Thursday, July 28, 2005

The Wal-Mart report for July 28, 2005

(The previous report is here.) A guest report from Crystal Ben-Ezra
this is an audio post - click to play
(The next report is here.)

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

God of the Living

(The previous post is here.) I wrote this piece in December 2003, after my first visit to Erie after the death of my mother. When I was home in Erie at Thanksgiving, I tried to find the grave of my mother. I searched, but I could not find it. From very early on, my family had established a few principles about funerals. A Ben-Ezra funeral needed to be a worship service. The body needed to be buried as an act of faith and a testament to the resurrection of the dead. And, besides that, keep it cheap. And so, when Mom died, Dad followed the principles. The funeral was a worship service. He buried the body of his wife as an act of faith that she would rise again on the last day. And, in everything else, he kept it cheap. That included the headstone. A simple marker was enough. Why go to all the expense of an elaborate stone? It makes no sense. And so my father purchased a flat tombstone for my mother and for himself, when his time on Earth is finished. It was a simple, unassuming tombstone. Or so I imagine. After all, I never found it. It was a beautiful day when I set out to visit the grave of my mother. True, the weather was a bit brisk, but the sun shone brightly, sparkling from the newly fallen snow as if the ground were covered with diamonds. However beautiful it may have been, the snow caused a practical problem. The flat tombstone that my father had purchased was completely covered. I remembered the general area where we had buried Mom, but the turning of the seasons and the snow left me confused. So I began to search. Wandering in a cemetery is an instructive experience. As I passed back and forth, trying to locate the one headstone that I was seeking, I found myself reading all the others that I was passing. I found myself reading names, dates, epitaphs. The husband, dead of heartbreak mere months after his wife had passed on. The grandfather and lover of crossword puzzles, whose epitaph was carved in crossword-form on his gravestone. Old and young, men and women, from many times, all gathered together in the grave. “All go to one place. All are from the dust, and all turn to dust again.” (Ecclesiates 3:20) My footprints threaded in and around the monuments of the fallen. I passed up and down the corridors of the dead, seeking my mother. But I could not find her. The morning was wearing on, and I began to realize that God did not want me to find what I was seeking. So I bowed to His wisdom and returned to the van. But, as I was driving away, I recalled the words of Jesus. “But concerning the resurrection of the dead, haven’t you read that which was spoken to you by God, saying ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob?’ God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.”(Matthew 22:31-32) I laughed to myself. Of course I couldn’t find my mother! I had been looking among the dead. And my mother is among the living. I drove out of the cemetery and never looked back.

Veni Emmanuel

Dedicated to my grandfather, Andrew Anderson Oh God, my Father! It has been five years Why does it still hurt? Why does it still hurt?
In stoic silence the oak tree stood its post. For years it had watched over the sleepers in their tombs faithfully. It had been many years since it had been a sapling, and those years had not been easy. During the summer its glorious foliage disguised its age, but the winter had come, stripping it of its leaves and leaving it cold and barren. Now, its twisted, gnarled branches spread out like arthritic limbs raised in benediction over the quiet family beneath it. How quietly they slept! How peacefully! With staggering footsteps the old woman struggled through the cemetery. The recent snow lay in drifts, too deep for her to navigate. Slowly she picked her way between the tombstones, working her way towards the old oak tree. The bitter wind blew across the cemetery, singing the mournful song of winter. The oak tree watched her halting trek until she finally arrived beneath its spreading limbs. The snow had drifted over the gravestones, half-obscuring them. Slowly, the old woman lowered herself to her knees. Gently, ever so gently, she brushed away the snow from the middle gravestone. “Merry Christmas, dear. It’s been another year.” She smiled, although her eyes were wet with tears. “The grandchildren visited today. They are all growing up so fast. And the new baby. Oh, you would have loved to see her.” A single tear trickled down her cheek. Words failed her. Wordlessly she reached out her hand and traced his name engraved on the cold granite. “I miss you so much,” she whispered. Her hand passed to the other side of the stone. There her own name was engraved. It seemed so strange to see her name etched in stone, awaiting the day that she, too, would come here to sleep. Her final bed was prepared for her. The tears came freely now. “I’m so alone. The family does what they can, but then they leave and the house is so empty, so empty. Sometimes I imagine that I hear you in the next room, and I think that maybe—just maybe—you’re there, but you’re not. I’m so alone, so alone, so alone.” Sobs welled up from within her. The uncaring wind blew more strongly now, bringing with it a few flakes of snow. She stared up into the gray threatening sky. “Oh God, is this all that is left to me? The winter of my life spent losing all that I love? Why do I need to suffer like this? Oh why oh why?” The cold wind bore with it a fragment of song. Somewhere carolers were singing. Their voices were borne to her on the wind. “O come, O come, Emmanuel….” The tears began anew. That was his favorite song, his special Christmas carol. But as the tears came, the words rolled around in her mind. “O come, thou Dayspring from on high/And cheer us by Thy drawing nigh/Disperse the gloomy clouds of night/And death’s dark shadow put to flight.” Desperately she clung to the words. It was so true. Her life felt as if it were overshadowed with the gloomy clouds of an eternal winter, a winter ending only in the sleep of death. Everything around her withered. Friends grew old and passed on. The bonds of love in marriage, shattered by death. Her own body, worn and weary. Her life had entered its winter, and there seemed to be no escape. All that was left to her was an empty wasteland of ice and cold, through which she must wander until her death. It was a harsh pill to swallow, especially on Christmas Day. The thought percolated through her head. Today was Christmas. She looked around at the gnarled oak, the somber sky, the gravestones. Today was Christmas. And the thought was glorious. It seemed so appropriate that Christmas be in the middle of winter, in the middle of this. In the midst of the death and pain, a glorious hope was given. In the frozen wasteland of life, an oasis was given. Our Lord came down to join us in our pain. He bore our suffering with us. He suffered the loss of friends and family. He wept by the tomb of one beloved to him. He joined us in the sorrow of this life and then He set us free. She could almost here Him speaking now. “Patience, my child. Patience.” And she knew, as she looked over the empty frozen wastes of the winter of her life, that her precious Lord stood beside her in the snow. Soon, He would call her away to the beautiful Summer Kingdom of His love, and the snow would melt away from her forever. She began to sing quietly to herself. "O come O come, Emmanuel/And ransom captive Israel." She laid a single snowdrop on the grave. “Good night, my love. Sleep tight.” She struggled to her feet. Pausing, she laid her hand on the tree. “Farewell, oak,” she said, “and guard the ones that I love.” Turning, she made her painful way from the cemetery. The oak tree’s branches were lifted, as if to wave good-bye. Slowly snow drifted from the sky, blanketing the cemetery in white, covering the gravestones. Sleep soundly, dear ones. Sleep until the summer comes forever. (written December 2001)


I have a hefty backlog of stories and other things that I've written over the years. Since I'm too lazy to work at putting up original content all the time, I will begin putting up some of these stories, too. This way, I get new content on my blog, plus you get the privilege of reading my writings. Sounds like a win-win situation to me. Hooray!

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

And while we're talking about death...

I went to my grandfather's grave once. It was December, and I was bringing a poinsetta and a copy of one of my stories that I had dedicated to him. (Veni Emmanuel) I took them to his grave and placed them in the snow by the tombstone, and I sobbed. Now, to state the obvious, my grandfather didn't take the flowers. He didn't read the story. I don't know what knowledge the saints in heaven have of the earth, but I'll hazard a guess that he wasn't even aware that I had visited his tomb. (I know that he has happier things which require his attention, so I certainly hope that he was doing them instead.) I walked away from the flowers and the manuscript, and probaby the groundskeeper eventually threw them away. But I felt better for doing it. And that was the point, really. I wasn't meeting with my grandfather. We had no contact. In fact, my being at his gravesite only emphasized his absence, not his presence. Rather, my visit to his grave was a ritual act for my own benefit, allowing me to express my grief and loss. Now, I have a simple question for you. If Jesus is not mystically present in the Lord's Supper, how is it any different than a mere grief ritual? If the Lord's Supper is something that we do simply to remember the death of Jesus, then it's really not much different than what I did when I visited my grandfather's grave. But if He is really there, if the Lord's Supper is about His presence with His people...well now, that makes all the difference, doesn't it?

