Tribalism. Revenge. Egotism. Oppression. These are a few things that Jesus’s life and death stands against.
Jesus came with all the potential power that He wanted. He used it to heal the sick, raise the dead, touch the untouchable and heal the souls of the broken. In fact, it’s not even the miracles that are amazing … what’s amazing is who he performed the miracles for. The outcast. The hated. The enemy.
Yet, He was outcast, beaten, spit on, possibly raped (if was acceptable for soldiers to rape criminals) and eventually killed at the request of those he loved. He could of … maybe even should have … destroyed His enemies … He had the power to, but He didn’t.
Sin, revenge, egotism is cyclic … but so is love. With one act of grace (“Father, forgive them”), a new narrative has been born … again and again.
That narrative was reborn at the Mt. Carmel Burying Ground.
The deceased Boston Bomber, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, was accepted by Peter Stefan, owner of the Graham Putnam & Mahoney Funeral Parlors. Stefan, who is seemingly putting his respect for the dead over and above his business’ prosperity, has been quoted as saying that everyone deserves a dignified burial, no matter the circumstances of their death.
As one may expect, Stefan’s funeral home has received numerous protests; and rightfully so. The body his funeral home is housing is the deceased remains of a terrorist. A terrorist whose actions injured 264 people and killed four; one of whom was a police officer, and the other a young child. Not only did he accomplish this bombing, but he planned much more violence and destruction that one can only speculate he would have accomplish had he the chance to do so.
He was our enemy. He killed an American child. A beautiful son of our country.
An enemy whose body has been rejected by all the local cemeteries. A body that has no place to rest. And for good reason. Could you imagine the grave desecration that would occur? Could you imagine the curse that will reside over the cemetery that accepts a terrorist?
From a capital standpoint, it wouldn’t make sense for the cemetery to accept his body and lose future customers. Who wants to be buried near a terrorist?
From a safety standpoint, it doesn’t make sense. Cemeteries are already subject to vandalism and desecration, what more could happen if a terrorists body was interred in a place accustom to abuses? Would the cemetery need to install security cameras? People would vandalize his grave in the name of America.
Out of respect for those already buried and the families that buried them, a cemetery has reason to reject one Tamerlan Tsarnaev. How can families feel good about the cemetery where their relatives reside when they are residing near a terrorist?
He was our enemy and must remain our outsider. “Ship him back to where he came from!!!”, said some. “Cremate his ass!” said others. Perhaps the request to bury him in an unmarked grave was the most levelheaded suggestion; but, so far, no cemeteries have offered an unmarked grave for the terrorist.
And then on Tuesday morning, this piece of news comes out. Paul Keane, the owner of a plot in the Mt. Carmel Burying Ground (and Yale Divinity graduate) wrote this on his blog:
I am willing to donate a burial plot next to my mother in Mt. Carmel Burying Ground to the Tsarnaev family if they cannot obtain a plot. The only condition is that I do it in memory of my mother who taught Sunday School at the Mt. Carmel Congregational Church for twenty years and taught me to “love thine enemy.”
I own the plot. No one can refuse me access.
So far, the response to Paul has varied between praise and protest. And so it was 2,000 years ago. Grace is always scandalous; but it’s also cyclic.
(NOTE: As of Wednesday morning, it’s still unclear whether or not the Graham Putnam & Mahoney Funeral Parlors has accepted Paul Keane’s offer. There is, however, an updated offer on Keane’s blog. )
Last Friday, I posted this photo on my Confessions of a Funeral Director Facebook Page.
Since I posted it, over 2,000,000 people have viewed it.
Many have asked, “Where is this gravestone located?” ”Who is the gravestone for?” And various other questions.
Here’s Matthew Stanford Robison’s “Find a Grave” page that will answer most of your questions:
|Birth:||Sep. 23, 1988|
|Death:||Feb. 21, 1999|
This unique monument shows the young boy jumping upward, out of his wheelchair. Confined to the chair most of his young life, he is now free of earthly burdens.
“And then it shall come to pass, that the spirits of those who are righteous are received into a state of happiness, which is called paradise, a state of rest, a state of peace, where they shall rest from all their troubles and from all care, and sorrow.” Peacefully in his sleep on Sunday, February 21, 1999, our cherished son, brother and friend, Matthew Stanford Robison was received into a state of happiness, and began his rest from troubles, care, and sorrow in the arms of his Savior and friend Jesus Christ.
Matthew was a joy and inspiration to all who were privileged to know him. He was a testament to the supreme divinity of the soul and an embodiment of the completeness our spirits yearn for. The godliness of his soul inspired, influenced and blessed all who knew him. He came into this world as a miracle and left this world as a miracle.
Born with severe earthly disabilities on September 23, 1988 in Salt Lake City to Johanna (Anneke) Dame Robison and Ernest Parker Robison. At birth, Matthew’s life expectancy was anticipated to be only hours long. However, fortitude, strength, and endurance, combined with the power of God allowed Matthew to live ten and one-half years enveloped in the love of his family and friends. His family was privileged to spend time with him here upon earth, to learn from his courage and marvel at his constant joy and happiness in the face of struggle. His family will be eternally changed by his presence and temporally changed by his passing. His presence inspired all those who knew him. He opened their hearts as well as their eyes.
