Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Will Jesus Win?

Kingdom Hope

            Betty Bates, my mother-in-law, died last spring.  At the time we did not guess that her daughter, my wife Karen, would die of cancer a few months later.  I have had two occasions to think about hope in personal terms, not only as a philosopher.
            Death stamps a final “incomplete” on our earthly projects.  Karen left music compositions half-edited, letters to her grandson and granddaughter half-written, and photo projects still in the planning stage.  The addition to our house, mostly Karen’s idea, is still not quite finished.  (I need to remind the builder to send an electrician.)  Mundane hopes focus on such earthly things.  As Karen’s cancer advanced, she confided to a friend that she hoped to live until the birth of our second grandson, due in January.  Death frustrated that hope.
            Paul teaches in 1 Corinthians 15 that the resurrection of Jesus is absolutely fundamental to Christian faith.  If Jesus was not raised, he writes, the gospel is false and we are still in our sins.  Further, he says, the resurrection of Jesus grounds the hope that we will be raised.   On the basis of this doctrine, it is entirely proper for Christians to hope for a personal afterlife.  Betty and Karen both died in hope that they would see people they had known and loved in heaven.  They hoped also they would be known.
            Christian hope is personal, but not individualistic.  The headline message of Jesus’ preaching, according to the gospels: “Repent!  The Kingdom of God is near.”
            To repent means to change one’s whole life, a reorientation of one’s values and aims.  One aspect of repentance (not the whole) is to change one’s thinking.  To a degree, the call to repentance is a call to change one’s mind.  Repentance means we need to learn to think in kingdom terms.  And one aspect of that task is to consider how the kingdom affects our hope.
            The “kingdom of God” obviously involves a king and people who are subjects of the king.  It is a social concept.  To live in a kingdom has implications for relationships between the king’s subjects.  We must treat each other as the king commands.
            [An aside.  In political imagery, we sometimes contrast the subjects of a king or emperor with the citizens of a democracy or republic.  I prefer the latter to the former; probably you do too.  We think citizenship in a republic recognizes human dignity in a way no king or emperor could do.  Consider, though, how different the kingdom of God is.  According to Paul, it is “righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.”  (Romans 14)  In the kingdom of God, we are all “children” and “heirs” or “brothers/sisters” of the king.  The “children” of the kingdom of God enjoy a dignity greater than citizens of earthly republics.]
            Justice marks the kingdom of God, right relationships between people.  Jesus will come back to rule, to put things right.  In biblical words: oppression of the alien or the weak or the orphan will end.  In modern terms: fraud, price gouging, loan sharking, mislabeling of products, deceptive contracts, shoddy workmanship, red-lining, racial profiling, cheating of all kinds—all this will end.  Justice will reign.
            The earth will be restored.  Biblical visions of the afterlife include a “new heaven and a new earth.”  “The lion will lie down with the lamb.”  “They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain.”  Again, in our modern terms: pollution of air, land and water will end.  People will live cooperatively with other creatures.  We will use the earth without misusing it.  We will be gardeners, not exploiters.
            It’s all just a metaphor, right?  Maybe, but maybe not.
As I meditate on the scope of the kingdom metaphor, a truth bears down on me: It’s not about me; it’s about Jesus.  The kingdom of God belongs, in the primary sense, to God.  The kingdom of God is something God is doing.  I am drawn into it as one of billions of others.  I am a part, however small, of the true story.
            The true story, the real story, is not about me; it’s about Jesus.  The story of the kingdom of God is a story with beginning, middle and end; a story with a plot.  The main character is Jesus.
            The end of the story is something we hope for.  By faith we enter the kingdom now as a present gift of God.  But Jesus has not yet returned.  Opportunities abound for mockers to ridicule our hope.  There is plenty of room and time to experience doubt.
            So here is a feature of Christian hope that I had not sufficiently considered: we hope that Jesus will win.  We hope the kingdom he proclaimed will in fact come.
            Amen.  Come, Lord Jesus.

