29 April 2008

Season of resurrection

One day after managing to remain mostly dry-eyed while delivering Dad's eulogy at his memorial service, I was driving back home from central New York today, and finally listening to the podcast of the Easter service at my church, The Common Table. And as I drove and Tina slept, the tears flowed freely down my face - tears of joy at the breathtaking beauty of the liturgy, the prayers, the music (ah!), the sounds of dear friends gathered in worship and community, and the good news of resurrection and abundant life.

Thank you, CT family, and thank you, Amy and the other musical geniuses who were assembled on that day.

He is risen - he is risen indeed! Alleluia.

My eulogy for my Dad

Eulogy for Thomas Joseph Croghan, 26 May 1944 - 21 April 2008

(For his memorial service, 28 April 2008, in Clinton, NY)

I want to thank everybody for being here today. I’ve never had a moment’s doubt that a great many people loved and honored my Dad. But if I had, then the love, prayers, and all kinds of support that have poured into my family over the past few months would have put those doubts well and truly to rest.

Beloved family, dear friends, neighbors, co-workers - it seems like everybody who’s known my Dad and Mom have grown to love them, and have demonstrated that love in very real, very significant ways again and again in these weeks and months since we learned of Dad’s illness. From the bottom of my heart - to those who could be here today and to those who couldn’t - thank you.

I also want to admit something to you all. Over the past week, I’ve felt a great many strong emotions.

Enormous sadness, loss, and grief for the loss of my beloved Dad.

Deep gratitude and pride for the incredible blessing and privilege it has been to be raised, loved, and taught by this giving, humble, good man.

Overwhelming love, admiration, and concern for the incredibly strong, endlessly caring woman I’m proud to call Mom.

Loving affection for, and pride in, my brother Sean, who as his father’s son has served and loved his Dad and Mom with steadfast courage, humor, and tenderness.

Gratitude for the amazing woman who has had the remarkable good taste to fall in love with my brother, and who has juggled school, work, job interviews, and wedding planning with showering love and support on Sean, Dad, Mom and all of us - all with amazing grace. Anna, I’m so grateful that you’re in our lives.

Deep thankfulness for the amazing woman who had the…uh…remarkable taste to fall in love with me. Tina, I know this has been hard for you, and you’ve been a rock to me and to us. Again. I love you.

Amazed gratitude, as I already mentioned, for the love demonstrated for all of us by a host of dear family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers.

I’ve felt all of these things. But I need to admit to you all that I’ve felt something else this week, when I’ve thought about standing here in front of you today.

I’ve felt just a little bit scared and intimidated by the prospect of eulogizing Tom Croghan, my Dad. Not because it’s difficult to say good things about Dad - nothing could be further from the truth! But I’ve felt a little scared because I can’t imagine being able to do justice to his life. I don’t care if I stood up here and talked for six hours - you all might care about that, but I don’t, so make yourselves comfortable - but even if I took that long, I couldn’t begin to do justice to the life of this man, this giant.

Some people might look at Tom Croghan’s life and say it was a small life. In his nearly sixty-four years on this earth, Dad never had a lot of money. He came from humble beginnings in his Irish immigrant family in Utica, NY, and through a lifetime of hard work and dedication, provided everything his family needed to be happy and secure - and knew there was nothing more worth asking for.

He was never famous, unless you count the reputation that “the Croghan boys” had in certain pubs and taverns in Utica during a particular decade. Wait, there’s a different word for that, isn’t there? “Infamous.” That’s the one.

Dad never had authority over large numbers of people. He never had impressive belongings (though he took great care with what he had). He never earned the envy of those who value audacious wealth, status, and power. But he commanded the respect and admiration of anyone who knew him, and who knew what is truly valuable in this life.

You could call my Dad’s life small, but if you did, just don’t expect me to comprehend what the hell you’re talking about. Because I stand here in awe of the many ways in which this man - this man who mysteriously stood several inches shorter than it said on his Air Force papers - this man was a giant.

Tom Croghan was a devoted son. I’m sure his beloved brothers and sisters gathered here could say more than I can about that, but I know Dad used to go to the cemetery for hours to talk with his own dear father, the Grandpa Croghan I never met. And several of Dad’s siblings have remarked just in the past few weeks about the joy with which Grandma Croghan would greet the arrival of Dad’s red pickup truck for one of his frequent visits.