He is survived by his parents: Ernest and Anneke; sisters and brothers, Korrin, Marc, Jared, and Emily of Murray, Utah, and Elizabeth (Czech Prague Mission) Also, grandparents and other family members. A heartfelt thanks to his special care givers, especially Shauna Langford, and others at Liberty Elementary School.
Salt Lake City Cemetery
Salt Lake City
Salt Lake County
Here is part of Matthew’s obituary:
(This is a follow up to my post, “How Heaven Can Hurt Grief Work“. I was going to post it on Easter Sunday, but I didn’t feel like it represented what I wanted to say. After a number of revisions, I still don’t think it communicates my position all that well, so I ask for your patience. )
The problem with our dualistic approach to life and death (i.e. the separation of “this world” and the “next world”) is that it tends to create this phenomena called the “God of the gaps” or the deus ex machina.
The “God of the gaps” is when there’s a knowledge void or a valley of difficulty that we either can’t comprehend or don’t want to deal with so we simply stick God in the gap.
Question: “Why did my sister die so young?
God of the gap answer: “We can’t always understand God’s plan, but we know it’s for the best.”
Question: “What happens after we die?”
God of the gap answer: “God brings us to paradise.”
When it comes to death and the difficult journey that it produces for the living, the God of the gaps answer is simply “heaven.”
Honestly, I think Christians have a better answer than “heaven” and that is the idea of resurrection.
Today, believers tend to focus on heaven, while keeping the idea of resurrection as a tertiary sub point. But, it would seem, that it should be the other way around. Resurrection is at the center of Christian understanding, while heaven is secondary.
The idea of resurrection is that life can come out of death.
The dualistic idea of heaven has little benefit for grief work, as it expects life after this life. But, the idea of resurrection is that which is lifeless is being given new life in the here and now; not in the hereafter. That despite all the evidence to the contrary, there is hope in our grief, hope in our despair, hope for the future, hope for the present.
Resurrection takes what we have and breathes life into it. It doesn’t look to replace this world and solve all of our fears in the future; but it gets dirty, messy, now.
Every time we choose guilt, we deny the resurrection. Every time we choose bitterness towards a family member or the deceased, we deny the resurrection. Every time we choose hatred of the deceased or of ourselves for not “stopping it” or “doing more”, we deny the resurrection. Every time we choose to be guarded and elect NOT to heal, we are denying the resurrection.
Resurrection life says keep on walking through your difficulty … there’s hope.
Resurrection life says embrace your doubts, strength is in silence.
Resurrection life says it’s okay to fear, to cry, to struggle.
There is life in death.
Resurrection, though, is a not a rejection of the body for the spiritual realm, but a renewing, redeeming of the present condition. The resurrection brings heaven to earth; not earth to heaven. When we work through the here and now with love and compassion for ourselves and others, when we deal with the gap – the questions and the difficulty — we advance our grief work and bring the future to the present … we look to bring heaven to earth.
Most people only think about heaven / the afterlife during times of death. So, if you’ve had someone close to you die, you probably have strong opinions about the existence or nonexistence of the afterlife.
And, you’re opinions are probably wrong.
If heaven exists at all, it – by definition — is much different than what you or I imagine it to be. And while my religion’s scripture (Christianity) has little to say about what heaven is like, it seems that my religion’s preachers – especially the ones at funerals – know much more about it than their Bible.
So, here are eight common ideas about heaven that I think are false.
Heaven is not …
One. An opiate. Like religion, heaven has too often been used as an opiate to blind people to the dismal reality that someone is in fact dead.
Two. It’s probably not about you. It’s selfishness that has made this place so shitty. So, if heaven is better than what exists today, it will probably only happen when we are somehow drawn out of self-absorption by something greater (i.e. God).
Three. A product of subjective validation. If you find heaven meaningful, good for you. But, that doesn’t mean it exists. Just because you like the idea of an eternal life where everything is unicorns and butterflies is not proof for heaven being an actual reality.
Four. Subject to wishful thinking. “In heaven I’m going to have a Ferrari with Kathy Ireland as my wife. I’ll dress her up in My Little Pony outfits and I’ll play Black Ops all day. Oh yeah, and grandpa will be there too and we’ll fly around together on the back of my Pegasus.” Probably not.
Five. A product of communal reinforcement. If the only reason you believe in heaven is because your family believes in heaven and because everybody wants to believe in heaven, you probably haven’t thought about it too much. And any perception you have about heaven probably sucks.
Six. Escapism. Or, an excuse to trash this world because it’s going to be destroyed anyways (some evangelicals believe this.) If anything, I believe in an inaugural eschatology that is bringing heaven to earth as opposed to bringing us earthlings to heaven.
Seven. Hedonism. A place where we can do whatever the hell we want. Yeah, that place – if it exists – is called Las Vegas.
