A blog post about the meaning of Easter, posted by Sam Williamson

Twenty-three years ago, my sister Becky lost her son in an accident as he walked home from school. Is there any greater sadness for any parent than the early death of a child? I think not. This is what Easter holds for us, in the words of my sister.

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When my ten-year-old son, Robert, was struck by a truck and killed, I saw and experienced, for the first time in my life, the power and horror of death. 

Robby was my only son—I have three wonderful daughters—and was the light of our household. He played basketball, soccer, and football. He had a paper route and a bank account and was saving his money for a car. I had made it clear to him that this paper route was his job. I was not going to be one of those parents who drove him on his route every time it sprinkled. 

On Sunday morning, the day before he died, he asked me if I wanted to ride my bike along with him and help him deliver his papers. My throat felt sore, and I was experiencing the distinct pangs of PMS; but for reasons I still don’t know, I pulled myself out of bed at 6:20 am and joined him on his paper route.

Outside a fine layer of snow covered the ground, and only with great difficulty did I resist offering to drive him on the route. We bundled up in hats, mittens, and winter coats and I looked to Robby for instructions. A role reversal he relished.

We rode our bikes down dark alleys, through grassy back yards, and on detours to avoid barking dogs, all familiar territory to Robby. We worked as a team, with Robby shouting directions and me, following his lead.

When all was done and as we approached the house, Robert grinned at me: “Mom, it’s a lot more fun when you do it with me.”

I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

The next day I dropped him off at school. We said “Good-bye, love you.” They were the last words we ever spoke to each other.

When I drove home from an appointment that day, as I entered my village of Dexter, MI., I saw a traffic jam. A police car and other officers directed traffic onto an alternative route. As I passed near the accident, I saw the legs of a child, surrounded by people, in the middle of the street, and I felt sorry for whoever it was.

Until I recognized the jeans and the shoes. 

To see my lovely living breathing child suddenly turned into an empty lifeless shell seemed to me to be an unspeakable perversion. It left a huge gaping hole in my heart and life. I saw death as a monstrosity; repulsive; a thief who had the power to rob me of life and joy.

When my son Robby was killed eleven years ago, it felt as though Death had stolen everything, not only from me, but my girls; and not only from my girls, but also from Robby: his future, his growth to maturity, and all the possibilities of who he could become. 

The Bible teaches us that when we die, we immediately go into the presence of Christ. “Today you will be with me in paradise,” Jesus said to the thief on the cross. St. Paul said, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” Death can only be gain if we are alive in the presence of God. 

Then I heard a voice from heaven say, ‘Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on. Rev. 14:13

Because of what Jesus achieved by dying for our sins and being raised from the dead, death can ultimately no longer rob us of anything. My son Robby is right now in the presence of God. The biblical attitude towards death can be summed up in one great statement: It is a blessing. Jesus Christ transformed the meaning of death for the Christian:

  • Death is no longer our executioner but has become our gardener.
  • All death can do is to plant us; it plants me as a seed, and I come up a gorgeous flower. Since death has been defeated, death can do nothing but make me better!
  • For the Christian, “What is sown as perishable is raised imperishable, what is sown in dishonor is raised in glory. What is sown in weakness is raised in power.”

Robby hasn’t lost his future. He has simply started the beginning of the real story one step ahead of me—and every chapter will be better than the one before.

So come on death! Hurt me and you just grow me! Kill me and you just make me!

There is nothing so bad that can possibly take away our real wealth, or our real health, or our real hope, or our real joy.

Becky

What do we worship?

In 1930, legendary economist John Maynard Keyes wrote an essay about our future lifestyle in the twenty-first century. He predicted that industrial progress would reduce our workload to 15 hours a week. Keyes may have been a brilliant economist, but he was a pathetic prophet. 

In fact, for many, the workweek over the last thirty years has increased. In 1980, the highest earners worked the fewest hours. But something happened in the following decades, and by 2005, the longest average workweek belonged to the richest ten percent.

Historically, the rich always worked fewer hours because they could afford it. And the poor always worked more hours, so that they could make more money, so that they could work fewer hours. 

To have the wealthiest work the most hours defies all economic wisdom … unless our reasons for work changed. We used to work out of necessity, but Derek Thompson (a staff writer at The Atlantic) argues that something else now energizes our work hours:

The decline of traditional faith in America has coincided with an explosion of new [religions]. Some people worship beauty, some worship political identities, and others worship their children. But everybody worships something. And workism is among the most potent of the new religions competing for congregants.