Tom was a devoted and well-loved brother. Every one of his dear sisters and brothers loved Dad dearly, as he loved them - and they showed it. Their children and grandchildren all had a special affection for Uncle Tom, and Dad, with his unfailing ability to relate to kids at their level - you know what I mean - returned that love. Dad would never hesitate a moment to go anywhere or do anything for his family.

My Dad was a dear friend to many, and I’ve been deeply touched many, many times during my life, by the fierce affection of Dad’s long-time buddies for him, and his for them. Dad was a man with strong, close friendships and lifelong friends. He was a man who would always, always be there for someone, and he inspired the same devotion in those blessed to call him friend.

Tom Croghan’s career was not one in which he rose through the ranks of management, but listen to the recent words of his boss’s boss:

I had the great pleasure of working with Tom for several years. I admired his work ethic, intelligence, and wicked sense of humor. He accompanied me to visit [an automotive supplier] once, and correctly showed a group of highly educated engineers that their drawings contained errors. They had previously stated that there was no way their drawings were incorrect, but Tom respectfully proved them wrong. I went to Tom often...to get his opinions on complicated drawings because I knew he was uniquely qualified to answer. I respected him so very much, and will miss him greatly.

Dad was not a man with impressive academic credentials or executive power. He was a consummate professional and a master of his craft. He was proud of his professional accomplishments, and rightly so. Many of his co-workers have expressed that they don’t know what they’ll do without him.

My Dad was probably the strongest man I ever met. In addition to all the other things he was in his lifetime, I want us to remember this, too: Tom Croghan was a drunk. There was a time before I met him that Dad was drinking so much, every day, that it could easily have killed him. My Mom recently mentioned, to the amazement of Sean, Tina, and me, that he first needed to get dentures when he got his teeth knocked out in one of many youthful drunken brawls.

But that’s not the man I ever knew. It’s not the man Sean ever knew, and it’s not the man Mom ever knew. The Tom Croghan we knew was the one who, by sheer force of will, cleaned himself up and remade himself into a gentle, humble, hard-working and responsible husband, father, and friend. Who gave up a heavy cigarette habit, quitting cold turkey and never going back. Who went to college at age 50, and proved what we always knew was true: that he had the drive and intelligence to get A’s while working full-time and continuing to be the attentive, devoted husband and father he always was.

Tom Croghan was the most loving, caring, committed husband I’ve ever met. He and Mom were lifemates, partners, best friends - in every way the most perfect example of a loving marriage relationship that I’ve ever encountered. Dad was the love of Mom’s life, and Mom was his. We, their children, are so, so blessed to have had their example of a powerful love relationship in our lives. As Mom has said many times, “We had the best.” Yes, we did. We did.

I don’t know if I can speak for Sean when I try to talk about what Dad means to us as a father. Actually, I know I can’t. Each of us has our own relationship with our Dad, and our own experience of who he was. But I know beyond doubt that he agrees with me when I say that Tom Croghan was the best father we could ever, ever imagine having.

Dad was never all that verbally expressive, but we never for one moment doubted that he loved us fiercely and unconditionally. He would do absolutely anything for his beloved family, and he did. Everything he did - a lifetime of dedication, hard work, and service, he did for us. With his natural, slightly bent sense of humor - so much a part of Dad - he was constantly making us laugh and making us happy, right up to the end. He was always there for us, always supported us, and always showed his love for us in so many ways.

A couple of weeks before Dad passed away, our Hospice chaplain, Michael, stopped by and talked with Mom, Dad, and me. At one point in the conversation, Dad said, “I hope…” and had difficulty finishing the sentence. Michael gave him some time, and then said, “Tom, that’s something I wanted to ask you about. What do you hope?” Dad paused, and then said, “I hope…the kids are happy.”

Later that day, I told Dad that I wanted him to know this, because it’s true. I am happy. But I want you all to know that I’m happy because I’m the man Dad raised me to be. When I think about it, I realize that so many of the aspects of who I am that people tell me they admire - they come from Dad.

Sometimes people say things to me like, “You’re such a servant.” Well, if I am, it’s because I was brought up by this man who devoted every moment of his life as a husband and father to humble and tireless service of the people in his life. It’s because I’m the son of Tom Croghan, a man whose effortless giving nature and utter selflessness I can never, ever hope to imitate, as hard as I may try.

I am happy, and it’s because I have a wife who loves me, and dear friends who love me. And they love me because I am a man raised by a giant - by a great man who led a great life. Thank you, Dad. I love you so much.

