"Suffering" with Christian Brady

“Suffering” with Christian Brady

~ing podcast Season 2 Episode 18
Full Episode Transcript

Season 2 Episode 18: “Suffering”, with Christian Brady was released on May 10, 2022. The audio recording is available on all major podcasting platforms. More information is available here.

Episode Description:

In today’s episode, ~ing host Allison Maus returns to a conversation with Rev. Dr. Christian Brady, a scholar, speaker, academic administrator, and Episcopal priest. If you missed the first half of the conversation, go back and listen to Season 1, Episode 47, titled “Grieving.” Christian currently serves as the interim dean of the College of Arts & Sciences at the University of Kentucky. He recently authored the powerful book, Beautiful and Terrible Things: A Christian Struggle with Suffering, Grief, and Hope, and will be exploring themes from that book in today’s episode including grief, mourning, and recovery.

Allison Maus, Ted Swartz, Christian Brady, Ben Wideman

Ben Wideman  00:00
Welcome to Season Two of ~ing podcast, a production of MennoMedia’s Leader Magazine.  What does it mean to authentically follow Jesus? Each week ~ing Podcast invites you to join us on a journey. Join us as we talk with people of faith who are creatively thinking, growing, and being… people who are reimagining and exploring what it means to enrich faith in a complex world.

Christian Brady  00:27
We have to recognize everybody’s going to grieve differently, and we have to give space and room for others who are grieving, especially when we are in the midst of it. It can feel like you’re forgetting or not honoring the deceased, if you are continuing to live. And that’s where then you can turn that grief becomes grace. Find ways to honor your beloved.

Ben Wideman  00:57
Today’s episode is the second part of a conversation that began during season one of ~ing Podcast on episode 47 that we titled “Grieving” with our special guest, Reverend Dr. Christian Brady. Our conversation begins now. Join us as we journey together.

Allison Maus  01:15
Hello, everyone, and welcome to another episode of ~ing Podcast. Today I am here with a Christian Brady, who is an academic and a clergy person. Welcome.

Christian Brady  01:28
Thank you very much. It’s a pleasure to be here with you.

Allison Maus  01:32
So we were just talking and you have a lot of titles you do a lot of things. Can you give us a brief introduction, who you are, how would you describe yourself and the work that you do?

Christian Brady  01:43
Absolutely. Thank you, Allison, for having me. Identity, how we identify ourselves, of course, is really important. I tend to think of myself. Well, first and foremost, I’ve been a Christian. Since I was very young, I was brought up in an a Presbyterian Church in that tradition where it was really encouraged upon us to reflect personally and make those decisions. But most of my adult life, you know, if you asked me so who are you? What do you do, I would respond that I’m an academic. I have been teaching and an academic leadership roles since 1997. My field is ancient Hebrew and Jewish literature… I work in Rabbinic Literature. And then professionally on the academic administrative side, I’ve been a dean for 13, 14 years now, most recently, I’m interim Dean of Arts and Sciences at the University of Kentucky. But somewhere along the way, I was also ordained as a priest in the Episcopal Church. And aside from one year of sabbatical, that’s always been just helping out where and as I can, so sometimes teaching classes, doing supply, preaching, things like that. But all of that really does meld and come together. There’s, they’re… they’re… very rarely aside from what I’m teaching in a secular classroom, as I have an article actually on teaching the Bible in a secular university. God does not exist in the classroom effectively. But otherwise, you know, my life is not hermetically sealed, one to the other.

Allison Maus  03:17
Yeah, there expectations for how one ought to grieve. In a lot of circles, or, you know, I might have expectations for how you grieve because I don’t want to be made uncomfortable. So I don’t, I don’t know if there’s something to unpack there.

