Along with letters we've received commenting on recent articles have been a substantial number reflecting readers' deep dismay over the shootings in Littleton, Colorado. While many words of self-examination and analysis have been written about this tragedy, Christians seem especially disturbed. For example, commenting on what he called "The Massacre of Values," Kansas pastor Frederick Kornis observed that "if we are at all sad or concerned about the outrageous behavior of the Trench Coat Mafia and the likes, we must individually confess our own outrageous idolatry of worshiping the secular over the spiritual." Don't miss our commentary in this issue's editorial ("The Long Road After Littleton," p. 32). And if you missed the CT article by Lt. Col. David Grossman (Aug. 8, 1998, p. 30) on how society is training our children to kill, you can find it on the Web (ChristianityToday.com/ct/8t9).
Good Grief! Funeral Directors Deserve Credit
* With a broad brush dipped in tar, Lauren Winner takes a gleeful and slanderous swipe at the local mortician, painting the funeral industry in shades of deception and opportunistic greed ["Death, Inc.," April 26]. While I can respect Winner's preference for the do-it-yourself approach to funerals, most folks I deal with as a small-town pastor would rather eat chalk than prepare their dead mother for burial. They deeply appreciate the services offered by a skilled funeral director who is compassionate, honest, and extremely helpful at a time when most folks have all they can do simply to grieve. Funeral directors get called out at all hours of the night, often work around the clock, and are there to assist people in dealing with the most stressful experience in life, the death of a loved one. They deserve to make an honest profit for their work. No doubt there are some crooks in the trade, but Winner is wrong to paint such a bleak picture of a respectable profession.
Harlen D. Menk
* God uniquely put me in a funeral home as a counselor to families for a year while I was in between ministries. It was not my desire to be there, but I now see the experience as a major training time by the Lord for my role as a pastor. I never saw then, nor in any of the following years since then, any "kick-backs" to pastors or others. I have not seen abusive pressures to sell more expensive caskets or higher priced service (although I am sure that is done—just as I am sure there may be some pastors who take money from the church improperly).
Rev. Milt Davis
Your magazine's long-established credibility in our minds has been destroyed. This article reflects minimal research and a biased perspective that leads to conclusions that are totally inaccurate and invalid. It is an insult totally unworthy of a publication of your standing.
The cited practice of the writer's Methodist minister friend is illegal, and I question the ethics of the pastor involved, not only the "undertaker." They are both wrong, and this is not a normal part of the business.
I am a third generation family funeral director. As a graduate of Wheaton College and the University of Minnesota School of Mortuary Science, I have served my community for more than 45 years and have assisted in arranging and directing more than 15,000 funeral services.
Ralph H. Albinson
Eden Prairie, Minn.
As the early twentieth century gave way to the Depression, my grandfather made his way to a small town in southwestern Pennsylvania by the name of Hyndman. There he met his wife, raised three children, and built a then-small funeral home into a successful, thriving business. He gained the town's love and respect, not for the position he held, but for the person he was. When I was 8, my family moved to Hyndman, and my father began the work of becoming a funeral director.
Like my grandfather, my father worked hard and was prosperous. But also like my grandfather, his job was his ministry. Many people could not afford the cost of a funeral. For many, he gave his services away: cosmetics, casket, and all. For others, he often lowered the cost. For those who found too late that the price was more than they could pay, he did not collect, took what they offered, helped as he could, and often gave what he had to help them out.
While alive, he served the community as he could. He helped the Lions Club, served on bank and school boards, helped with Boy Scouts, and gave from his prosperity to help those he could find work or get a better education. He was fair and honest in all that he did. He never tried to trick a customer into buying more than they could afford. He was respected by the community more than most will ever be.
The predictable response often comes back that he was the exception. I think the truth is this—the mortician who tricks his customers, rips them off, has no concern for their pressing present needs is the exception.
Matthew J. Zeigler
* Winner's "Death, Inc." is disappointing. Part book review, part travelogue, part shockless expose, she seems to be saying that most all funeral directors are crooks except some African-American ones who have read certain books that she has read and, if I get her point, one who has written a book she has read—namely me. My black colleagues and I can be trusted, she seems to be saying, because we are literate.
"If you don't know of any black funeral parlors to patronize," Winner writes, "you could move to Milford, Michigan, where the poet Thomas Lynch is the undertaker." Of course, it is nice to meet her threshold for professional conduct. But she doesn't know me, has never met me, has never been to my funeral home, and, though she has done me the courtesy of "dipping into" my book [The Undertaking: Life Studies from the Dismal Trade, 1997], she speaks from no experience, empirical data, or informed source from the community I am accountable to.
The rich diversity of mortuary customs by which ethnic, racial, regional, and denominational identities are affirmed at the same time as our shared grief and common humanity and mortality are articulated makes the funeral one of the few truly cross-cultural rituals our species observes.
If "faction"—imaginable fictions dressed up, repackaged, and resold as fact—is what your publication is looking for, you have found an able apprentice in Winner. She has a gift for speculation and spectacle and storytelling.
Lauren Winner responds:
Unfortunately, neither Mitford's research—both for the original American Way of Death and for the revision decades later—nor my anecdotal survey uncovered such earnest accounts of undertakers who served God and their communities. Again, in my experience, funeral homes in African-American communities echo typical black churches with deeper connections to the daily lives and deaths of their people. I am certainly glad to hear these testimonies, which suggest that such connections are more widespread than either Mitford's book or my forays into the world of funeral homes indicate. Where I have more to learn, I wish to do so.
