The various gods of the ancient world offered so little hope for the living left behind at the death of a loved one. Some offered a hope of a relatively painless existence in some shadowy under-land, some offered absorption into some a-personal whole, some offered a recycling program in which the soul came back as somebody else (but without memories and self-identify).
To a philosopher or theologian of the time, these worldviews would have been interesting and intriguing, and might have offered important insights into the world, but as soon as this theologian became a bereaved father, whose heart ached and wailed to hold his beloved daughter alive in his arms again, they would have seemed as empty and as useless as yesterday's shadow.
Modern systems are not radically better--living on in the memory of others, through one's writings, or in one's impact on the lives of others (although wonderful gifts in themselves, to be sure!) are metaphors of compromise and acquiescence.
But there was one group in the ancient world--a nation of escaped slaves--whose god would not allow them to accept such compromises with death. His messengers and prophets consistently confronted His people with a unique message:
"Do not accept these substitutes! Do not settle for less! Do not compromise with death to the point of redefining 'life'! Look up! Hope for REAL immortality! Hope to see your loved ones in a new body, with the same smiles, and the shared memories! Hope to feast with them and dance with them and laugh with them again! Hope to hug them and kiss them and tell them you love them again! Do not despair of the Paradise of the stories of those oldest among you--it was real and will be yet real again! Do not settle for anything less than resurrection from the dead!
"I will find a way--though it shred my own Heart with anguish and pain, and cost Me what is dearest to Me-- to make this happen for you...
"I will reach My hand--of intense Life itself, of immortality's very definition, of renewal forces greater than death--into your history. And all you have to do is reach out and touch your little mortal finger to mine, and immortal life will flow from Me to you...A spark of My life will remain in your heart, and produce renewal and joy and love and peace and second childhoods and fresh-starts and second-chances and comfort and kindness and dancing in your life today, and, at the beginning of MY future, it will burst into immortal and incandescent flame--and burn brightly for ever and ever and ever.
"And, lest I terrify you with my Hand of Life, I will put a face on it--a face like yours...A Face of sorrows and a face of joys...No face of power, but a face of love...You will know it by its life-in-itself, its gentleness and humility, its challenge to evil, its abject refusal to compromise with death, deceit, or apathy; its solidarity with the needy, the non-arrogant, the open-hearted people of "no hope"; by its outrageous claims, its lack of even the slightest taint of human treachery, and the ripples it creates in history...
And so, 2000 years ago, the Easter tomb was empty and a handful of "least likely to become an executive" souls claimed to see a resurrected Jesus of Nazareth--multiple times, alone and in groups, and in various settings. Hope--without compromise--walked among them, after having been nailed to a tree in a Roman execution. And this hope was recognized for what it was--TRUE and TANGIBLE and PALPABLE. And the ripples in history and in lives began...
Fast forward 2000 years: one Glenn and one Cindy--lives touched by the lives of others, who had been touched by lives of others, in a chain of love reaching back to that first Easter--met at a bible study to marvel at that Face...from that meeting came a marriage, and children, among whom was our Britt.
Without the Resurrection--and the hope engendered by it, so powerful that the earliest followers of Jesus sacrificed health, respectability, economic fortune, social standing, and often their very lives for this hope--there would be no Britt. The Britt that touched each of our lives here today simply would not have been born without the reality of that Resurrection so long ago, and the ripples in human lives that it caused.
But it is that same resurrection which created her, which will bring us all together once more in His Future.
Britt touched this God, and celebrated aspects of This Life throughout her life.
From her conventional and traditional baptism as an elementary school kid, to her philosophical understandings of the nature of good and evil, she interacted with our God. Often she would pray for me and tell me so on email. One email, from when she was 17 thanked me:
"for showing me the beauty of the Lord, and answering all my questions, the peaceful reassurance you've given me all my life that, through Him, I'll never have to face this entirely alone."
At 19, she wrote this to me:
"I also keep thinking about how you use the model of the virus as a metaphor for evil, especially when the book goes into detailed, clinical description of how viruses work, how they exist in this strange state between life and nonlife. It's a brilliant metaphor,and ever since you passed that viewpoint on to me, I have never seen good and evil as two ends of the same spectrum since. And this seems to be a very common belief among people, that good and evil somehow define or balance each other, not that evil is parasitic of good, but the parasitic model 'fits' so much better! I have gotten into many a pseudo-philosophic debate with my friends in an attempt to convince them that good can exist without evil, but sometimes, no matter how strong my arguments are, people have a *very* hard time letting go of this 'Ying-Yang',mutually-dependant idea of good and evil! I also could learn to argue it more eloquently, but I'm always surprised at how strongly people hold on to this notion. I wish I could give people this perspective, because it was such an eye-opener when you gave it to me!
(I expect some of you have been on the other end of her arguing this point, since it was a beautiful hope and release for her to see this.)
Her heart was a thankful heart--one of the basic means for reaching up to touch God and for reaching out to welcome others into your life. This past Christmas, she wrote this in a present she made for me:
"Father, Dad, Daddy, teacher and friend...of all the lives I could have grown up inside, I thank God with every breath that it was yours!"
