Pastoral Backstory 07.03.14


(What is the Backstory and why?)



July 3rd, 2014


valedictoryI’d once longed to be a valedictorian.  Now I mostly have sympathy for them–and not the kind that’s envy in the guise of pity.  What the highly-accomplished, soon-to-be matriculating prodigy is tasked with at a Commencement Exercise should merit yet other kind of nylon tassel around his or her neck.

In a room stiflingly thick with pageantry, a setting just asking to be popped like a bubble by someone looking for tweet-worthy glory through a last-chance shenanigan, this paragon must, of all things, give a speech.  It’s the last thing students who’ve sat through four years of lectures would care to do.

The speech must make its obligatory paeans of gratitude to all those who made immeasurable sacrifices to see this moment realized–parents, teachers, and coaches.  It must quote liberally aphorisms and adages from men and women long since dead.

But what garners most of my sympathy for the valedictorian is that before the address ends, our orator will speak of that shimmering future beckoning him or her to seize every moment, defy every convention, and bask in the glow of ostensibly limitless possibilities.

Bruce Eric Kaplan

Bruce Eric Kaplan on writing a commencement address

All the while most of those in attendance have their minds transfixed on one thing: what’s on the menu at the celebratory post-baccalaureate meal.

Proclaiming a shining vision of what awaits a graduating class amid a company lost in pre-prandial visions is not for the faint of heart. Extolling ideals may inspire some, but will just as likely evoke something between indifference and derision from everyone else.

It’s what the valedictorian must face and feel that confronts anyone who would speak of a future wrought by God in which “death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore”–when “all that’s sad will become untrue.”  Most won’t listen to such a far-fetched fantasy, and the precious few who do won’t buy it.

We concluded Storyline last Sunday with that very vision–one that flies in the face of a world in which kids still are left to die in hot cars, kidnapped girls are used as a political bargaining chip, and families grow numb imagining their loved ones in a watery grave 5 miles down. Talk of a shimmering future provokes as much cynical eye-rolling as hopeful tears.

Still the story is told, because the hope of its fruition persists.  Even among those who’d be voted in a high-school yearbook as “least likely to live with hope.”

V.I. Kachalov as Ivan in a 1910 staging of The Brothers Karamazov

V.I. Kachalov as Ivan in a 1910 staging of The Brothers Karamazov

Dostoevsky’s Ivan, in The Brothers Karamazov, is no believer.  Nor is he restrained in pointedly calling his believing brother, Alyosha, to account for his hope and faith.  But in an unpremeditated moment of candor, even as he expresses his exasperation for the way his brother speaks of a hope-filled vision of a future, Ivan says:

I believe like a child that suffering will be healed and made up for, that all the humiliating absurdity of human contradictions will vanish like a pitiful mirage, like the despicable fabrication of the impotent and infinitely small Euclidean mind of man, that in the world’s finale, at the moment of eternal harmony, something so precious will come to pass that it will suffice for all hearts, for the comforting of all resentments, for the atonement of all the crimes of humanity, for all the blood that they’ve shed; that it will make it not only possible to forgive but to justify all that has happened.

Ivan speaks of a future no man, no authority, no ideology could ever obtain. This future of the world rests on something beyond it.  Many claim to have found a way to to a new Utopia.  Interestingly none have ever tried to claim that the future glory will ever explain or justify the sorrows of the past.  None can.  The only thing that could would have to be stronger than the death in which all those devastating storylines ended.  And that’s why we keep telling–including to ourselves–the Story of a future inevitable, indescribable, and inviolable.


We’re nearing the end of our series on the Ten Commandments. This Sunday we’ll look at the 9th Commandment: You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. We quoted him in last week’s Backstory. We’ll let David Foster Wallace prompt our consideration of the Commandment in this week’s sermon.

David Foster Wallace

David Foster Wallace

It seems to me that the intellectualization and aestheticizing of principles and values in this country is one of the things that’s gutted our generation.  All the things that my parents said to me, like ‘It’s really important not to lie.’ OK, check, got it. I nod at that but I really don’t feel it. Until I get to be about thirty and I realize that if I lie to you, I also can’t trust you. I feel that I’m in pain, I’m nervous, I’m lonely, and I can’t figure out why. Then I realize, ‘Oh, perhaps the way to deal with this is really not to lie. . . .’  That seems to me like something our generation needs to feel.

What must we reckon with if we’re to feel the weight of truth?



This Sunday we’re headed out to that haven for the LuAnn platter.   Come along with us after 2nd hour Q&A to Luby’s at 5600 S Hampton (just North of 67).  That spot is hoppin at the Sunday lunch hour, so get your business over there quickly. Save the rest of us lollygaggers a seat.



8theplayNext Sunday, (July 13, 6-8p) we’ll reconvene back at the McAndrew’s home at 1215 Rita Ln for our monthly time of corporate prayer.  The disciples counted 5 loaves and 2 fish in their accounting of what they had to meet an overwhelming need.  Jesus had to show they’d forgotten to count the Lord.  That’s why, as F.D. Bruner so aptly put it, “disciples should always count to eight.”  That’s why we’re gathering to pray together.  We’ll let the Lord’s Prayer shape our time–as it did for Martin Luther often.  Perhaps you’ll review his Simple Way to Pray we’ve shared with you before. (You might also note how he let the Ten Commandments shape his prayers.)


Would you take time to pray

  • for Wanda and Horace Williams as she grieves now her second recent loss, this time her step-mother; services will be this Saturday
  • for Emma and Lucy Griffiths whose grandmother, Angela, died Wednesday in England
  • for the mother of Debby Comer as she convalesces from recent surgery
  • for Imelda Ottmers recovering from surgery this week
  • for our community spread abroad both working and resting
  • for the girls in Nigeria, the mourners of MH 370, the strife in Crimea, Syria, and Iraq

See you Sunday at 9:30,


A..cryptic…bonus, but a satisfying clip nonetheless from the episode entitled “The Great Game” of the BBC’s Sherlock


Author: Patrick

Pastor of Christ the King Church (PCA)

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