On Friday I wrote about many of the reasons why I as grieving related to the pandemic that is sweeping the world.
Today (Sunday) I grieve as I remember that 10 years have passed since Michael Spencer was taken from us way too early.
This coming Friday many of us will be sitting in darkness as the Good Friday story is read to us, and we remember the suffering of our Saviour and Lord.
As I was sitting and thinking as to what I would be writing today about the passing of Michael Spencer 10 years ago, one word came to me: “Hope”.
Michael Spencer offered hope.
For those of us who were wandering in some sort of spiritual wilderness, Michael stood as a beacon. Not the sort that would show us the way out, but a light of comfort that told us that he was right there with us. We were not alone. He understood what we were going through. He could relate to the struggles we had, the fears we had, the frustrations we had.
In other words, he embodied Jesus to us.
In a moving tribute to Michael Spencer, his long time friend David Head wrote:
[W]hat made Michael’s ministry so compellingly powerful was his willingness to share his brokenness, flaws and struggles. He never tried to convince us that he had his act together. He refused to take the easy road of cultivating an on-line image that was heroically certain. He went to the boundaries of safe and predictable faith and stepped over. He was Jacob wrestling with the angel of the Lord through the dark nights of his soul. He expressed his tears & laments, questions & screams at God, fears and failures, doubts and an ambiguity that left you wondering how faith would possibly survive that moment.
A first encounter with that depth of honesty was scary. It left you feeling like a voyeur, with access to something intimate you weren’t supposed to have. But then something happened. Michael’s courageous honesty about the beautiful messes of his own journey with Jesus gave permission for thousands of us to own our own mess with Jesus. To realize that our brokenness, flaws, struggles, fears, and doubts are a part of the normal Christian journey. Because they are a part of life and you do it—all of it—with Jesus. Reality means you confess before God, friends, family and even our churches, “ I’m a mess…and I’m with Jesus.” One person said “Michael that put words to my own struggles in ways I wished I could but couldn’t. I know I’m not alone in this. His gift is putting himself out there so that we can see and read and shout “Yes! Exactly! Someone understands!”
Many have come and gone from this site over the years. Michael was there for all of them. For the first 10 years of Internet Monk he was there in person. For the last 10 years he continued to encourage by the vast reservoir of the writing and thoughts he left behind.
It struck me, though, that Michael never intended this site to be a destination. His choice of words to describe the site are appropriate: “Journeys in the Post-Evangelical Wilderness”. The wilderness is not a destination. It is something that you endure on your way to a better place. Many have moved on to other, perhaps better places. Some never made it out and are still searching for that elusive place of worship where they will “fit in.” Still others, like Chaplain Mike, Mike the Geologist, Daniel Jepsen, and I have remained behind. Not necessarily because we are trying to find a way out, but because we want to offer hope to others who are looking for light in a dark place.
And ultimately that was was Michael Spencer was all about. A man who offered hope.
On Michael’s passing 10 years ago I wrote:
[F]irst and foremost, Michael was about the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ. This was what was closest to his heart, and what drew me to him. His concern was that in all the many things that the church was doing, the gospel was being obscured. This was his greatest concern, and to what he paid the most attention in his writing. He regretted that so many people got the wrong idea from the “Coming Evangelical Collapse”, that more than anything it was a call to action, a call to return to the first love of the good news that God has given us.
In going back to my first thoughts about grief, we see that each of these items has a corresponding hope.
We have hope in knowing that the scourge that is currently crossing the earth will eventually end. Never has there been such a concentrated effort around the world to defeat a human enemy.
While I grieve the passing of Michael Spencer, I take hope in knowing that he continues to impact lives through his writing. Others read what he has written and have hope too.
As for the despair of Good Friday, I will leave it up to Michael Spencer to comment on that from this post he wrote for Easter, 16 years ago.
I’ve always felt that Passion plays of every sort missed out on what must have been going on in the hours after the death of Jesus. We need to meditate on the utter, complete, abject devastation and disappointment the disciples would have been feeling right now.
Modern critics of the Gospels, such as the Jesus seminar gang, make the same mistake. I heard J.D. Crossan say, “When I read (the resurrection accounts), I’m reading hope, not history.”
Hope? What hope? A man who never met a corpse he couldn’t raise, a disease he couldn’t cure, a storm he couldn’t calm, is lying cold and dead. His power vanished before their very eyes and he was crushed like a bug. All the talk of who would sit on his right and who would be the greatest…how absolutely stupid it all would seem now. Can anyone imagine the disciples having the Lord’s Supper today? It’s absurd. Everything was crushed, and there was no hope, only despair.
The assumption that the disciples were standing by the windows waiting to see Jesus is bizarre. The resurrection came blasting out from under a planet-sized boulder of hopelessness.
Perhaps we sometimes forget that Christianity doesn’t teach that despair and doubt are alien to faith. The prelude to Easter faith was the darkest, blackest kind of doubt and unbelief. The songs of Easter are growing out soil that’s devoid of any reason to sing.
The apologists who believe the evidence for the resurrection is compelling need to remember that the greatest argument against the resurrection is the simplist: This just doesn’t happen. Death is final.
We are carrying around in us, and with us, a message of hope that’s laughably ridiuclous. Faith really is comedy. God refuses to play by the rules. He raises Jesus and gives us life in Jesus’ death and resurrection. And we get to give it away, any way we can.
I’m so glad the resurrection hope isn’t theology, but miracle. Absurdity. A divine joke on all of us. There is no depth we can go to- not even the depths of hell and the grave- where we can escape from God’s laughter at our certainty it’s all over. If you want to figure it out, write a theology or pen a convincing apologetic, knock yourself out. God raised Jesus from the dead. He opened a window in your hell and my grave and said, “You’re free to leave. The rules don’t apply anymore.”
I trust you see the beauty in it. Theology, religion, the bland pleasures of the world- none of them can reach into death, despair and the grave and rescue me. I regularly need rescue from such places, and I’m pretty sure the time will come when trusting what God did to Jesus will be ALL I can believe.
So be it. Let the laughter begin in the least likely places.
Michael Spencer was, at his very core, a man of hope in the midst of despair.
As usual, your thoughts and comments are welcome.