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At different points in the D-Day movie The Longest Day, both a German officer and an American officer say, “It sure is hard to tell what side God is on.” I’ve been feeling that way this past week.
I’ll start with baseball. Although the essence of baseball is failure, I’ve always disliked those faux poet sportswriters who sit at word processors and type out odes to the old ball game as the key to unlocking the meaning of life. And yet . . . as daylight fades and nature prepares for its winter’s sleep, we’re in the midst of the baseball playoffs and if your heart was set on Clayton Kershaw or Mike Trout or Miguel Cabrera or Oakland or Washington or Detroit or Los Angeles (Dodgers and Angels) or Pittsburgh your heart has been broken. My heart was set on Detroit, which, history shows again and again, is a lousy place to set your heart.
Why isn’t Lent in the fall? We are moving steadily into darkness and watching my beloved Tigers fail has turned out to be the least painful of all the bad news around me. I guess Lent isn’t in the fall because Easter is at the end of it and the way I feel today is like everything is marching into failure, fear or death with no rebirth in sight. We’re heading into Good Friday and Easter feels a long way off.
Mighty Casey striking out is small potatoes compared to Ebola. Or Isis. Or last week’s typhoons, the latest in an unending series of weather disasters.
And then I read that the world’s wildlife population has dropped 50% over the past four decades. Geez.
But then tragedy struck even closer to my heart.
Last Sunday my friend Dale Brown was in an accident while riding his bike outside his home in Tennessee. He was driven off the road by a passing vehicle, went into a culvert and broke his neck. He could not move his arms and legs. I’m trusting many faithful readers of The 12 know Dale from his years at Calvin College and great work on the Festival of Faith and Writing, or from his current work as a professor of English at King University and director of the Frederick Buechner Institute of Faith and Culture. Dale has been one of God’s good gifts to literate and thoughtful Christians everywhere. Like many of us 700 miles away, my thoughts were fixed on what Dale had to do to conquer this terrible event. I was thinking of the months and months of physical therapy ahead of him and praying with hope that he’d recover the use of his arms.
But a long surgery on Thursday revealed the damage was far worse than earlier indications.
Dale died Friday evening.
I cannot conceive of this. I am so sad. I cannot conceive of how in an instant his life is gone or of the pain his wife Gayle, their kids, and extended family is enduring. I cannot conceive of the broken hearted students and faculty on the campus of King University in Bristol. I cannot conceive of the world without Dale shining as one of the brightest lights in it.
It sure is hard to tell what side God is on.