Sunday, June 9, 2013

Life or Death: Worldly Philosophy or The Cross of Calvary

Jamaicans are still smarting over the  loss of two world cup qualifiers this week. Especially the one involving the USA where we almost gained a point, and could have won the match but , at the end still without a victory so far. And then Usain Bolt came second to Justin Gatlin of the USA in the Diamond League 100M for men which was held in Rome  Italy this week. Anyone else but Gatlin would have been kind of ok. So we here in Jamaica were not " happy campers", even though today the measure of the celebrity status of this great Jamaican Ambassador was underlined by his being chosen to present the trophy to the winner of the men's  Tennis event at the Paris Open. And the cup was presented to Raphael  Nadal who is a huge personality in his own right. Of course the 16th grand slam win by Serena in the women's version of the game, did bring joy to all those who just love the Williams sisters.

 However, despite all of this stuff happening in the word of sports, sadness, and turmoil reigned in my mind this week with the death a friend and mentor, and one of the brightest sons of the Caribbean, Dr. Kenrick Orrin Evans Barrow - A Consultant Physician at the University Hospital of the West Indies, a Gastro-enterologist of International renown, and without a doubt the most celebrated and influential Past President of the Medical Association of Jamaica.  His passing did not make the headlines, but it left a void in the hearts and minds of those whose lives he touched. Whether in his place of birth, Guyana or in his adopted home, Jamaica. Finally, once again the nation was plunged into mourning with the news breaking of four men in a community shot and killed apparently in an act of reprisal for the shooting death of another man.

This week then the Lord spoke clearly in the midst of my grief and turmoil. First in an e-mail I sent to two other " giants" of Medicine in the Caribbean whose lives, along with Orrin Barrow influenced my own life. The original note and and response are edited only for reason for  privacy for those involved and not for me, for my thoughts are very public.


Dear.....Ever since he died my mind has been in a turmoil. I keep asking myself the existential question," What's was the point of all of this sheer brilliance" ?  A life which touched and helped to shape the minds of so many physicians who serve a grateful people in the Caribbean! A physician who was privileged to provide care for, and no doubt offer counsel to, some of the most powerful leaders in the Caribbean. A leader of local and International Medical Associations and whose influence shaped and fostered my own leadership skills. And there was more. So much more. 

So why am I, in the midst of my early morning devotions,  led to write to the two other " giants" in Medicine in the Caribbean, and whose lives have touched and shaped and influenced people far beyond the shores of the azure blue waters and sun kissed islands of this region. All three exhorted  me to pursue excellence. And then provided the perfect example by their own lives. But Orrin went a step further and held my hand.
There are very few people who have been privileged to have had .....three prominent physicians...... play such a central role in shaping  (especially one aspect ) their lives. So I am eternally grateful.
So when one of these three leaves the scene and I am unsure what influence my own convictions, my own love for the One who not only provides the ultimate  influence for my life, but who died for me, Christ the only Son of God, has had on their lives, I am filled with these two emotions. A great sense of  loss for a friend and  one who did so much for me. But equally and more profoundly, " what was the point of all of this"?. Especially after being  informed that no funeral will be held at his request. No public thanksgiving for the God who created him in his own image. No public thanksgiving for the Christ who died for him. So what's the point of gaining all these earthly accolades and yet not having the joy of knowing the One, the Lord God Almighty,  whose opinions about the life we live on earth, is the only one that matters in the final analysis.

I tried! I sent him the weekly Sunday night Internet messages. And he read them, and made polite comments every so often.  I loved him dearly. But God loved him much more. And died for him on an old wooden cross, far from the flashing lights and public glare. I pray God for his soul! For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul. No doubt I need to try harder with those who I love and respect. God knows! For the grief is made so much worse by the knowledge that he may not have, as far as I know, received the only accolade that matters in life. Knowing the one true and Eternal God through His Son Christ who will judge the world in time to come.
Sent from my iPad
I learned subsequently that there will in fact be a funeral, but very private and limited to a few persons at his request. But the existential question still cries out for an answer: " What's the point of all  of this if there is no commitment to, and believe in, the Only One who can give eternal life  - Christ Jesus, the only Son of the Living God. And it's a question not just for my very celebrated friend, but for others who "trod this earth like a Colossus" in their time here, but who will come one day to face the Judge of all the earth. People like Michael Manley, Bob Marley, the very ill Nelson Mandela, the very vibrant Barack Obama, the celebrated Raphael Nadal, or Serena Williams! They will all, together with our celebrated journalists and Politicians and powerful Businessmen, whose every action and pronouncements make the news and become talking points in every country, come one day, along with the rest of us " mere mortals",  paradoxically in death, to face a new life. And the only thing that will matter then, regardless of whether they believe it or not, is if they believed in the One who was sent by God to suffer and die for the forgiveness of sins. Christ Jesus.

