Holy Week and Death

What I thought was exhaustion and jet lag upon returning home from Thailand and Nepal quickly turned into fever, cough, malaise, and weakness. I spent three days in bed, emerging only for trips to bathroom and kitchen. The trips to the kitchen seemed grueling in my weakened and dizzy state; after getting something to drink and some other basic necessity, I’d collapse into a recliner to rest up for the trip back down the hallway and back to bed.

Most of the time, I slept.

Until I got sick, I had had two priorities for that time: to rush to my mother’s side and make up for the time together I’d missed while gone, and to ready our house for a visit from my daughter and her family. Neither was to be.

This was supposed to be an extra special time, something I’ve been eagerly anticipating. Last year, after Pascha, I had determined to make this Holy Week even more of a priority; I’d marked it off on my calendar so as not to inadvertently schedule anything else during that time. Among other things, I was looking forward to joining local parishes in an annual 15 mile Stations of the Cross walk on Good Friday.

As time went on, the significance of this year grew even more — three people I deeply love will be entering the Church during the Easter Vigil at the local Roman Catholic parish, the same one where my daughter and her family had entered the Church.

But my best laid plans were being upended. When it was growing very close to the time that my daughter and family were to begin traveling here, I was still very sick. We agreed that it would be best if they didn’t come. In the meantime, all my efforts were going towards recovering so that I would be well enough to visit my mother and not put her and her entire care home at serious risk.

I spent Palm Sunday alone at home… Not being at church was eerily reminiscent of 2020, during the COVID lockdowns.

On Monday of Holy Week, I was feeling much better and considered donning an N95 mask and visiting my mother. Her nurse, hearing me cough over the phone, urged me to stay home.

On Tuesday of Holy Week, the nurse suggested I come. I quickly got ready and was on my way out to the car when I got the phone call from one of my mother’s caregivers.

My mother was gone.

Somehow I managed to drive. I managed to try to make two phone calls while I was driving — using my silly little dumb phone and praying I wouldn’t crash. One person answered, and somehow I managed to deliver the sad news and drive at the same time and not run off the road and not crash into anyone.

I worked at a hospital in my early 20’s. I watched some people die. I saw dead bodies. Years later, I watched my brother die. More recently, I watched my father die.

But nothing, nothing on earth, could have ever prepared me for walking alone into my mother’s room and encountering her still warm but lifeless body.

I sat vigil at her bedside. I prayed. I did the typical thing we tend to do when our loved ones die and we feel compelled to speak to them as if they are still there. I searched for her Daily Light but both copies of her favorite devotional book had managed to disappear from her room in my absence. I prayed some more.

In between, I had an awful moment of collapsing on the floor in profound grief.

I made a few phone calls. I answered some. It is in moments like these, in the depths of pain and sorrow, when I am always so profoundly awestruck by those people in my life who somehow know how to love me well, who show me Jesus by allowing Him to shine through them. If I were to sum up my “testimony”, my faith journey thus far, it’s that — as I often say these days — “God wooed and pursued me”. And He often used people to do so. Some of those people were God’s hands and feet and voice yesterday, when I needed that tender loving comfort most of all.

My husband arrived just in time so that we could watch them take my mother’s body off to the mortuary.

I lost my beloved Opa shortly before Holy Week of 1977, and celebrating the Resurrection in the midst of grief seemed oh so profoundly glorious. In the years since, and especially now that I celebrate the liturgical calendar more deeply and fully, Holy Week has become much more significant and meaningful — and the Resurrection tremendously more triumphant and joy-filled.

There is no better time, it seems, to be so exhausted, so wracked with grief and loss, and so at the end of oneself than now, this very week.

Some more thoughts on the Jesus Movement

Since my previous blog posts on this topic, I’ve had some interesting discussions, online and in real life, with people whose experiences during that time were far more positive than mine. Putting that together with discussions that I’ve had over the years with pastors and leaders about how to be better prepared for the “next Jesus Movement”, here are some things I’ve been mulling over, in no particular order of importance:

People are far more important than things.

Chuck Smith was willing, if necessary, to sacrifice the church carpet in order that hippies would feel welcome. What are we willing to sacrifice? What if it was our church’s elaborate sound systems, multi-media, and smoke machines? What if it was wasn’t so much things but our church programs? What if, for example, in order to reach a certain subculture, we needed to welcome large families with children of all ages into our church services, instead of practicing age segregation?