A Mother’s Passing, Two Years Later

(The previous post is here.) It’s been two years since I wrote about the passing of my mother. At the time, I recorded what I had learned. Well, I’ve learned more since then. I’ve learned that the pain of a loss can linger. It has been two years, but when I read my journal entries, it all comes crashing back on me as if it were yesterday. I still have not finished watching Gods and Generals, nor do I think that I ever shall. Mother’s Day rattles me. Sometimes, I think about Noah and the baby still within Crystal’s womb, and I know that they will never know their grandmother. It has been two years, but the pain lives on. I’ve learned to respect my father. I don’t want to sound like I thought lowly of him before, but I have learned so much from him over the past two years as I have watched him put his life back together after this tragic blow. It wasn’t always easy, and I know that the pain still lingers. Yet he has continued to live after Mom died; indeed, he has flourished. I know that, someday in the future, either Crystal or I will die. It is not a pleasant thought. But, should Crystal precede me in death, I will know how I ought to live, because I have watched my father. I’ve learned that The Plan is a lie. According to The Plan, you are born, grow up, go to college, get married, have children, marry them off, enjoy your grandchildren, grow old together, and finally fade away into the night. But it doesn’t work that way. Sometimes, into the middle of The Plan, God sends a bee, and nothing is ever the same. I’ve learned that I am afraid. I know now that Death can strike anywhere, and it scares me. When Gabrielle or Crystal is running late, the thought flashes through my mind, “Is she dead?” Sometimes I hold onto the last words that someone has said to me. Who knows? Those might be the last words that this person will ever tell me. Visions torment me, images of those I love, mutilated in car accidents, burned alive in fires, crushed by a collapsing building. And I know that this is sin, and I crawl to God and pour it before His feet, because I don’t want to be afraid. And yet, I am. I’ve learned that I don’t need to fear the trials of the future now. Despite my fears, I am learning that God provides grace in the time of trial…but rarely beforehand. My father can tell me, honestly and sincerely, that Mom’s death was the best thing that happened to him, and I believe that he is right. However, I know that it is only by the grace of God that he can say that, grace that he received in the midst of the fiery trial. I do not need to be afraid of the trials that the future holds. My resources are insufficient for them, but God will give me what I need, when I need it. I’ve learned that Jesus uses all things for His glory. Even death is not exempt. As a simple example, Gabrielle would not be here in Peoria if Mom were still alive, which means that she would not be able to minister to Kathey. And, on those days that I can think lucidly about it, I can see how it might be possible how it really is all going according to plan. Even this. Even this. And so, I turn to my wife and give her a kiss, and I settle into bed. Because I’ve also learned that the present is a gift from God, which we should enjoy. Behold, what I have seen to be good and fitting is to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of his life that God has given him, for this is his lot. Everyone also to whom God has given wealth and possessions and power to enjoy them, and to accept his lot and rejoice in his toil--this is the gift of God. For he will not much remember the days of his life because God keeps him occupied with joy in his heart. (Ecclesiates 5:18-20) (The final post is here.)

Monday, July 25, 2005

A Mother's Passing--What Have We Learned

(The previous post is here.) “It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, because that is the end of every man, and the living takes it to heart.” (Ecclesiastes 7:2) I seem to recall, many years ago, watching a Charlie Brown TV special. It was about D-Day. Towards the end of the show, Charlie Brown and Linus get up early in the morning and wander down to the beach. Once there, Linus tells Charlie Brown what happened on June 6, 1944. As he speaks in that young-old way of his, we see the airplanes flying overhead, the soldiers, the gunfire. Then Charlie Brown and Linus come to one of the cemeteries in Normandy. Rows and rows of white crosses. And Linus turns to Charlie Brown and says, “What have we learned, Charlie Brown?” That is how I feel. As I look back over this record of ten days of pain, which holds a promise of more to come, I ask myself the same question. What have I learned? Much. I have learned much, and I will seek to share some of it with you. Submission to the Will of God “Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we shall live and also do this or that.’ But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil.”—James 4:15-16 Our lives are in the hands of God. I guess I always knew that, but I have come to believe this more in the weeks since my mother’s death. There is so much that is beyond our control. James is very clear that thinking otherwise is arrogant. Yet we can be so proud. So very, very proud. And why? Why do I desire to be the captain of my fate? Do I know the future? Am I really wiser than God? As I have been humbled under the hand of God, I have learned that there is peace in yielding to His will. His plan for me is good, and so I can say, “My future is in the hands of God.” Will I die tonight? Will I grow old? Will I get sick? Will I be hit by a car? Will I lose my job? Will I eat tomorrow? I do not know. But I do not need to know; it’s in the hands of God. It is not for me to know the future; it is for me to be faithful in the time and place where He has placed me. A Pilgrimage Ended
Swing low, sweet chariot, Coming for to carry me home. Swing low, sweet chariot, Coming for to carry me home. I looked over Jordan, And what did I see? Coming for to carry me home. A band of angels coming after me Coming for to carry me home.
We don’t know who wrote this song, and I’d bet that we rarely pay attention to what it is saying. The “sweet chariot” is death. “Look[ing] over Jordan” is preparing for the crossing of the Jordan, another image of death. Death is coming, coming to carry us home. The song is looking at the desert wanderings of Israel as a model to understand our experience of life. For those who are the chosen of God and heirs of the promises, this world can never be home. Instead, it is a passage through the desert, leaving behind the house of slavery in Egypt and looking ever forward to the crossing into the Promised Land, a land “flowing with milk and honey”, a land of prosperity beyond our wildest dreams. For now, we struggle in the wilderness, with the pain and the sorrow and the hurting. But one day, that sweet chariot will swing on down and carry us off to glory. That sweet chariot came for my mother. And it was peaceful, so peaceful. One moment she was with us, and the next moment, she was gone. She did not suffer. She was not ill. Her mind was sound, which was especially a blessing. She had always feared a long, slow descent in dementia. Instead, that chariot swung down next to her, and away they went. She’s not here anymore. She’s crossed into Jordan, where they can’t hurt her anymore. Adiel was cleaning Mom’s room a day or so after she died, trying to tidy things up a bit. Her nightstand was covered with medicine bottles. Mom was not ill, but she struggled with a body that was wearing out. And so she was on one medication to fix some of the problems and on another one to help with the side effects of the first one and maybe even a third to help with the side effects of the first two. And the medicine would make her tired, and the medicine would make her sick, and it was hard sometimes to decide which was worse: the ailment or the cure. And Adiel took all those bottles and she threw them away. My mommy doesn’t need any of that anymore. She’s all better now. Safe in the Promised Land. Makes me remember that, one day, I’ll be walking along, doing my work, when that chariot is going to come for me. And, if God is gracious, He will give me the peace to climb aboard that black chariot with the black horses, for the Charioteer is the One Whom I love. The Body of Christ “For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body…and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.…And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it.”—1 Corinthians 12:12-13,26a I have seen the love of the Church of God in these weeks. I was amazed to see all the love and support that was poured out to my family. The church is Erie rallied around my father, offering whatever help they could. We did not have to cook for a solid week, because of all the meals that were given. The pastors in the area offered wise counsel and help to all of us. Christians from across the country were lifting their voices in prayer for us, or sending words of encouragement, or offering counsel in grief. I have had strangers write to me, offering me precious words of life, bound only by our common bond in Christ. But that is more than enough. There was comfort and peace that was given because of the support of our brothers and sisters. Living Life in the Face of Death “Once it’s too late, you appreciate what a miracle life is. You realize that nature is ruthless and our existence is very fragile, temporary, and precious. But to go on with your daily affairs, you can’t really think about that, which is probably why everyone takes the world for granted and why we act so thoughtlessly. It’s very confusing.”—Calvin, Calvin and Hobbes Calvin is right. We live as though we were trying to forget about Death. We pretend that it doesn’t exist until it intrudes into our lives, forcing itself upon us. I was not ready for my mother to die. None of us really were. But I would like to be a little readier for the next death that God will visit upon me. I do not want to forget about Death. Memento Mori. Remember, you will die. And so, I try to remember to treasure my family while I have them. Every workday, I wake up and drive to work, leaving them behind. What guarantee do I have that I will return? What guarantee do I have that they will be alive if I do return? None. It’s in the hands of God. So I try to treasure the moments that God has given me. Tonight, I put the children to bed, but Arianna needed to come downstairs to get a drink and go to the bathroom. As she was going up the stairs, she paused and said, “I love my daddy very, very much.” And she came running back down and leaped into my outstretched arms. I held her very closely. And in that moment, I realized that, one day, more likely than not, she would stand by my graveside. She would be shedding tears as they lower me into the ground. And so I held her all the more tightly. We have no time except the present, which is a gift from the hands of God. And so I intend to enjoy it. “For he will not often consider the years of his life, because God keeps him occupied with the gladness of his heart.” (Ecclesiastes 5:20) And who knows? Perhaps this journal that I am writing now will outlive me. Perhaps Arianna will read it when she is older and find encouragement and comfort from the struggles of my heart. I have not had the heart to ask my father what Mom’s last words were to him. I do know that he was running out to do a couple of errands, including buying a used set of golf clubs, and that she had asked him to buy her some Milky Way Dark chocolate bars. Could something that mundane have been her last words to her husband? It could very well be. It is more likely that Dad left the house, saying, “I’ll see you later, dear” and she rushed out, gave him a kiss, and said, “Bye!” before returning to her work in the garden. Just an average, everyday parting. But it was the last. But in my mind, another question rises. What if the last words that you said to someone were spoken in anger? What if I had a terrible fight with my wife and stormed out of the house, only to die in a car wreck? Would I want our last parting to be one of anger? And what of others who I may have hurt or alienated? We often think, “There’s always tomorrow” but that is arrogance. God has not promised to give us tomorrow, and for each of us, one day, there will be no tomorrow. And so I try to hold this before me as I live out my life among my family and friends. Our relationship could end tonight, so let it end without anger or malice between us. Rather, let there be peace, so that we can die quietly. Raising Children “Behold, children are a gift of Jehovah; the fruit of the womb is a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, so are the children of one’s youth. How blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them; they shall not be ashamed, when they speak with their enemies in the gate.”—Psalm 127:3-5 I spoke to my mother on the Tuesday before she died. I had actually called home to talk to Dad, but he was out. So I ended up talking with Mom. In retrospect, it was a great blessing. After all, it was to be the last time that we would speak. I was frustrated. I had violated my first rule of Internet discussion groups and actually gotten into a debate about something important. Parenting, to be specific. I was laying out what seemed to me to be very obvious, specific principles from the Bible on a Christian email group, and there were actually those that were arguing against what I was saying. It went on and on, and I discovered that I had really put my foot in it. I was angry, upset, and discouraged. And so I called home, and I ranted in Mom’s direction for a while. It helped. And then, she offered me profound advice. She said, “Seth, it is much better to be spending that energy on your own family. You won’t be able to influence these other people, but you can influence your children. And when they grow up and get married, you will have affected four families. And that’s a lot.” She was right. Working on faithfully raising my children may not be glamorous or easy, but in the long run, it is more effective. As it turns out, those were the last words that we were to speak to each other in this vale of tears. So they have stuck with me more powerfully because of it. Of course, in an ultimate sense, it is my duty before God to raise my children in a way that is honoring to Him. Yet, in a secondary way, I also see it as my duty to her. I would be dishonoring her if I were not to raise them well. She often used to say to me, “Now, you take care of my grandchildren!” Each time, I assured her that I would. And I will. I will. I will teach them to love God more than life itself. I will teach them how to walk before His face. And I will also teach them to dance in the rain, and to love flowers, and to sing and dance and laugh. And I will tell them that they had a grandmother who loved them very much and that, one day, they will see her. Arianna will remember her, but the others will not. The littlest one is not yet born, and he will never see her. Yet, I hope that I can keep her memory alive for them, and that I can teach them to honor her memory and to live as befits the grandchildren of Grandma B. And so it seems fitting to end with these words from Mom’s journal. She was writing to her granddaughter, but these words will stick with me forever. “Unless something truly unforeseen happens, you will not receive much if any money when I die. But I have tried to leave you a legacy of love and I trust you will find it within your powers to continue this legacy.” I will, Mom. I will. Linda Gail Anderson Ben-Ezra Born March 9, 1952 Died July 19, 2003 Requiem In Pacem And on that day, we gathered on the shores of that terrible lake. We were all there, breathless and expectant, our faces bathed in the orange glow of the fiery sea. And suddenly there came the sound of horns and drums, and suddenly He was there, the Conquering King, riding on His white charger. And behind Him, half-dragged, was Death himself, his hands bound with a chain that the King held in His hand. He rode to the dais that was set up by the fire’s edge. At His command, the black-robed figure was loosed. At His command, Death surrendered up his scythe. Then, with a shout of triumph, He hurled the Grim Reaper into the lake. And we sang and we laughed and we wept, for the final enemy was defeated, and we were there to see his fall. And the memories of pain and doubt and horror and sorrow were swallowed up in victory. (The next post is here.)

