The Full Catastrophe

Posted by Matthew Schonewille, Category: Editorials,

The Full Catastrophe

As I listened to Andy Crouch at the recent 2015 Edifide convention, I appreciated so many ideas that he raised and in this column I want to focus on just one. Of all the ideas that he talked about… of the phrases that he used was a reference to the “full catastrophe” of life. (I looked up whether this phrase is famous and it seems that the 1964 book/film on ‘Zorba the Greek’ uses it as a comment on marriage…so probably not appropriate J). Andy’s use of this phrase was in the context of the essentials of excellence. He shared a song called “Picture in a Frame” by Tom Waits and Kathleen Brennan that was mysterious in its focus and then he wondered about this phrase. Was the song about happiness or pain? Was it referring to a wedding day or to a funeral? Was it sung with joy or grief? As an audience, we debated its meaning.

The song like life is a paradox. As Andy saw it….it was a song about a wedding day and it was sung by the groom who at this moment realized what he was getting into….he loved his bride fully and knew from that moment….he had opened up his heart to “I’m gonna love you ‘til the wheels come off”. The groom could commit to love that included “the full catastrophe”…..the unknown grief and sorrow that would most surely come.

Much like C. S. Lewis in his book, “A Grief Observed”, this song celebrates the full catastrophe. True love and commitment opens itself up to true, deep grief. When we are engaged fully in life, with family, friends, work, we open ourselves up to loss. To experience deep love, we have the possibility of deep pain/grief. And that is the mystery or the paradox.

The essentials of excellence whether we are talking about family, life, school, church, or relationships include this “full catastrophe”…..drinking deeply from life means that we drink deeply from the experiences of pain, disappointment, grief, and hurt.

And so….when we discuss how Christian education pursues excellence….the learning experiences need to include the full catastrophe. Our formational learning experiences (our projects) should include taking a hard (and compassionate) look at social injustice; poverty; grief; brokenness and pain of our lives and of the world. Learning includes listening to the child who has lost her father; the struggle of a teen as he makes his way through complicated decisions; the shame of making poor choices; the acceptance that not everything is black and white and that life doesn’t stay neatly in the lines. If Christian education only focuses on the good, the positive, how to be happy then we rob our students of fully integrated lives. Life is difficult. Life is hard. It is not easy nor should it be. Sharing with our students a foundation of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control prepares them for a life of excellence no matter what catastrophe they may encounter.

As we begin our advent season, the season of light and joy and a baby in the manger…..may we also know that our God who began his journey on earth as a helpless babe gives all we need to also walk through those valleys of hurt, pain, disappointment, death and grief. Many blessings to you all!