My Father’s Eulogy

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Yesterday, on Wednesday the 12th of February 2020, I gave the eulogy at the funeral of my Father, Michael Anthony Peoples, usually known as Mick (1941-2020). He was 78.

It was one of the hardest things I’ve done, whether people could tell or not, but it was an honour to do so. I didn’t record it at the time. I had thought that I might, but at the time I was just focused on keeping it together and trying to help the service run smoothly, so it escaped my attention. It would have felt strange to record it now and share that recording. For those who would like to read what I said, I have reproduced it below. I hope it goes without saying that this was not a talk given to a room full of scholars, or even a sermon preached to my fellow parishioners (although I certainly took the opportunity to share some small insights in the short time I had). It was a talk given to Dad’s grieving family who had come to say goodbye, for now at least, by one of them. I share it here for those who wanted a copy of what I said, and for those who might have liked to attend but were not able (and for anyone who is curious).

I have not shared a photo of my father here, as I do not usually share photos of family in public places. My Facebook account is limited to my Facebook friends.

The eulogy was as follows.


There’s something quite daunting about being bumped up the generational ladder to the top level. It leaves one feeling rather exposed. So if Mick’s siblings wouldn’t mind terribly much, feel free to stick around for a while.

I suspect you all know as well as I do that there are things about my father’s life that we wish had been different, and in no small part they were his own doing. They have shaped the lives and well-being of his children. He taught me, whether intentionally or otherwise (because most of the lessons we teach our children we teach them unintentionally, while they watch us) many good things, but the most life-changing thing that he taught me as I entered adulthood was the value of forgiveness and letting go. It is because I learned that lesson that I was able to appreciate the other lessons that were there if I was willing to see them: The virtue of working hard, of old-fashioned decency and propriety most of the time, the value of having a sense of humour, the value of not putting up with nonsense – which by the way is a virtue as Dad would have assured you. And there were other lessons – “Very good” means anything from “that’s not awful” to “that’s completely wonderful.” “We’ll see what happens” means “yes, of course.” “Jeeeez” means “I can’t say what I want to say right now as there are children present.” He didn’t teach me everything, though. There are ways of being a man, a husband and a father that I chose not to inherit from him. You do not have to be cursed by the mistakes of your parents, you certainly do not have to repeat them, and it is never helpful to replay them and let them consume you. As we lay my father to rest, make sure that you lay to rest any outstanding accounts you have with him.

As easy as it is to reflect on how things could have been for Dad later in life, there is a silver lining to it, and if you don’t like me talking about his Catholic faith, well that’s unfortunate. Dad agreed with me.

Dad’s son is a theologian and an Anglican (sorry Dad), so the following example suggested itself to me. Not quite 500 years ago as King Henry VIII lay dying, as Dad did recently, Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, rushed to be at his side, as I did recently. Henry had lost the powers of speech, and because Thomas cared for his eternal well-being, he took him by the hand and asked him to assure him that he trusted in Christ – to give him a sign. Henry opened his eyes and squeezed his hand, before finally closing his eyes. It wasn’t much, but Thomas loved his king and could not let him pass from this life without checking.

Well I’m not the Archbishop of Canterbury, and Dad certainly wasn’t Henry VIII, thank God. His wife might have found him hard to live with at times, as did we all, but she managed keep her head. Dad was never the sort of person to be outspoken about his faith, and if you were, he would privately roll his eyes and exclaim, “Jeez, those happy clappy sorts.” But he and I had something in common with Thomas and Henry. I know that there were things that Dad carried with him that did not serve him well. He harboured a deep unhappiness about his marriage, and about the departure of his family from his Church, and these did not always manifest in the prettiest of ways. There was always the fear for me that resentment would drive him to give up on faith in God altogether. But because I loved him and cared for his eternal well-being, I don’t think there was a time when I saw him when I didn’t ask – do you still believe? Do you still know this to be true? He wouldn’t have taken kindly to me getting fanatical about it. His was a formal, quiet, but consistent faith – exactly the way religion should be, as he saw things. When I saw Dad, less than few weeks ago, it was no different, and I was not going to let him pass from this life without checking. I said to him, “This is important, I need to check up on you. Do you still believe?” “Oh yeah, yeah, I do.” He didn’t mind my asking. The last time I saw him in his room at the rest home, when he spoke about the fact that his time is short, but really death is coming for us all – a healthy perspective I’ve inherited from him – I reminded him, “that’s true, but you know you have forever.” He nodded very seriously as though reminding himself and coming to his senses, “Yes, that’s right.” It wasn’t anything elaborate, although it was more than a squeeze of the hand.

