Thursday, October 19, 2006

Grief as Love in the Presence of Absence

In dealing with Don's death, I have recently sought the comfort of God through the writings of N. T. Wright. Specifically, I have read For All the Saints? Remembering the Christian Departed. Through it all, after dealing with purgatory, heaven, hell and all that, Wright shares three parts to his conclusion.

First, "What happens to the soul?" He avoids all talk of the soul until the very end, and in truth still avoids it somewhat. Personally, I am reluctant to talk of the soul. Scripturally the dichotomy is post-exilic. And really, it is stressed the most in these binarily opposed, Platonic terms by Paul (obviously Roman educated). Wright however settles without settling (and I think I like this). In reference to Revelation 6, he refers to the soul as a "useful way of talking about personal continuity despite bodily discontinuity." Wright talks about the Cambridge physicist/theologian (a combination of biblical proportion, snicker), John Polkinghorne who said, "God will download our software on to his hardware, until the day comes when he gives us new hardware on which to run our own software once more." Clever and without the Platonic mishmash. Polkinghorne leaves gray what the New Testament leaves gray. Wright writes, "You could simply say, if you like, following Polkinghorne's image, that those who have died as a part of God's people are sustained in life by God. Couple that with Paul's remark about 'departing and being with Christ', and that's about as far as you can go in terms of what the New Testament teaches."

Next, Wright tackles "Praying for and with the Dead?" I think here we have an interesting problem for most protestants. The assumption is that without purgatory (Wright clearly doesn't believe in purgatory, by the way) there is no reason to pray for the departed. Because of the promises of Christ, there is no need to convince God to accept those whom he has already accepted. However, Wright says, "True prayer is an outflowing of love." When we love someone, we will want to pray for them, no difficulties, no needs, but merely "because holding them up in God's presence is the most natural and appropriate thing to do." God also chooses to work through our prayers (personal emphasis on chooses to those who think he must) to bless others. Our love doesn't stop at death. Wright might say that grief is love in the presence of absence. Grief is "the form love takes when the object of love has been removed; it is love embracing an empty space, love kissing the air and feeling the pain of that nothingness." He concludes that there is no reason why love ends at death. Love continues and can continue through the prayers that lift the loved one up in prayer before the mystery of God. The prayer for the departed becomes a celebration! Here, here, Wright!

Finally, death is not the end, but neither is the rest (heaven, paradise, etc.) after death. Our hope is in the Resurrection. We believe in Christ's Resurrection, his the first, and we believe in our own resurrection. The Apostle's Creed and Scripture are clear regarding this bodily resurrection to come. Wright talks extensively about the disparity between the Scriptures and the belief of many folks in the eternity in heaven. Heaven/Paradise is not our final destination, the resurrection and the New Heaven and New Earth as one is! So, Wright has encouraged a change in the liturgy of funerals. No longer should we say, "May the souls of the faithfully departed rest in peace." He encourages, as would I, dropping "the souls of" and adding "and rise in glory."

So, I say it now, May the departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace and rise in glory. Grief is such a hard thing for me to talk about. I still cry at the mere mention of my brother's name or the playing of B. B. King and Eric Clapton. But it is gradually getting (not easier) better. Such is the process of grief. I pray in love, that Don's rest in the presence of Jesus Christ fills him with all the grace of God and that same grace will fill me and comfort me and my sister, Marsha and their boys Chad and Chandler and the rest of our family. May he rest until we rise again in glory. Amen.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Mythology, Time, Space, and Narrative

I have been delving into the retcon mythology of Clark Kent and Superman's beginnings through the television show Smallville. So far, I have seen the first four seasons and am awaiting, not so patiently, the fifth to be returned to the local movie store. Superman happens to be my favorite of all superheroes. Sure, this says a lot about my shallow popculture tendancies, but nonetheless, it's true. After this summer's movie, perhaps not the box office success it would have been had Pirates of the Carribean 2 not come out a week after Superman Returns, this childhood love for the spandex wearing superhero was reaffirmed. When I was a kid, I had Superman Underoos and I'm ready to publicly admit it. (Oh, well, there go my chances at a promising political career, shucks!) I would often visualize myself running alongside the car on family vacations, and even dream about helping folks out of jams perhaps winning the affection of some love struck reporter. Alas, I grew up. Now, I watch others act it out on the television, still somewhere deep in my imagination, dreaming of being the righter of wrongs.

