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Five of my daughter’s friends just died last night

Four Taylor University classmates of my children Seth and Estie were tragically killed last night as they returned to campus in a van.  A Taylor employee died too. A semi-truck crossed the median and plowed into them. Estie called shortly thereafter, pouring out her anguish in a voic…
By Seth Barnes
By Seth Barnes

Four Taylor University classmates of my children Seth and Estie were tragically killed last night as they returned to campus in a van.  A Taylor employee died too. A semi-truck crossed the median and plowed into them. Estie called shortly thereafter, pouring out her anguish in a voicemail.

I’ve come to dread the midnight call, shocked tones breathing news of some personal horror that has just occurred somewhere on the planet. It happened when my friend John Erickson was hit by a train at 19. It happened last September when one of our drama students was killed. His parents, Ed and Dee, continue to sift through their memories of him, looking for the redemptive hand of God.

The pain that the Rectors felt and still feel, so impossibly raw and unrelenting, will be a continual companion for these Taylor parents and for all those who knew the students well. Some have described it as a gift that no one wants, a severe mercy. But it seems facile to me to describe a knife to the heart that way. The Taylor President said, “We’re living a nightmare.”

Job’s friends are known for inappropriately philosophizing in a time that called for mourning, but their first instinct was their best. They sat down next to Job, put ashes on their heads, wept aloud, and didn’t say anything for a week. When death comes like this, that’s what you do – sit there and cry.

Estie just called – she worked with all these guys and knew them, one particularly well. She said that that friend made no bones about her faith in Jesus and she knows her friend is in heaven now. But Estie feels as helpless as I did when my friend John died. If you think of it, please pray for her, for the parents, and for the students and faculty who are mourning now.

Comments (5)

  • Dear Sir,

    My sympathies for your daughter, and the families most immediately affected. I hope that both she, and they, have the space and the time they need to deal with this raw pain in ways they find are best for them. That they do not have forced on them by others ways of greiving and remembrance that are not their own; and those who wish to help do seek simply to listen rather than giving way to that impluse to “do something” by way of words of “comfort” or acts of “remembrance” that are usually more damaging than doing nothing.

    I appreciate the explanation of your position on discipling as Jesus would advocate one to disciple that you posted in response to my comment on 19 April. You mentioned, at the end, that you were not sure where I was coming from in my concern over language, and perhaps my recommendation of “Bait and Switch” to you.

    My perspective has been, and continues to be, shaped by a “Christian” upbringing in the sense of the religious affiliation of my parents, church attendance habits, and the choice of a Christian college for undergraduate workas well as an ongoing study of the past and current deeds of humanity (I am an historian by training and, currently, an archaeologist by profession). Alongside the pulpit proclamations of the basic tenets of the faith (and a very, very few people who seemed at peace with the flawed humanity of their selves and their pursuit of God) I have seen much of “Christianity” used in the manner I alluded to in my last post: where “putting off the old man” has been taken by “spiritual coaches,” as you might call them, to mean trying to strip people of whatever identity they had prior to their acceptance of Christ in order to mould them into one more “acceptable” to whatever churchgoing crowd is performing the discipling; where one’s faith is proclaimed to be “immature” if they are not “emotionally moved” by various points of particular sermons; where rules of dress and opposite-sex interaction are rigidly and unforgivingly enforced among the stricter institutions of Christian higher education…by people who use such a position of power to freely engage in sex and otherwise break the rules they enforce.

    And where certain people who die as “faitful Christians,” proclaiming their belief (we all have read the accounts of Cassie Bearnall at Columbine) are lionized in print, screen and song as an example for others to followonce more, usually by those who speak from pulpits afar, continuously urging others from that position of power to engage in a gritty, striving realism that they themselves never seem inclined to personally.

    History (of any time, any nation) provides the wider context for these behaviours, and how “Christianity” at large is no different in practice than any other hierarchy of power in business or government, civil or military, past or present. A few may honestly believe in the good that is to be acheived, and strive through their lives to acheive it. Many stand fecklessly, willing to follow whomever might give meaning to lives they seem unwilling to find meanings for themselves. Most, with a network of power established, simply content themselves with the preservation and pursuit of power within that network. And both the few honestly committed and the many feckless followers serve their purposes equally well. The feckless can be made to believe that the current power structure provides the meaning they want for their lives, as can the truly committedthereby either ringing the power structure in with dedicated defenders, or providing legions of self-abasing acolytes who wear themselves out in attempts to follow abstract ceremonies of belief and enlightenment set by the leaders.

    And each ceremony, each commemoration and height of spiritual experience is overlaid and tied up in language tailored by leadership to provide the greatest emotional rush, the greatest sense of connected purpose. A baptismal visit with a 70 year-old deacon that ends with the 13 year-old church member leaving in tears when their faith is proclaimed immature and they are somehow “unworthy” of baptism is proclaimed as a time “where one will need further prayer and commwith God to realise a fuller potential of their faith in and purpose with God.” Soldiers, vomiting from fear, are buried by a wall collapsing in an explosion and are noted as “fallen heroes” in the papers. And a girl who is shot in the head after providing a yes answer to a straightforward, yes-or-no question has her picture plastered on video and book covers as a “hero” of the faith.

    It becomes practically propagandistic, when words and phrases used to evoke glory and stir emotion to move people to certain ends, with other words used to cover what may indeed be multitudes of sins, as it may well be with those who disciple by set patterns, follow structure irrespective of the person; rating the “spiritual progress” of the acolyte by the numbers of lessons completed, the verbal format or frequency of their prayers, or what day they are on in a calendar of instruction and, again, considering themselves the greater in virtue for having followed the format. And in all cases, from the persons who are “discipled” to the persons who are dead and “remembered,” they become less as human beings, and much more as tools to advance someone else’s agenda.

    So it was in Assyria and ancient Greece; so it was in Versailles at the height of Louis XIVs reign; so it (to a very great degree) is in this country todayand there is many a church and Christian college, board committee and mission organisation that is no exception.

    Yes, the potential for manipulation is inherent in the discipling process, as you pointed out. And you also admitted the greatest weakness involved in the work of the discipler, when you differentiated the discipler from the career coach. Your phrasing was “if they’re doing it right, they’re doing it for love.” As it is a very short step from “discipling” someone to drilling them in a set of abstract principles, so it is a shorter space from that to failing altogether to think about what Jesus has called his followers to do, and dialogue about it. Few things, I submit, frighten the holders of power in the greater balance of institutionalised Christianity more than such thought and dialogue.

    You mentioned you had read a review of “Bait and Switch.” If you have not done so, I recommend you do read the book itself. Indeed, Ehrenreich does make generalizations, and you might say she does make fun of those “with religious beliefs and values.”

    But consider: when those outside the pale of church and denomination make fun or otherwise mock certain practices, as she does, that is usually the indication that something worthy of ridicule AND reform does exist.

    Rare as the situations of a humane institution allowing thought and dialogue are, however, I do hope that your daughter, and the families of those who were killed, are shown peace and compassion, are not overwhelmed with set phrases of how the Lord “will strengthen our spirits in these times.”

    I pray that such people may have a greater consciousness of the space and the time those who are so badly hurt will require; and that those who are dead remain as individuals even in deathnot tools to be used for some “greater purpose.”

    Peter J. Drake

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Seth Barnes

I'm motivated to join God in his global reclamation project. He's on the move, setting his sons and daughters free from their places of captivity. And he's partnering with those of us who have been freed to go and free others.

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