Friday, October 21, 2016


The Last Walk (Part Nine):
Eulogy at Newberg Friends Church

            I can’t possibly say everything I would like to say about Karen, so I will talk about her life as an artist.  We have purchased a burial niche at Newberg Friends Cemetery.  The inscription on the niche will say of Karen: “Maker of Beauty.”
            Karen Bates was born February 4, 1952 to Glenn and Betty Bates in The Dalles, Oregon.  She grew up in The Dalles, McMinnville, and Newberg, graduating from Newberg High School in 1970.
            Karen demonstrated varied talents at Newberg High School.  She competed in gymnastics and scored points for her team on the balance beam.  She sang in a high school choral group called “Shades of Blue” that performed in local concerts.  She also sang in choirs for high school commencements and a local production of The Messiah.  She practiced calligraphy and drawing with charcoal.
            While still in high school, Karen moved deeper into music.  She created an arrangement of “Sunrise, Sunset” for the high school choir and conducted the choir’s rendition of the popular song in 1969.
            In 1977 Karen married Philip Smith, changing her name to Karen Bates-Smith.  In 1981 she gave birth to a son, Tim.  In 1989, we adopted a son, James.
            After college, Karen attended Fuller Theological Seminary, completing a Ph.D. in Psychology in 1983.  She made a career as an Oregon licensed psychologist for more than thirty years.  But her musical muse would not leave her alone.  In the early 80s she bought a cello and started lessons.  Pretty soon, she bought a much more expensive cello, and her husband knew the music thing was serious.
            In the 1980s, when I was pastor of Maplewood Friends Church, Karen aided worship greatly by playing piano, collaborating with Meredith Fieldhouse, who led singing.
            We moved to Newberg in 1989.  It wasn’t long before Karen joined the Chehelem Symphony, directed by Dennis Hagen.  For years she played cello alongside Theo Powers.  Besides two or three concerts a year with the Chehelem Symphony, Karen gave solo performances in concerts at the Portland Community Music Center.  For a couple years, Theo joined her, giving the Smith and Powers sons a chance to squirm in their seats while their mothers performed. 
            Karen Bates-Smith, Karen Scott, and Pat Surguy formed a trio (cello, piano, violin) called Clavis Trio.  They gave recitals at Friendsview Manor and Newberg Friends Church.
            By the late 90s, performance wasn’t enough.  Karen returned to school, pursuing an undergraduate music degree at Marylhurst University, with an emphasis in composition.  At first, she focused on choral music, including “Sing to Yahweh,” which was performed in worship by the Newberg Friends Choir in June 1998.  She also wrote pieces for piano and cello, such as “Sonata #1” which was performed by Theo Powers and Jane Smith in 1998.  In her senior recital, in 2002, various musicians performed “Love’s Whimsey” (soprano and piano), “Rondo for Alto Flute” (a memorial to victims of 9-11), Rhyme Quintet in E-Flat” (by the Con Grazia Wind Quintet), “String Trio #1 in C Major” (violin, viola, and cello).  Karen also wrote music for at events at Warner Pacific College, such as “Brass Ring” for a concert called the Brass Bash.
            After finishing at Marylhurst in 2003—her second undergraduate degree—Karen gradually played cello less and concentrated more on composing.  Eventually she left the Chehelem Symphony.  But she continued to practice cello to keep up her skills.  With her friend, Darlene Babin, she practiced a variety of cello and piano pieces, many of them her own compositions.  She contributed new work for recitals at Marylhurst, including “Brown and Furry” and “The Telephone is Under the Stairs” (soprano and piano).
            By this point you get the idea: Karen wrote for voices and for a great variety of instrumental combinations: string trios, woodwind quintets, brass groups, orchestras, and so on.
            That is not the end of the story.  In a sense, it’s only half.  In 2014, after her first go-round with cancer, Karen retired as a psychologist.  Then she went out and bought a camera.  She bought another camera.  And lenses.  And lighting equipment.  Her husband knew this photography thing was serious.
             Karen opened a business, Take Wing Photography.  With our daughter-in-law Jennie’s help, she transformed our living room into a portrait studio.  She also took her camera to Coffee Cottage and to people’s houses.  She came back with some penetratingly realistic photos of people.  I defy anyone to find a better picture of Ed Higgins than the one Karen captured.
            In my opinion, though, Karen’s art photography surpassed her portraits.  In some cases she manipulated the camera to achieve pure abstraction.  In other pictures, she used extreme close-up shots to bring the viewer intimately into nature.  She made pictures that reveal beauties we too often pass by without noticing.
            Sadly, Karen’s photography career lasted less than two years.  Cancer came back.  Debilitating pain forced her to stop.  October 9, 2016, she died.
            I don’t know if we will make photos after the resurrection.  Scripture strongly hints we will make music.  In Tolkien’s delightful story, “Leaf by Niggle,” the artwork we make here prepares us for greater art making in the next life.  It will be pure delight to see what Karen’s work here might lead to there.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016