However, in thinking so much about it and watching so much of Smallville, I have wondered how Superman et. al. fit into mythology. What purpose does mythology serve? Does it still serve that purpose today? For folks who find themselves in postmodernity? Do we allow ourselves to be moved by mythology?

As a Christian, Wesleyan-Arminian, Open theist, and poet, I have to say that I know we have mythologies (classically speaking of course). We have our creation mythologies (sic), and our flood mythology (sic), and the rest. And they do what mythology has done for folks throughout time. They are an oral, now written, explaination for the world around us. Now, to merely speak of scripture in these terms would be shortsighted as scripture is not about how or what, but rather about who. In this case, God created, etc. For me and those out there like me, though I understand they are few and far between (at least who would admit to it), Scripture is the written revelation of God to his people. These mythologies still define us, help to shape us.

Robert Graves, author of Greek Myths and Legends, wrote, "True myth may be defined as the reduction to narrative shorthand of ritual mime performed on public festivals, and in many cases recorded pictorially." In fact, many myths stem from many cultural needs. Do we have cultural needs as Americans as much stuck in as freed by postmodernity? Then, do we have mythologies and would these mythologies be super heroes?

Jerry Siegal and Joe Shuster created Superman in 1932 while living in Cleveland, Ohio. This was during the Great Depression and there was certainly cultural need for mythology. Of course Action Comics #1 featuring the Kryptonian didn't debut until 1938. This superhero wasn't there to provide a fantastical escape, as some opponents to entertainment would deduce, but rather to inspire hope. While certianly more jingoist now than it would have been at the time, Superman was there to defend "Truth, Justice, and the American way." His positive tone and historically moral opposition to evil constantly sold more and more comic books.

Julia and I have often talked about how different Superman is than other superheroes. There is never the question of whether or not he will do what is right. That just does not seem to be the point. Rather, Superman has come to right the wrongs. The story of how he became Superman is more important than whether or not he will choose good or evil. The question of which came first, Clark Kent, Kal-El, or Superman, is more important a question than whether or not he will choose good or evil. The choice is still there, mind you; Superman still chooses to do good over evil. For other superheroes this is not the case. It is simply not that simple.

So, is Superman a part of our American/Western (not all bad) mythology? Does he inspire hope? There are criticisms of Superman that associate him to Moses or even a Christ figure. And though both allusions are supported, the illustration would fall short.

What remains is that perhaps a boy in his Superman underoos, flying around his house with a blankey cape tied around his neck is inspired to hope. Perhaps a God who loves us so much that he would rather die than live without us is free to use such entertaining mythologies to inspire hope in us.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Ramblings at Apple Butter Time

Today we made 2 batches of apple butter. Mom gave me about 5 lbs. of the apples she had picked with Carolyn at home (Havana). We bought another 3-4 lbs. today and spent several hours peeling, slicing, cooking down, stirring and canning them into some very tasty apple butter. At last, Autumn is here.

Evan began his canning career last year when someone gave us a Walmart bag full of tiny pears. They were going bad, because we weren't eating that many. He already had an inkling to make some salsa and can it for Christmas gifts, but when he decided to make pear butter out of those gift pears, he caught the canning bug. He eventually canned 2-3 batches of hot hot and southwestern salsa, pear butter, and pickled garlic.

Speaking of canning, jars, and such, while I was at home last week I had to get a ladder, lug it out to the saw mill and pilfer through several stacks of canning jars my dad had stored up in the rafters. I was looking for any extra old blue jars to add to my old jar collection. I found 4 more. Here's a picture of my jars.

