News of losses today – the tragedy in Norway, where scores of people, mostly teenagers at a summer camp were killed by an apparently lone gunman, fully prepared for his mission the goal of which, beyond terror, is as yet unknown, comes on top of news of the death of Amy Winehouse, famous as much for her deeply soulful voice as for the topic which catapulted her to the top of the charts – and the life which supported her expressed response to Rehab. And then there was the email which let me, as one of his many supporters, know that career missionary and playful Juan Valdez look-a-like, Steve Graner had, on Friday just after noon, succumbed to the cancer he had been battling heroically for the past few years. There is nothing that links these stories – except that each is a crying shame.
More than ninety young people, part of a larger group, gathered for a summer retreat, without a thought other than that they would live forever and be agents of change and symbols of hope and perhaps be the turning point of their nations history . . . dead, the gunman supposed to have said that what he did was a “atrocious but necessary.” Their deaths come without warning, without sign, without time. If ever innocent victims fits, it is in times like this – people with first names and futures and new loves and fragile broken hearts and dreams just beginning to solidify into reality. Atrocious doesn’t come close. “How costly in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints...”
A young, vibrant singer of lyrics carrying the depth of longing and playful teasing lightly on top of catchy pop tunes driven by a jazz blues gospel soul sensibility carried by an earthy, gritty vocal texture reminiscent of great soul singers past – Billie Holiday, perhaps, or Nina Simone. Maybe it was the pressure of her explosive fame, or the blinding glare of the world-wide spotlight, or the terrified little girl looking for a way home again . . . but her songs became her life became her song in an destructive spiral of drugs, alcohol, relational tragedy, performance mishaps – until parody became reality. The proximate physical cause of death is currently unknown – or, at least, unpublished. But the real cause seems clear – too much life without a developed capacity for it. “How costly in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints...”
More comfortable in the streets and jungles and on the mountain tops of Columbia than almost anywhere else in the world, Steve embodied all that it meant to be a missionary. He had a grand sense of adventure – and the life of serving Jesus was nothing less to him. He loved Columbians, and because he viewed them as partners in mission rather than objects of mission, they loved him too. Endlessly joyful and relentlessly optomistic, every cloud had a silver lining, every rainstorm had a rainbow, every lemon a promise of lemonade… At least that is how it appeared to me. It has been years since we talked person to person – but occasional emails kept me up to date with his battles – spiritual, personal, physical. In his death, a mighty warrior for the kingdom has fallen. “How costly in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints...”
When Jesus stood in that graveyard and gave vent to the deep pain and frustration of that place and of all those losses represented, I don't think He was just weeping for Lazarus - but for all those claimed by death, past, present, future. No one dies unnoticed by the Father. No one dies unmourned by heaven. All His children are precious to Him - those who don't acknowledge Him no less than those who do.