I have spent the day wondering why it is that we respond to the death of someone like Mike Yaconelli as if we knew them personally. Some of it is the quickness of it, of course. But I think of a few of the wonderful saints that we have lost and my reaction to their deaths. Henri Nouwen's death was a real shocker. I had always wanted to be in Nouwen's presence. That wouldn't happen in this life now. I always enjoyed Mike Yaconelli's writings (way back to the Wittenberg Door). I wondered what it would be like to meet him. No, that won't happen in this life now.
Earlier this year I lost at least three of the people who had been mentors for me- a Bishop, a former district president, and a seminary professor. I am still grieving their deaths.
But mentors are not just people we connect with personally- in person. People like Nouwen and Yaconelli were that for many people over the years by their ability to convey in writing a deep sense of the calling of God in their lives. In so doing they were able to cause their readers to stop and pay attention to what God was doing in the reader's life. There was the incredibly profound lessons of Nouwen in The Wounded Healer that continue to shape my ministry 30+ years after reading them. There is the Messy Spirituality that Yaconelli wrote so passionately about that says that my failings and daily struggles are part of the journey, the pilgrimage, that will, I pray, continue to move me closer to my God.
As I surfed the blogosphere tonight, and checked back at Youth Specialties website, I realized that I am not alone in my feelings of loss. Many of us have been touched by Mike and his excitement. Many of us have done youth ministry- and stayed in youth ministry- because of the example that Mike gave us (as well as the goofy ideas in the books he and YS published.) Many of us will continue to be caring and compassionate beyond our jobs, because Mike showed us that it is not a job that we do but a calling. It is a dangerous one. It is one that can overcome us with details and the desire by parents for "safety" and status quo for their youth. But it is one that can be very rewarding and exciting.
When you have been somewhere and you know what it looked like, things like the California fires feel like they are close to home, even when you live in Minnesota. Last February I had the great fortune to lead a men's retreat at a conference/retreat center in the mountains by Lake Arrowhead. We also spent part of a morning off-roading around there. I remember the manager of the center telling us about the fire evacuation plans and how if it started near them how much devastation would occur. Well, it is occurring. The power of nature is incredible. The natural world is not a benign place. Many of us learned that in some harrowing sequences in Bambi. Perhaps that is why the fires strike a chord. Even when the fires start by natural events (lightning), they are just as devastating. Then there are earthquakes, or floods, or hurricanes, or tornadoes, or blizzards, or.... We are but small parts of an incredibly powerful and uncertain universe.
Which always takes me to Psalm 8. I can imagine the Psalmist standing beneath the stars, but also aware of the potential of so many other natural disasters. I imagine the words of awe, humility and praise singing forth:
Your glory is higher than the heavens.
2 You have taught children and nursing infants
to give you praise.
They silence your enemies
who were seeking revenge.
3 When I look at the night sky and see the work of your fingers—
the moon and the stars you have set in place—
4 what are mortals that you should think of us,
mere humans that you should care for us?
5 For you made us only a little lower than God,
and you crowned us with glory and honor.
6 You put us in charge of everything you made,
giving us authority over all things—
7 the sheep and the cattle
and all the wild animals,
8 the birds in the sky, the fish in the sea,
and everything that swims the ocean currents.
9 O LORD, our LORD, the majesty of your name fills the earth!
New Living Translation