God knows how little we have to offer, because he knows our frailty. For Dad’s sake and my own, and yours for that matter, I am beyond grateful that God accepts our small token of faith and meagre, broken, imperfect obedience, and receives us into his Kingdom not because of our impressive performance (or both Dad and I would be in a world of trouble), but simply out of mercy.

Every time he attended Mass, my father, with the Church throughout the ages, would profess his faith in the words of the Creed – “We look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.” This doesn’t have to be the last you see of him. Dad was right to reflect on the fact that he wasn’t the only one in his position. The day is coming for us all, and if there is a chance, any chance, that this is not the end and there is a way to receive the life of the world to come, that chance commends itself to you as the most important thing that we could ever consider. The only guaranteed time you have when you may do so is now.

In more recent years, and especially the last few months, whenever I have thought about Dad’s foibles, about the habits within him that have done him so much harm over the years (not that I thought of them often, for there is little point in that), about the things he carried with him that weighed him down, I have also made myself remember not only the good that managed to shine through in the here and now – and there was plenty of it – but also the fact that these things are not permanent features of my father. I made myself remember these words that he confessed and knew, however quietly at times, to be true. “We look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.” We have not seen the best of Mick yet. But I do look forward to it.

Playing fast and loose with aggression and sex

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Men are much more aggressive than women, right? Studies say so. We just know this. Well, there may be truth to it (there is), but be discerning when you hear or read people say it. What exactly are they saying? Does all the evidence support it? Does the evidence support quite what they are saying, or does it support something similar but not the same?

When reading for an introductory psychology paper last year, I was struck by an example of how authors subtly (or perhaps not so subtly) encourage the reader to accept narratives that have become part of our social orthodoxy. In this case it’s a narrative about men being more aggressive than women. It’s subtle, but here’s what I observed. The textbook is by Lorelle Burton, Drew Westen, and Robin Kowalski. Only when writing this blog article did I look up information about these authors and realise that the first and last of them are women, and the second is a sometime contributor to the Huffington post and progressive advocate who served as an advisor to a Democratic election campaign in which he advised them to “for the most part, forget about issues, policies, even facts, and instead focus on feelings.” I add this lest anyone suspect that these factors contributed to my impression of what I read. For some reason, I had assumed that “Burton” was a man (possibly because the name sounds like “Bert!”). The book is Psychology, published by Wiley, and this is the fifth Australian and New Zealand edition. It is the assigned text for Social and Individual Psychology. Continue reading “Playing fast and loose with aggression and sex”

Anglican Renewal

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“There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind.” ~ C S Lewis

Interesting – and wonderful – things are happening in the Anglican Communion. I’ve been slow to acknowledge – actually, slow to see – that these are not isolated events, but part of a wider movement.

There are a couple of things I want to say about some of these recent developments. Some of it is on the more sorrowful side, as we see ugly outpourings of bitterness, misrepresentation, and ill-will from some quarters (sadly, from the leaders of the Church to which I belong) as they see the reach of their power shrinking and God’s Church growing beyond it. But that can wait. First, I want to hesitantly and cautiously invite you to rejoice and give thanks. I’m hesitant and cautious only because I’m only just beginning to see and to realise how good these developments are – I am sure that my confidence will grow. Continue reading “Anglican Renewal”

How to escape the Bible with your theology intact

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There is a way of using the Bible to support your theology that really just amounts to doing everything in your power to avoid what the Bible has to say so that you can escape from the ravages of Scripture with your precious doctrine still intact.