Sunday, July 24, 2005

A Mother's Passing--Coming Home

(The previous post is here.) We returned to a clean home. The trip itself was uneventful. We left my father’s house (no longer my parents’ house...) and headed for Peoria. It was a calmer trip than the one that we had made the week before. Crystal and I talked. We laughed at times. And I did not feel guilty for smiling. But when we finally arrived at home, we were so tired. And so it was a blessing to find that, in our absence, our friends had cleaned our house. There was food in the refrigerator, purchased by my co-workers. There was a promise of meals, from our church. Home was...well, it was home. It was good to be back. The week was busy. Work threw me a special birthday lunch, while Crystal scrambled to put on the elaborate party that she had been planning, back when the world was normal. I think that, in the final count, we celebrated my birthday four times. Seems about right to me. And, of course, work was waiting for me. The major program rewrite that I am helming was still awaiting me. There were meetings to be attended, plans to be laid, notes to be taken. I was drawn back into my normal routine. Slowly life returned to normal. And yet.... On my cubicle wall, surrounded by the quotes and comic strips and Japanese prints, I have cleared a little section. And there I have posted Mom’s obituary and two pictures. Sitting above them on the top of the cubicle wall is Linda, the pink flamingo. The first picture is of Mom and I when I was five or so. We are sledding, and someone snapped a picture of us coming down the hill together. Mom is laughing. Her eyes are dancing as we slide down the hill. The second is of Mom, taken only a week or two before she died, standing in her garden and smiling quietly. She looks so peaceful, so serene. So content. There was no occasion for the picture, but everyone in the family now has a copy. This is Mom the way that we remember her, the way that she was before she was suddenly taken from us. And when I look at those pictures, I can forget, for a moment, the coldness of her brow as she lay in the coffin. And for a moment, I can smile as I remember her. Before the pain threatens to overwhelm, sometimes I can remember that she is smiling now forever, and that her pain is gone. But I am left behind, and the grief is sometimes too much to bear. (The next post is here.)

Saturday, July 23, 2005

A Mother's Passing--Aftermath

(The previous post is here.) The days begin to run together in my memory, and so I will not attempt to distinguish them. It is enough to know that we stayed with my father for nearly a week, leaving on Tuesday morning to return to Illinois. This was a time of mourning, a time of rebuilding, when the family huddled around each other and tried to close ranks. I didn’t really want to do anything; I just wanted to be close to the ones I love. And so I spent time with my brother. I tried my hand at golfing with my father. I spent some time with Crystal, just driving and talking. I tried to encourage Gabrielle as she struggled to adjust to being the woman of the house. I was able to meet Lily, my newest niece who is only a few months old. We talked about Mom frequently. Sometimes we laughed. Sometimes we cried. During this time, the Lansberry family was of great help to us. Already they had dropped all their business and driven to Erie with us. Now, they took my children for several days so that we could have a chance to mourn, picking them up in the morning and dropping them off at night. Each night, when I found that I could not think, Jay helped me determine plans for the following day. One night, they spent an evening with us, having brought over peanut butter pie from Marketplace Grill and the fixings for pina coladas. We had a Puerto Rican party by crowding into the kitchen and jabbering at the top of our lungs while Jonathan and I debated the finer points of making the drinks. Fourteen adults in a small room. It was a great time. We could not have made it through without them. *** I did not bring back much that belonged to Mom. My wife, sisters, and sister-in-law divided up her jewelry, so Crystal and Arianna both have some special jewelry from Mom. I did not receive any of her jewelry (although I was once given some). Instead, I returned home with a single item: a pink flamingo Beanie Baby. You see, at some point my mother had fallen in love with pink flamingoes. Not the bird itself, mind you. No, she loved the tacky plastic lawn ornaments that have become classics in the minds of many. Those around her encouraged this habit by providing her with as many pink flamingoes as they could find. Jeremy even found a calendar featuring posed pictures of various pink flamingoes. It wasn’t that Mom was blind to the hideousness of these plastic avians. Rather, it was precisely because they were so tacky that Mom loved them. They are like she was: loud, outrageous, and full of life. So, if you were to poke through her garden, you would find several pink flamingoes peeking out of the foliage at you. There were a couple of flamingoes in the front yard that she even dressed up, changing their costumes for various occasions. During the summer, they were dressed as tourists. During Tom and Elizabeth’s reception, which was held at the house, they were dressed in tux and bridal gown. During Halloween, they were in costume. One was a pirate, as I recall. So, while I was passing through Mom’s workroom, I discovered that she had a Beanie Baby that is a flamingo. Those of you who have not worked with me may not understand that my constant companions at work are my Beanies. I was never obsessed by collecting them, you understand. Actually, Mom bought me the first one (a bat that I named Floyd), and the rest have tended to follow naturally. This was the case at my previous job and is still true in my job at Samaritan. So I asked if I could have the pink flamingo. She now sits in my cubicle at work, with Floyd and Lloyd and the others. Her name is Linda. *** My brother came over the day after the funeral. He had gone to the gravesite that morning and discovered something amusing. The cemetery had erected a temporary marker and had misspelled our last name. “Benezra”. I laughed so hard that my brother thought that I was strange. You see, everyone misspells our last name, and each time that I think that I’ve heard it all, someone mangled it in a brand new way. Benezra, Benerza, Benezi, Ezra, Ben, Benzera. It is a constant curse that follows us. Paperwork is lost, documents are misspelled, telemarkers stumble over their tongues. It made me laugh to think that this mistake had followed Mom to her tomb. I know that she would have thought that it was hysterical. *** I have already said that I did not return home with much that belonged to my mother. But one thing that we did bring was the journals that she was keeping for the children. She did not get very far in writing them; her life was full and she did not have much time to write. Yet she was trying to reach out to her grandchildren who had moved far away. She wanted to offer them words of comfort, words of encouragement. While we were still in Erie, Crystal and I sat down and read them. In general, they each ended with entries made on November 2, 2002. The day that Crystal miscarried and Naomi, our unborn daughter, died. And so my mother wrote to my children about Death. What follows is are excerpts from those entries. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Dear Arianna, Tonight I write to you about Death. Death and Sorrow has touched your family. How much of it did you understand? There was a baby in your Mommy’s tummy and now there isn’t. Cricket died and we don’t even know if the baby was a girl or a boy. Your Daddy keeps saying “she” so we’ll assume that Cricket is a little girl. She’s in heaven now so you might ask why are we all crying? We cry because we never got to know her, and because your mommy and daddy feel such pain at her loss, and because one should always cry at Death. Remember Jesus knew He was going to resurrect…no, bring Lazarus back to life in a few minutes and yet He wept. If the Lord of all can weep at Death, surely we should…. Dear Isaac, It’s been a long while since I’ve written and now I am going to write about a hard time—now. I should have written about visiting you in Illinois and your face being the first of the grandchildren I saw. You were supposed to be napping, but you heard us and looked out the window with your wonderful smile—and then you woke up everyone else telling that Grandpa and Grandma B. were here. Tonight, however, I need to talk with you about less happy times. One day this week, your dad left you at Lansberrys (well, more than one day) and you didn’t want to stay and your dad told you he needed your help because he had to go fight the monsters. At that point I’m sure you had no idea that the Monster he was fighting was Death. Your baby sibling died tonight and since your mom named the baby Cricket and since your dad calls the baby “she” and “her”, I will also. She was so young, but so real to us. I was looking at patterns to knit after I finished with Aunt Adiel’s baby. Thinking Aunt Adiel likes this; your mom would like this instead. I thought of Cricket as #6 (grandchild) and another precious being. But she died and is with Jesus so why do we cry? 1) We wanted to know her. Your father said as he wept that he wanted to be a daddy again. 2) We should always weep at Death. Jesus did and He knew He was going to bring Lazarus to life again. I am writing about Cricket in all your journals because she is a part of your family and should not be forgotten…. Dear Samuel, Baby Cricket died today. Your dad talks of her as a she. Your mom named her. It is very hard to have a baby die who you haven’t seen or felt or known. Just bloody tissue at the end and yet a precious soul who is with Jesus. We cry because we did not get to know her…I think our combined tears would make a good sized lake…. This is harder than usual for me because I can’t come over and hug you or change a diaper or fold laundry or wash some dishes. Anything to be useful—and perhaps that is what God is teaching me—to trust Him to care for those areas I used to take care of. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Once again, it was as though God had allowed my mother to speak to us from her grave. “I’m okay now, but it’s okay to cry, too. Just don’t forget to trust in Jesus.” And it will be hard. My mother was a central part of our family. She was the birthday organizer, the holiday coordinator, and the preserver of family traditions. She was still young and had not begun to hand down any of those duties. Who will take up her place? I do not know, and it hurts to think of traditions being lost. Yet, God is faithful, and I need to learn to “trust Him to care for those areas [Mom] used to take care of.” *** In the refrigerator were two Milky Way Dark bars that Dad had bought for Mom while he was out on July 19. The dark chocolate helped ease the headaches from which she suffered. On Wednesday, Gabrielle divided them equally among us, and we all ate. I don’t know what this meant, but it seemed right. It was taking care of unfinished business, and we did it together. You know, Mom used to divide all our food. It was a skill, too. There were seven of us, and no food comes in packages of seven. However, my parents believed in being equitable. So Mom would take the remaining piece and divide into seven equal pieces so that we could each share the final piece. Often this resulted in miniscule slivers of pepperoni or coin-sized pieces of hot dog, but we didn’t care. It was the principle of the thing! Besides, it forestalled any squabbling. After all, we were each getting a fair share of the food. No one could argue with that. So I got my piece of chocolate from Gabrielle, and when I ate it, I cried. *** I do not mean to suggest that all was gloom during that week. In fact, I was glad to be able to be back in Erie for a while. I just would have preferred there to have been a different occasion. And so, in proper time, we celebrated birthdays. Elizabeth’s birthday is on July 28, and so we had stayed in Erie to be able to celebrate with her. That was important to her, and so it was important to me. Also, on Sunday, my family surprised me with cake and ice cream. My birthday is on July 31, and they wanted to do something for me while I was there. As I recall, it was Adiel’s idea. Over the years, our family has learned the importance of joy even in times of pain. Special days like birthdays or weddings were not set aside or overshadowed by times of grief. There is a time to everything, and that includes birthdays and dying days. We learned it from Mom. And so, nine days after Mom died, we celebrated Elizabeth’s birthday. We watched her compete in a soccer game, which her team unfortunately lost, and then we returned to the house for ice cream cake and presents. But even at the party, there were shadows of grief. After all, Mom wasn’t there. And, the next day, I was leaving. (The next post is here.)

