I’ve been looking for an opportunity to share this funeral reflection titled “Resurrection Realism,” written by my dad Keith Harder. And given that this Sunday’s lectionary reading is about the premier Resurrection Realist Thomas (John 20), this seemed as good as time as any to share.
Something else to point out is that Dale often said he became a Christian at Rainbow Mennonite Church. He had fond memories of attending Rainbow for a short time. I wrote about that here: Becoming a Christian cynic at Rainbow I also discovered in our Mennonite Voluntary Service archives that Dale was instrumental, together with Gene Stolzfus, in helping Rainbow establish its Mennonite Voluntary Unit.
With that, here are some reflections that I believe pair nicely with our gospel reading for this Sunday:
Dale Suderman Memorial Service Meditation by Keith Harder
In a presentation shortly before his stroke called “Cynicism as Therapy,” that was published in a book called Cynicism and Hope, Dale called himself a cynic. This word may have some negative connotations, but Dale clarified that he thought of himself as someone who was grounded in the realities of life as it is and not in idealism, or how life should be.
He recalled in this talk that when he was confirmed in the Episcopal church that the presiding Bishop instructed him and the other catechumens “not to add to the violence in the world in word, thought or deed”. Dale noted that the bishop did not tell them to stop the violence. He said, “don’t make things worse.”
This rather modest charge stood in contrast to idealists across the political spectrum who would seek to end violence, poverty or discrimination or whatever evil that was at hand and in the process impose their ideals on others and thereby justify all manner of oppression and hate. From this stance Dale critiqued doctrinaire Marxists and the crusading Christians in the moral majority.
I hear echoes of the bishop’s word in Eccles 3 which describes life as it is, and of Jesus welcoming Cornelius without telling him to leave the Roman army or Jesus saying that the poor would be with us always. Be careful about trying to eliminate war or poverty. Just don’t make things worse; don’t add to the violence and poverty that is all around us. So Dale could say that he was a chastened pacifist (rather than an idealistic pacifist), a war veteran who never fired his weapon in combat. He wanted not to add to the violence that threatened to engulf the world.
Wise words for idealists of all stripes, be they conservative or liberal,
At Parkside where Dale lived the last eleven years, someone put a floor to ceiling poster on one wall where Dale took his meals. The words we heard earlier from John 11 were on that poster. “I am the resurrection and the life, Those who believe in me will live even though they die.”
One day Dale asked a friend of his to take his picture kneeling in front of that poster. When his friend asked him why, Dale made it clear that this was the promise for which he was preparing. He was ready to die, and these words from John were the focus of his hope. This may be the closest we have to Dale’s last testament and testimony: His hope and belief that he would live even though he would die, through the resurrection of Jesus.
In a similar vein Dale’s sister Elva said he had recently asked her what she thought heaven was like. She said she was confident it would be a lot better than what they were experiencing now and he said in a loud voice that he wanted to go to heaven.
I have thought a lot about these two themes in Dale’s life – his calling himself a cynic and his faith in resurrection. One might think they were in conflict. What could a cynic say about resurrection? Would a cynic believe in resurrection? Another example perhaps of Dale holding disparate ideas together, letting one inform the other.
Those who knew Dale recognized that resurrection informed Dale’s life not just his death. Heaven was more than a destination; resurrection hope was more than fuzzy idealism. At the end it was the hope by which he lived.
Hear more of Dale’s testimony in his own words from the presentation I mentioned at the beginning.
“[Sunday morning] I will go to church and we will get on our knees and ask for forgiveness and admit that we have sinned in thought or deed because we are people who admit that sin exists both in us and around us. And we will affirm our hope as we do every Sunday: Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again…. This Christ centered understanding of history is our hope. Our idealisms, ideologies, and social constructs are myopic (shortsighted, narrow, limited): we see through a glass made darkly ironic and paradoxical by our inability to see our own eyeballs. We are certain that the church is eternal, but we are equally certain that it is made up of broken persons….
Dale continued: “The communion rail is ironic and moving… From generals to peace activists, gay men and homophobes, the economic elite of the city to the dispossessed of the city, we will leave our pews and genuflect and walk down the aisle to accept bread and wine at the communion table. In doing this, we recognize that we are participating in a larger cosmic drama going beyond our personal lives and beyond historical events.”
Dale had an uncommon sense of that “cosmic drama’, an uncommon capacity to see beyond immediate needs, desires or causes.
Dale continued: “And then the benediction will be cited by a deacon, with one portion of the stole going across the deacon’s front then tied at the side to symbolize moving freely on the streets as a servant of Christ. [The deacon will say] ‘Send us now into the world in peace.’ [And] We will say, ‘and grant us strength and courage to love and serve you with gladness and singleness of heart, through Christ our Lord.’ Dale noted that this does not say “to save the world.” We are just to move through it as servants, deacons and emissaries.”
Finally, Dale said, “For nearly a decade this benediction has been posted just beyond my computer where my clients cannot see it… but I look at it nearly every hour as I speak to people. The church is my hope.”
Dale’s last years were more difficult than any of us can imagine – cut off as he was from the work he loved, from lively conversation, from the city he loved, from friends he loved deeply. He would sometimes cry out in pain and frustration, especially when he couldn’t say what he was thinking, but through it all, he seemed to maintain a kind of graceful equanimity, a contentment that always amazed me. I suspect that it was a sense of this cosmic drama that sustained him. It provided a frame for his loss and suffering that kept it from being overwhelming.
While expressing our love and respect for Dale, people are sometimes quick to note that he was not a saint. By this we mean that Dale was not perfect; he had faults which he would be the first to acknowledge. He lived largely, fearlessly and sometimes recklessly. But I believe that actually he was a saint, as are all who profess their confidence in the love of God expressed in the resurrection of Jesus. I sense this is what Dale would want us to celebrate today. For this let us give thanks to God.
January 18, 2020