Winning against Cancer: Reflections on Death and Stuart Scott

I remember in college being excited about watching Monday morning’s Sports
Center.  Stewart Scott was usually on as one of the top broadcasters and I loved the catch phrases he would use.  “Boo-yah!” “Cool as the other side of the pillow.”  Rich Eisen does an awesome job summing them up in this highlight reel.

Yet, what caught me was the quote from Scott’s ESPY award speech.  “When you die, it does not mean that you lose to cancer.  You beat cancer by how you live, why you live, and in the manner in which you live.”

As a pastor, as a Christian, I never like hearing someone say that they ‘lost their battle with cancer.”  Stuart Scott seemed to be a man of faith and walked, the final days of his life, as one who goes on to live.  Another quote points to this.  This quote comes from ESPN magazine back in 2010 while discussing Tim Tebow’s scriptural eyeblack.  When asked if he would be offended if someone wrote “There is no God” on their eyeblack Scott replied, “Dave, if that [is] what you want to do, I don’t care.  But Tim and I and billions of other believers in the world know you’d be wrong.  I’ve seen the workings of God many times in my life…If you don’t believe in God, watch a child be born.  Then if you still say you don’t believe in God, that’s okay.  The thing is, I think He’ll watch over you anyway!”

I just did a funeral from someone who passed away from Alzheimer’s.  At any funeral when someone has gone through a long battle with illness and disease I remind the family of what Scott echoes.  You never lose when you have faith.

During the committal service at the graveside this is what the United Methodist Book of Worship reads, and something I love, “Listen, I will tell you a mystery!  We will not all die, but we will all be changed.  For this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality.  Then the saying that is written will be fulfilled: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”  “Where, O death, is your victory?  Where, O death, is your sting.” But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

We will all change, we will all die, but it is through the salvation work of God through his Son Jesus Christ that we can go on to live.

I remember distinctly the pastor of my church as a youth (Bruce Jones) announce, “Mr. ______ just won his battle with cancer.”  It caught me off guard at first but then the reality sunk in.  As people of faith, God’s love wins.  No disease, illness or tragedy ever has the last say.  Scott seemed to understand that, echo that, and live that out in the last part of his earthly journey.

To him I say thank you.  Thank you for reaching a millions with that quote and I pray that they will know the faith and the grace behind it one day for themselves.

Let us pray, “O God, who gave us birth, you are ever more ready to hear than we are to pray.  You know our needs before we ask, and our ignorance in asking.  Give to us now your grace, that as we shrink before the mystery of death, we may see the light of eternity.  Speak to us once more your solemn message of life and of death.  Help us to live as those who are prepared to die.  And when our days here are accomplished, enable us to die as those who go forth to live, so that living or dying, our life may be in you, and that nothing in life or in death will be able to separate us form your great love in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Amen.”  (UM Book of Worship)

Brain Scientist has a Stroke of Insight

After my post about my grandfather did its rounds in my family my aunt sent me this link. It is a 19 min. video of brain scientist, Jill Bolte Taylor, who is able to analyze a stroke. The catch is it is her that is having the stroke. It is an amazing talk and if you have a spare 20 minutes today, watch it.

Within her talk she gets right up close to admitting there is a God. She has her nose up against the glass but pulls back to describe, what I would call a God experience, something else. Still, she presents and tells her story extremely well and you are gripped by her passion and pain.

This video got me thinking about my grandfather who has Alzheimer’s. I wonder if he is flowing backing into place where he feels he is part of a great expanse? I wonder if in his brain he is actually at peace? I wonder if, as Jill describes, he has given up his soul to the greater feeling of peace? If so, we see him as being trapped in his body. He might see himself as going in and out of being face to face with God.

Funny thing to add: when my aunt sent my wife the email she forgot to send the link the first time!

Lament for a Grandfather

I am attempting to go through all the unread books on my shelves and make them read books. Currently I am concentrating on my preaching section. Once I flipped open the cover though I noticed I was not the first person to have read this book. In my grandfather’s handwriting was the date he received the book, 3-24-49. This is peculiar because the book doesn’t look that old and it states the current copyright was in 1988. The book is Imagination of the Heart, New Understandings in Preaching by Paul Scott Wilson. Paul Scott Wilson was born in 1949, according to the copyright page. I think my grandfather was confused.

That is a good possibility because currently he is sitting in the locked down third floor of a nursing facility in Charlotte. My grandfather has Alzheimer’s disease. William (Bill) Matthews is a brilliant man. He was an engineer for GM and helped design many aspects of our cars that we take for granted. The only thing I know he helped engineer is the locking gas cap we all are accustomed too. I wish I knew more about his work. Growing up I knew he was a smart man and once I entered high school and college I caught on to keen mind. He loved doing the crossword puzzle and sketching. I remember clearly him visiting us in Charlotte, they use to live in Huron, OH, and he was reading Alice in Quantumland by Robert Gilmore. This is what he called light reading.

He was also a very active member in his UMC in Huron. Thus I was not surprised to find this book on my shelf with his notes, sketches, and highlights included. My parents have been trying to slim down my grandparents ‘stuff’ for quite a while. Every so often I will show up at their house to find another box of things I am welcome to if I want. One day they had a box of books and went through it and took what I thought might be interesting, including Imagination of the Heart. Yet as I started to read it years later I am finding out I can’t bring myself to do it.

At my last sermon in my pervious appointment I had a lot of my family show up. Since it was in their hometown they thought it would be an ideal time to hear me preach since I and they don’t know if I’ll ever be appointed near them again. After the service my aunt, my mom’s sister, came up to me with tears in her eyes. It wasn’t that my sermon was so spectacular but she was lamenting the loss of possible conversations. She told me, “Grandpa would be so proud of you and oh the things you two could have talked about.” That comment rang in my ears as I leafed through the pages to see Grandpa’s notes in this book.

My grandfather was never a minister although I think he was a lay speaker or at least a lay leader. His notes tell me that he was really into the idea of preaching and telling people God’s Word. I wonder what he would say about my sermons, my style, and my presence behind the pulpit? As I looked through the book I lamented loss conversations.

As I type this my grandfather is trapped within is own body and mind. He is physically alive and healthy but this horrible disease has moved his body back to infancy. This brilliant mind holds so much knowledge and wisdom but I’ll never learn from it. I will never get a chance to sit down over a beer and a football game and ask him why he wrote We were left hanging by our thumbs – where was the hope?

I may be able to learn more if I could bring myself to read the words of the author but I can’t. The book will be going back up on my shelf to be dusted off sometime in the future. I cannot concentrate on the words typed on the pages because my mind is sucked away to the lost conversations. I lament for my grandfather who is not yet gone but has already retreated to a place only God knows and can go.