God, the Bible, and Christian Science
Regarding Glenn Tinder's article "Birth of a Troubled Conscience" [April 26]: As a Christian Scientist, I have had more than a fair share of illness, of feelings of guilt and genuine desire for forgiveness and love. Is it irony or kinship with Glenn Tinder that has made Psalm 118:24 a lifeline of joy for me as it did for him? And finding, as Tinder did, that in spite of evil around us, God's good universe remains intact and we inhabit a day that God made and we can live. In such healing deliverance from evil, Tinder and I share that same sunlight of the blue Pacific Ocean in all its splendor and significance of God's grace.
Christian Scientists don't ignore sickness and sin, or avert their eyes and pretend these evils don't exist. But they do challenge evil's validity to be stronger than God, a point Tinder himself admits. Why disparage Christian Science for supporting what all Christians in distress do—turn to God and the Bible for help and find healing?
* I have used Glenn Tinder's Political Thinking as a supplementary text in my introductory political science courses for more than 15 years. It is an intriguing study of the paradoxes in political theory, made up wholly of questions to which Tinder supplies no final answers. The first question, significantly, is: Are human beings estranged in essence? followed by the second: If not, why are there so many conflicts/divisions among them? Through out the text, the scriptural view of humanity is clearly articulated as one answer to some of these perennial questions. My own premise is that one's view of human nature relates to one's view of government.
I assumed Glenn Tinder to be a religious person, but his spiritual autobiography revealed a person much like I am—estranged, reconciled, and redeemed.
Indiana University/Purdue University
I'm writing to correct the impression of Christian Science: Christian Scientists do not ignore sin. It was the teachings of the Bible, as illuminated by Christian Science, and the loving yet firmly moral outlook of individual Christian Scientists that many years ago turned me away from habitual licentiousness and sensuality and freed me from these obvious forms of sin. Since then, I have embarked on a daily, deeper cleansing of those things I wasn't even aware of as sins in my youth. Far from ignoring sins, Christian Scientists wrestle with them daily, hourly, moment by moment—and conquer them through the love of Christ.
Santa Monica, Calif.
Helping Students Become All They Can Be
The editorial in the CT issue of April 26, "Why Christian Colleges Are Booming," is very discerning, showing tremendous insight and understanding. A year ago the Coalition for Christian Colleges met in Indianapolis for a first-ever forum on Christian higher education. Those of us present were most sincere about "creating a distinctive academic environment that is academically challenging … as well as physically safe and morally sound" in the colleges we serve. Christian college presidents, administrators, and board members want to do what is necessary to help students become all they can be—with growth from a rigorous academic program where credentials earned have great value—with increased integrity as academic excellence blends with Christian commitment—with a valued work ethic to use in any arena into which God calls them.
The comment regarding faculty being the "most valued resource" in our Christian colleges/universities is almost understated! We cannot express enough appreciation to those who are called of God to share their academic disciplines and their lives, opening up the minds and hearts of their students to truth.
G. Roselyn Kerlin, Chairman
Taylor University Board of Trustees
* As a person who has taught in both secular and sacred environments, I agree with your conclusion that Christian colleges provide academic environments that are physically safe, morally sound, and academically challenging. However, I frequently found myself "preaching to the choir" when working in Christian institutions and would rather be an educator in a secular place as there are more opportunities to convert others to a Christian world-view. I have, and always will, share my faith and integrate faith and learning in the classroom, even in public environments.
Prof. Alan R. Lisk
Penn State University
The '99 Book Awards
* I am a Ph.D. student with a personal library of over 6,000, primarily academic, volumes. Thus, I greatly value scholarly works. At the same time, I have worked in six Christian bookstores in three regions of the country. I believe my experience and training give me a good idea of what is stocked and actually sells in Christian bookstores. Of the 26 titles listed [April 26], a full two-thirds of them are not and will not be carried by Christian bookstores. Many are too highly priced. Many are too esoteric. All might be excellent books, but readers will be very few in number. Therefore, with two or three exceptions, this list is a failure if by it you had hoped to generate a wider audience for these books. When a book is not read, it has no impact on the church as a whole.
By no means should the sales or popularity of a book determine its real value to the church; but exactly what criteria are used when you declare this list to be "the best books published in 1998"? I fear this list may tell us as much about CT and those who voted as about the quality of the books listed.
I recommend a revamping of the book awards. Return to a type of format you used a few years ago, using several different categories. In that way, you may continue to recommend the scholarly works, but you will also be able to give due credit to excellent books on other topics which would never make your "professional" listing, such as those on marriage, family, and (dare I say it?) fiction.
Church Growth in Frisco, Texas
* Regarding the April 26 News article "Church Growth: Swindoll Starts Instant Megachurch" [North American Report], I was saddened to see that CT represents what is happening in Frisco, Texas, at Stonebriar Community Church as church "growth." Are these multiplying numbers new converts or is this just the feeding frenzy of media-struck evangelicals? Has anyone checked with the emptying local churches who don't have the advantage of a major media personality and his financial backing? Do they agree with Chuck Swindoll that "God is at work here or this would not have happened"? When will we get it that "big" doesn't mean "blessing" from God? Indeed, it may be undermining what he is doing through "small."
If he missed preaching, why didn't Chuck volunteer 25 or 30 weekends a year to go out to the places where some of his seminary graduates are struggling to build churches?
Is Chuck Swindoll's "instant megachurch" an indication of the condition that American Christianity has fallen to at the end of the twentieth century? Nowhere in the article is there any indication of any evangelism taking place through the preaching of Dr. Swindoll at his new church, which there surely would be if he had indeed made 2,000 new converts. Now that would really be news!
Jon Eric Pipes
Keswick, Ont., Canada
* I hope I'm wrong, but I find it hard to believe that Stonebriar Community found 2,000 unchurched or pagan boomers and gen-Xers just waiting for someone to invite them to church.
Los Angeles, Calif.
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