I usually find mine like I did last week, in Dad's barn, in among the rafters of a building, or digging them up in our woods. gives a brief history of the canning jar. Among the interesting information,

"Meanwhile, in Buffalo, NY, William Charles Ball and his brothers (Lucius, Lorenzo, Frank C., Edmund Burke, and George Alexander) were in the business of manufacturing wood-jacketed tin cans for the storage of oil, lard and paints. In 1883, the Ball's changed from tin to glass containers and then, in 1886, to glass fruit jars. They moved their operations to Muncie, Indiana, after a fire at their Buffalo factory. Muncie (where a supply of natural gas had been discovered) was chosen because the city was offering free gas and land to rebuild the factory. "

There's more about different companies and types of jars there. I think I have mostly Atlas and Ball.

I like going home because of my pilfering, or rather, rescueing abilities. I have rescued a number of crocks, milk glass, old bottles, and my most recent rescue pictured here:
Canning reminds me of home and those hazy memories I have to think hard to think back to . . . my Dad used to can all sorts of stuff in the summer kitchen next to the house. Pints and pints of tomates, which he would drink all winter to keep from getting sick. The wonderful blackraspberry jelly he made when he had a grove of bushes. He would give almost all of them away at Roat Christmas. I guess we're carrying on the tradition.

Monday, October 02, 2006

One Year

His laugh was infectious. Whenever something funny would come up, not something mildly funny that the rest of us would laugh at, but rather something truly and mysteriously funny that could only be delivered by Bill Murray, Steve Martin, Chevy Chase, or Jerry Lewis, Don would start to laugh and that was the end of world as we knew it. From there the rest of the room would catch it and it would continue spreading until finally everyone with tears in eyes would be croaking out the laughs. Don Cuttill could laugh as no one could laugh. And when he did, everyone else was consumed with laughter. I think the contagiousness of his laugh had something to do with the size of his heart. Only someone with a huge heart could laugh the way he did.

I remember one time, when I was in college and living with Don and Marsha in the old Southshores house, we had to replace the wax ring seal underneath the toilet in the basement. After unscrewing the bolts we tried to lift the toilet. Don had to move into the shower to set the toilet aside. I was on one side and Don on the other. Don's foot hit the lip of the shower and he tripped. I dropped the toilet in the shower and it shattered. We no longer needed to merely replace the wax ring; we had to replace the toilet as well. Though it was thouroughly enraging, I laugh about it now, and I'm sure he does too. The picture of Don dropping the toilet and it shattering stirs other memories of Don.

When we'd drive around together the radio tuned to the classic rock station, and Led Zeppelin would come on. Don would inveriably say, "A little Led for the head." It was cool no matter how many times he'd say it.

Don liked good movies. Caddyshack, Groundhog Day, Stripes, Young Frankenstein, The Nutty Professor, It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World all brought on that infectious laugh. Sometimes I watch Groundhog Day just to remember Don. I've easily watched it five times in the last month and a half.

Don is a Christian, which means that this November 1st (All Saint's Day) I will be celebrating him. I will be praying that the Father's glory fills him continually as he basks in God's presence in Paradise, Don sitting next to all those other saints of the church and he's playing a heavenly Martin guitar, strung by angels themselves. You know at the feast they serve Krekel's burgers and Famous Dave's barbeque. This is not the final destiny for which he is bound, though. We all await the resurrection.

The golden evening brightens in the west;
Soon, soon to faithful warriors cometh rest:
Sweet is the calm of Paradise the blest.

I miss him terribly. Writing this is harder than you can imagine and it's taken a week. I was very young when my sister and Don were married. They lived with us for a while and I really have no memories without him. That is to say until this past year.

Sunday, October 01, 2006


Yesterday I came home to my mom and dad's house for a few days of much needed retreat. I think I tend to build up this place in my mind a bit more than I should. I want to walk in the woods. Pick up strange stuff. Find buried pottery. Then when I come back it's really hot. There's a lot of poison ivy that I have to avoid. At night it is more starless, blacker than I'm comfortable with.

Last night as I was falling to sleep, just outside my window (on the second floor), coyotes started yelping. They were running through the trees. They seemed to be surrounding the house. Then a loud howl. Silence. More yelping. Another howl. Then silence.

I thought of my ancestors who carved out cabins and houses in these woods. Hearing those coyotes only a few feet away in the surrounding woods. I finally fell asleep.