My e -mail got a gracious response. But which then led to another message from the Lord. Both again edited.


Dear Lucien
Thanks for sharing with me this beautiful commentary about our mutual friend. First, if I may, let me point out that you are asking questions that millions have asked and as far as I know there is no commonly accepted answer to the question as to the point of life. Everyone has to fashion his or her own rationale, as without it one is in constant turmoil. To seek a point is to frame an existential question in contemporary rationalist and  almost reductionist terms. The question I always try to answer  is not about the point of life, but the value of a particular life, including ones own. Second, please do not bewail the fact that Orrin did not wish a funeral and do not believe that because he did not display it , he did not have a faith. It may not be yours or mine, but I can assure you that he did have one. I spoke with him....... We spoke of many things and I have no doubt that he was prepared for death, mentally and spiritually. We are both Freemasons, of some standing and one of  the things we discussed is how we are taught to die. So mourn not for Orrin! Our sadness is for ourselves and the hole in our web of valuable and valued connections. I know without any fear of contradiction that Orrin was a fervent believer and adherent to the essential commandment; "Do good and love ye one another".
So grieve-yes.  Grief is necessary and therapeutic.  But remember that we grieve for ourselves and not for Orrin and in the midst of the grief let there be thanks that he did move among us when he did and touched us when he did.
Be of good cheer.........
The message from the Lord in response.

Dear......This morning I was praising the Lord in my early morning devotions, for the many mercies with which He has blessed me. Especially in recent times. And I turned to Psalm 103, one which begins majestically with, " Bless the Lord O my soul, and let all that is within me bless his holy name". In fact there is song,  or rather a sanke which was inspired by that very Psalm.

And then as I read, I heard a very clear thought, and was then led to  turn to the book of Samuel. To a young boy who also heard God speaking to him. What was the thought? " It is not the preparation for death that matters, it is the preparation for the life that comes after". As clear as day, and without any ( conscious) thought about our exchange of e -mails yesterday.

Now,  the question arose( in my mind) whether or not I should tell you about this " conversation", as this is obviously not your faith. The problem is,  even though in my head is the thought that you may somehow be
" uncomfortable" with this line of thinking, disobedience in my faith is not an option. Even more so when the Lord reminded me of a conversation that Samuel had with his tutor Eli.

" Samuel lay down until morning and opened the doors of the house of the Lord. He was afraid to tell Eli the vision, but Eli called him and said, " Samuel my son". 
Samuel answered, " Here I am".
" What was it that he said to you?" Eli asked. " Do not hide it from me. May God deal with you be it ever so severely, if you hide from me anything he told you. So Samuel told him everything, hiding nothing from him. Then Eli said, " He is the Lord, let him do what is good in his eyes".

The news that Samuel had for Eli, is important, but not the critical issue in this conversation.
That which is even more striking is the fact that the response from Eli to the vision of Samuel, is the text used by Bishop Wood, whose name would not be unfamiliar to you ....... at the funeral of he who was my spiritual mentor and friend for life, even in death, the late Bishop Herman Spence. And the reason why, Bishop Wood choose this text, as he explained during the homily, was that, this man of God Herman Spence, from whom much more was expected, was taken away by the Lord to be in heaven with Him, to the surprise of all who loved him. And so Bishop Wood reminded us that God is Sovereign, and will do what " is good in his own eyes".

My dear ...., and friend, and mentor for life, there is just simply too much in this brief conversation that cannot be explained away by mere coincidence. I urge you then, as you taught me about the  immutable laws of the Medes and the Persians ( I suspect you had forgotten that you not only taught us about the art of Medicine but so much more), that you explore more with the wonderful instrument with which the Lord has blessed you - that which is housed within your cranium - the ways of the Lord. Who according to the Psalmist in 103, " ...has made known his ways  to Moses, his deeds to the people of israel:"  And who also declares that, " The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in love".