Christian Brady  03:36
Absolutely. I mentioned this in the book, so this is a story I will freely tell. When my grandfather died, I was maybe 14… And this is my mother’s father. And his wife, my grandmother, just died at about 102 this past year. But my mother is the eldest of two girls, two women. Now obviously, when my grandfather died in the mid 80s, early 80s, my grandmother, my aunt, and my mom, all three grieved very differently. Each one also thought the others were not grieving properly. So on the one hand, we have to recognize everybody’s going to grieve differently, and we have to give space and room for others who are grieving, especially when we are in the midst of it. I mean, my wife and I, there is nothing more intimate to share than a child. And yet we each grieved differently because we each had our own relationships with him. And we are also just different people, quite different people. So on the one hand, there has to be that elbow room, and we had such a blessing and that most of the time when, when I just was at my at lowest and was breaking down, Elizabeth seemed to be at her strongest, and vice versa. Now maybe it’s just because we just knew within us. Now’s not my moment. But it was very, very rare that the two of us have after the first day, we weren’t able to support each other. But they’re also truly unhealthy ways to grieve. Wallowing, staying within that moment, is one of the key problems, it’s one of the key. Or I should say one of the most important things to watch out for. And it’s hard, it’s understandable, especially if it’s truly traumatic. We have a friend who sadly witnessed the death of her daughter in our horseback riding accident. And it is just so hard. I can’t imagine that, you know, I understand why that keeps running through her mind. And my friend Arnie, the psychiatrist, talks about how it is okay to visit that place again. But you can’t stay there. I quote, another scholar whose name I’m blanking on at the moment. He, he’s writing about the theology of pain and suffering, but he’s actually relating about his wife’s suffering, she had overcome cancer. And then she developed a chronic pain condition. And in an interview, he describes his wife’s description of grief, not as a time, but as a geographic place that we can go back and visit. It’s the deepest, darkest valley of the Psalm. But we need to remember, we’re not stuck there, we can walk out of that valley as well. And so I think that’s, I think that’s really important that we understand these two things. That one is everybody’s going to grieve differently. And that there are some ways that are healthier than others. And to seek to embrace that on the unhealthy end of the spectrum. I think one of the most damaging things is when we just wallow in it, we stay within it. It’s understandable, by the way, because it feels like it can feel like you’re forgetting or not honoring the deceased, if you are continuing to live. And that’s where then you can turn that grief becomes grace. Find ways to honor your beloved. In our case, we created a soccer fund for Mac at Penn State for the goalkeepers in the men’s soccer team. It was Max dream to play there. He was a goalkeeper. And so we remember Mac all the time. I mean daily but but twice a year. The effect because of COVID the they didn’t play a fall season. So in about three weeks, we’re going to have the Mac Brady match, the annual Brady match, it’s usually in the fall, it’s going to be the Spring this year. Right around his birthday, there’s this clinic, we did it virtually instead of in person. Find those ways. And it’s one of the greatest joys we have here in a university context. Yeah, we have to raise a lot of money. But oftentimes, it’s like with our Mac fund. I just sent a letter back to the the daughter of a faculty member who’s long retired, but had been at the University for 33 Some years and left scholarships in his major in his department. That’s a way to remember and carry the carry their their memory on it. So it’s a positive way of grieving, to bring others into it to be healthy, to speak, to speak their name.

Allison Maus  09:09
So as you’re talking I was thinking about just this past year. As we sit here and record we are about at the one year mark of going into lockdown having this pandemic hit the US. And while I do feel like there’s some hope on the horizon of getting back to normal, whatever that means. I do have this sense that we will be we’ve been grieving, but I think that there will still be some of that. We’re almost in like coping mode right now. And so I wonder as we step into this next year, what that might look like and I think especially in light of what you said that we’re all all going to be handling it and coping with it in different ways. So I don’t know if you have insight about this kind of communal grieving that is taking place and might be taking place into the future and how to keep space for each other in that.