Eight. A certainty. That’s right. It’s a hope, not a certainty. It’s a valid hope during death. It has a valid place in our lives now, but you simply can’t prove its existence empirically. In some sense, we are creating heaven. We are bringing it into existence. And its creation is conditioned on us losing our egotistical outlook. Heaving is becoming, but it’s not a certainty.
Today’s reflections on the recent shootings in Aurora, CO. come from Don Follis, a pastor in Champaign-Urbana, IL.
At 7:30 am my wife and I took the boat across Jenny Lake and hiked 7 miles up Cascade Canyon to Lake Solitude in Grand Teton National Park in Northwestern Wyoming. From Lake Solitude, high above tree line, you can view the back side of the majestic Teton Range and bask in the wonder of creation.
As we drove back to our campsite I turned on the radio and heard the news of the horrific shootings in Aurora, CO. I was shocked. Life is so fragile. Idyllic, serene Lake Solitude – a perfect name given its location – gave way to the stunning news of the senseless killings and maiming in an Aurora theater. Feelings of appreciation and wonder earlier in the day suddenly collided with emotions of tension, mystery, paradox and complexity.
A few days later I was standing on the western shore of Lake MacDonald in northern Montana’s Glacier National Park when I overhead two men discussing the Aurora tragedy.
“It was pure evil,” one man said. “There is nothing else to say.”
The other man was intent on blaming guns. “Why is it so easy to buy guns?” he said. “Can’t we as a nation do anything about this? I’ll tell you this country needs a national discussion about how easy it is to buy firearms.”
The man who spoke first sighed. “The poor young man who did this is just sick, just very, very sick. How utterly senseless. It makes me so sad for all those innocent people and their grieving families.”
Now he’s getting somewhere, I thought. Later that day I turned to the beatitudes and read these words of Jesus: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”
The writer of Ecclesiastes said there is a time to weep and a time to mourn. The days following tragedies are times to mourn. Real mourning, true grieving, humbly says, “I am so sorry. I can only imagine how the families must feel who lost a loved one. I can only imagine how those who were maimed must feel. I can only imagine how the family members of the shooter must feel. This is so heartbreaking, so sad.”
Mourning does not say: “As horrific as this was, we know God works all things together for good, if we turn to him. Evil will not win the day. Now is the time to stand up and fight.” Those phrases may be true. But is that what you would want someone to say to you, if you had just tragically lost a loved one? I doubt it.
Neither does mourning say: “I’ll be there for you, whatever you need. You are in my prayers every single minute.” Well, maybe you will be there. Maybe you will pray for a while. But what are you really saying? Are you actually saying: “What happen scares me so much and I don’t know what to do. What if it was my child? I could never face this if it were me.”
Finally, mourning does not say: “I just can’t imagine what you are going through.” Really? Maybe you ought to try to imagine. A person who mourns never denies what happened. True mourning is not afraid of suffering. No, a person who truly mourns tries to imagine how another feels. Thus, you might say something like: “I’m so very sorry. I can only imagine how you are feeling.”
To imagine how a grief-stricken person feels takes intentionality. Imagine being the parent of one of those young people killed in the theater on that awful night in Aurora. Or imagine being the father or mother of the young man who did this awful deed.
“I don’t want to imagine that,” you say. “Please don’t make me. It’s too awful, too hard, too painful, and too scary. I can’t go there.” Well, okay. I certainly can’t make you. But you will not fully understand mourning unless you engage your imagination and your emotion. That’s what mourning is. You enter right into the middle of the grief-stricken person’s world. Are you afraid of crying? You may cry. You think you might blubber or sigh or moan? You might. Are you afraid that giving yourself emotionally to mourning might feel scary? It will.
But mourning is a good thing, Jesus says. Comfort comes to those who mourn. The Apostle Paul explains it when he says, “Rejoice with those who rejoice. Weep with those who weep.”
Now let’s say, for example, that your son or daughter hits a home run during a little league game. They are thrilled and so you are you. You scream, “My goodness sweetheart, that’s the best hit I’ve ever seen. What a slugger.” That’s rejoicing.
How does that make the son or daughter feel? Loved, naturally. They think, “My daddy thinks I’m the best thing ever.”
Now imagine you know a family who has experienced a tragic loss. Enter their world by imagining how they feel. You mourn by saying, “I can only imagine,” not “I can’t imagine.” You become focused and intentional about feeling painful emotions – grief, pain, loss and despair. You may begin weeping or sobbing as you try to say: “I am so sorry. I love you. I can only imagine your pain and loss.”
How do they feel when you join them in their pain and sorrow? They feel loved and cared for. When we enter another person’s painful emotional space, the person feels loved. The feeling of love is the same as it is for the child who hit the home run. That’s what it means to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep.
The grieving people in Aurora need love, not theological explanations. There is a time to weep and a time to mourn. Both are on the path that leads through the valley of the shadow of death. Don’t be afraid to walk on that path.
Don first worked as a campus pastor, then on the staff of a large Vineyard Church and now with pastors in a coaching and mentoring ministry.
He writes a popular Sunday column called “On Faith” for the Champaign-Urbana, IL, News-Gazette.
Copyright 2012 by the Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette, Champaign, IL 61820.