at our cry
God stretches out his hand
it is not to pull us up
but to push us down
like a gardener’s finger
seed into soil
“And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds …” Hebrews 10:24
At funerals and memorial services, there’s kind of an unspoken rule that you only talk about the deceased in positive terms (which is one reason I suspect that when it comes time for my father to bury his Dad, he will not want to have a service at all). My husband’s best friend—who was also a friend to me—died of cancer a couple weeks ago, and I’ve been considering this. I think at least one reason for it is that we can honor the dead, not just by remembering their highest virtues, but also by emulating them.
I guess that needs a little more “unpacking”:
A friend is normally someone whose company you enjoy, with whom you have shared interests. But a Christian brother or sister will build you up. That’s one of the most important things about regularly gathering for worship and fellowship: the Christian life is not easy, and you need other people who are on the same path to “provoke” you to love and good deeds. (And what was Joshua, if not “provocative”?) Not all friends are a positive influence, but Joshua certainly was for us. He was not just a friend, but a brother in Christ. And in this world, we need as many such friends-and-more-than-friends as we can find, which makes it all the sadder that he’s not here any longer. So, anyway, we can honor Joshua’s friendship now by continuing to spur (spurring?) each other on to continue growing in faith and in love, even in Joshua’s absence.
I think most people found Joshua to be very odd. I also think most people don’t realize that homeschoolers are members of a subculture significantly different from the mainstream American middle-class. It’s a common worry of parents that homeschooled kids will not be socialized properly, and it’s somewhat valid. But it’s not that homeschoolers end up lacking social skills—it’s more that we end up with somewhat different social values and intuitions. Surprisingly enough, though, there seems to be a kind of uniformity in the strangeness of homeschoolers—and so, case in point, I found Joshua to be very “normal” and “familiar” as a fellow homeschooler. And in a way, to me, it makes his death all the more poignant. If that doesn’t make sense to you, try to imagine what it would be like living in a foreign country. The death of a friend who was a fellow expatriate would probably be particularly affecting to you, since there’d be one less of your own “kind” in your social circle. Anyway, I feel that way about Joshua—there is a wistful sense, “Alas; he was one of us.”
I think being a member of the homeschooling subculture encouraged one of Joshua’s virtues which we who've survived him would do well to imitate: he was extremely rational. To the best of his ability, he did not evaluate suggestions based on the usual emotional considerations of how they might cause offense to someone (especially oneself), usually by injuring pride. Instead, he considered as objectively as possible whether something seemed to be in line with biblical principles (according to the interpretive tradition in which his faith was formed).
That may not seem like a huge compliment, but it is nothing to sneeze at. Very few people are that consistent or sincere at striving toward objectivity, and the result is all manner of self-deception and fruitless posturing. When it comes to cutting through frivolous niceties and irrational social expectations, Joshua should be an inspiration to us all.
But, as my father always said, your greatest strengths are also your greatest weaknesses. As I mentioned above, there is a “rule” that (at least in public) you only say nice things about the dead. And in some ways, that makes sense, because the deceased are not able to defend or explain themselves in response to criticism. But at the same time, it can get to be a bit dishonest. We’re all human—and when we acknowledge that someone was flawed and messed up, it stirs up that sense, “Alas; he was one of us.”
I hope that when I die people will not pretend that I didn't make mistakes or have character flaws. I would much rather that they acknowledge the things I did wrong, and forgive me. And in the same way that I think we can best honor the dead by living as if they were still here to inspire us with the virtues they embodied, we can also honor them by avoiding and correcting the kind of mistakes that they made in life. They are not here to work on those problems any longer—so we can do it on their behalf.
When Joshua was in a bad mood, he often felt free to share it with others. But I forgive him for being irritable—not least of all, because I am often the same way. And I can honor Joshua’s memory by making an effort to notice and stop myself when I’m peevishly trying to bring others down (well, it’s usually just Brandon—and I am sure he will approve of this method of honoring Joshua’s memory!).
Anyway, I thank God for Joshua’s life, for the friend he was to Brandon, for the chance to get to know him, for the example that he was, and for the praise and glory I trust he is offering to God even now. We miss you, Joshua. But “love never ends” and we hope to see you again, someday.