Christian Brady  10:20
I think you’ve described it well there, Allison. I mean, so first, I mentioned sort of about the seven, the Kubler Ross seven stages of grief, that that’s being problematized, mostly only in this in the sense that there’s some sort of order you take it in. But the reality is that we do go through different stages. And you’re absolutely right, we are collectively, globally, in a stage of coping, we’re just trying to figure out how to live with the circumstances that we’re in. And and so we haven’t yet really hit a pause moment where we can then plateau and breathe and then go, Okay, where do we go from here, but we need to. And we need to begin to think that way. And it’s a little bit easier to do. So now that the vaccine is getting out around the world. And, unfortunately, not in the poorest countries, but I think we’ll get there. And I think collectively, it was it was important that President Biden took the the evening to memorialize that the most at half 1,500,000 souls who were lost. That sort of communal public recognition is vital to us, to a society. And, and it’s appropriate to do it in in such a broad way. Because we’re a really broad country. The Sandy Hook shooting took place, the same year that our son died. And for the several years after my wife and I, and then a couple of our students aided us and it’s always in the middle of winter, it’s December, I think, I can’t remember the date, but there’s compassionate friends does an annual candle lighting for child loss. And we did this on the steps of Old Main for several years in the snow and a couple of those years specifically the student Aviva acknowledged remember the children of Sandy Hook, but we also incorporated all the child loss stillborn. A board of losses for those who who remember in such way, children like ours, older children who die, car accidents and things. And to have a public moment of grieving and mourning is is important. And so I think I think that, that that kind of recognition, will help us move forward, I think we do need to begin to then try just like just like with grieving a loved one who’s died, to say, you know, look at our country, if we think about COVID. There are all sorts of good reasonable debates about the best way to wrestle and deal with this, it is a very difficult challenge, that that is completely inequitable, in terms of how we help control this shutting down stores, minimizing content, or, you know, the people who have lost their jobs are the most vulnerable people in our societies, waiters, waitresses, people who work in movie theaters and so forth. People like me, can weather this without much difficulty we can work at home, but we also don’t have as much of a financial concern. And so there have been these debates and and we’ve taken different approaches and okay, fine, we acknowledge that. Now, how do we move out from here? What can we coalesce around? What can we come to agreement on? The it does come back to hope you have to find these moments that you can point to and then begin to work towards them. I think right now, for example, having the vaccinations I think it a numerical goal is really helpful that we can we as a nation, can we as a state, as a community can look and say how many vaccines have we gotten into arms this month? Great, you know, how many how do we get to more how do we keep moving forward? And I think within personal loss and grief, yeah, okay, a door so to speak, has been closed to me. I’m pre-Med, it’s not going to be my thing. Okay, well, where do I go? One of things for me was I set a goal to go over to Germany and study German language. That was exciting, scary, but it gave me something to look forward to. I stopped thinking about calculus, I started thinking about German. You know, let’s, what is the next thing we want to think of?

Allison Maus  15:32
I’m curious if if you have a thought or maybe a hope about what the church’s role is, in all of this going forward, whether you know, tackling this idea of moving forward from pandemic or walking alongside individuals in in seasons of grief?

Christian Brady  15:52
Yeah, well, I think the church obviously has a vital role. I think the faith community does it depends on on, on what particular moment we’re talking about, or context, I should say. So if we start within the immediate context, I think, I think the church ourselves, it is important that we affirm and talk about the resurrection. You know, we’re in Lent, we’re going to come up to good Monday, Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Paul, Paul writes, often misquoted as Christians, you shouldn’t grieve Well, no, it’s Grieve not as those who have no hope, we have the hope of the resurrection, as tragic and challenging as this world is the reality that Jesus rose from the dead and the first and we shall follow. That is a perspective that goes beyond our next budget cycle goes beyond the production of vaccine, it goes beyond this world. And that is a perspective that is vital. And so within the Christian context, I think it is, it is vital for us to affirm that. And that is what truly transforms grief, through grace into hope. But as leaders in the world, the community around us as well. I think we can articulate that I talked about public moments of coming together. That’s what we do well, right, you know, rabbis, imams, priests, pastors, we’re used to putting on these these public moments of, of communal expression. And this is what I think lament is appropriate to come back into say, look, as a community, let’s grieve. Let’s lament where we’ve been. But let’s express our hope for the future. Let’s affirm to get that we are a body as the community of State College, Pennsylvania… Lexington, Kentucky… the United States. And that, as different as we are, our voices can be in harmony together to move us forward. And so I think there’s I think there’s both the theological truths that that we are called as Christians to proclaim. But I also think that there is the civic duty that we have as as leaders of humanity and leaders, I don’t mean necessarily being in front or out front. But I mean, as as the people who can put your arm around someone, even if not quite literally at this moment.

Allison Maus  18:42
Yeah, yeah. I think too. I mean, you probably know more about this. But the fact that our sacred text has these moments of lament, and that’s a part of the story that we share, I think is a beautiful opportunity for us to lift up those texts and dark conversations around that as we’re in the midst of it. Yes, always pointing forward to the hope of Jesus as well.