Without naming names, over the last year I have had several conversations about the doctrine of hell with people who advocate the doctrine of eternal torment, where they argued in a manner very much like John in the following conversations (right down to the same phraseology, eg “equally likely as an interpretation” and “use Scripture to interpret Scripture”):

Karen: Hi John. Have you read passage A? It seems to pretty clearly deny the doctrine of eternal torment. It says that one day the lost will be destroyed. They will die and be gone. Don’t you agree?

John: No, I don’t think so. I think eternal torment is equally likely as an interpretation. Continue reading “How to escape the Bible with your theology intact”

Episode 056: Material Salvation

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In this talk, I ask the question – What difference does it make if the Bible teaches we are physical creatures, rather than dual body-soul beings? How does that impact on  anything else we believe as Christians?

From gender identity to mental health more generally, to salvation, the way we view human nature has a profound impact.

 

 

Some thoughts on New Zealand’s loss of faith

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What should we make of what people say about why they don’t believe, and how should the Church respond?

According to a report commissioned by the Wilberforce Foundation, just over half (55%) of New Zealanders do not identify with a “main” religion. 35% described themselves has being neither spiritual nor religious, and 33% identify with Christianity.

Along with an increase among those with no religious or spiritual beliefs, the study shows an increase in ignorance about Christianity. More than one in five people know nothing about the Church in New Zealand, and 9% of respondents know no Christians. This growth in non-exposure is reflected in the makeup of the group that does not identify as religious or spiritual. When comparing a person’s current status (religious/none religious) with the home environment in which they were raised, the single largest combination (26% of respondents) is “Never been religious: I was shaped in a non-religious household and am non-religious to this day.” Continue reading “Some thoughts on New Zealand’s loss of faith”

“You will never die”: What did Jesus mean?

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Did Jesus say that believers would never ever die, indicating that even when their bodies die, they will live on with him in glory? You might have heard that, but what if he meant something different, promising that we would be spared the fate of disappearing into death forever?

I get some resistance to the biblical concept that human beings are frail and mortal, “dust of the earth,” that we return to the dust when we die, and that there’s no heavenly life to be had while our bodies lay in the grave awaiting the resurrection of the dead. Sometimes people even pit Bible verses against this biblical idea. One verse at a time, I think we can see that these objections fail, and the overall clear biblical portrait of human nature and death remains intact.

One of those objections comes from a particular interpretation of Jesus’ saying after raising Lazarus from the dead in John 11:25-26:
“I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, even though he dies, will live, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.”

Never die. That gives pause to some people when they consider my view that immortality is received at the resurrection and that the dead are really dead in the grave, not living on as immortal souls. They wonder if this claim by Jesus must mean that if we live and believe in him now, we cannot lie dead in the grave without our souls living on in glory, because we will “never die.” It’s a good question to ponder, but there’s already a reasonable response to this worry, quite apart from the observation I’ll make soon. Jesus is here talking about those who live the new life that he has just referred to: Whoever believes in me, even though he dies, will live – that is, via the resurrection. So when Jesus goes on to say “whoever lives and believes in me will never die,” he’s talking about the life of immortality after the resurrection. Continue reading ““You will never die”: What did Jesus mean?”

Making self-help sound like terrorism

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You’ve heard of Jordan Peterson. He’s a Canadian professor of psychology and a clinical psychologist. In his work in the latter role, he has helped a lot of people deal with mental health issues and sort their lives out, as clinical psychologists are wont to do. He became notorious because of the hate he received when he objected to a university trying to force people to use the gender pronouns of transgender individuals. Not that he never uses those pronouns, but he objected to being told that he had to use them, or else face consequences. He didn’t create the situation, he just responded to it because it affected him directly.

Peterson has managed to offend people in other ways, too (not that this is a great feat today), for example by arguing that genuine sex differences exist – hardly a radical theory. Cathy Newman notoriously made him more famous via an interview in which she spent nearly all of her time re-stating and misrepresenting most of his answers when discussing the gender pay gap. Peterson didn’t force her to do that. She did it herself, and so badly that she became a meme. She was a train wreck, and in retrospect few people doubt that she knows it. Otherwise the interview would have been much less remarkable and would almost certainly not have had the positive effect on Peterson’s fame that it did.