Before and during the Jesus Movement, it seems like we spent a lot more time at church.

On Sundays, we went to Sunday School, and then the morning service. Later, we went to the evening service, followed by youth group or an “afterglow service”. The evening service was more informal, and “testimonies” were an exciting part of it. When my father was pastoring in Big Bear, he formed what he called a “combo” (a sort of precursor to worship bands) that practiced Sunday afternoons and then led the singing during the evening service, which was soon filled with young people.

But church and related Christian activities didn’t just fill our Sundays. There was Tuesday night prayer meeting and Wednesday night Bible study. In Big Bear, a young couple from our church held a youth Bible Study (I was too young to attend) that literally overflowed their home one night a week. Once we moved, many of our Friday nights were youth nights at church. The Bible Rap met on a different night. Spending five or more hours at church on Sundays, and three evenings a week at church or related activities was not at all unusual.

Would we be willing to prioritize our time like that today? Which of our current activities would we be willing to sacrifice? How important do we believe it is to assemble together as the Body of Christ? Are we gathering now to pray for the next Jesus Movement?

The “Jesus People” were enthusiastic about personal evangelism.

That enthusiasm was so catching that weird, shy, social misfit me handed out tracts and “Jesus Papers” at school, took part in a door-to-door witnessing campaign, and tagged along with other people sharing their faith. I knew kids who “went out witnessing” at least once a week.

What are we doing? What are we willing to do?

Testimonies are powerful.

The reason many of the Jesus People so eagerly talked about Jesus is because He was active in their lives. We may not all have dramatic initial conversion stories but our lives should be stories of ongoing conversion as we follow Jesus and allow Him to change us.

I have a lot of theories as to why so many of the kids that I knew “fell away”, and there might be almost as many reasons as there are kids, but I think a lot of it has to do with relationship — not just relationship with God but with His people.

During the roughest parts of my life, including the times in which my relationship with God was truly faltering, there were people who stood in the gap for me — people who prayed for me and loved me even when I was not the nicest person.

New converts need discipling and mentoring. Jesus gave us the example — the crowds that gathered about Him came and went, but He continually taught and equipped the twelve disciples. Eleven of them went out and changed the world.

Who are we pouring our lives into?

It’s usually not a good idea to give new converts a platform or leadership role.

In fact, the Bible warns against this. Common sense tells us that a teacher should be catechized, instructed, and taught how to teach, and a leader should likewise be taught and mentored. Jesus’ disciples didn’t just “go to school” for three years; they lived and ate and ministered with the perfect Rabbi — God incarnate — for three years.

Christianity is extremely “incarnational”.

God became flesh and dwelt among us. Jesus resurrected bodily, and still exists in bodily form. We believe in our own bodily resurrection, and thus we should believe that our bodies, and what we do with them, truly matter.

When I was an evangelical, I gradually became both puzzled and amused at how disembodied our worship was. We would sing “let incense arise” without incense. We would sing “Come let us worship and bow down” without bowing, and “let us kneel before the Lord our God” without kneeling. Somehow we thought we were doing these things without actually doing them, and supposedly what our bodies actually were doing wasn’t so important. People got annoyed at me if I brought up this disconnect.

As human beings, we are not spirits inhabiting bodies, but both body and spirit. As those whom Christ has bought with a price, we are one with Him and one with His Body. It is a mystery to be sure. But our faith, our worship, our obedience, everything we do — it needs to involve all of us. We aren’t disembodied spirits worshipping God merely in some spiritual sense. We are living sacrifices, and our bodies belong to the One who saved us. Holiness involves our entire being.

That’s how we need to live.

Faith Journey | Crisis in 11th grade

My junior year of high school was a bleak, discouraging time indeed. It seemed as if everything converged together to make my life sad and difficult.

I started the school year while still recovering from a serious illness, during which my weight had dropped to 80 pounds. My mother’s neuromuscular disease progressed to the frightening point that she was bedridden, and I lived with the dread of losing her. In the middle of that already difficult school year, my father changed churches, which meant another move. I stayed with a dear friend during the week to finish out the school year, and my father picked me up every Friday so that we could spend weekends together as a family.

