One of my closest friends is a United Methodist minister named Aaron. I met him while he was a graduate student studying Medieval literature at the University of Kentucky, living an a rat-hole apartment behind my home church in Lexington. That stately building, home to "First Church," one of the oldest and most prestigious congregations in the Kentucky Conference, stood in such contrast to the humble neighborhood surrounding it. The wealthy suburbanites who drove across town to fill its still-proud pews had no points of intersection with the desperate poverty that surrounds every downtown church since white-flight bled our cities dry.
When I met Aaron he looked homeless. Sporting an old Russian beard (like a ZZ Top beard, only it hadn't yet turned white) adorned with denim and flanel, he cared not one whit for his appearance. His stark looks complimented his uncompromising personality. He had fire, both personally and intellectually. He helped me learn to love the quirks of the English language, even before he helped me learn to more deeply love the Lord, and the Word.
He was quite possibly the most unlikely member of our church, having ventured in one Sunday shortly after he'd had a conversion experience. But he quickly made himself indisposable, helping out with the Youth Group and even going on a mission trip to Estonia (he has a love of all things Eastern European, especially if they involve language or culture). As he grew in his faith, and as his involvement with the church expanded, he began to realize a calling to pastoral ministry, dropped out of his PhD program, and entered seminary.
He is the rare minister who defies all labels, a theological and political conservative who often shares the social concerns of liberals. He has no trouble breaking from the party line, if he will even acknowledge that such a line exists. I could spend thousands of words praising him for the depth of his faith and his service, not to mention the compassion with which he reaches out to the least and the lost, including the teenage Strappy, wandering in his own wilderness.
A couple of years ago Aaron's wife was diagnosed with cancer. Recently he started a blog, Grace Under Pressure, to help share the spiritual journey of fighting that cancer, and the bitterness and discouragement which so often accompanies such a fight. His most recent post is one of the most powerful meditations on suffering I've ever read. Since we've been discussing theodicies here, I thought that some of you should check out what Aaron has to say. For him, as for us sometimes, suffering is not some abstract subject, but simply a fact of life, to be overcome by the grace of the God who turns bad into good.
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