So, tonight we...

---watched a Japanese man make a flaming volcano out of an onion ---drank coffee and listened to live jazz while discussing the paintings that our server had crafted ---fed a homeless woman ---drove around in a convertible beneath the full moon ---figured out that trees cause global warming ---fixed a serious computer crash at work All in all, I'd say that it was a successful outing.

Friday, July 22, 2005

A Mother's Passing--Tuesday, July 22, 2003

(The previous post is here.) On Tuesday morning, the sun broke through the clouds. Which is as it should be. Today was the day of the funeral. Crystal and I were sleeping in the living room, so I was awakened when Elder Swanson stopped by to leave us a letter of encouragement. I wish that could remember what it said so that I can share it with you, but I cannot. Mike Ross, who is a member of the church and a friend, was unable to attend the funeral and so sent an email expressing his sorrow and offering words of encouragement. But the strangest letter that I received that day was from...Mom. I was passing through her workroom again, when I decided that I should check to see if there were any more library books left back there. We had already made two trips with books, and I wanted to see if we had missed any. So, I was poking around. First I found Mom’s notebook where she kept her “to do” list. Saturday, July 19, had only a couple of entries. “Glenn called.” “Stake tomatoes.” The next day was empty, and I saw, in those blank lines, the fragility of life.
“Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow, we shall go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.’ Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we shall live and also do this or that.’” (James 4:13-15)
Then, my eyes lit upon a piece of stationery with my mother’s handwriting. It was a letter that she had written but had not yet sent. As I read it, I was shocked. It was addressed to my Uncle Don, but it could have been written to me. Part of the letter read something like this:
“We struggle to find the words to say at times like these, because we are trying to find the words that will fix the pain. But there are no words that can fix it….There is no good time to lose a parent. Love, Linda.”
God, in His Providence, had allowed my mother to leave a letter to comfort her children. It was like getting a hug from Mom, telling me that she was feeling my pain with me. Strange, since it was her death that I was mourning. But it was what I needed, and so God provided. I was left with awe at the ways of God. In traditional manner, I still had not written what I was going to say at the funeral. So I wandered out into the garden to write what I would say. It was so beautiful. The raindrops were still clinging to the flowers, and the sunlight made them sparkle like precious jewels. And suddenly I knew what I would say. So I wrote and I cried and I wrote some more, scribbling down my notes. And then, before I knew it, the time had arrived. We left the house and went to the church. It was time for the funeral. My father waited at the front door to be greeted by those who wished. He had asked Jonathan and I to stand with him, in case he could not deal with it. But he did fine, as the people began to fill the church. There were so many. They just kept coming, and coming, and coming. People from the congregation. People from other congregations. Other local pastors. People from the neighborhood. All of them people who Mom had touched. And they just kept coming and coming and coming. We ran out of room in the sanctuary. More were seated in the cry room. Others were seated in the foyer. Others still were seated on the stairs. Adiel and I later estimated that there were easily one hundred sixty people at the funeral, and there could have been many, many more. It would not surprise me to discover that there were over two hundred in attendance. I lost it a couple of times during the receiving line, but generally I did okay. And then we heard the piano begin to play. Rich Mullins. “If I Stand”. I walked by my father down the aisle. Both of us started sobbing halfway down. I remember carrying him and he carrying me: the two of us leaning on each other for support as the music welled up and rolled over us. Somehow, by the grace of God, we reached our seats. And then, we sang.
Whate’er my God ordains is right: Holy His will abideth; I will be still whate’er He doth, And follow where He guideth. He is my God; Though dark my road, He holds me that I shall not fall: Wherefore to Him I leave it all. Whate’er my God ordains is right: He never will deceive me; He leads me by the proper path; I know He will not leave me. I take, content, What He hath sent; His hand can turn my griefs away, And patiently I wait His day. Whate’er my God ordains is right: Though now this cup, in drinking, May bitter seem to my faint heart, I take it, all unshrinking. My God is true; Each morn anew Sweet comfort yet shall fill my heart, And pain and sorrow shall depart. Whate’er my God ordains is right: Here shall my stand be taken; Though sorrow, need, or death be mine, Yet am I not forsaken. My Father’s care Is round me there; He holds me that I shall not fall: And so to Him I leave it all.
And then it was time for the children to speak. I am the eldest, and we were going in age order. So I took my notes and began to speak. I have been told that my words were moving. I am just glad that they were coherent. What I wanted to say made so much sense in my mind, but it did not seem to come out right for some reason. But I tried to draw on the metaphor of the garden. I spoke of being out in Mom’s garden. I told the people how Mom had told me that it had been a wonderful year for flowers. The vegetables weren’t doing well, but the flowers were blooming everywhere. This is obviously a gift from God. And so I explained how, very soon, we were going to go out and plant my mother in the ground because we believe that, one day, new life will bloom from that which we have planted in the graveyard. Just like Mom’s beloved flowers. I also commented on the time of Mom’s death. When I lived at home, the end of the work week was 11:30 on Saturday night. Then Mom and I would sit down together and watch Star Trek together. In a way, her Sabbath started a little early. And so I said that it was appropriate that she died at that time. God was calling her to her rest. And then I told the people that Mom had not just worked at gardening in her back yard. We, her children, were her garden, and she had been blessed with the chance to see us bloom. She had seen five grandchildren. She had ministered in the community just by reaching out to those around her, and so, I told the people, that they were part of Mom’s garden as well. And I spoke of how Mom would sit on the back patio in the cool of the evening, enjoying her garden, enjoying the fruit of her labors. And it is as if Jesus called to her from the back door, “Linda, time to rest.” I had considered ending by reading a passage from Lord of the Rings, one of Mom’s favorite books. Instead, though, I had remembered a poem that Mom had found and had given to me in jest. So, I read it instead, over the body of my mother who had fallen asleep in the Lord.
Moving In With My Son When I'm an old lady, I'll live with my son, and make his life happy and filled with such fun. I want to pay back all the joy he's provided Returning each deed~ Oh, he'll be so excited When I'm an old lady and live with my son~ I'll write on the wall with red, white, and blue and bounce on the furniture Ya, wearing my shoes. I'll drink from the carton and then leave it out. I'll stuff all the toilets and oh, will he shout! When I'm an old lady and live with my son~ When he's on the phone and just out of reach, I'll get into things like sugar and bleach. Oh, he'll snap his fingers and then shake his head, and when things get tuff I'll hide under the bed. When I'm an old lady and live with my son~ I'll sit close to the TV, thru the channels I'll click, I'll cross both my eyes to see if they stick. I'll take off my socks and throw one away, and play in the mud until the end of the day. When I'm an old lady and live with my son~ And later, in bed, I'll lay back and sigh, and thank God in prayer and then close my eyes; and my son will look down with a smile slowly creeping, and say with a groan, "She's so sweet when she's sleeping." When I'm an old lady and live with my son
I was surprised at myself. I only choked up once while reading the poem and actually managed to finish it. I hadn’t been sure that I was going to be able to do so. I was in tears as I returned to my seat. My father stood to receive me and embraced me. My wife took me into her arms. It was so hard, so hard. Others followed me. Crystal spoke on how Mom had become her mother, giving her a Godly example of motherhood when she so desperately needed one. Jonathan remembered spending special time of his own with Mom and read the lyrics of a song by one of his favorite musical groups. All I remember is one line. “Why did my mommy have to die?” Jonathan’s wife Carrie offered some expansion on the obituary by explaining some of the things that Mom was. “Unlicensed medical consultant”, “wedding planner”, and “interior decorator” were only a few of the entries. She said, “She was the one you called when the weird or unusual happened, because the weird and unusual happened to her.” So true. So very, very true. My sisters had their own contribution, although they went up together. Adiel read from another hymn, and Elizabeth and Gabrielle both had selections from The Chronicles of Narnia. Each time our father stood to receive us from the platform. I was honored by his respect and concern for us. And then Pastor Hughes preached the sermon. And it was wonderful. The blessed hope of the Gospel was soundly declared and proclaimed to all who were there. All were challenged to consider the realities of life and death. The irony is that I had been doing just that, during the past week. In retrospect, I see that God was preparing me for what was to come. However, at the time, all I knew is that I was working on memorizing the Nicene Creed.
We believe in one God, the Father Almighty Maker of heaven and earth Of all things visible and invisible And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, Begotten of His Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, Very God of very God, Begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father; By Whom all things were made; Who for us and our salvation Came down from heaven, And was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, And was made man; And was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; He suffered and was buried; And the third day He rose again according to the Scriptures, And ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father; And He shall come again, with glory, to judge both the living and the dead; Whose kingdom shall have no end. And we believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life, Who proceeds from the Father and the Son; Who with the Father and the Son together is worshiped and glorified; Who spoke by the prophets; And we believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church; We acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins; And we look for the resurrection of the dead, And the life of the world to come. Amen.
As I type this, I am listening to Johann Sebastian Bach’s Mass in B Minor. In fact, the specific part that I am listening to is the “Symbolum Nicenum”. The Nicene Creed. It’s in Latin, but it is so beautiful. The exultation when they sing “Et resurrexit tertia die”. “And the third day He rose again.” It makes me want to fall on my knees. It makes me want to cry. It makes me want to sing. Why? It’s not because the music is so moving, although that’s true. It’s because the truth is so moving. Jesus Christ was resurrected. That is the hope! Can there really be anything else to look to? On Saturday, my family was cleaning the Samaritan Ministries building. So I was listening to the Symbolum Nicenum with the volume turned all the way up. The building is a converted church, and the acoustics are pretty good. So I was enjoying listening to the music and considering the truth that it was conveying. In particular, I was mulling over this phrase “And we look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.” As a Christian, this is not my home. Rather, we look to a future land, where the dead are raised to new life and together all who are found in Christ enter into the world to come, where no shadow or stain shall ever touch us. And we can know this, because Jesus has gone before us. As Pastor Hughes said, “He really died. He was as dead as Linda is.” Yet He rose from His tomb and was resurrected. And our hope is sure. Pastor Hughes reminded us that many saw Him after His resurrection. Five hundred, in fact. The reality of the Resurrection is sure, and because of that, our hope is sure. As Pastor Hughes preached, the sky began to cloud over and thunder began to rumble. As the funeral was ending, it began to rain. As it should be. I was a pallbearer. I carried my mother to the hearse. The procession was the longest that I have ever seen. You would have thought that a queen had died. And perhaps that is truth. Indeed, a queen had died, and it was right that all should mourn her. At least, so said my heart. Even the skies wept as we bore my mother to her grave. I was a pallbearer. I carried my mother to her grave. The people from the funeral home didn’t understand. They kept offering me an umbrella. I didn’t want one. If God had seen fit to send the tears of heaven on us, then I was content to bathe in them. There was comfort in the rain. Our God wept with us. At the graveside, we committed Mom to the earth and into the hands of God. One by one we filed by her casket. The single rose was joined by carnations that we placed there. And, after I had passed by, I stood to the side, holding my wife, and I read from Luke:
Now Lord, Thou dost let Thy bondservant depart In peace, according to Thy word; For my eyes have seen Thy salvation, Which Thou hast prepared in the presence of all peoples, A light of revelation to the Gentiles, And the glory of Thy people Israel (Luke 2:29-32)
As we left the cemetery, the rain slowed and stopped. By the time we had returned to the church building for the dinner that had been prepared, the sun had returned in all its glory. As it should be. Adiel’s husband, Josh, had a different explanation for the rain. He reminded us that Mom loved to dance in the rain and so the rain came to remind us of her joy. Perhaps we are both right. I’m sure that I wasn’t nearly as social at the dinner as I probably should have been. But I was weary. The food was wonderful, though, and I appreciated greatly the care that it showed for my family. Soon, however, we returned home. The rest of the family gathered at the house later, and that was good. The New Jersey contingent was returning home the next day, and so we were able to be together. We laughed a lot. I was teased about my receding hairline, but that’s normal. We enjoyed the pistachio fluff that one of the neighbors had made. We gathered around each other. It was good. But then it was time to go. We said our goodbyes. We hugged and kissed. And then we went our separate ways. And that night, I found that I could sleep. I had buried my mother, but there was still the peace of God. In Him I found my comfort, a shelter from the storm, and there I drifted away into slumber. (The next post is here.)

Thursday, July 21, 2005

The Wal-Mart report for July 21, 2005

Part One: Regarding ceilings
this is an audio post - click to play
Part Two: Regarding potatohs [sic]
this is an audio post - click to play
(The next report is here.)