21 April 2008

My Dad passed away today

Cross-posted from our family blog:

Dear family and friends,

Dad passed away just before noon today. He was sleeping comfortably and peacefully in his bedroom, and we were all gathered around him with Mom holding his hand. Dad hadn't been fully conscious for about the last 24 hours, but when Mom took his hand just before the end, he wrapped his fingers around it. We all told him we loved him, kissed him, and hugged him, and then he passed away, as peaceful as any of us could imagine.

Dad continued to be alert and constantly cracking us up with his humor, until Saturday bedtime. As was the case all along, Dad's final couple of days were peaceful, free of pain or suffering, and surrounded by his beloved family.

It's with enormous grief and sadness that we share the loss of our husband, our Dad, our friend, but also with deep gratitude to have been loved and served and taught by this good man, who was completely himself his entire life - full of strength, humor, and caring for all of us.

We're more grateful than ever for your love, prayers, and support, dear friends.

Love to all of you.

19 April 2008

Alas, no Legion of Pastafarian Super-Pirates

Those who know me will not be surprised that I find this delightful. Click through to find out what Francine Peters-Silver and Clark Kent have in common - and much, much more. (Including: What characteristic unites Mike Croghan, Bruce Wayne, Jean Grey, and Sue Storm-Richards? That's right! We're all spoiled white elitists.)

HT: Bro. Maynard

18 April 2008

Quick update on my Dad

Just a quick update for folks who read my blog but aren't connected to me in other ways, and might be wondering a) how my Dad is doing, and/or b) why I haven't been posting as much lately.

Dad's strength has been failing daily, and it's clear that he doesn't have too much time left. He sleeps all but 1-2 hours/day now. He's ready to go. Hospice caregivers, and the many people who love my Dad and Mom, have been wonderful. I've been down here (near Charlotte, NC) with Dad and Mom and other family and friends for the past 2 1/2 weeks, and I'm planning to stay for as long as I need to. It's been an immeasurable gift to be able to be here at this time, to be with Dad and laugh with him and hold him so much, and to laugh and cry with and help support Mom and my brother. We're seeing God's grace and love every day.

If you're someone who prays and the Spirit brings us to mind, we're grateful. Tell your loved ones you love them, friends, and give them a hug for me. Peace, peace, peace.

15 April 2008

Christianity and Tibetan Buddhism

HT to Steve "Emergent Village Blogmeister" Knight for pointing at this very interesting blog post from Kimberly Roth on JesusManifesto.com. Kimberly makes some good observations about the two religions, and asks some even better questions. Before I get to her excellent questions, I felt I should note that this:

However, there is a flip-side to Tibetan Buddhism. There is work involved, and peace comes with a price. The Tibetan people serve multiple deities, some of whom are full of vengeance. Their religious practices are in part, to appease the deities en route to obtaining enlightenment. Monks create intricately detailed mandalas to house deities and guide meditation. Followers walk the streets of Tibet endlessly spinning prayer wheels in an effort to gain the attention of the Buddha of Compassion. Tibetans perform physical rituals, such as stopping to bow every few steps, in an effort to relieve personal suffering. Street children, widows and crippled men line the streets.

isn't entirely accurate, at least according to what I was taught by my Lamas when I was a practicing Tibetan Buddhist. Sometimes my teachers seemed to regard the "deities" of Tibetan Buddhism much in the way that many postmodern Christians talk about the "principalities and powers" and the angelic and demonic forces described in Scripture - as having a reality that might be said to lie in psychological and/or sociological and/or supernatural phenomena, or all or none of the above (and maybe dividing reality into categories like that is hubris anyway). But since the Buddha taught that the "real" world is, more or less, a creation of our minds, the perspective of my teachers ended up tending in a direction paralleling a modern liberal Western view of such phenomena: it all comes down to psychology, and the "demons" or "wrathful deities" that need to be appeased or overcome (not to mention the Buddha of Compassion who must be cultivated) are, ultimately, "all in our heads", so to speak.

In other words, it's a bit more nuanced than the way most Westerners might think of serving, appeasing, or wooing multiple deities. But Kimberly's ultimate point in his paragraph (that Tibetan Buddism demands work) is certainly true, it's just that IMHO this is more because each of us has "vengeful deities" in his head that he must work to overcome (and, significantly, in the Buddhist view there is no loving Deity to grant him grace in this labor), as opposed to this work being required to appease a multitude of external vengeful gods.

(And if I were to get really nuanced, I'd note that Tibetan Buddhism is Tantric, and Tantric philosophy might be poorly summarized as "the only way out is through", which means that those wrathful deities are actually compassionate deities in disguise, guiding you out of your negative tendencies by taking you through them. But that's another story.)

