Rev. Dr. Joel Mitchell, Pastor
11024 S. Bell Avenue
Chicago, IL 60643
Reflections June 17, 2018
"To Daphne As You Turn Four" by Rev. Dr. (Grandpa) Thomas Aldworth
Dear Daphne: I know this letter is a bit late since your birthday was May 22. But, as
promised, I’ll write to you each year that I’m able as part of your birthday present. I
realize much of what I write may not make sense until you are older but since I do not
know how much time I have left, I want to reflect on some of what I’ve learned that may
serve you as you grow into adulthood.
We all have questions. We all wonder what life means. This is how we make our way
through life - by pondering, by asking questions, by trying to make meaning. We
humans are meaning-making creatures.
One of the biggest issues I’ve wrestled with in my long life is the problem of so much
suffering. My father, your great grandfather, died of cancer when I was but 11 years old.
That death was a serious blow from which I’ve never fully recovered.
As a child I wondered why he died. I wondered why the God I believed in did not
prevent my father from dying. But that God no longer exists for me. The God I was
raised with made no sense to me in the midst of my father’s death and the staggering
totality of humanity’s suffering. Why so much unjustified suffering? Why so much pain?
Why is life so hard for so many?
To find some answers to this daunting conundrum, I was drawn to ministry. Perhaps
the study of philosophy and the study of theology would provide helpful tools in the
solving of this dark mystery.
The Hebrew Scriptures (what we sometimes call the Old Testament) contain two
major attempts to answer the problem of suffering. The allegorical Book of Job attempts
an answer by placing God on trial. God’s response to Job doesn’t really solve the
Basically God tells Job to be quiet. Not exactly the kind of answer I’ve been seeking
for so many, many years. Yet as Professor Barbara Bowe writes: “Nowhere does God
give Job an answer to his questions about the meaning of suffering. The answer seems
to be that there is no answer.”
The Book of Ecclesiastes (also known as Qoheleth) likewise seeks to solve the issue
by putting words into the mouth of King David many centuries after the actual King
David was dead. Basically Qoheleth states that the human condition is not a riddle that
can be solved. The best solution is to live our lives as best we can - enjoying what we
can as long as we can. Not bad advice!
Dear Daphne, I hope for you that your life will be free of serious suffering (and the
same for your dear brother Clark). But suffering is inevitable. Suffering comes
regardless of all attempts to keep it at bay. Such is our human condition. Such is the
condition of all creatures great and small.
In my many years teaching Tae Kwon Do, I’ve often stated that it’s better learning
how to take a punch than learning how to deliver one. We do well to make ourselves as
strong as possible as we grow into the fullness of life. This may seem a strange
teaching but predators and bullies abound so we’d best be ready to deal with them.
As I mentioned in this past Sunday’s sermon, I was a very scrawny child. I’m sure I
would have been assailed by bullies but I had the special grace of my two brothers.
Bullies left me alone because my brothers would (and did) rush to my defense. What a
blessing to have siblings!
I thought I was sufficiently strong to endure the “slings and arrows of outrageous
fortune … the heartache … the thousand natural shocks that Flesh is heir to” (From
Hamlet). But the passing of my beloved Beth proved my strength to be an easily-
shattered illusion. All of us, regardless of background, have hearts vulnerable to
breakage. Our world is always awash with the tears of the broken-hearted.
Now, dear Daphne, I hope this teaching doesn’t seem too harsh. Life has many,
many joys. Even my deep loss over Beth has been partially assuaged by the
providential presence of my dear friend, Vinal (who I hope you get to meet soon). Life
Let me end this letter to you with the ending from yesterday’s sermon. Beth and I
attended the Lyric Opera production of Carousel in April, 2015. This would be the last
production we could attend.
At the conclusion of the musical, there’s a song that partially captures what I wish to
say to you. Here are the lyrics: When you walk through a storm, hold your head up high
and don’t be afraid of the dark. At the end of the storm there’s a golden sky and the
sweet silver song of the lark. Walk on, through the wind. Walk on, through the rain,
though your dreams be tossed and blown. Walk on, walk on, with hope in your heart
and you’ll never walk alone. You’ll never walk alone.
Dear Daphne, in whatever way I can, I will walk with you. May the highest hope find
a permanent place in your tender heart!