Friday, May 30, 2008

Celebration of a Life

We said goodbye to Cliff yesterday in a service that packed the sanctuary and balcony of the First Presbyterian Church of New Orleans...restored after Katrina in no small part thanks to Cliff's tireless efforts. Many tributes were made, many words were said. But the most eloquent tribute to Cliff was not in words. It was in music.

There is an elder in the church named Peter Cho who is a jazz musician. He's seldom in church on Sundays because he plays with a group called James Rivers at the jazz brunch at the Hilton downtown. After Katrina, of course, there was no jazz brunch for quite awhile, and we had the joy of hearing Peter sit down at the piano in the upstairs fellowship hall (because the church had been flooded with almost three feet of water) and play to the glory of God. People are still talking about the morning he did a jazz rendition of "Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans," which at that point in our lives, as we were all returning from exile, was about as sacred a piece of music as you can imagine. Grown men wept.

What Peter did yesterday morning -- wittingly or unwittingly -- was set Cliff's life to music. He started out slowly, doodling a little bit here and a little bit there, until I wondered if he was playing his own original composition. And then a recognizable melody began to emergy. It was the old gospel song "Amen, Amen." But he wasn't playing it as gospel. He was playing it as jazz. It was energized. It was like fireworks. It was joyous. It was an "Amen!" of thanks to God for Cliff's life. For his energy and his passion and his joy in living, his curiosity and his willingness to explore new ideas...and his complete lack of any need to control situations (that's a big part of jazz -- it goes all over the place!). It was all there, in that piece of music.

Cliff's life started out with a little bit of this, a little bit of that, a degree in this area, a degree in that area, and then he focused in on ministry. And it was in the days, months, and years after Katrina that Cliff's ministry came into its own, as he tirelessly worked for the rebuilding of the church, the neighborhood, and the city.

And then slowly Peter wound it down, ending with a few notes that might have been a little sad, and then it was quiet. Like Cliff's end. Not a lot of fuss, just a slowing and a stop.

For someone who has always lived by the power of words, this summation of a life in a piece of music took my breath away. Thank you, Peter! Thank you, God, for Cliff's life and for Peter's great gift of music!

The church lost its 1909 Steinway grand piano in the flood. Peter did this awesome piece of music on a secondhand upright the church got for the sanctuary after the storm. (I had no idea that old piano had that kind of music in it!) Before Cliff died, the church had established a fund to purchase a new grand piano. It is now Cliff's memorial fund. If you love music and would like to contribute, you can send a check to First Presbyterian Church, 5401 S. Claiborne Ave., New Orleans, LA 70125 and mark it "piano fund."

And if you're ever visiting New Orleans on a Sunday, you can go (after church!) to the jazz brunch at the Hilton and hear Peter play.


Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Aslan's Country

"And what happened then?" said Jill.

"Well, it's not very easy to describe, is it, Edmund?" said the High King.

"Not very," said Edmund. "It wasn't at all like that other time when we were pulled out of our own world by Magic. There was a frightful roar and something hit me with a bang, but it didn't hurt. And I felt not so much scared as -- well, excited. Oh -- and this is one queer thing. I'd had a rather sore knee, from a hack at rugger. I noticed it had suddenly gone. And I felt very light. And then -- here we were."

(From The Last Battle by C. S. Lewis, Book Seven in the Chronicles of Narnia.)

And a few pages later, a Talking Mouse says:
"Welcome, in the Lion's name. Come further up and further in."

And finally, the great Lion Aslan, the son of the Emperor-over-Sea, says:
"The term is over; the holidays have begun. The dream is ended; this is the morning."

Early Sunday morning, my friend, colleague and mentor, Cliff Nunn, was taken to Aslan's country, quite unexpectedly. I'd like to think it was a little bit like C.S. Lewis' description of the railway accident that took the human characters from the series into the new Narnia: something hit him, but it didn't hurt. And he has been welcomed in the Lion's name to this wonderful place where mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away. (Okay, I just shifted to another book. Revelation 21:4b, if you'd like to look it up.)

We who are still on this side of the door are filled with grief at losing him so suddenly. There were so many things we still wanted to say to him, so many things we wanted to share with him. But we trust that he is safe, and one day we will be with Aslan's country.