Life is short. I think that’s true for everyone, but especially for some who aren’t “supposed” to die as soon as they do—as if we had a choice or a say in the matter. One of those persons who I don’t believe was “supposed” to die was Rachel Held Evans who died early Saturday morning, 04 May 2019. She had fallen ill with the flu, had a very bad reaction to the antibiotics she had been given, was placed in a medically-induced coma, and didn’t survive being brought out of it. She leaves behind a husband, Dan, and two daughters, aged three- and almost one-year old. She was 37.
This has me thinking a lot about legacy. Her husband, Dan, wrote that she put a lot of herself into her books; to read her books is to get to know her. Reading her books, even listening to her interviews, I felt like I was getting to meet a real person, whole and complex, yet clear-eyed in her assessment of the societal and spiritual forces at play at this particular moment in history. I—as did a lot of people—identified with her journey which took her from conventional evangelicalism to progressive evangelicalism to an eventual home in the Episcopal Church. And she chronicled her journey along the way. She left a written legacy of one person’s attempt to remain faithful on the journey of life—and I appreciate her work.
This has me thinking a lot about legacy. I wonder what sort of legacy I would leave, now, at the age of 53½, with a novel half-finished and decades of reflections I feel the need to pretty up and write down. Will I leave a written trail of my legacy, my journey? I don’t believe my journey is exceptional, but I do believe each of our journeys is special. I believe that each of our legacies is meaningful to someone. Maybe—if we’re lucky—our legacies are meaningful to a small circle of people, or even a wide circle, as the circle of people touched by Rachel Held Evans.
Or, maybe we leave behind a legacy of deeds that inspire. I’ve been listening to the audio recording of the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer by Charles Marsh: Strange Glory: A Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Bonhoeffer was a German pastor executed for being part of a plot to assassinate Hitler. Although I, personally, can’t see myself joining in a plot to assassinate anyone, no matter how evil, one has to admit that Bonhoeffer’s bold deeds have made his life and work accessible and inspirational to generations of people who have been touched by his legacy.
One thing that strikes me about the legacies of Rachel Held Evans and Dietrich Bonhoeffer is the constant thread of faithfulness in the face of severe opposition. The evangelical establishment, especially the patriarchal representations of it, painted Evans as the devil incarnate. She lost book contracts because of it, and her reputation in many of the circles where she previously had been held dear. Her reputation was crucified. Nevertheless, she found an outlet for her work at a secular publisher and continued to reach into the hearts and speak into the minds of thousands of people of faith who needed to hear what she had to say, either to persuade them of a more Christlike expression of their faith or to affirm the hard journeys they had taken in an attempt to remain faithful in the face of cultural and religious opposition.
Bonhoeffer made the hard choice to embrace an ethos of cosmopolitanism. Daring to assert that Christ belongs to no particular nation, no particular folk, was not very popular among much of the German people after the Treaty of Versailles destroyed their economy and their national pride. And this was concurrent with the rise of Hitler. While I, again, cannot conscience the decision to engage in an assassination plot, I firmly believe that Bonhoeffer’s teachings would have eventually led him to moral—if not bodily destruction by the authorities whose power depended upon a conflation of religious duty with a blind patriotism.
And then I wonder what crosses I have ever borne in my life.
There have been some, but they seem to pale in comparison to the crosses carried by the people I have admired crosses to which they were nailed, crosses on which they died, figuratively or literally. have I ever done anything significant enough to cause me to risk crucifixion? Have I dared to poke a stick of truth into the eye of the powers that be—the powers who have the power and the will to attempt to destroy my life?
Am I living and loving as Christ?
Time will tell. My legacy will tell.
Part of me hopes that my legacy will tell a story of a love so great the powers and principalities couldn’t stand it and had to try to destroy me to shut me up.
And part of me hopes for a smaller legacy, the legacy of someone who played it safe, never took a stand, and, thus escaped the notice of anyone who might be on the lookout for challenges to the power structure of this world in the form of the Gospel of Christ.
I call myself a Christian.
I want to be a Christian.
But can I handle the blowback of proclaiming the kingdom of God is here and now?
I certainly hope that I can.
Please pray that I can.
And I will pray the same for you.