Christian Brady  19:17
Yeah, there’s, there’s there’s sort of a balance of things I alluded to before that, that in our western culture in particular, we’ve lost the value of lament and I think, in America, quite specifically, we have such a triumphalistic conquering attitude. Some of which we’ve done as a nation that’s been good and great. We’ve been able to do things for truly bringing freedom to impoverish people, and things of that nature that were possible because of our critical mass and power and so forth. But of course, we know that that also comes with all sorts of, all sorts of abuses, as well. But, but it one of the abuses is just this idea that we’ve always got to be winners, that we’ve always got to be victorious. And part of lament is to say, I’ve been beaten, I have been beaten down, I have been crushed. And I really, really, really don’t like it. You know, and, and so, there is an honesty that comes with that. And, and there’s, and I and in my book, I quote John Piper, who’s a Calvinist Baptist teacher, very, very popular, but he, I just think he’s completely wrong on a number of points, including he has one little essay, it is never ever, ever, ever right to be angry at God. No, that… that is, that is healthy and appropriate. I think lament teaches us that they’re to have that kind of humility, and, and honesty, that to me, is the real thing is that, to be honest about it. I was speaking this morning, with my colleagues working in diversity, equity and inclusion in our college. And obviously, some of the most important work that we that we can do with, with college students in particular, especially in our communities, where they’re often coming from very rural communities where they’ve never met people not like themselves, or in some cases coming from urban communities where they’ve not met people unlike themselves. And but racism, like wars, like poverty, will always be with us. And it’s really, really easy to get overwhelmed. And to just say, forget it. I’m gonna look out for me and my family. And that’s all I can do. Well, on some level, if that’s all you do, we’re doing okay, as long as you’re not looking out for your family and yourself at the detriment of others. That might not be a bad thing. But for those of us who are in it day to day, it can be really discouraging. But I always think about one of my favorite rabbinic quotes. And it comes from Rabbi Tarfon, talking about this notion of tikkun olam of bringing healing to the world. And he was a pragmatist. And he basically said, You will never finish this work. But you are not free to desist from it either. And I think within the church, this is this balance of living in a post Easter in a pre parousia world… that is, we know the end of the story, we know the promise of the resurrection. But we also know that we’ve got work to do here. And that this work is one of loving and caring, and being as present as we can be, I think wasn’t it St. Francis… that the, to be the hands and feet of Christ. Grief is one of those things that will always be present with us that we all have it It is rare that anyone goes long without some aspect of it. And so we can all relate to it. And just to be present with others is itself a great ministry.

Allison Maus  23:28
Yeah. Thank you so much for your conversation and sharing your story and for this this book that you wrote I’ll say again, it’s called Beautiful and Terrible Things: A Christian Struggle with Suffering, Grief and Hope. So if you listening, enjoyed this conversation and want to know more, we hope that you will glean from the wisdom in that offering. Um, before I let you go will you share… Do you have a place where people can find you? Or social media people can follow you on?  Where, where can they find you?

Christian Brady  24:02
ChristianBrady.com is the easiest place you can just go to ChristianBrady.com All the links are there. @CMMBrady on Twitter. And then you can find from all of that, also my blog which is  targuman.org But But ChristianBrady.com will take you all the places you need to go. And it’s gracious of you to come and visit if you if you want to. And it it really is a pleasure, Allison, to be present with you.

Allison Maus  24:31
Right? Yes, I’ve I’ve so enjoyed this time as well. So thank you for being here. Thank you everyone for listening and peace be with you until we meet again,

Christian Brady  24:41
And also with you.

Ben Wideman  24:47
The month of May is recognized as Mental Health Awareness Month and over the next several weeks we will be highlighting some voices that do work in that particular area. Next week on ~ing Podcast, we sit down with Ted Swartz, an actor and playwright and the Executive Director of the brand new Center for Art, Humor and Soul,

Ted Swartz  25:08
I discovered that there was a really wonderful way into a story when you ask that question first, not what does it mean, but what’s funny. And if you follow that was integrity, and you’re not making fun of the characters, you’re not making fun, a belief system. But what you’re not doing is giving those characters a 2000 or 2500 year old theology and understanding. And I think that was what made what me and I then started doing related to that difference.

Ben Wideman  25:44
As always we’d like to thank our guests and all who support ~ing Podcast. Thank you for joining us on the journey. If you enjoyed the show, please leave us a review in your favorite podcasting app. And if you have something to share, send us a message at [email protected] or by leaving us a voicemail. ~ing Podcast is hosted by Reverend Allison Maus and Reverend Dr. Dennis Edwards. And produced by me, Ben Wideman. Views and opinions expressed on ~ing Podcast are those of our hosts and guests and may not represent that of Leader Magazine or MennoMedia. ~ing Podcast is a production of MennoMedia, a nonprofit publisher that creates thoughtful Anabaptist resources to enrich faith in a complex world. To find out more, visit us online at MennoMedia.org.

Christian Brady  26:40
Quick aside, you can cut out but I saw a comic yesterday. And it was God standing on a cloud talking to an angel and he said you know I think today I’m going to close all the doors but I’m going to open a few windows.

Allison Maus  26:58
Yeah, that’s good.