Introductory Note:

Originally written in April 2017 shortly after the death of his good friend, Tom Oden, this tender piece by Chris Hall gives us a glimpse into the process of healthy grieving.

Renovaré Team

Grief shows up in surprising ways and at unexpected moments. It can catch you off guard. Grief showed up yesterday and knocked on the door of my consciousness. I was preparing to write a blog post on Tom’s journey into orthodoxy when it hit. Tom’s no longer there at home in Oklahoma, tapping away on his computer. He’s not sitting outside on the porch in the early evening, watching the egrets cruise in for a soft landing in the trees across the lake. Tom has left us, if only for a time, and I keenly sense his absence. He is with me, yet not with me. How strange.

I sit at my desk and imagine dialing his phone number. He quietly answers. Hello, this is Tom Oden.” Hi, Tom, it’s Chris.” He hears my voice and his tone changes. Chris, how ya doing?” I’m doing fine, Tom. How are you?” Yes, that’s the question I often ask myself, almost daily. How are you, Tom?” Yet I know that if I call, the phone will simply ring. Who knows? Perhaps his number has been disconnected. That’s the hard part. We’ve been disconnected and I long for the connection to be restored. Restoration will come, I remind myself, but for the present memories must suffice. 

It has been four months since Tom died and the initial, sharp, bewildering sadness has passed. When I first received news of Tom’s death I felt disoriented and confused; my heart hurt and my mind ached. The world had tipped on its side; everything was out of kilter. Thankfully, things have begun to settle, but the landscape of my life has shifted. The lay of the land has changed. 

I’m learning to navigate a new world, a Tom-less world. Yet, truth be told, he is not entirely absent. I have a photo of Tom sitting on my office shelf. There he stands, smiling at me. And, thankfully, his words in print are readily accessible. I’m re-reading a lot of his books, and a few for the first time. Tom’s Classic Christianity is a gem. Some lines make me smile: 

The beautiful species known as Christian orthodoxy deserves advocates who try to do what Rachel Carson did for birds or what Archie Carr did to advocate the cause of endangered sea turtles.” 

If it is possible for an author sincerely to ask a reader to rivet attention upon the sources to which he points and relatively less to his own inventions, I would indicate that as my true intention. Picture me as on my knees begging you to do just this one thing.” 

Watching them play theology is like watching Willie Mays play centerfield or Duke Ellington play Sophisticated Lady.’” 

As you go, bear in mind Kierkegaard’s axiom: everything about religion is amusing, and especially Christianity, where everything hinges on the incarnation. So cool it, relax, breathe, and swim to the deep fathoms.” 

And do not get angry at me if I report what classic Christianity says. If I represent it wrongly, yes, let’s hear it. If I assert my own biases, tell me. But in most cases the problem is not with me but with classic Christianity, especially if I am telling the same truth held by the great tradition.” 

Because of piety’s penchant for taking itself too seriously, theology does well to nurture a modest, unguarded sense of comedy. Some droll sensibility is required to keep in due proportion the pompous pretensions of the study of divinity.” 

The most enjoyable of all subjects has to be God, because God is the source of all joy.” 

Text First Published April 2017