What it Means to Mourn

This week, like many of you, we are in deep mourning over the loss of missionary colleagues.  On Wednesday April 18th, The Kurrle Family--missionaries in Paraguay were involved in a devastating car accident.  They were on their way home at 5:00AM after having picked up their newly adopted daughter's birth certificate and passport.  In the accident, Julie and her 6 year old son Timothy were killed.  Norberto and their daughter Esther Anahi survived the crash. A few hours later, my Uncle Tom White had a heart attack and died at his office.  He was one of the leading figures in the Christian world leading the charge against persecuted Christians around the world.  He was scheduled to go to India the next day. He leaves behind his wife Ofelia, their daughter Dorothy, and son Daniel as well as a few grandkids.

I never got to know Julie Kurrle very well.  Norberto and I are the same age and went to college together.  Anyone who knows Norberto is aware of what a humble, selfless, inspiring person he is.  He is a ray of sunshine and was a wonderful father and husband.  When he married Julie, they returned to his homeland of Paraguay to become missionaries.  Since so few people my age have chosen to go into missionary service, I was very excited to see Norberto and Julie head off to the mission-field--knowing that they would bring health and love to everything they touched.  They are exactly the kind of Christian missionaries the world needs.   They drove to their mission-field: from the United States all the way down to Paraguay and stopped off at my Dad's house when they passed through Costa Rica.  Of course he was thoroughly charmed.  Norberto's aunt Nilah has been a family friend of ours my entire life--and one of the great friends of my parents.

They touched many lives, and I'm sorry I never really got to spend time with Julie.  The stories about her are amazing.  She was brave, sincere, and deeply committed to her mission-field.  She was also a fantastic writer and I enjoyed following their ministry through their blog: Passion for Paraguay.  It was not long ago that Julie was attacked in her home at knife-point and bound.  As she was being attacked (with Timothy in the other room), she prayed for her attacker in Spanish so the attacker could hear her--instinctively following the Bible's command: (Romans 12:14: Bless those who persecute you).  Timothy was unaware of what happened.  This is one of many stories that showed her remarkable character.

We can't even begin to imagine how Norberto and little 1 1/2 year old Anahi must be feeling.  We do know that now is the time for the church to rally around them and give them all the love and support they need.  Anderson University is collecting funds to help Norberto and Anahi here.  To Norberto: Like so many others, we grieve deeply with you and are here to help in any way possible. We love you.

(This part of the post has been altered):  We are also deeply mourning the passing of Uncle Tom who died on the same day.

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A few days ago in Pisa, Italy, I took this picture that I wasn't planning on sharing with anyone.  As anyone who follows this blog/diary knows, I love Cathedrals.  I am not Roman Catholic nor am I Eastern Orthodox.  But I have an inexplicable pull to these buildings where the presence of God always seems very real to me, yet also distant and inexplainable.

As I sat down and took to this picture, I had these thoughts:

"In the same way I cannot explain this deep pull to Cathedrals, I cannot explain the presence of God, nor can I explain my faith. And perhaps it is not always needed--to explain every single feeling."   It is often not in the "Christian" things and activities that God feels present.  That feeling can come from a 14th century building, the guitar lick on a particular song, the sound of my child laughing, the view of a mountain, or the feeling of wearing shorts and a t-shirt on the first Spring day.  Rarely are those moments truly explainable:    It is mystical, inexplainable, and odd. Yet a connection to God remains.

But there are just as many moments of distance.  Big, long moments of doubt, anger, disillusionment, and disappointment.  The horror of a tragedy, the breaking of a relationship, a deep disappointment in my own actions.  And in those moments, neither God nor I  are clearly understandable.  Nor does the world seem beautiful and fair.  There are a million-and-one cliches we can fall-back on to tell us everything is alright.  Evangelical Christians certainly are the masters of this--needing to define and explain every single spiritual feeling.  We can cite scripture, sing songs, and even peer pressure our fellow Christians into never admitting doubt, anger, or disconnection.  Yet some disconnection to God and his ways always remains.

So we have a paradox:  The connection is real, but so is the disconnection.

If Christianity is about anything, it is about paradox.  God as a homeless infant in a manger, a guilty thief on a cross next to Jesus forgiven and given eternal life, a faith movement of 2 billion started by 12 disciples, 10 martyred and one that committed suicide , the teaching that "the last shall be first and the first shall be last," and the hardest of all:  that out of the fall of humankind, all of creation is being redeemed.

As Christians, we do not believe like the Hindus that what happened this week was the result of Karma--previous actions coming back to institute karmic justice.

As Christians, we do not believe like the Buddhists that life is an illusion and the sooner we detach from the things of this world, the quicker we ease our pain by embracing meaninglessness.

Instead, we believe that our lives are but "a vapor," but that we are a part of creation and are part of God's unknowable but absolute plan to redeem his creation.  Our belief in resurrection is not so much to re-assure ourselves that we will never die (although many perhaps use it as such as an antidote to the fear of the unknown regarding our earthly mortality), but rather for a more profound reason:

Because death itself is not natural--hence the pain, the mourning, the jarring separation when it happens.  We are created for eternity.  We can feel it deep in our bones.  We love and attach ourselves as if we are wired to be loved and attached forever.  From infancy on,--from the moment the human child is conceived, our body (our spirit) longs for a deep, profound, and permanent intimacy. To mourn is to feel the present stain on creation.  It is the other half of that Christian paradox: the feeling of deep disconnection.

Genesis in the Bible is about that intimacy all of human creation is imbued with and how it was tragically broken.  The cartoon characters of Adam and Eve (and they are about the most simplistic characters in the Bible, followed by much more three dimensional ones) set the stage by showing that primal, human longing for intimacy and the high cost of brokenness in the God/human relationship.  But even with God's protection of Cain after he kills his brother Abel, God begins to set the stage for this disorder and chaos in the universe to be made right.  By the end of Genesis (long before Jesus shows up), Joseph turns his sufferings into grace--a foreshadow of what is coming with Christ.  Evil and death will not win out.

In the above picture, Jesus Christ sits upon the throne.  At the bottom, barely visible in my usual blurry photo is that same Jesus Christ on the Cross.  Paradox filling the Cathedral.  Paradox filling our universe and our lives.

The truth is there are no good answers right now.  And this feeling we all have is not natural. It goes against our deep sense that we all feel that we will love these three people forever.  Our pain, our shock, our horror is a testament to the fact that we are created for eternity.  We are created for beauty.  We are created for permanence.

Until this full act of redemption is complete, we will wander into Cathedrals or relationships, or songs, or sunsets that fill us with a sense of connection to something eternal.

And until this full act of redemption is complete, we will have that sense of disconnection and violation in an abandonment, a betrayal, an unhealthy body, a death, a loss of friendship.

We Christians are the people of the paradox.  Jesus preached paradox, he lived paradox, he died paradox.  Our churches are adorned with an instrument of torture as a reminder of eternal salvation.  That's intentional.  Jesus said: "For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it" (Matthew 16:25).

Julie and Timmy were people of the paradox.

I believe we will see Julie and Timmy  again.  Not as a simple statement to ease our pain in a dark moment.

But because the one thing that is not paradoxical in God's order is that beauty like that is not meant to go away.

It is eternal.