The Last Walk:
Eulogy at St. Peter Church

            I can’t possibly say all I would like to say about Karen, so I will talk about her life as a Catholic.
            Karen Suzanne Bates was born February 4, 1952 to Glenn and Betty Bates in The Dalles, Oregon.  She grew up attending Conservative Baptist churches in The Dalles, McMinnville, and Newberg.  Years later, she told me she and other Newberg High students would debate rather fine points of theology between classes.  It seemed important to her at the time to be right, theologically, and she was happy to defend every point of Conservative Baptist doctrine.  Karen was very smart; I don’t imagine she lost many debates.  In 1970, she was NHS valedictorian.
            In the early 1970s, Karen experienced an abusive, violent, and short marriage.  The trauma of those years pushed her toward studying psychology and sparked spiritual searching.  In 1977, Karen married me and changed her name to Karen Bates-Smith.  In marrying me, she became a Quaker.  It turned out that though she was content with me for a husband, she wasn’t fully content as a Friend.
            Three months after marrying, we entered Fuller Theological Seminary.  The psychology Ph.D. program at Fuller takes six years.  Students earn a Master’s degree in theology in addition to their work in psychology; during their four years of course work.  The last two years are spent in internships and—for most Fuller students—dissertation writing.  Karen finished her course work and her dissertation in the four years.  And she also had a baby, our son Tim.
            Already, in our Pasadena years, Karen started visiting Catholic churches.  She did this on her own.  As a couple we were active in the Friends Church; for our last two years I was pastor of Pasadena Friends.  But Karen was already feeling a stirring in her heart, something drawing her toward contemplative worship that she found sitting in mass.
            We moved to Portland in 1982.  I pastored Maplewood Friends Church, and Karen supported my work in every way she could.  She served on a Yearly Meeting board, she hosted meetings in our house, she played piano for Sunday worship, and—perhaps most important, given the tiny salary the church could afford to pay me—she earned most of the family income.
            In the late 80s I left the pastorate to pursue philosophy at the University of Oregon and an increased teaching load at George Fox.  Karen shifted the focus of her psychology practice to neuropsychological testing.  For many years she worked for Disability Determination Services and later, in private practice, as a consultant for DDS.  We adopted our second son, James, in 1989.
            Since I was no longer a Friends pastor, Karen felt greater freedom to pursue her spiritual stirrings toward Catholic worship.  We moved to Newberg in 89.  She drove to St. John Fisher in Portland for RCIA.  At Easter, 1991, she was formally confirmed as a member of the Catholic Church.  For a year or two, she attended St. Francis church in Sherwood before finally settling in St. Peter church here in Newberg.
            Karen worried that by becoming a Catholic she would impede my career at George Fox.  She knew about anti-Catholic thinking among some Protestants.  When I was finishing my degree at UO we contemplated moving to various parts of the country.  (I applied for lots of philosophy jobs in 1991, even flew to New York to interview for one of them.)  She thought, perhaps, that in another location her faith would not be a hindrance. 
            Intellectually I embraced Catholics as fellow Christians.  But emotionally I weathered a storm when Karen entered the church.  It was Jesus, I believe, who told me not to argue against Karen’s conversion.  Her leading was from Christ; I was not to get in the way.
            In 1992 it became clear I needed to stay at Fox.  We bought a house in Newberg and settled into a two-church routine.  Karen attended mass at St. Peter’s on Saturday, and she and I took the boys to Newberg Friends on Sunday.  Karen often played cello for Saturday mass.  She wrote music for mass.  Twice a year (Good Friday and Christmas) I attended mass with Karen.  And later, when the boys were grown, whenever we went on vacation, we found it simple to attend mass—it seems there is always a Catholic church nearby.
Rather than causing a problem, the fact that Karen was a Catholic proved to be a boon to my work as a professor.  When some student would express some anti-Catholic prejudice, I could gently raise a concrete example of a Protestant led by God to become a Catholic.  I myself could not join the church, but I could love and honor a woman who did.  Our marriage became a living illustration of theological inclusivity.
Interestingly, not many of my students have become Quakers.  Maybe I should be a better evangelist.  But some of my best students, such as Abigail Rine (now Favale) and Angela Wood (now Pearson) have become Catholics.  Abby is a professor at GFU.  Angela has not finished her doctorate, but she is the happy mother of five children, teaching her toddlers how to say “episteMOLogy.” 
A couple days after Karen’s death, I received a phone call from another student, Chase Willcuts.  After Fox, he had finished a Master’s in philosophy at Gonzaga, and now he is a student at a Catholic seminary, having joined the church.  I told him to be a good priest.
Karen Bates-Smith obeyed the leading of the Spirit into the Catholic Church.  From that obedience has come much good for our family, for St. Peter parish, and for my students at Fox.  She died October 9, 2016.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016


The Last Walk (Part Seven)