It is this Lord, .... who not only prepares people for death, but even more so, in Christ Jesus,  has promised to raise us to a new and everlasting life with Him in heaven.
May His Peace, the Shalom .... be with all of us, and even with Orrin in death.

This morning my Rector, Cannon Major Sirano Kitson preached a challenging sermon on the sons of two widows who died and were miraculously raised from the dead. One by Elisha at Zarepath, and the other by Jesus at Nain. And the take home lesson that he left with us, was the mercy and grace of God, who responds to those in need, when they cry out to God. And even before they cry out. We, therefore, the Baptized, need to give thanks that we have been the recipients of God's mercy, as because of the shed Blood of Christ on Calvary we have received forgiveness of our sins and have been raised to a new life with Him in His Resurrection. Our only role then, in life, is to present this " Good News" to all who we meet. To do good is a wonderful thing. To pursue justice is a great objective. To pursue excellence in all we do is an admirable thing and should be emulated by all. To preside over a nation that was torn apart by racism and violence as Mandela did without seeking vengeance has already made him great in the eyes of the world. To seek to create a New International Economic Order which is reaping some fruits today, as Michael Manley did, has already secured him a place in history. To seek for peace in the world while securing American Interests is a tricky goal, but if Obama achieves this he will have secured his legacy. But to observe the instructions of James in the Bible that :

 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. James 1: 37. NIV.

The essence of which statement is that Justice and Righteousness cannot be divorced before a holy God. Therefore to seek to do good to others, without seeking Righteousness, and which holiness can only be found in and through the life, death and resurrection is an incomplete philosophy before a Holy God.
And God does not give out prizes for partial obedience. Otherwise Christ would not have had to die.

It is this death on the cross which really calls into question every other philosophy of life. And we just cannot argue it away and suggest that there is some other way to live a good and useful life. That's why Jesus, says in John 15, when He was preparing the disciples for his death:
" If I had not come and spoken with them, they wold not have been guilty of sin. Now, however, they have no excuse for their sin. 15:22. NIV.

Our role then as recipients of God love and mercy in Christ, my role, in respect of my family,  all my friends, mentors, colleagues, fellow workers in whatever sphere of life, is to present the Gospel to all with whom we come in contact. Which was the essence of my initial response to my other mentor, before the Lord led me to discuss Samuel with him. Will the spreading of Gospel help to reduce crime and violence in Jamaica? Will it bring back good health to Nelson Mandela? Will it rescue the sliding dollar in Jamaica whose value is now worth less than one American cent ?
Will the Good News be of more value to brand Jamaica than Usain Bolt? Can a discussion about the mercy of God, help my friend Orrin at this time or rescue my other mentors? Only God knows. But what I do know, is that the same Jesus who raised the widow's son back to life is available and waiting for us to cry out to him.

No doubt this was why I was moved to send out the following message one night this week.


One of my patient's quoted a version which says " Let the house of Aaron say..". Whichever you choose Psalm 124 touched my soul tonight. As if it were not for the Lord, I don't know what would have become of me in recent times. And many of us too. So we praise the Lord.

If the Lord had not been on our side -
Let Israel say -
If the Lord had not been on our side when men attacked us,
When their anger flared up against us, they would have swallowed us alive....
Praise be to the Lord, who has not let us be torn by their teeth....
The snare has been broken, and we have escaped.
Our help is in the name of the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.
Sent from my BlackBerry® wireless device from LIME.
So we just bless the Lord for His grace and mercy and continue to give thanks and  pray for friends, relatives, teachers, colleagues and all who we meet on our journey in this land. For our help is indeed in the Name of the Lord, and we urge all to take this Name with you always.In life and in death.

Take the Name of Jesus with you,
Child of sorrow and of woe,
It will joy and comfort give you;
Take it then, where’er you go.
Precious Name, O how sweet!
Hope of earth and joy of Heav’n.
Precious Name, O how sweet!
Hope of earth and joy of Heav’n.
Take the Name of Jesus ever,
As a shield from every snare;
If temptations round you gather,
Breathe that holy Name in prayer.
O the precious Name of Jesus!
How it thrills our souls with joy,
When His loving arms receive us,
And His songs our tongues employ!
At the Name of Jesus bowing,
Falling prostrate at His feet,
King of kings in Heav’n we’ll crown Him,
When our journey is complete.