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Oh Death, Where is Thy Sting…

I’m still processing the surreal dream-like moment that I experienced early Wednesday morning, following a jarring crisis within our small community; by then over a week had passed.  The unexpected loss of a young teen, the devastating potential of death within a well-loved family, and then the faithful witness and renewed revelation of the healing power of love, always reawakens me to wonder.

I got the call as I sat with my 92 year old Dad at the local emergency room.  A dear friend was weeping as she encouraged me to contact the family of one of our community leaders, for they had just found their son unresponsive in his bed.  As soon as possible given my Dad’s crisis, my wife and I drove over the home.  My somewhat dormant call as a clergy was soon dusted off and a very rewarding though unanticipated week long ministry journey soon became intense.

Unknowingly, this tragedy would open a door to the heart of this community that my three term service as mayor had not provided.  Death always brings us to a raw moment, then compounded by the insufficiency of words, we must actually do love!  Of all life’s leadership moments, the death moment is perhaps the most intimate.

I watched as families poured out their love, from fresh baked goods, to long embraces and a volume of tears matched only by the sweet tea that finds its way into southern homes at funeral times.  By no means am I making light of these moments, rather, attempting to transition to the critical and preventative Next Steps, we so often miss as we settle back into our routines.

Professional Realtors, Educators, Non-profit leadership, Chamber of Commerce, Coaches and Clergy all were there at this young man’s viewing, celebration service and graveside, with a deep openness and willingness to transfer the love of God; one that was palpable.  There were moments when all attempted to express spiritual hope, though always present, that underlying awareness that something had gone awry in this small conservative community.  An enemy of sorts had stolen valuable goods!  It was an “enough is enough like moment.”

Now into my 70th year, I am beginning to sense some credibility in my life experience, particularly in my faith walk.  With a high perception capacity and a brazen confidence in what God can do when one takes the risk to express their love, I am now shouldered with a sense of need to #SpeakUpSpeakOut lest this potent spiritual moment pass us by without practical life adjustments.

Perhaps my dream was a cerebral attempt at processing the grief felt in my heart.  Still yet, when dreams become felt long after one’s awakening, there is often meaning that still must be lived into.  This dream seems of that sort!

For convenience, I have copied and pasted the heart of my dream from my earlier post:

“I was awakened out of some color muted vortex of dry rotted clothing, commingled with last gen’s AV (not IT) technology; yet, everything appeared like new until touched. In fact, the clothing was still on racks, the technology as it were, displayed for marketing. Dated but still current enough that if salvaged, it might be of use in accomplishing what in my heart what I knew still needed to be done. Then there were people, adrift but all in the same flow, each aware of a groping need to return to something they had lost. The clothing perhaps symbolic of their materialism and the technology, their awareness of a need for better means to express their loss, to whatever audience they all seemed urgent for return.

Apparent by their bodily reaching back, they were knowingly adrift, yet continued as if seduced by this surplus of dry-rotted goods, which with each grasp, turned to powder like fabric that had been stored in hot attics for centuries. There was this sense of reaching forward, yet need for a 180 degree change in direction before all was lost. Yet, there seemed insufficient confidence to make that turn without ample dress and technology. I could see some returning empty handed, while other grasp at the decaying provision. Return to where, I still do not know!

I was one of those who kept encouraging them to grasp hold of their share of clothing and technology such that when they returned to whatever place we all knew we were headed, there would be ample means to get back into “life” as we had once been told existed.”

With two days of ruminating, the following comes to my mind:

The image of scores of human beings drifting through mid-air brings to mind the spiritual lost-ness that seems evident in a moment like this.  The groping hands, reaching for something that was just ever so distant from them, evidence of a hope though weakened by the fact that some after reaching forward without benefit, had begun to draw back, even returning from the distance from which they emerged, perhaps evidence of our humanity, the need for a return to the routine?

Others were close enough to take hold of the goods that floated before them, oddly enough clothing and dated technology (antiquated sound equipment vs the digital of today), perhaps indicators of a misaligned trust in status (clothing) and dated technology (religious means)?  Even those who struggled to position themselves for either a suit of clothing or a piece of technology found that upon grasping their prize, the substance deteriorated within their hands, like old fabric damaged by heat and time.

What they had put their trust in was no longer sufficient provision, in fact many observing the process from afar, readily turned back to their own routine, communicating personal defeat, a challenge toward which they were too spent to ever try just once more!  This brings to mind the phenomenal national decrease in church attendance among both “Dones” (folks my age) and “Nones”, (see Josh Packard and Ashleigh Hope’s “Church Refugees”) who vow never again to affiliate with the institutional church (IC), though still expressing deep spiritual convictions!

I must compliment my good friends, senior pastors and leaders at three of the larger worship facilities in Clemmons, all offering their sanctuaries to this family given the large draw anticipated.   Maybe this is a time for the faith community to revisit a collective calling to community?

Those who know me are aware of my tendency to call out the IC, yet this week, I saw an across the board desire for spiritual meaningfulness.  Brian McClaren was on point when he wrote “Everything Must Change: Jesus, Global Crises, and a Revolution of Hope” in 2007.  Perhaps we should have listened?  My book “Repo: The Church in Foreclosure”, 2009, less the scholarship but same message!

Brevity is a skill set I must work on, tenacity I have!  I cannot let this go!

My deepest, bone marrow-like emotion Wednesday morning was an awareness of a growing futility, that unless something changes in the way we go about spiritual nurturing and parenting within our most prosperous community, a generation of could be lost with the passing of my own.  Without spiritual moorings, the grim reaper is free to temp the youth of our village with choices that inevitably make real the  agony of “gaining the whole world and losing our own souls!”

Whether it be evidence of the famed Opioid Crisis, now made real in our Village or a providential moment where we come together to watch “all things work together for good”, I will #SpeakUpSpeakOut!

“O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?

The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law.

But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

1 Corinthians 15:55-57 (KJV)

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