by a few years, who people still say, “man you should have known them”.  I saw the gravestone of an infant son of a previous pastor.  All of these markers have a story to tell.

It seems like the past 6 months have been pretty rough for me and people that I’m connected with.  A family in the community has suffered the sudden loss of both parents, one from a heart attack and one from cancer, leaving only the teenage children behind.  There was a teen killed in a 4-wheeler accident on a country road.  There is the child in our youth group who is dealing with serious, almost deadly, kidney problems.  It seems like every week I hear more stories from the youth about people they know going through difficult situations.

In January, my wife’s grandmother passed away in Ohio after years of dealing with dementia.  During the week long process of grieving I had the privilege to speak at her funeral.  2 months later, in March, my wife and I switched roles as my grandfather suddenly passed away from a pulmonary embolism.  Adjusting to life after both of these events has been difficult and ongoing.

As I was standing out in the cemetery, on the day that we remember the death of Jesus, I had a heaviness around me.  This year, I can really put myself in the shoes of the disciples as they watched things go from bad to worse for Jesus.  I also had the thought that, this year more than most, I’m really hoping that the resurrection is real.  I’m about as good of a deconstructionist as you can get when it comes to thinking about the historical realities of the Bible.  To say the least, no one has ever accused me of being overly literal with the Bible.

That being said, I just need to have a bit of hope that God’s going to bring me through some stuff.  Stuff that appears to be a dead end in my life right now.  When it comes right down to it, I haven’t the foggiest idea how Jesus came back to life, and I haven’t the foggiest idea how I’m going to find a way forward through some of the things in my future.  But maybe I don’t need to understand everything.  Maybe I just need to trust that it happened once and that it’ll happen again.  But then again, that’s often easier said than done.

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Be very afraid, or be really afraid!  “Elevated” or “Imminent” are the two new levels of the new National Terror Advisory System being unveiled today by Janet Napolitano, the director of Homeland Security.

The old system featured five different levels that were supposed to communicate how likely we were to be attacked by a terrorist.  Out of the five levels (severe, high, elevated, guarded, and low) it’s worth noting that since its implementation is 2003, we have never been at either of the two lowest levels.  Combined with little to no specific information about any situation, this warning system only produced confusion and fear.

The new system is intended to improve the communication of information about specific situations to the general public through the means of social networking like Facebook and Twitter.  In addition, they will only issue warnings in relation to specific events rather than maintaining a constant terror level.

But will the new “Terror Advisory System” actually address the core issues?  While it is all done under the guise of safety, and implemented by an organization whose job is to make the homeland secure, one has to ask if Facebook messages about impending terrorist attacks really makes us safer or more secure.

Both of these advisory systems share the same fundamental problem: they tell us that we should be afraid of something, yet there is no real way for any of us to do anything about it.  In  the book “How the News Makes Us Dumb”, C. John Sommerville talks about the effect of having relatively short news stories on tragic and violent events.  He makes the argument that in order to truly understand any given situation or event to the point where you feel empowered to actually do something about it, you have to spend exponentially more time learning about it that what the evening news provides.  The news merely gives us enough information to know that we should be afraid of something, yet not enough information to truly understand it.  In the same way, both of these terror alert systems leave us knowing that we should be afraid, yet still feeling helpless to do anything meaningful about it.

In a culture where fear is a skillfully wielded tool of manipulation, it is worth remembering I John 4:16, 18.

“God is love…There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love”

The Security Advisory Systems bring to light one of our deepest human desires, and the great failing of government.  We desire to be safe and secure.  It’s a basic human need.  However, we’ve confused security with the desire to avoid all difficulty or tragedy.  What’s more, we’ve turned to the U.S. government to provide this false sense of safety by any means necessary.

Ultimately, security is really only something that God can provide.  What’s more, living with security and peace has less to do with the terror alert level and more to do with how we chose to live in this world. Living with God’s peace and security means resting in the knowledge that God’s kingdom will eventually win out.  Living with God’s security is rooted in the resurrection of Jesus.  The resurrection shows us that it’s not so much about preventing the tragedy as it is about knowing that God has the final say.  As we turn toward Easter, let us remember where our security comes from and truly live without fear.

Update: Here’s the link for the version on the MWR website.

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