A Mother's Passing--Monday, July 21, 2003

(The previous post is here.) On Monday, it rained. Which is as it should be. The obituary said to give donations to the Mission Committee of Faith Reformed Church instead of flowers. Some were unaware of this request. Some chose to ignore this request. And so the flower arrangements kept coming. What a blessing. By the end of the week, I believe that we had received seven different flower baskets. They were from all over the place. Many of them weren’t even from people in Erie. My workplace in Peoria sent flowers, as did my church. This was only the first indication of how far my mother’s influence had reached. One painful duty that had to be done. Dad and I went down to the library to tell Bob the librarian that Mom had died. You need to understand that Bob has been close to my family for as long as we have lived in Lawrence Park. The library is only a couple of blocks from the house, and so we were often found in the stacks, rooting around for books. We were all on a first name basis with the librarians, and Bob had a special place in our hearts. And now we had to tell him. He had already heard the news by the time that we arrived at the library. He was in tears. Funny that. We had suffered loss, and yet we ended up comforting him. This was a common experience during those days. As I look back on it, I’m not sure how that happened. God must have been blessing us with His peace, especially in the face of the unsaved who surrounded us. By His grace, we were able to be faithful to Him and honor His name. We could not have done it alone. The afternoon was spent running errands with Gabrielle. There were some practical matters that needing addressing, but primarily we were going to purchase wine, cheese, and crackers. This also needs some explaining. The Bible says, “It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, because that is the end of every man, and the living takes it to heart.” (Ecclesiastes 7:2) After attending the funeral of a woman in my church here in Peoria, I began considering what I wanted my own funeral to be like. I want to remove as much of the burden of planning from my family when it is my time to pass on, and I want to ensure that my funeral will be as God-honoring as I can make it. I also want to incorporate some of my growing understanding of the importance of ritual and symbol. I believe that, in part, we Americans do not mourn well because we do not have the symbols to express our grief when words fail. So I was considering all of this. One decision that I made was that I want to have a reception as part of the time of mourning for me. At this reception, I want wine to be served. This is because, in the Bible, wine is a symbol of joy and of the coming of the fullness of the kingdom of God. Isaiah says:
“And the LORD of hosts will prepare a lavish banquet for all peoples on this mountain; a banquet of aged wine, chose pieces with marrow, and refined, aged wine. And on this mountain He will swallow up the conering which is over all peoples, even the veil which is stretched over all nations. He will swallow up death for all time, and the Lord GOD will wipe tears away from all faces, and He will remove the reproach of His people from all the earth; for the LORD has spoken. And it will be said in that day, ‘Behold, this is our God for whom we have waited that He might save us. This is the LORD for whom we have waited; let us rejoice and be glad in His salvation.’” (Isaiah 26:6-9)
I had talked to Mom about this soon before she died. She agreed that it sounded like a good idea, but that, if there was wine, there needed to be cheese and crackers. I mean, we’re not barbarians. And so, that rainy Monday afternoon, Gabrielle and I drove out to Heritage Winery in North East to buy wine. I was looking for something very specific. It needed to be a red wine. Wine is also the symbol of the blood of Christ in the Lord’s Supper, and I wanted to draw on that image. It also needed to be a sweet wine. This was an occasion for joy, and a dry wine just did not seem right. And so I examined the different wines, sampling this one or that, trying to determine which one seemed right. Finally I found the right one. It was a wine made from Fredonia grapes, which seemed particularly appropriate. My mother had lived in Fredonia and much of her family lived in that area. It was sweet without being overpowering, and it was a deep, deep red. When the errands were finished and dinner was over, it was time for the viewing. Dad had decided that the viewing would be family-only. It was the right decision. As I have contemplated the open-casket/closed-casket debate, it has seemed that this was a good compromise. We were able to be alone and see Mom in her final resting place without the need to be polite to half-remembered strangers or doing appropriate diplomatic duty, as is so often the case at many public viewings. This was not a time for the outside world. This was a time for the family to grieve. We arrived at the funeral home. We were ushered to wooden double doors. They were pulled back, and we entered together. It was a long room, decorated in blue. Blue carpet, soft blue wallpaper, soft lighting. And there, at the far end, lay my mother’s body. It was like a pilgrimage as we passed through that room to the casket at the far end. There was no order, no ceremony. Rather, the family that remained moved almost as one towards my mother’s last bed. And there, by my mother’s body, we wept. She was so cold. So very, very cold. And there, in that room, the reality finally connected as I looked upon her. She was dead. She was really, really dead. And I cried and cried and cried. My father held me while I cried. Then I held my sisters as they cried. We clung to each other as we gathered around the casket. And then my father read the following passage:
“For we know that if the earthly tend which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For indeed in this house we groan, longing to be clothed with our dwelling from heaven; inasmuch as we, having put it on, shall not be found naked. For indeed while we are in this tent, we groan, being burdened, because we do not want to be unclothed, but to be clothed, in order that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.” (2 Corinthians 5:1-4)
“This is not Linda,” he said. “Linda is gone. All that remains is her earthly building, which is what we see here.” And he was right. I took Arianna up to show her where her grandmother was lying. And I reminded her of the blessed hope, that one day Jesus will call for Mom, and she will come out of the grave wearing her new body, and we will all be together forever. She understood, I think, although she also was crying. Then Adiel gathered the children around the casket. And together, along with our spouses and Aunt Sue, we sang the Doxology:
Praise God from Whom all blessings flow Praise Him all creatures here below Praise Him above, ye heavenly hosts Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost
Then we filed out. Dad asked for a moment to be alone. So I herded my children from the room, turning back for only a moment. For the last time I saw my mother’s face. Then I closed the door. When we returned home, I served wine. Everyone gathered in the living room, where I held aloft a goblet of red Fredonia wine and read from Isaiah 25. I explained what we were doing and why. “Mom loved wine,” I said, “and the next wine that she will drink will be in the wedding feast of the Lamb.” And then I turned to my father. “For you, this is a cup of bitterness,” I said, “but remember that for your wife, it is a cup of joy. So drink.” And I gave him the goblet. With tears in his eyes, he drank. (The next post is here.)

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

My first audio post

this is an audio post - click to play
This is just me, running at the mouth a bit as I consider if I want to do anything with this audioblogging thing. My guess is that I'll at least do the Wal-Mart report for a while. If nothing else, it will amuse me. And really, in the end, isn't that what's important?


Audioblogger: Speak Up! So now you can blog in audio.... I'm looking forward to trying this out.

A Mother's Passing--Sunday, July 20, 2003