(Also, I will concede that Kimberly's take on these things might well correspond pretty closely to the way the average Tibetan in Tibet might describe the situation. Most of my teachers were Tibetan, but they had spent years learning how to translate their teachings to best be received by Westerners.)

ANYway - you can see I'm done with that "what I really think" series and back in my familiar land of parenthetical remarks, disclaimers, and general mealy-mouthedness. Did you miss me?

So what I wanted to say, apart from quibbling, was that Kimberly's post gets down to this question:

Christians have been given the gift of true peace through a relationship with the Son of God. We do not have to do good works to earn our salvation, but through Christ’s sacrifice and the gift of the Holy Spirit, we are empowered to love other people with God’s love. When we fail to live up to the standard Christ demonstrated for our life, or when those around us mess up, there is still grace… grace that reminds us we are human… grace that reminds us we are loved… grace that picks us up, dusts us off, and encourages us to keep going. It truly is a wondrous faith.

Why, then, is it that the world is not enamored with faith in Christ?

Why is it that the world seems so taken by Tibetan Buddhism?

Why isn’t Christianity the religion of peace?

Wow, that's a damn fine question. Kimberly's got some good thoughts on the subject. How about you?

10 April 2008

Short term mission vs. formation as a people of justice

Lately, when I don't have much to say myself, I seem to get a lot of mileage (in my own mind, anyway) from quoting Len.

So in that spirit, I have stolen another Len post in its entirety. Let me show you it.

short term mission.. colonial?

Short term mission tends have very limited effect, and while it helps us feel better about ourselves, it does not take us closer to justice. At SHIFT Kara Powell spoke about moving from shallow service to “deep justice.”

“After tracing the importance of justice as a theme in the Old and New Testaments she laid out the difference between serving the poor and seeking justice. “Service is giving someone a glass of cold water who needs it. Justice is asking why the person needs a glass of cold water.” Service is good, she says, because it addresses real needs. But seeking justice means fixing the system that created the problem in the first place.

“Our churches tend to approach service as an event—buying gifts for poor kids at Christmas, feeding the homeless, going to Mexico to build a house. Again, these are worthwhile things. But justice isn’t an event, it’s a lifestyle. She defined justice as simply “righting wrongs.” Toward this end students at her church are engaging issues like sex trafficking, HIV/Aids, and modern-day slavery.

“Powell’s talk was very piercing. Is your church forming people to merely serve, or to be a people of justice?”

More at Out of Ur

I have known people whose lives have been deeply and lastingly transformed by short-term mission experiences. I have also known people who came back thinking, "Wow, I feel great! I can really make a difference in people's lives...as long as I go to Honduras. Oh well, back to life as I know it...."

The purpose of church (for the churched) is to utterly transform life as we know it, for every single person who gets on this path and sets out to follow Jesus...to form us into a people of justice. Every day. In our "regular" lives. (Really, this is the purpose for everybody, but folks need to "opt in" to the whole Jesus-following thing to get the full benefit, IMHO.)

God help us if we settle for less.

05 April 2008

Requiem for the American Dream

This post from Len Hjalmarson is so interesting, I'm just going to steal it in its entirety.

From TIME magazine:

“For years, Americans have reveled in profligate, load-up-the-back- of-the-SUV-at-Target excess, much of it paid for by credit cards, home equity or other loans. The binge has produced some supposedly healthy economic growth and provided everyone lots of nice stuff. But now debt collectors from around the world are knocking. That’s why today’s turmoil in U.S. financial markets will end in a massive transfer of wealth from America to the rest of the globe.”


Housing the homeless could save millions.

VANCOUVER — A study says providing shelter for the homeless with severe addictions and mental illness throughout British Columbia could save taxpayers millions of dollars.

“Addiction is the most prevalent mental health problem in both the street homeless and at-risk populations, followed by concurrent disorders and, less frequently, mental illness alone,” says the Simon Fraser University report.

The paper - entitled “Housing and Support for Adults With Severe Addictions and/or Mental Illnesses in British Columbia” - says providing non-housing services for such people costs the public system more than $55,000 per year per person.

It says providing adequate housing and supports could reduce this cost to $37,000 per year.”

Wait, what about the American Dream? You mean there might be flaws in "pull yourself up by your own damn bootstraps, become a good citizen (i.e., a good consumer), and work and spend and spend and spend until you die"?

Oh, I know what the problem is. Len's Canadian.