Sunday, January 29, 2012

Karen Leigh Stroup

A friend, the Reverend Dr. Karen Leigh Stroup died January 21, 2012.

I met Karen some 20 years ago while studying at Lexington Theological Seminary.  After leaving Lexington, we saw each other infrequently, but through email, we continued our friendship.  She was one of the first Faithful Readers, and faithful she was.  ("Faithful Readers" is an affectionate name I've given to a group of people who receive my sermons each week either by email or the USPS.)  She avidly read what I sent and often responded.  More often than not, her responses took one of two forms.  She often gave a different slant to my sermon theme or use of the text.  At other times, she challenged my thinking and my position.  After one such response from Karen, I wrote asking, Could I just once receive an email saying “job well-done”?  Her response: “No response means you did well.”  I didn’t always agree with her, but I always grew from our interaction, as I do from others of you who take time to respond to what I send.

Karen earned her doctorate from Vanderbilt University and later taught there.  She pastored a Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Cropper, Kentucky, which is next door to Eminence, and another in Springfield, Tennessee, near Nashville.  She battled breast cancer.  Over the years, she suffered through multiple surgeries and chemo-therapies.  The battle cost her both her teaching and preaching roles.  She went from being among the employed to unemployed.  She never gave up.  She made and sold jewelry and she wrote.  There was a marvelous book on breast cancer (Speak the Language of Healing: Living with Breast Cancer without Going to War), a devotional book (Don’t Gift-wrap the Garbage: Down to Earth Meditations for Women.  They’re good for men, too.), several articles, and fiction.  She was even the model for the Reverend Karen Stroup of “King of the Hill.”  She was talented, insightful, and faithful—to her friends and to her faith, though the latter not without its struggles.  Karen’s faith was always honest and never abandoning of the Christ in whom she trusted.

Having survived breast cancer, Karen died January 21 from an apparent heart attack.  She was 54 years old.  She is survived by her parents, two sisters, nephews and nieces, and friends. 

I shall miss her.  Yet, her influence and presence will remain with me.  I will never write a sermon or prepare the Faithful Reader note without wondering how Karen would hear this.  She made me a better preacher.  I am thankful for her friendship and her ministry.

Karen Leigh Stroup saw who Jesus was and who she and others might be in Him.  She was amazed by what she saw and convinced of the core of our faith up to and through her death.

Thanks be to God.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Bible: Breath of Life or Smothering Weight

After all these years, the Bible remains a bestselling book.  For many, it is a source of life and inspiration.  For some, it is a window through which the revelation of God shines. For others, it can be a smothering weight.

I can’t remember a time when I did not read the Bible.  I still have my first Bible, which I received as a Christmas present when I was five years old.    My name is written on the presentation page, in pencil, in my father’s handwriting.  It is the only example I have of his handwriting.  I cherish that Bible. 

That cherished copy is not the only Bible I own.  I’ve done my share to make the Bible a bestseller.  I have Bibles of various versions and translations and formats, including several in digital format.  Yes, this old guy can whip out his iPhone and quickly search the Bible for just the right passage.

Almost everyone I know speaks of cherishing and honoring the Bible.  They should.  It is sacred.  Of course, the use to which we put it is not always sacred.  

Mark Twain shared a vivid example of the poor and wrong use of the Bible.  As a young boy, he saw a man shot.  The man was later carried into a house.  There the young Twain observed the man dying.

. . . the great family Bible spread open on the profane old man’s breast by some thoughtful idiot, and rising and sinking to the labored breathings, and adding the torture of its leaden weight to the dying struggles . . . .  In all the throng of gaping and sympathetic onlookers there was not one with the commonsense enough to perceive that an anvil would have been in better taste there than the Bible, less open to sarcastic criticism, and swifter in its atrocious work.  (Harriet Elinor Smith, et. al., editors, Autobiography of Mark Twain:  The Complete and Authoritative Edition, Volume 1, (Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press, 2010) Kindle Edition, location 4519.)
I’ve seen the Bible used as an anvil . . . children forced to read it and/or memorize verses as punishment . . . preachers and other authority figures pulling verses out of context to prove their point, not to mention to get their way.  Wrongly used, the Bible can crush the life out of a person as surely as an anvil laid across the chest.  

When used as it was meant to be used, the Bible is a book that opens to us the wonder of a Creative God who never gives up on rescuing a people who continually seek to be gods unto themselves.  It conveys the story of the Man of Power, who bowed to become servant to those who would call Him Lord.  It opens the door to a way of living that leads to life.

Twain said of the incident above, “In my nightmares I gasped and struggled for breath under the crush of that vast book for many a night.”  How we view and use the Bible has a lasting impact on our own lives.  How we view it and use it in relationship to others may determine whether they find it to be the Breath of Life or the smothering weight of an anvil. 

(Also to be published in The Henry County Local, January 11, 2012.