(The previous post is here.) We were still many miles from Erie, and I still had to drive. So drive I did. Soon I fell into a pattern. I would think about my mother and cry to myself. Then, to distract myself, I would listen to a CD. Eventually I would become so exhausted that I would get off at an exit, walk around, buy some more coffee, and generally try to rest a bit. Then we would get back on the road and I would feel guilty for trying to distract myself. And so I would cry until I couldn’t stand it. Then I would put in a CD… It was a very long night. I cried all the way to Erie. At last, we arrived in Erie. I pulled up in front of the house and I almost lost it. My parents’ house was surrounded by a large garden filled with flowers that my mother had tended. She loved flowers. Just the sight of all those flowers brought the reality of Mom’s death crashing in on me. We went inside, and I found my father. Sitting in the living room together, I fell apart. Here I had been pushing myself so that I could be a support to my father, and here he was supporting me. I collapsed. I couldn’t think; I couldn’t make any sort of decision at all. All I could think about was how much I missed my mother. I found myself wandering in her garden outside or passing through the back porch, which was her work area, just sobbing and hugging myself. I told Crystal that she could take over and tell me what to do. I had completely come apart. Crystal ushered me to the car. Crystal drove us to Tom and Elizabeth’s house. Crystal put me to bed. And there, for five blessed hours, I slept. That evening, the entire family gathered for dinner at my father’s house. All five children were there, as well as their spouses and all the grandchildren. Mom’s mother (Grandma Anderson) was there. My mother’s sister and her husband (Aunt Laurie and Uncle Don) had driven up from Pittsburgh and were with us. My dad’s father (Grandpa Ben-Ezra) had come up from New Jersey, along with Dad’s siblings and their spouses (Uncle Glenn and Aunt Virginia, and Aunt Sue and Uncle Bob). The entire family had gathered together. At dinner, my father laid out the plans for us. There would be no public viewing. Instead, on Monday, there would be an informal viewing for family only. The funeral would be on Tuesday at the church building. Afterwards there would be a meal. There would be no elaborate flower arrangements, just a single rose on the casket. And then my father broke down and cried. My mother had loved roses especially, and he had often bought her roses. Now this would be the last one. That night, Crystal went to bed very early. She was exhausted and needed the sleep. So, Gabrielle and I took the children for a drive. We wanted to get the children out for a while so that Crystal could sleep, but we also needed to talk. You need to understand that Gabrielle is 17 and is the last child remaining at home. She graduated this year and had determined to pursue being a homemaker under my mother’s tutelage. And now, suddenly, she has found herself as the lady of the house. She needed encouragement. For that matter, so did I. We talked. We took turns crying. It helped. Eventually we went back to my father’s house and got the children settled for bed. Then I started to take Gabrielle over to my brother Jonathan’s house, where she was planning on staying. But instead, she decided to come back and stay with me. The reasons why need some explaining. Earlier in the day on Saturday, Jay had been cleaning out his garage and discovered a copy of “The Jesus Album” by Rich Mullins and a Ragamuffin Band. They had lost this copy a while ago and had, in fact, already purchased a replacement for it. So he gave this old copy to me. This became another obvious demonstration of God’s providing for our family. In past journal entries, I have talked about Rich Mullins. I mentioned how he died suddenly in the fall of 1997 in an automobile accident. “The Jesus Album” was the project that he was working on when he died. Nine days before his death, he recorded a demo tape for the album. After he died, his band put together the record and was able to have it produced. “The Jesus Album” is sold with two CDs. One is the album itself and the other is the demo tape. The first song on the demo CD is called “Hard to Get”. This has become the song that God gave me for this time of my life.
Hard to Get You who live in heaven—hear the prayers of those of us who live on earth Who are afraid of being left by those we love and Who get hardened by the hurt Do You remember when You lived down here where we all scrape To find the faith to ask for daily bread Did You forget about us after You had flown away While I memorized every word You said Still I’m so scared I’m holding my breath While You’re up there just playing hard to get You who live in radiance—hear the prayers of those of us who live in skin We have a love that’s not as patient as Yours was— But we do love now and then Did You ever know loneliness—did You ever know need Do You remember just how long a night can get When You are barely holding on and Your friends fall asleep And don’t see the blood that’s running in Your sweat Will those who mourn be left uncomforted While You’re up there just playing hard to get I know You bore our sorrows I know You feel our pain I know that it would not hurt any less even if it could be explained I know that I am only lashing out at the One Who loves me most And after I have figured this, somehow all I really need to know is if You who live in eternity hear the prayers of those of us who live in time We can’t see what’s ahead and we cannot get free of what we’ve left behind I’m reeling from these voices that keep screaming in my ears All these words of shame and doubt, blame and regret I can’t see how You’re leading me unless You’ve lead me here Where I’m lost enough to let myself be led And so, You’ve been here all along I guess It’s just Your ways and You are just plain hard to get
Something that God has been teaching me through this dark valley in my life is the willingness to submit to His will. It’s not that somehow He turned His back for a moment and then my mother died. No, if anything, the manner of her death makes it abundantly clear that He had chosen to bring her home. He has not seen fit to explain to me all the details of why He chose to do so, but He doesn’t have to. He is God, not me, and so it is not my place to demand explanations. And, as the song says, my grief would not be less, even if I knew all the reasons that God had for His decision. Rather, it is my place to yield to His plan, because I know that His plan is good. And not just “good” in an abstract way, but good for me. And His plan is also good for my mother. But still, it hurts. And the song speaks that for me as well. I have come to the point of understanding that part of the purpose of an artist is to speak the words that someone else would say, if only that person knew what those words were. In this song, Rich Mullins has expressed my own heart’s cry. And so, as I started to take Gabrielle to Jonathan’s house, I shared this song with her. I only got a few blocks away before I had to pull over because I was crying so hard. My sister and I held each other and cried and cried while the song played. And then she decided to stay at my father’s house. She knew that everyone was asleep and she did not think that any of us should have to be alone. I was grateful. Very grateful. And so we sat on the front porch, late at night, eating cold pizza and talking. As the night wore on, we began to laugh. In part it was exhaustion, but in part it was the mascot on the pizza box. We had purchased the pizza from Little Caesar’s, which uses a Roman-looking guy in a toga as their mascot. As Gabrielle and I were talking, we both realized that, right in the center of the pizza box, where the graphic design focused all the attention, was a patch of chest hair poking out of the toga. It was a horrifying sight. We tried to cover it with a napkin, but the wind kept pushing it off. Finally, we both agreed to head to bed, as we had been traumatized by the sight of chest hair for too long. As Gabrielle has noted many times, “Everyone needs more clothes.” It was a helpful way to end the night. Ecclesiastes 3 notes that there is a time to mourn and a time to laugh. Sometimes these times are divided by minutes and not by days. God knew that we would not be able to sleep if we were exhausted by weeping. So He let us be exhausted by laughter. Truly, God grants sleep to the ones that He loves. (The next post is here.)

