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I have been watching the Olympics a lot this week; constantly amazed at what these athletes are able, and willing, to do. There’s a level of crazy required for sports like skeleton, and fearless flexibility for ski jump aerials. I used to ski some, but 80 mph in the downhill is faster than I go on the interstate — in my car! Curling looks like something I can handle, and there is a curling center in the north suburbs of Chicago. Perhaps I’ll give it a try some day and learn how complicated it really is.
The sport which has caught my attention more this year than previous Olympics, however, is ice dance. In a world full of chaos and pain, I think I am drawn to its beauty, elegance, and grace. It also has me thinking about Chris.
Chris and his siblings grew up at Faith Community in the 1960s and 70s. They still live in the community, and have been around the church off-and-on ever since. Even as they worshipped elsewhere, we were still “their church.” When Chris died on Christmas Eve 2019, there were three other pastors his sister wanted me to call and invite to be part of the service – other churches they attended regularly and of which they were a part, at least tangentially.
There was no question, however, that I would do the funeral and it would be held at Faith. We were their church. It’s where they were baptized. It’s where they first learned about Jesus. It’s where Chris was a regular for both Wednesday night dinners and Bible study and Sunday morning worship, even when the bus schedule changed and caused him to consistently be twenty minutes late.
More than anything, Faith Community is where they felt a sense of belonging, which was not easy or commonplace for Chris. He lived with clear mental health challenges, undiagnosed and untreated, and significant physical ailments as well. A combination of sleep apnea and narcolepsy meant he often fell asleep during Bible study or worship. And he snored. Loudly.
Chris was brilliant; socially awkward; loud; unkempt; struggled to see through his thick glasses which were often in disrepair. Crumbs clung to his bushy red beard and followed him like Pig Pen. His enthusiasm was boundless and uncontainable, matched, if at all, only by his friendliness to anyone and everyone he met. I miss him.
Chris had a B.S. in computer science and, in the right environment, likely would have thrived as a programmer, though he was never given that opportunity. For much of the last 16 years of his life, when I knew him, he was often teetering on the edge of homelessness. Life was hard for Chris, and he fought through a lot of challenges. For someone who was struck by lightning twice, hit by five cars and two trucks, and was even hit in the head by a railroad crossing gate, it is ironic that Chris died at home in his sleep.
The story of his life did not play itself out the way he thought or hoped it would. And yet Chris always kept going; even when the road was dark and filled with pain. He kept going; in part because of his enthusiasm for life, and in part because he knew he was never alone. He knew he belonged to Jesus.
We did not go to the graveside after Chris’s funeral, but if we had, I would have said:
In sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life, through our Lord Jesus Christ, we commend to almighty God our brother Christopher Steven, and we commit his body to this resting place; earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust. The Lord bless him and keep him, the Lord make his face to shine upon him and be gracious unto him, the Lord lift up his countenance upon him and grant him peace. Amen.
The Heidelberg Catechism reminds us straight away that we belong, body and soul, in life and in death, to our faithful Savior, Jesus Christ. We belong. To Jesus. From before the beginning until after the end, we are in the hands of our creator God.
The apostle Paul tells the church at Ephesus, and us, that they, and we, are God’s handiwork; the Greek word he uses is poeima – we are God’s poems, God’s masterpieces. Each and every one of us. Including Chris. And you.
Oh. . .and why did ice dancing get me thinking about Chris? When he was in high school, Chris and his sister won a polka dance competition – on roller skates! Can you imagine?