I’ve been following the Instagram account belonging to country singer and recently widowed Rory Feek for several years, really ever since his late wife Joey entered into hospice care. I marveled at their adorable daughter Indy and the way Rory cared for both her and her mama was perhaps one of the sweetest “dad moments” I have ever seen. I read his blog where even his reflections on Joey’s funeral and burial under the sassafras trees on their family farm sounded like the lyrics of a beautiful country song. The outpouring of support from their local community but as well as prominent Christian musicians and leaders from around the country was heartwarming in the midst of this senseless tragedy; a woman cut down in the prime of her life after having a beautiful baby girl.
I continued following when news came to light regarding Hopie (one of Rory’s daughters from his first marriage) and her engagement to a woman named Wendy. The evangelical community was shook, and not in the “woke af” sort of way. Christian retailers began pulling Feek’s merchandise from their shelves, leaders began denouncing the singer, and devoted fans began calling out Feek’s love for his daughter as “human weakness” and “sinful.”
Several facebook commenters made the claim that perhaps “the Lord took Joey for a reason, so she would not have to bear this pain.” Word of wisdom: don’t read the comments.
No matter how you feel about human sexuality, Christian-Country-Crossover artists, or uterine cancer (which sucks, by the way), I find it hard to believe that God deals in such ways with humanity that it would be better to painfully tear someone from life itself than for them to be subject to something challenging. For starters, there are plenty of faithful people who have faced hardship and lived to tell about it, but beyond that, seeing God as a cosmic chess player just doesn’t jive with the things we can and do know about God.
As we prepare to jump into Advent, if you follow the lectionary, the readings are about to get dark and rather apocalyptic. The prophets are crying destruction in the streets, whose same words are used 2,000 years later to forge weapons with which we can verbally bludgeon one another.
When I think about this, I am reminded of the wisdom from my Old Testament professor at Perkins who opened my eyes to a new way of reading prophecy. Instead of cracking open Amos and understanding it as some cosmic, divine plan in which every action is punitively weighed and the re-action is dealt in such a way that it highlights the wickedness of the perpetrator, Amos simply points out the obvious. “Okay friends,” (he didn’t say it that way, but let’s imagine “Cool Amos” for a moment), “you want to hoard wheat and food for yourselves? Fine. You will hoard so much that the weight of your excess will literally crush your carts.”
Nothing particularly earth-shattering, when you think about it, but abounding in wisdom, no less.
The work of God is always to bring God’s people back into communion. It is never to inflict pain, cause death, and assail those on earth with undo suffering. Our God is causal in the way that nature is causal; we can’t escape gravity by our virtuous behavior. Cancer is a medical condition that, in the case of Joey Feek, I am 99.9% sure had nothing to do with Hopie’s sexual orientation.
In the words of the forever-wise and wonderful Kate Bowler, “Everything happens. Period.”