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Gamer; Pastor; All Around Nice Guy

If you're looking for another blog to add to your list, here's one: Mark Jackson. He is a pastor in California who is also a boardgamer. Hooray! You can even listen to his interview on GeekSpeak from Boardgamegeek here, if you're interested. Warning: this is an MP3 file....

A Mother's Passing--Saturday, July 19, 2003

(The previous post is here.) At 3:10 p.m. CDT, the phone rang. I sighed. Crystal and I were trying to finish watching Gods and Generals, a movie about General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. We had started the movie the previous night. However, between a late start and having to stop to deal with invading mice, we were unable to complete the 4-hour movie at a reasonable hour. So, reluctantly, I stopped the movie. I knew that the next day was going to be busy and that we would need our sleep. At the time, I did not realize how true this would be. I paused the movie. We were in the middle of a scene when his wife comes to visit him in his sickroom. Jackson had already been shot and had his left arm amputated. His wife is understandably upset and tells Jackson that she is praying for him. He smiles and praises her, but reminds her that she should always pray “Thy will be done”. I know my history. I know that Jackson dies of his wounds. I know now that it was a sign. I picked up the phone. It was my sister Adiel. She had some bad news. Mom had been stung by a bee and had a heart attack. She was in the emergency room in critical condition. I was stunned. It was not what I had been expecting to hear. I called some friends to ask them to be praying. One of them asked me, “So, when are you leaving?” At that moment the thought bubbled to the surface of my mind, “Maybe I should go.” The Lansberrys quite graciously offered to watch my children so that Crystal and I could hurry to Erie. At the time, I thought that my mother was going to be very ill and that she would like to see me. But I assumed that she would recover. Soon, we were all packed in the van and were ready to go. All we were waiting for was the assistant pastor, who was driving over to pray with us and see us off. At the time, I was chomping at the bit to get moving and was impatient for the pastor to arrive. It was a blessing that we had to wait, though. Just as he pulled up, I received another call. It was from my brother Jonathan, and the news was not good. Mom’s kidneys were failing, and the doctor wasn’t sure if she was going to make it. And at that moment, I realized that my mother might not recover. More delay. The assistant pastor pointed out that our van might not make the trip and offered to rent us a car. I really wanted to get going immediately, but he was right. So, while Crystal took the children to the Lansberry residence, he took me to rent a car. It was the first of many blessings that I was to experience throughout this time. By the time we were ready to get on the road, it was 8:00 CDT. Under the best of circumstances, it is an 11-hour drive from Peoria to Erie. A quick stop at McDonald’s and then we would be off. And then, another call from Jonathan. The doctor was fairly sure that Mom was brain-dead. Only time would tell. Hope for a recovery was almost gone. In my mind, I knew that she was going to die. We started driving and called the Lansberrys to tell them the news. Jay asked if he should get on the road with the children. I sighed. To say “Yes” was to admit that a funeral could be looming in our future. But to say “No” was to deny reality. So I told them to come. We were in Indiana when Jonathan called again. It was 11:30 local time. He had a simple message: Mom had died. When I heard the news, I was fairly peaceful. I knew that it was coming, but I also think that God blessed me with His peace in that moment. When Crystal hung up, she looked out the window and pointed at the sky. There, rising above the horizon, was the moon. But it was not its normal silver color. Rather, it was blood-red as it rose. It was as though God had permitted the moon itself to mourn for my mother. It was the press of practicalities that broke me. Originally, Crystal and I were going to stay with my sister Elizabeth and her husband Tom. Now, we would have our three children, plus the Lansberrys and their five children. I had no idea where we were going to sleep. The thought ran through my head, “Call Mom. She’ll be able to figure this out.” Then I remembered that she was dead. And so, somewhere in Indiana, I pulled off the road and into the parking lot of a gas station. And there I fell into my wife’s arms and sobbed. “My mommy is dead. My mommy is dead.” (The next post is here.)

Monday, July 18, 2005

A Mother's Passing--Introduction

The following series of posts were actually written a couple of years ago in the wake of my mother's death. At the time, they were emailed around to several people. I place them here so that, if you did not receive them before, you will have opportunity now. I may edit the text as I go, but there may be the occasional oddness that is the artifact of the original medium. On July 19, 2003, at 11:30 p.m. EDT, my mother passed away. It was a shock to all of us. She was not ill; she had shown no indication of any problem. She was working outside that afternoon and, around 2:00 p.m., was stung by a bee. She wasn’t feeling well and called my sister. While on the phone, she collapsed. My sister Elizabeth hurried over and found her unconscious. The paramedics could not revive her and, after several hours spent in intensive care, she died. She was only 51 years old. I loved my mother very much, and the last several days have been some of the hardest of my life. And yet, at the same time, they have been glorious. I have been privileged to see the fruits of my mother’s life. I have been permitted to see the Church caring for its members in their time of trial. I have learned more about how to die and how to mourn. What follows is a record of those days, as best as I can remember them. As the time has progressed, I have been keeping notes of what I wanted to say, so I hope to preserve some of the immediacy of the thoughts and emotions that were passing through me at the time. As I'm sure that you can appreciate, time has been at a premium of late, so I will be sending this journal entry in several parts. Makes sense to me, at any rate. After all, I will be covering 10 days. (Maybe more.) (The next post is here.)

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Help I'm trapped in Wal-Mart!

So here I am waiting for Crystal to pick a pattern while I twiddle my thumbs so I thought that I would take advantage of modern technology and post something to my blog. This is being written from my cellphone, by the way. If nothing else this will help ward off the evil mind control says that they have in the lights here. I would write another haiku but I am not feeling particularly inspired. Oh, Ben, notice the capital letters. At least one of us still remembers how to use them ;-P

Google Earth

Google Earth I am at a loss for words to describe how insanely cool this is. Even beyond the satellite imagery, there is an entire community of people busy linking locations in the world to Internet information that goes with it. Pictures, statistics, locations.... Unreal.

haiku for the night

unkind moon pressed on darkened city-- siren wail

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

I feel like I should write something...

I feel like I should write something It should be something grand or maybe something sad or how about mad or maybe a little glad maybe something sensual or maybe something bland I feel like I should write something but instead I'll go to bed Good night!

The radical liturgical thought for the day

Okay, so we acknowledge that the sanctuary where God meets with man is wherever His Church gathers, right? (At this point, I might throw in a reference to the single stem of the Old Covenant lampstand versus the seven stems of the lampstands in Revelation...but I won't.) We also acknowledge that God is infinite and that there's always more of Him to display, right? So, could it be that different local churches will tend to emphasize certain aspects of God in their liturgy? And, could it be that this is an intentional feature, rather than a bug? That, maybe, the mosaic of all the churches worshipping together is closer to being an adequate picture of God than any single church could be? And, therefore, could it be that we could all just back off a bit and be more patient and flexible with each other? Maybe?