Did she really thank God?--absolutely...She told me she prayed daily to the Lord, in the same childlike way I do--face up, pacing around, and honest-hearted...no ritual, no 'holy gestures' or 'sacred postures', no canned formulas...just a heart that told her heavenly Father what was on her mind and heart...
As she learned more about the beauty of God's life and creation, she shared many of her discoveries with you and with us. More than once, she had one or two of you over to our home, and in the wee hours of the morning our discussions on God, history, evil, the future flowed like water...
Her perspectives encouraged many and challenged many to see the bigger picture. I found a letter from someone written to her during the last couple of weeks in San Francisco. Here is an excerpt :
"To Britt, so sweet and dear...
"You've brought confusion and clarity into my life in a way few could be capable of.
"Your presence in my life has made such a positive impact. Enlightening and changing the way I think about events or problems that daily trouble my mind. Unknowingly, you've eased my tensions, lessened my pains, and added clarity into my emotions. Friend, I thank you.
Her faith--like all of those in our family--was semi-traditional. Of course it was anchored in the same history and resurrection and Jesus that caused her birth, but it didn't take on conventional forms. Our Easter mornings and Christmas mornings as a family began with an hour or two or three of learning about the historical and philosophical backgrounds of the relevant sections of the bible. Many were her questions, intense was her attention, and deep was her appreciation for the perspective gained.
I remember so vividly one remark she made last semester, after coming home from some college class. She spoke about the sadness she had when some of the material in class seemed antagonistic to what she called "the beliefs that she loved so much". We had endless discussions on endless topics (as I am sure many of you that know Britt can easily imagine, and probably even envision), ranging from methods in the social sciences, to the heart and passion of God for life.
And, just like me, she had her moral inconsistencies; just like me, her theological quirks; just like me, her doubts; just like me, her pulls toward the destructive; and just like me, her irrational fears. But in one of the last writings we have of her before she went home to be with her God, she still manifests the resilience of her worldview, and of her passion for finding the good before her:
"You don't have to do anything if you don't want to, if you don't feel that it's worth it. It's just a window in the infinite universe that gives you a sporting chance at finding the very treasures and fruits of all that has ever and will ever be. Through this journey, through this window, your soul has the chance to become more like God, to be crowned a high-priestess warrior princess!
"You can be still and apathetic, dim and tired, and sit by the side. Or you become a child and run into the forest, sweat, strain, and push through rough parts, not out of toughness but out of passion for the rewards and sweetness hidden on the path...To love the sweet and exquisite so fully that it overshadows the pain and sadness is to become closer to God, to become more fitted to the universe...
She was no stranger to pain, but saw the opportunity it presented:
"Pain is a lesson that will lead you to better things than you ever dreamed, if you so choose to learn it."
She was beset by many foes--some from the culture, some from within, some from us here today, and some of her own making. But that eternal spark and faith could not be suppressed--it erupted constantly, in her laughter, in late-night discussions with all of us, in how she dealt with doubt, and even in the fearlessness with which she often faced new experiences. She helped many of us here to see the beauty of the created order, as a clue to the deeper issues beyond it.
And that relationship with God also worked in her heart to bring her back to the beauty of her worldview at times. The night before she was admitted to the Emergency Room, she called me from San Francisco where she was staying. She told me--in her dear and honest and clear voice--that she had gotten "a little messed up" in the past few weeks, and asked me to come get her and bring her home--where it was 'safe'. And in her face and bright eyes and effervescent smiles and long, warm hugs those few hours--though she called ME an 'angel of mercy and rescue'--I saw the angelic fire I have always known as 'Britt'. And she said that home had never felt so 'safe' as that night.
To me, her father, she has been many, many things, and God has changed my life in many ways through her. She was a constant source of joy, warmth, pride, friendship, laughter, innovation, creativity, and comfort, in the context of my own personal limitations and challenges. I too learned from her perspectives, and I grew from our discussions. She loved me while on earth--really, really loved me, and I have been helped by my God to be able to feel that warmth, see that glow, and hear that music we all know as "Britt".
The second 25 years of my life have been spent getting to know my tender-hearted Lord, and Britt (along with my other amazing and precious God-given children), has been a constant reminder that my God brings truly good things into my life.
As her father, I will not settle for less than to hold her in my arms again--in larger-than-life emotions and vividness and intensity...I expect her resurrection and my resurrection in that Future, and my confidence that this hope is well-founded is anchored in history, at the empty tomb and bodily resurrection and visible appearances of Jesus of Nazareth. I have every reason to place my confidence in this unique One in history, this Gentle Shepherd who conquered death and promises us-- his little lambs, confused and undisciplined and bouncing-around and ever running away from the Shepherd--that He can and will do the same for us.
I am exceedingly grateful for having had such intimacy with such concentrated "britt-ness" for two decades, and I look forward to seeing her again, and for her comments on how I lived the rest of my life from this day on. May we all learn from her perspective and her inner love for the Lord, and from her example of warmth, inclusion, and devotion to her friends..."being a little more like God"...and may we ever reach up to touch God's hand of life, in His Son.