Most of Dr Peterson’s subject matter is psychology and self-help. But (generally when the issue is raised with him) yes, he has talked about things with broader political and social implications. When he does, the target of his criticisms are generally not just people on the left or the right, conservatives or liberals, but rather the space on the political spectrum he calls “the radical left,” although at times he has also spoken specifically about the dangers of fascism in particular as well as the factors that enable it.

Unsurprisingly, the radical left (as much as I dislike collectivism – take me to mean “many people who could fairly be described as radical leftists”) tend not to like Jordan Peterson. But even not liking somebody or their views should surely be compatible with some very basic principles of fairness and decency. Continue reading “Making self-help sound like terrorism”

Purgatory requires dualism

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You can only believe in purgatory if you hold a substance dualist view of human beings.

Purgatory is a place that exists according Roman Catholic Theology, and a number of people who are not Roman Catholic believe in it, too. In Catholic theology, it is a place where you go after death if you are not yet ready for heaven, so that you can receive punishments for the venial sins (the less serious sins, as opposed to mortal sins) that have not yet been dealt with in this life. As Thomas Aquinas put it,

[I]f the debt of punishment is not paid in full after the stain of sin has been washed away by contrition, nor again are venial sins always removed when mortal sins are remitted, and if justice demands that sin be set in order by due punishment, it follows that one who after contrition for his fault and after being absolved, dies before making due satisfaction, is punished after this life. Wherefore those who deny Purgatory speak against the justice of God: for which reason such a statement is erroneous and contrary to faith.

Outside of this historical Catholic understanding of purgatory, others have suggested, not that people need to be punished, but rather that they simply need to be fully sanctified (made holy) before reaching their final state in heaven. Jerry Walls defends this view in his book Purgatory: The Logic of Total Transformation. In public conversations, Dr Walls has remarked that while no doubt the sinful human desire is to have total transformation all at once, the reality is that sanctification is a process that takes time, hence purgatory.

I do not believe in purgatory, but I will not here argue that purgatory does not exist. Instead, I will just make one observation: To believe in purgatory presupposes mind-body substance dualism. Continue reading “Purgatory requires dualism”

Calvin and the Marian Doctrines

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Calvin did not accept the Marian doctrines. Without wanting to sound too rancorous, I have to say that anti-Protestant polemics can be the worst.

I’m sorry. I know that’s a very one-sided thing to say, but I encounter anti-Protestant polemics more than anti-Catholic polemics, because I’m not Roman Catholic. Sometimes the phenomenon goes by the name “Catholic apologetics,” as though it’s really a pro-Catholic thing, but that’s not how some of these warriors-for-Rome present themselves. They’re about claiming scalps in arguments.

I love some Catholic theologians and philosophers – and Catholic people in general. So I’m not going to refer to these people as just “Catholic scholars.” It would be unfair to Catholic scholars in general to lump them all together, which is why I keep open a category for anti-Protestant polemics, separate from Catholic scholarship. It’s a let-down for me, because some of the finest work in philosophical theology today has been produced by Roman Catholic Scholars (think Brian Leftow, Brian Davies, Edward Feser – EDIT: My mistake, Brian Leftow is not Catholic. He’s Anglican. But he sure writes like the best Catholic philosophers), so to turn from such fine minds and work to online blunt-axe-swinging warriors is a bit like swallowing the cheapest bourbon and cola money can buy after sampling a fine port.

That somewhat frustrated preamble aside, here’s what moved me to write this post. The other day I saw yet another anti-Protestant polemicist make the familiar claim: “Most Protestants would be surprised to learn that all the early Reformers accepted the Marian doctrines.” That’s not a direct quote, but it’s close (the part about all the early Reformers was central to the claim), and I’ve seen the claim made numerous times.

Continue reading “Calvin and the Marian Doctrines”