Eulogy for Mark Paul Meyer

My father passed away during the night of Sunday, October 22nd. I know that I am very fortunate to have had–for all his flaws and struggles–a truly wonderful father. During the last year of his life, my father was the recipient of a heart transplant, effectively healing a degenerative heart condition that he had lived with for twenty years. That heart transplant gave him the chance to return to activities that he had loved and excelled at in his younger years—he once won a marathon with a time of 2hrs. 37m.—and push himself again. The last day of his life, he ran a half-marathon, placed 3rd in his age bracket, had dinner with his brother and my mother, and watched the World Series game. It was, in every respect, the perfect last day for my father. I would like to share the eulogy that I wrote for my dad. The text is below, along with a video of the service. The eulogy begins at 29:40. 

Every life stretches across minutes, days, and years. Every life—my dad’s no less—ends too soon. We want more time together. But in addition to its measure in length, time has moods, it has a feel, it has variable atmospheres and climates. One day’s time differs from the next, and your mode of moving with time differs from mine. So even as I ache for more time, I want to share a few words about the intensity, the trajectory, the weight of my dad’s flight through time and how it has shaped my own.

My dad never let his timeline go slack. He was always pushing further, running faster, making a bigger difference for others. From the viewpoint of the stars, he spun 24,734 circles on this earth, on his way through 67-and-a-half loops around the sun, but he pulled that line as tight as he could. His restlessly determined mood or mode of movement in time marked everything that he did. He lived hard enough that he wore out two hearts, at least two hearts.

Dad approached risk face-on and clear-eyed, without hesitation. His last day is only a perfect parable of so much that went before. Were there risks to running 3rd in his age bracket in a half-marathon, ten months out from a heart transplant? Sure. But if your new heart will pump in its cage, if your legs will regain some of their former strength, if you can train again to float over pavement, then how can you say no? How could you say no to flying, to learning Greek and Spanish, to starting a new career in your sixties, becoming a pastor and a prison chaplain? How could you say no to a heart transplant? Dad could be gracious and empathetic with others, but he always pushed himself—in physical endeavors, in moral character, in generosity—he held himself to a higher standard.

As I’ve thought about my dad over the years, and more intensely in the last week, I think that his orientation to time and to risk are among the ways that he influenced me most deeply. He would want to make this occasion count, to make these moments as thick, as rich, as impactful as possible. He would want to share some message. I cannot speak for him, but I can tell you what I’ve learned from him and ask you to carry it forward. As he said often enough to my brothers and I, “Let this be a lesson to you.”

Death is not the worst thing. Death is not the enemy. It never was and it isn’t now. Dad outran the smallness of fear with a clear-eyed resolve to pull his time tight. Death is only an end, and perhaps not even a dead end. There are cramped, stingy, self-enclosed, bigoted, and fearful ways of living that make too much of death. It is a mistake, even if a very common one, to give life over to death too soon by assuming that your fate is established, that your character cannot change, that you have nothing more to offer those around you, that your fellow-travelers are too different to be neighbors. Death is not the worst thing because, for all its terrible power, it can never un-live the life that has been lived, it can never un-love the love that has been shared, it can never claw back the adventures that make us who we are, it can never rub out the lines etched across time’s surface.

I am a professional theologian—whatever that is—and some people assume that I am supposed to know things, to have answers. Mostly, I try to help people ask better questions. “Where do we go when we die?” is not, I think, a particularly helpful question. But here is what I know. Mark Paul Meyer is enfolded in the life of God. His hunger, his love, his ferocious hope, his relentless determination—they’re all too big for death to swallow. An echo of eternity among us, he lived his time with an intensity that could never be contained in his days. Death is not the worst thing, it is only an end. We, together here today, are testimony to that truth. And so, as our Eastern Orthodox sisters and brothers say, “Memory eternal, memory eternal, memory eternal.”

zimbabwe :: a word from the churches

Amidst the continuing electoral crisis in Zimbabwe, the church of that nation is calling out to make public the oppression and violence being perpetrated on the people. The crisis seems to consist of nothing more than the ruling coalition’s inability to recognize that they have lost the election—despite all their efforts to “steer” the outcome.

People are being abducted, tortured, humiliated by being asked to repeat slogans of the political party they are alleged not to support [that is, ZANU PF, the party which has held power for 28 years under Robert Mugabe], ordered to attend mass meetings where they are told they voted for the ‘wrong’ candidate and should never repeat it in the run-off election for President, and, in some cases, people are murdered.

I urge others to make the statement of Zimbabwe’s churches more widely known, and to join in prayer for the people of Zimbabwe—that they would not succumb to chicanery and intimidation, and that peace and justice would be restored to this ravaged land. Lord have mercy.

Li-Young Lee :: of death and more than death

Two stanzas from a poet who has become, in the years since those wonderful Santa Barbara evenings my friends called “Tuesdays with Ed,” one of my very favorite poets. Thanks indeed, are due to Ed for introducing Li-Young Lee to me. This from a long poem entitled “furious versions”:

But I own a human story,
whose very telling
remarks loss.
The characters survive through the telling,
the teller survives
by his telling; by his voice
brinking silence does he survive.
But, no one
can tell without cease
our human
story, and so we
lose, lose.

Yet, behind the sound
of trees is another
sound. Sometimes, lying
awake, or standing
like this in the yard, I hear it. It
ties our human telling
to its course
by momentum, and ours
is merely part
of its unbroken
stream, the human
and otherwise simultaneously
told. The past
doesn’t fall away, the past
joins the greater
telling, and is.

the impossibility of thinking suffering through

The problem of intense and irrational suffering in a world that Christians proclaim as the object of God’s love is a problem that can never be thought through, only thought around. It is a dark mystery which stands as a stumbling block, a choking pain, a stunning blow, to faith, to love, to hope. Yet it never need be a fatal fall.The Christian answer can never be one that has fully thought through the problem of suffering because no human answer survives the complexity of suffering and death, all of them fall to the side. Job’s questions are only answered with a jarringly profound statement of God’s presence. His suffering is not answered, but accompanied in a way that elicits wonder and worship. For Job, that is enough.The Christian answer can never be one that has fully thought through the problem of suffering any more than one can think oneself through the cross of Christ. At the point of God’s death among us, all human answers simply fail. Here is God’s confrontation with suffering and death at the center of the world (which is to say both nowhere and everywhere). We cannot think through this event because it is either our own death or or our own doing. Either way, the cross is the terminus of human thought about suffering. Continue reading “the impossibility of thinking suffering through”

moltmann :: bodies and death

“…ideas about ‘the self’ have undergone a remarkable transmigration. As long as the living character of the human being was seen in the inhaling and exhaling of air, the self was localized in the diaphragm. The person is alive in the rhythm of his breathing, and his life ends when ‘he breathes his last.’ Later on, people viewed the living character of the human being in his powerful emotions, in the trust of the heart and in ‘cordial’ love. So the centre of life was localized in the human heart. When the heart stops beating the person is dead. But then the human being came to be viewed as the suject of reason and will; and the self migrated once again, in the world of the imagination, and came to be lodged in the human brain, generally behind the eyes. Today ‘brain death’ counts as real symbol for the death of the human being.”

Moltmann, God in Creation trans. Margaret Kohl (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1993), 255.