            In spring 1976 Eugene McCarthy brought his presidential campaign to Oregon!  In doing so, he changed my life.
            To explain this, I have to provide background.  Some historical context: Eugene McCarthy played an important role in American politics when, as a Democratic Senator, he challenged President Johnson in the New Hampshire primary.  McCarthy lost the primary, but Johnson’s narrow margin of victory helped convince him to not run for reelection.
            “Wait a moment!” you might object.  “McCarthy challenged Johnson in 1968, but you mentioned 1976.”  And you would be right.  McCarthy’s fifteen minutes of fame (according to Andy Warhol in the future we will all be famous for fifteen minutes) came in 1968.  For a few months in that awful year McCarthy was a major political figure in this country.
            [Brief side comment: many of us are deeply troubled by presidential politics this year, as we should be.  But if you can, recall 1968: Vietnam war going full blast, MLK assassinated, Robert Kennedy assassinated, the Democratic convention and “the whole world is watching,” and Richard Nixon picking Spiro Agnew to be Vice President.  As bad as 2016 seems, things could be worse.]
            In 1976 Eugene McCarthy was not a major political figure.  But like other politicians he had caught the presidential bug, and he could not let the dream go.  So he soldiered on, taking his 76 campaign to the little places away from the bright lights.  One of those places was Linfield College, where he would make a speech to college students.  Students from many Oregon colleges were invited to attend.
            History professor Ralph Beebe jumped on the opportunity.  McCarthy wasn’t important in 1976, but only eight years before McCarthy had helped pull down a wartime president.  Ralph urged George Fox College students to drive to Linfield to hear McCarthy’s speech.  Naturally, I went.  McCarthy’s speech was totally forgettable, proven by the fact I remember nothing he said.
            After McCarthy’s speech, attending students were divided randomly into discussion groups and sent to various classrooms in Melrose Hall.  And that’s when magic happened.  There was a girl in my group (about 25 students) who contributed insightful comments to the discussion—and to my surprise she identified herself as a George Fox student.
            George Fox College in the 1970s was much smaller than today.  I thought I knew everybody.  Yet here was this smart—and very pretty—young woman whom I hadn’t met!  I came back to campus with a mission to find out about Karen Bates.  It turned out that she had transferred to Fox from another college, and she lived off campus, which explained why I didn’t know her.  I asked her for a date.  We rode bicycles to Champoeg Park.  (I had to borrow a bike for this purpose.)  Afterward, she kissed me on the back porch of her parents’ house.  Later that year, in summer, I said to her, “If things keep going this way I’m going to ask you to marry me.”  She said that would be okay.
            Let it not be said that presidential candidates never accomplish good things.  In 1976 Eugene McCarthy did good.

Karen Bates-Smith died on October 9, 2016.  I miss her terribly.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016


The Last Walk (Part 6)

            Dozens of people have told me they are praying for Karen, including my friend Anis in Bangladesh.  Karen has international prayer support!
            Nevertheless, her condition deteriorated after her chemotherapy was pushed back from September 20 to October 6.  It became clear she was would not be able to endure the harsh cocktail of poisons modern medicine uses as its main weapon against cancer.  And she herself said she didn’t want more chemo.
            So we transferred Karen from palliative to hospice care.  Thirty-seven years ago, when Karen was psychology graduate student, she volunteered in an early hospice program.  1979’s cutting edge medicine has been standardized.  The hospice people know what they’re doing.
Hospice care focuses on comfort, not cure.  The goal is to reduce the pain and anxiety at the end of life.  The intake nurse explained the program and made changes in Karen’s pain management plan.  Instead of pills she had to swallow, the intake nurse ordered liquid painkillers.  (For the most part, the same meds as before, but much easier to take in liquid form.)  Later in the day, a deliveryman set up a hospital bed.  Tomorrow, Karen’s primary hospice nurse will make his first visit, review the care plan, and make sure we know how to administer liquid pain meds.  Nursing assistants will come twice a week to help with bathing, shampoos, and what not.
No one can tell how long she will live.  In July Doctor G said chemotherapy might give us a year or two.  In a few cases, even with metastasized cancer, it provides a cure.  Obviously, that did not happen this time.  We still live with uncertainty, but the range of possibilities is shrinking.  Our last walk will be much shorter than I hoped.
So why doesn’t God answer all those prayers?  Didn’t Jesus promise that the Father would grant anything Jesus’ disciples asked for?  Is it really God’s will for Karen to suffer as she does?  As a philosopher I find such questions… interesting and worthy of discussion.  If the questions are supposed to convey arguments, I don’t think the arguments will hold water.  As a man whose heart is breaking, I find such question express only a part of what I feel.
I worship a man who let his enemies kill him.  Given the solidarity of the human race, I must be included among those enemies.  While he suffered our hate, that man cried out to God, “Why have you forsaken me?”  The man I worship faced despair greater than I will ever know, and he triumphed by dying and rising again.  By death and resurrection, he has conquered me—and he conquers my fears.
Karen and I will part soon.  Our last walk will end.  For now.