I have just recently read a book by Walter Wink and am still processing some of my thoughts, when I read yesterday that he passed away.  One thing that could be said for his writing is that he definitely challenged the reader, whether or not you agreed with everything he had to say.  And for that he will be missed.

His bio at Amazon reads:

Walter Wink (May 21, 1935 – May 10, 2012) was a professor emeritus at Auburn Theological Seminary in New York City. His faculty discipline is Biblical interpretation. Wink earned his 1959 Master of Divinity and his 1963 Ph.D. from Union Theological Seminary in New York City. Ordained a Methodist minister in 1961, he served as Pastor of First United Methodist Church, in Hitchcock, Texas from 1962–67. He then returned to Union Seminary as first Assistant, then Associate Professor of New Testament. In 1989–1990, he was a Peace Fellow at the United States Institute of Peace.

He is known for his work on power structures, with a progressive Christianity view on current political and cultural matters. He coined the phrase “the myth of redemptive violence”, and has contributed to discourse on homosexuality and religion, pacifism, psychology and Biblical Studies, and Jesus as a historical figure. Neal Stephenson likens some of Wink’s ideas to “an epidemiology of power disorders”, a phenomenology of oppression.  Author Philip Yancey references Wink frequently in his work.

One of Wink’s major avenues for teaching has been his leadership of workshops to church and other groups, based on his method of Bible study (The Bible in Human Transformation, 1973), and incorporating meditation, artwork, and movement. These workshops are often presented jointly with his second wife, June Keener-Wink, a dancer and potter.

One of Walter Wink’s sons—Chris Wink—is known as a founding member of the Blue Man Group.

Props to son Chris for Blue Man Group!  It may sound odd, but I’m glad I read some of his books while he was still alive.  I’m sure I’ll continue to wrestle with the ideas he left behind.

About three weeks ago, my wife’s cousin suffered two heart attacks.  After spending about five days on a heart and lung machine, she passed away.  I was among some of the family members at her bedside when she died.  She was only 50 years old, in good health, and just beginning to enjoy her “grandma” years.  Out of respect for the still-grieving family, nothing I am about to write has anything to do with the family itself or the funeral, which celebrated her life in meaningful ways.

Everyone deals with death and dying in their own way.  Perhaps my way is to over-analyze the theology embedded in people’s comments and prayers during a stressful time.  But I remember a moment in the car when my wife was reading me a poem that someone had suggested be read at the funeral, that I got really angry at the belief system inherent in that poem.  I understand the poem (which, by the way, was not read at the funeral) was only meant to bring comfort to a grieving family.  But for me, it was the culmination of several well-meaning attempts to make sense of death that left me puzzled and frustrated.

A few that left me wondering:

  • “I guess when it is your appointed time, there is nothing you can do.”  Does each person really have an appointed time of death?  Maybe this is one interpretation of Hebrews 9:27, but I believe what is appointed is that we will all die one day, not that each of us has a fixed day of death predetermined somewhere in the future.  Yes, our days our numbered, but that simply means nobody will live forever.  This idea reflects a fatalism that bemoans, “however I live, whatever choices I make, my life (and death) is already determined.”  I don’t see this reflected in scripture.
  • “At least she is home now.”  My issue isn’t so much with the statement itself, but what many mean when they use it.  Inherent in this statement is the belief that we really aren’t supposed to be here on earth anyway, we are supposed to be in heaven; this world is just a throw-away.  But the more I read, the more I am convinced that heaven is a temporary realm until God’s kingdom is fully established here on earth.  Heaven and earth will then be one.  Yes, when we die we are at home with Jesus.  But our home is not ultimately away from this earth (if heaven is even away, in a spatial sense).  We will be home when God’s kingdom is fully established on earth.
  • “She isn’t really dead, she is only sleeping.”  Again, I understand the poetic license behind a comment like this, but while death is not the end, it is still very real.  This takes me way back to a church advertisement I once heard on the radio.  The commercial featured a widow at a funeral laughing and being positively engaging.  When someone asks her how she could be so strong at the death of her husband, she responds that because she is a Christian, everything is fine.  No need to mourn.  Is that how we are supposed to react to death?  Even Jesus wept at the death of his friend Lazarus.

So what is it about death that brings out sketchy theology?  There is nothing like trying to make sense out of the senseless to make one pause and consider what is held to be true.  No doubt, some are simply grasping at anything that will bring comfort.  And I realize that not many would enjoy a good theological discussion in the moment of their grief.  But if the way of Jesus is the way of hope, why must we alter his words so badly to hold on to that sense of hope?

What are your thoughts?