But there was more.

As I’ve blogged in the past:

Back then, and for… many years afterward, I was hiding a deep dark secret, one so deep and so dark that I could only cope by refusing to think about it, by pretending it away. That didn’t work well. As a teenager, I was filled with the constant, overwhelming sense that there was something very much wrong with me, but I had no idea what — and I never connected that sense with the hidden burden I carried. Fear, shame, and secrecy had become a way of life for me. So had a form of denial so profound that it was almost as if I’d created an alternative reality for myself…

One of my former teachers, Mr. Bottaro would often stop me on campus and ask how I was doing. He never believed my polite responses or automatic answers. “No, really,” he would insist, his eyes trying to search mine for the truth. “Come up to my room and see me,” he would urge, no matter what I answered. I knew he saw…something.

Finally I decided to take him up on his offer. I would sit in front of him, let him look in my eyes, and tell him that there was something terribly, seriously wrong with me but I was too afraid to try to think about it. Surely he would be able to figure it out. That was my plan, anyway, to beg him to help me, when I arrived on campus early one morning. I was on my way to his classroom when another teacher stopped me with devastating news.

Mr. Bottaro was dead of a massive heart attack.

For much of that school year, I felt as if I was drifting along in somewhat of a foggy stupor. I felt on the outs with God, to the extent that I actually tried to make up my own religion, one with an impersonal god. Needless to say, I found nothing remotely comforting about my pretend construct.

When my despair seemed overwhelming, God would send me rays of light in the midst of my discouragement. My father was a loving, accepting, and reassuring constant in my life during that tumultuous time, kind of like a Rock of Gibraltar, only far more comforting. Plus, I had some truly wonderful friends. One of my classmates was Catholic, and I met a young priest from her parish who came on campus at lunch time just to hang out with some of the students. His kindness and compassion — and the fact that he looked like a kid himself — left a huge impression on me. And I couldn’t ignore the fact that no other pastor or youth pastor was visiting our campus.

But the youth pastor at our new church, and his wife, loved me — they loved our entire youth group deeply and personally — despite my sometimes off-putting and prickly ways. In fact, they are still dear friends to this day.

Somehow I survived that year. I went to summer camp, re-dedicated my life to Christ as so many of us did, and went on to have a wonderful senior year of high school, my only year at a private Christian school.

But I was still carrying around deep, hidden wounds, as much as I tried to ignore them away. The idea of trying to get help had died with Mr. Bottaro.

“Jesus Revolution” — some thoughts

This post is an edited version of my comments to a recent Facebook discussion of the movie.

I just watched the movie last night. Yes, it seemed well done and compelling, and it filled me with nostalgia, but there were some areas where I wish they had been more accurate.

I’m not sure why they chose to cast Chuck Smith and Lonnie Frisbee as decades older than they actually were, and I thought this added a kind of weird dimension to the story. Chuck Smith was only 40 at the time, and he wasn’t some cranky old boring guy. Lonnie was a kid, not someone who was so much older than most of the hippies that he seemed like a has-been himself, or some weird hanger-on who, instead of acting his age, was trying to pretend he was still cool.

So I found that aspect a bit jarring and distracting. I left the movie trying to figure out what the main message or even the main story was. Was it that Lonnie had issues with pride and tried to take over? Was it the “theatrics”, that things would have all been fine if they had just stuck to the Bible and left out the healing stuff? Was it that God can use anyone, from brand new converts with major issues to elderly, boring preachers? Or was the real story the romance between Greg Laurie and Cathe, and the “Jesus Revolution” was just a backdrop to that?

I was a a young teenager during the early 1970’s, and I was hugely impacted by the Jesus Movement. It was an exciting time. But I saw most if not all of the hippie kids “fall away” afterwards. I think one of the big reasons is because — as the movie showed — so much was based on feelings and finding a replacement for drugs. So many kids I knew would go on and on about “getting high on Jesus” or about how the music made them feel, or about how Jesus was the most far-out guru ever. Also, many of the well-meaning Christians who ministered to the hippies ended up catering to them, changing church to attract and suit them, watering down the gospel, and not emphasizing the need for all believers to walk out a lifestyle of repentance, and to work out their salvation with fear and trembling. Once the “high” wore off, many of these hippies simply went on their hippy ways. The root causes of their rebellion and lack of purpose had never been fully addressed. For every Greg Laurie who managed to make it despite being thrust into leadership as an unqualified, unschooled, newbie convert kid, there were all sorts of similar stories where the kid crashed and burned and took a bunch of other kids down with him.

