We all have heresies. It’s part of being a Christian. Up until last Friday this is what I knew: certain theological statements irritate me, particularly ones about death. “God needed another flower in heaven’s garden,” and “God needed another angel” are examples. Devoid of deep theological thinking these statements seek to answer an unknown question—why do we die when we die—with cheap, groundless cliches. Consequently, I’ve created a bevy of retorts should someone utter these phrases. What I hadn’t ever expected was what to do if I spoke one of these trite phrases.
LEADING UP TO THE HERESY
KC Ptomey, a great friend, mentor and colleague died unexpectedly in May from cancer. Until last Friday, I held a firm grip on my emotions and grief. I sat with him weeks before his death, saying my goodbyes and soaking up all the wisdom his frail, dying body could muster. I attended his service of Witness to the Resurrection, hearing words of comfort, grace and God’s presence. Those events offered closure. Months removed, whenever I miss him, I look out my window at our memorial garden where he is buried; occasionally, I sit on the bench by his ashes, eating lunch and telling him about my life. My grief ebbs, but subsides after a quick look or lunch on a sunny day.
Last Friday, KC was on my mind all day. Weeks before I had heard WPC’s choir sing the anthem “Requiem” prompting me to download a copy. Listening to the words, I fiercely fought before I broke down and cried. I missed my friend and I couldn’t blame cancer or some other explainable cause. That felt fake and devoid of reality. As the tears flowed I heard the words, “Mother Mary, full of grace, awaken. All our homes are gone, our loved ones taken.” I’d suppressed my grief—kept it at an arm’s length by avoiding it or changing the subject or holding back the tears because it wasn’t a good time—but today I couldn’t. My grief took hold of me and I allowed it to because in that moment it felt so cleansing. The tears of death rolled down my face; the putrid stench engulfed my nostrils and in that moment all I could do was be mad at God. As I cried at my desk my heart uttered those trite, heretical statements that irritate me. But at the moment, it felt right. Those statements gave me something definitive. I needed to unload the burdens my grief and loss placed upon my heart and God was the best punching bag.
LIMITATIONS OF MY HERESY
But then I wiped them away, erasing their traces. At that moment my wife called, just to check in and see how my day was going. I broke down again as I attempted to explain to her why today was the day that my grief overpowered me. But I simply couldn’t utter another trite statement. Something about saying those words aloud felt irrational and wrong. I closed my eyes after our conversation and the heretical statements were gone. They didn’t offer anything anymore. But I still couldn’t understand why my grief and loss emerged today.
I looked at the date on my iPhone: November 15th. Then I remembered that KC told me he moved to Westminster in November. Opening his collection of sermons I saw it on his bulletin—written in his handwriting—the date of his first sermon: November 15, 1981. 32 years later his words reminded me of God; even better, they reminded me of the limitations of my heretical statements.
I don’t know why KC died when he did. All I know is that I miss him. Since his death I’ve both attempted and avoided rectifying those previous two statements. I want—sometimes I need—definitive and final answers to a why question. Other times I just want to avoid thinking that he’s gone. I didn’t get an answer last Friday. The pain of losing a friend remained and I still felt some anger towards God, but I don’t feel alone. What I’ve come to realize is that like any committed and long-term relationship, my relationship with God will have its ups-and-downs. But through a phone call or the anniversary of a sermon, God will remind me of God’s presence and in that moment I’ll remember why certain theological statements irritate me—even if I occasionally utter them myself.
What are your heresies and when have you ever uttered them?