Just another ho-hum day...

I spent ten minutes last night trying to pull Yoda out of a drainpipe using a pair of chopsticks. Should I be more disturbed about this than I am?

Thursday, July 07, 2005

On the American Revolution

Note: This is a response that I wrote as part of a recent email discussion about the validity of the American Revolution. The person to whom I responded had just cited the doctrine of the "lesser magistrate". Since his text is not my property, I'm not including it here, but you can probably get the drift from what I've written. For the record, I agree with the "lesser magistrate" doctrine. However, this is not the justification that was given for the Revolution. Here's the verbage from the Declaration:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. --That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
This isn't the doctrine of the lesser magistrate. This is Lockean political philosophy. The doctrine of the lesser magistrate rests on the fundamental concept that all authority (including that of the civil government) is from God. Therefore, obedience is to be rendered to those in authority as an act of obedience to God. However, a lesser magistrate may enforce the law against a superior, because he is executing his office. As a result, aiding a lesser magistrate in the carrying out of his duties is not an act of rebellion but one of submission. But this is not what the Declaration say. Rather, the Declaration asserts that the authority of the civil government comes from the people and, as such, they may retract their consent if they deem necessary. Vox populi, vox Dei. This is not a Biblical conception of authority. Certainly, tyranny is to be fought, but it is to be fought in the way that the Bible says. Consider 1 Peter 2:13-25
Be subject for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor. Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.
Peter is speaking to Christians who are undergoing persecution from evil authorities. Consider his words to slaves or his instructions to wives in the following chapter. Peter instructs these Christians how to live a life of freedom and how to fight tyranny. He does not say, "Take up arms." Instead, he says, "For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God." (vs. 15-16) They were to fight tyranny by loving their enemies, praying for those who persecute them, and, by doing so, silencing the ignorance of foolish people. Peter then appeals to the example of Jesus, Who also suffered under the tyranny of a Godless rule which culminated in his unjust condemnation and execution as a rebel[1]. However, Jesus was *not* a rebel; that is precisely Peter's point. Rather, when He suffered under tyranny, He entrusted Himself to the justice of the Father. This is the pattern that we are to follow as Christians suffering under tyranny. Now, I have heard various arguments justifying the Revolution. However, we need to begin by evaluating the reasons that the Founders *actually* gave, not those that were mentioned by other apologists for the Revolution or those that we wish that they had given. The Declaration's justifications for the Revolution fail to pass Biblical muster. As a result, we cannot assert that the Revolution was right or proper. Why is this such a big deal for me? Quite simply, I think that the methods that the Founders used to establish this nation have poisoned it at the roots. Problems that were addressed peacefully in other nations have only been settled here after conflict or violence. Consider the following examples: --the ratification of the Constitution, which was essentially a second (albeit bloody) revolution. The Articles of Confederation spelled out quite clearly what it took to amend them. What actually happened here was the successive secessions of the thirteen states from their original confederation. Quite interesting in light of the later War Between the States. --the issue of slavery. England managed to abolish the slave trade peacefully, through the actions of various Christian abolitionists. In the United States, however, slavery brought about Bloody Kansas, the caning of Senator Sumner, and the War Between the States, which was one of the bloodiest wars that the world had known to that point. --the issue of secession. I believe that the South was within its rights to secede from the Union. I also believe that the entire situation could have been handled more peaceably by the South. Was the shelling of Fort Sumter really necessary? Or was this the result of South Carolinians spoiling for a fight? --the issue of racism. This *still* provokes violence. Just consider the L.A. riots after the Rodney King verdict, let alone the various outbreaks of violence during the civil rights movement of the Sixties. --denominational proliferation. James Jordan notes that the medieval Church suffered only one split during its 1000-year history, despite the numerous wars that raged through Europe. However, the American Church has found it quite easy to divide. As just one example, the War Between the States split the American Presbyterian into North and South camps, a division which lingers with us to this day. It would be naïve for me to assert that the Founders directly caused all of these problems. However, I do believe that we have modeled ourselves after the pattern that they have given us: when the situation gets too bad, we have the "...right, [we have the] duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for [our] future security." I believe in freedom, but American independence is at war with the way of freedom as laid out in Holy Scripture. Seth [1]Sidenote: crucifixion was the penalty for insurrection. The man Barabbas was not a "thief" because he stole. Rather, he was a rebel against Rome, guilty of murder and insurrection. (Luke 23:18-19)

Numbers and Blogging...

An article about blogging and pride from Pastor David Bayly. And, lest there be any confusion, I'm not hoping that he will link back to me.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

A Quote from N.T. Wright

Perhaps it's dangerous to be quoting N.T. Wright here. After all, that could get me pegged as one of those weirdos on the fringes of Christianity. Suffice it to say that I don't know enough about Bishop Wright to be able to defend or critique him. However, when I run across a good quote, I'll always steal it. So, a little reminder about the nature of the Kingdom from Bishop Wright:
But the cooling of ardour which some have embraced as a virtue, leaving room for tolerance, for generosity of heart and mind, for openness to fresh truth – that is all very well when you apply it, as we have often done, in the world precisely of private opinion. But when you are in Caesar’s world, where truth comes out of the barrel of a gun, or in his day the sheath of a sword, tolerance can simply be a fancy name for cowardice. The claim that ‘Jesus is Lord’ was never, in the first century, what we would call a religious claim pure and simple. There was no such thing as religion pure and simple. It was a claim about an ultimate reality which included politics, culture, commerce, family life and everything else you could think of. And if you stop saying ‘Jesus is Lord’ out of deference to the private opinions of your friends and neighbours, Caesar smiles his grim smile and extends his empire by one more street. After all, the great eighteenth-century virtue of tolerance was developed not least by those who were keen on extending their geographical or industrial empires, and who didn’t want God breathing down their necks to stop them. Keep religion in the private sphere and we’ll run the public square. And to that idea Luke says a clear No; and so must we.
Emphasis is mine. Source:

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Learning from the Pentecostals

So, I happened to be perusing a copy of Enrichment, when I stumbled upon a couple of interesting articles. The first was entitled "John Owen, Prince of Puritans", which is a short biography of John Owen. (Surprise, surprise). The second, entitled "Stirred By A Noble Theme — The Book Of Common Prayer", is about the use of prayer books and similar practices in worship. Lest there be any confusion, the author was encouraging their use. Now, in order to understand why I think that this is a big deal, you need to understand that Enrichment is a journal of the Assemblies of God, a Pentecostal denomination. Yet here they are, looking at Reformation ideas (yes, that includes the Book of Common Prayer) and encouraging their consideration. So, here's my question: what are Reformed people doing to learn from the Pentecostals? Or do we think that we have nothing to learn from them? Apparently they are not too proud to look outside their own religious tradition to learn more about the God that we all profess. Can we say the same?

Monday, July 04, 2005

On the occasion of the Fourth: thoughts from a sorrowing patriot

The mass of men serve the state thus, not as men mainly, but as machines, with their bodies. They are the standing army, and the militia, jailers, constables, posse comitatus, etc. In most cases there is no free exercise whatever of the judgment or of the moral sense; but they put themselves on a level with wood and earth and stones; and wooden men can perhaps be manufactured that will serve the purpose as well. Such command no more respect than men of straw or a lump of dirt. They have the same sort of worth only as horses and dogs. Yet such as these even are commonly esteemed good citizens. Others, as most legislators, politicians, lawyers, ministers, and office-holders, serve the state chiefly with their heads; and, as they rarely make any moral distinctions, they are as likely to serve the devil, without intending it, as God. A very few, as heroes, patriots, martyrs, reformers in the great sense, and men, serve the state with their consciences also, and so necessarily resist it for the most part; and they are commonly treated as enemies by it.
--Henry David Thoreau: "On Civil Disobedience"
Let us suppose we are confronted with a desperate thing -- say Pimlico. If we think what is really best for Pimlico we shall find the thread of thought leads to the throne or the mystic and the arbitrary. It is not enough for a man to disapprove of Pimlico: in that case he will merely cut his throat or move to Chelsea. Nor, certainly, is it enough for a man to approve of Pimlico: for then it will remain Pimlico, which would be awful. The only way out of it seems to be for somebody to love Pimlico: to love it with a transcendental tie and without any earthly reason. If there arose a man who loved Pimlico, then Pimlico would rise into ivory towers and golden pinnacles; Pimlico would attire herself as a woman does when she is loved. For decoration is not given to hide horrible things: but to decorate things already adorable. A mother does not give her child a blue bow because he is so ugly without it. A lover does not give a girl a necklace to hide her neck. If men loved Pimlico as mothers love children, arbitrarily, because it is THEIRS, Pimlico in a year or two might be fairer than Florence. Some readers will say that this is a mere fantasy. I answer that this is the actual history of mankind. This, as a fact, is how cities did grow great. Go back to the darkest roots of civilization and you will find them knotted round some sacred stone or encircling some sacred well. People first paid honour to a spot and afterwards gained glory for it. Men did not love Rome because she was great. She was great because they had loved her.
--G.K. Chesterton: "Orthodoxy"