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Bearing the Cross and Maturing Downward

April 6, 2012

John Alexander, my “friend above”

On this day of bearing the cross, I always think of my friend and mentor John Alexander. John went into the hospital with leukemia on Ash Wednesday 2001 and died 40 days later on Good Friday. The wisdom of the world is obsessed with going upward. Yet the wisdom of the cross is about maturing downward. This was what John embodied (see my 2001 Sojourners column I wrote after his death, “The Virtue of Irrelevance”). At a moment of crisis in my life John said, “Actually, your failure isn’t even interesting.” To live in this world, he said, was to live in the expectation of sinning and being sinned against. The big deal about Christianity — what was interesting — was whether we understood that we were forgiven. The big deal about the church was creating a culture where we constantly reminded each other of that fact. The hymn “For the Beauty of the Earth” (here’s a beautiful rendition by John Rutter) speaks of grateful praise for “Friends on earth and friends above.” The wisdom of our “friend above” friend John illuminates the fullness that makes this Friday “good.”

About the Author: Chris Rice is co-director of the Center for Reconciliation at Duke Divinity School. He is author of Reconciling All Things, Grace Matters, and More Than Equals. He writes at the blog Reconcilers.

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