The huge “falling away” after the Jesus Movement shook a lot of us to our very core. It took me until later adulthood to realize how much a truncated version of the gospel, a focus on emotionalism, and a lack of emphasis on spiritual growth and maturity played a role in that.

I think sin was not, as a whole, addressed enough during that time. And it was a major issue. Promiscuity among the hippies was far more extreme than in the youth of today. The Bible describes rebellion as a “sin of witchcraft”, yet this sin was rarely preached against and was often coddled if not encouraged. (For example, rather than modeling respect for elders, some Christians adopted and encouraged the hippie’s lack of respect.) Many hippies survived on the streets through panhandling, thievery, drug dealing, and even prostitution — suffice it to say that sin was rampant. The mistake of many who wanted to attract hippies is that they presented a false view of Christianity. It’s not all about replacing the cross with a dove, or about cool music that makes you feel good, or about feeling accepted just the way you are. It’s not about turning church services into something that is “culturally relevant” and makes us feel good.

Deny yourself. Take up your cross daily. Be holy as Jesus is holy. His way is narrow.

The Epistles warn the church leaders not to be too quick to lay hands on someone and have them step into leadership and ministry. The story of Lonnie Frisbee should serve as a cautionary tale, only the movie didn’t tell the whole story. This young kid may have been able to attract a crowd and God may have used him, but he disqualified himself when it came to ministry. He divorced his wife and eventually died of AIDS. His story, because of his popularity and influence, is dramatic. But he’s not the only one thrust into some sort of limelight he couldn’t handle, while living a double life, and who never gained the victory over sin that is possible for those who, day after day, walk in the humble repentance and self-denial required of us.

Unfortunately, the movie didn’t offer itself as a cautionary tale. I’m not sure what message we were supposed to take away from it. Yes, it was a trip down memory lane for people like me (although I would have preferred more of that rather than the romance — perhaps the movie is really Greg Laurie’s “love letter” to his wife?) but I’m not sure what young people of today are supposed to take away — other than that churches need to change and embrace their culture, rather than requiring anything of the young people themselves. And I’m not sure that is a good message for these times… or any times.

Edited to add:

While most of the “Jesus People” that I knew left their Christian life, that was obviously not what happened to everyone. This article is one of many that describes what a huge impact the Jesus Movement still has to this day.

Faith Journey | Summer Camps

Summer camp — and also winter camp, but to a lesser extent — became a huge part of my life beginning after 8th grade. My father had joined some of his pastor friends to organize dynamic youth camps for young people and these men, as well as friendships I made, had a powerful impact on my life.

My brother and some of his friends went away for a week at the high school camp and came back dramatically changed. Kids found Christ, gave up smoking and drugs, and insisted their lives had been completely transformed. One Sunday night at church, we had “camp echoes”, and each kid shared their testimony. It was electrifying! I couldn’t wait for my turn at camp a few weeks later.

It didn’t disappoint. Hardly any kids from our church went, but the experience was wonderful. I left feeling revived and “on fire for Jesus”, ready to bring Christ — and the Jesus Movement! — to my junior high school. (Considering I was a weird, easily intimidated shy kid, this was pretty amazing.)

Some of the high school kids with the dramatic testimonies joined the hippie group I wrote about previously. All of them started coming to church regularly. Unfortunately, a number of them “backslid” to one degree or another once school started back up in the Fall.

Even though my “re-dedications to Christ” didn’t always stick very well for very long, at least not with the same fervor and intensity, the time spent at camp shaped me in significant ways. I still remember some of the sermons and Bible studies. Thousand Pines and Forest Home hold myriads of memories for me, some quite serious, and sone quite amusing. I wouldn’t have traded those summer weeks or winter weekends for anything.

The prayer chapels at both camps truly were “holy ground”. And one of the pinnacle worship experiences of my entire life took place at Thousand Pines. I can’t imagine what my faith journey would have been like without those camps.