Nonintuitive Worship

This article began with observations about our workweek, but what strikes me most is Thompson’s observation about worship. He claims modern people worship a variety of gods, just like the ancient Greeks. (I would argue they are the same gods with different names.) If this is true, then we must revise our understanding of the nature of worship.

Most people think worship is the first twenty minutes of a church service. But that thinking misses the heart of worship. Real worship is not merely singing songs; real worship—the motivation and actions of deep veneration—is what we do one hundred and sixty-eight hours a week. We all worship, and we worship all the time. The nature of worship-ritual is nonintuitive.

It’s why workaholics work extra-long hours. They find identity and hope in their careers. They even offer sacrifices to their callings (just ask their spouses and kids). It is in their work they feel they are most themselves. Work is their salvation from insignificance. Work is their worship.

But others find salvation in parenting, likeability, being religious, or being legendary. When the famous tennis player Chris Evert was about to retire, she said,

I had no idea of who I was or what I could be away from tennis. I was depressed and afraid because so much of my life had been defined by being a tennis champion. I was completely lost. Winning made me feel like I was somebody. It made me feel pretty. It was like being hooked on drug. I needed the wins. I needed the applause.

Where Is our Heart?

Real worship rites have always been non-traditional: the ancient rites of sacrifices and the modern song-fests can be skin-deep practices that have nothing to do with our deepest, daily adoration. Because we worship whatever we ascribe ultimate value to. 

  • If we most want a good name, we may work hard, or spend time with our kids, or walk little old ladies across the street. As long as our good name is held in high esteem.
  • If our ultimate value is to feel good, we may pursue romance, or make lots of money, or drop out of work altogether. We might even sing worship songs. All for the euphoric feelings these activities give us.

We most value what our heart most cherishes; and all the affections of our heart—from its mountaintop joys to its undying desires—meditate on that object of worship we most revere.

Our real religion is what we obsess about as we wait for the cashier at Walmart.

Sam

What is cultural creep and how is affecting our society?

Four score and eleven years ago—in 1928—George Washington Hill had a problem: he wanted more women to smoke cigarettes. But smoking was scorned as a crutch for “fallen women and prostitutes.” He was president of the American Tobacco Company, and he thought that if he could get women to smoke, it would be “like opening a gold mine right in our front yard.”

Hill hired public relations guru Edward Bernays to help sell his cigarettes.  After consulting with a psychoanalyst (Abraham Brill), Bernays decided against merely hawking Hill’s brands of cigarettes. Instead he tackled the cultural taboo that condemned women smoking.

Bernays decided to pay a bunch of women to smoke cigarettes while marching in New York’s 1929 Easter Sunday Parade. He didn’t want the stunt to appear as marketing (even though that is exactly what it was), so he carefully orchestrated the event. His instructions included:

Because it should appear as news [and not publicity], actresses should be definitely out. While they should be goodlooking, they should not be too “model-y.” Three for each church covered should be sufficient. 

Of course they are not to smoke simply as they come down the church steps. They are to join in the Easter parade, puffing away.

In a crafty manipulation of the growing women’s rights movement, he spun the event as feminists lighting their “Torches of Freedom.”

When Others Think They Know What’s Best

Bernays believed that society is best managed by cultural elites, people who know better than us how to live. His best-known book on marketing (suitably titled Propaganda) opens with these two paragraphs:

The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. 

We are governed, our minds molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of. This is a logical result of the way in which our democratic society is organized.

When I tell Christians I am writing a book on Cultural Creep, they unanimously exclaim, “Yes, I hate the world’s sexual promiscuity.” But that is not the subject of my book. People have always wanted extramarital sex, but for hundreds of years it has been illicit and repugnant.

The question of “worldly influence” is: how were our “minds molded,” and “our tastes formed” so that previously frowned-upon sexual practices became so run-of-the-mill? And who did it?

Creating “Common Sense”

Blaise Pascal, the 17th century scientist and philosopher, said:

It’s not those who write the laws that have the greatest impact on society. It’s those who write the songs.

Legislation doesn’t rule us nearly as much as the manufactured ideas hammered into our hearts by the elites who “manipulate the habits and opinions” of us masses. Song by song, show by show, actor by actor, they drum into our heads a newly created “common sense” set of answers despised a mere fifty years ago.

The modern world’s embrace of uninhibited sex simply releases our flesh to act without restraint. The world brainwashes us into believing that any restraint against our “natural” desires will cause irreparable damage. It is even given a name: repression.

In his later years, Bernays regretted his contribution to the growth of smoking. He tried in vain to free his wife from the nicotine addiction his elitist-self had nurtured. 

What Torches of Freedom do we light today that will imprison us in dark addiction tomorrow?

Sam