Blog Posts

Nana ~ 2, Part i

Nana ~ my paternal grandmother, “Na-naw” to my brother and me when we were children and then “Nan” by the time we were adults, is my model for nana-hood, and the reason I have always looked forward to that role.  We were exceptionally close, pushed together by physical proximity, life circumstances, interests, and attitudes and, while she was no more perfect than I am, she was an extraordinary woman in her brilliance, her inner strength, and her graciousness.

Nan’s life was structured by privilege.  The only child of a successful businessman in a small city in southern Ohio and of his troubled wife Robin, she attended a private girls’ high school and then a Seven Sisters college, leaving a stream of academic honors in her wake.  She exemplified the tensions between family and career experienced by women long before the 1960s; her decision was to marry my grandfather on the same day on which she became a college graduate, and to return to Ohio and a life as wife of a small town grain dealer and mother to three boys.  In the second half of her life of 100 years, she often sighed over her college alumna journal, taking note of the many of her classmates who had become scientists and physicians.  Her own life was filled with three generations of children, women’s clubs, gardening, volunteering in classrooms and with Girl Scouts, “raising” monarch butterflies, maintaining a few essential friendships, and keeping up with the study of nature, art, and literature.  She made use of the latter by taking all of her grandchildren on a series of elaborate and extravagant trips ~ first within the United States, and then to Europe, Africa, and Australia ~ on which the other travelers she encountered often thought that she was a college professor.

Widowed at about eighty, she had a hip replaced and managed one more international birding trip before retiring to a quiet life, first in her home and then in an assisted living apartment.  As deafness and near blindness descended upon her, she became isolated and profoundly lonely.  Her mind never failed her, but her inability to communicate was devastating.  Like so many older people, she had to endure the gradual constriction of her life to a small circle of people she could barely understand ~ a heartbreaking end to a life always lived with others in mind and consumed by a variety of interests.

Nana ~ 1

Ch-ch-changes . . .  I am going to be a grandmother.  A destiny for which I have longed, happening not in the way I had hoped or anticipated, not in the least.  Le plus ca change . . .   .  So some of what I plan to write about is, unsurprisingly, grandmothering.  I’ll start with profiles of my own grandmothers, women who played roles of immense significance in my life.

Dodo, so called by my entire family for decades after her two-year-old first grandchild (that would have been me) mangled Dorothy when trying to imitate the adults who surrounded me, was my maternal grandmother.  Barebones of her life story:  Grew up as Dorothy Stockman in ethnic German Cincinnati.  After high school, she went to work in the five-and-dime, maybe a Woolworth’s, and quickly married the manager, twelve years her senior.  Her two children, Carol and Charlie, followed in short order.

Grandpa Felix was not a consistently stable provider.  When my mother was a teenager, the family lived on a farm outside my small hometown north of Cincinnati; I believe that he was attempting to raise goats.  (Something I myself consider when I am feeling particularly pressed.)  By the time I was small, the farm was gone; I can recall my mother taking me to visit Grandpa’s barbershop in Cincinnati.  A few years later they were back in our town ~  though, with her children grown, Dodo commuted to Cincinnati to work as a secretary.  She was probably the stable financial force in that household. During my teens, they returned to a Cincinnati suburb, where he managed apartments.  He died very suddenly at about 70; out walking their poodle one night, he sat down on a small stone wall and was gone.

Left in her late fifties with nothing but her two-family house in which Uncle Charlie and Aunt Edie lived upstairs, Dodo went to work as a saleswoman and was remarried quickly, to a widowed co-worker in the appliance store. She and her second husband, Kirk, eventually moved to a mobile home park in Clearwater, where she died of cancer in her mid-60s.

That basic outline of a woman’s life does not reflect the anguish of her life: The death of my mother and baby brother when my mother was 28.  My uncle and aunt did not have children, so for Dodo, nana-hood was my younger brother and I ~ with lives complicated by a series of stepmothers; the fact that, since she worked, Dodo was not available to us as our paternal grandmother was; and the distances created by boarding school and summer camp life. She also said little about her deep loss.  These days, having suddenly lost a young adult child myself, I understand much better how she lived the remaining eighteen or so years of her life in a state of mostly concealed interior shock and devastation.

We did spend time together — holiday occasions, week-ends here and there, a short trip to Chicago.  I lived with her and Kirk the summer between high school and college so that I could work at a nearby hotel, spent time with them at his cottage in Kentucky, and visited them in Florida on a couple of short trips.  But we had little in common, and no daughter-mother to mediate our relationship or some of the wide differences in our viewpoints and experiences.

In retrospect, especially given what I have learned the past ten years, I regret having made so little effort to uncover who Dodo really was.  I was in Florida shortly before she died, but her husband refused to tell her the truth about her illness and, being a young early-twenty-something, I had no idea how to navigate the strange adult world of bizarre secrets and words unspoken.   While Dodo was a woman of great importance in my life, she was so mostly as an example of how circumscribed a life can be.   She must have missed her daughter terribly, every day, and I’m afraid that I was a poor substitute.

 

 

Writing Again

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I think I lost my writing voice for awhile.  Life in a general ~ a bit overwhelming, especially on the ministry front.  Writing projects ~ a series of workshop and publication rejections, leaving me with that what’s the point? feeling.  And the complications of wordpress, which I find unwieldy on my best days.  I never seem to find the time to delve into all that it can do ~ probably because, when I try, I usually don’t understand the lingo.

I know that I’ve said it before, but I am going to try try try again.  There are topics that require writing to explore, at least in my particular way of going about things.  I have no illusions anymore about book publication in any grand way (not that my illusions were all that grand).  I’m going to toil away, try to improve, and continue to delight in the occasional requests that come my way.

Three times a week ~ might I manage that?  And maybe an extra today, as I have taken the morning off and, except for a phone appointment in a little while, my time is my own for a bit.  We’ll see.

Let There Be Light (Christmas Eve Sermon)

hubble advent 2018

Did you ever wonder what it was like, at the beginning of the universe? When God said, “Let there be light,”  and there was light?”

I’ve tended to stop in awe at the first verb – God said, “Let there be light.
and there was.  That’s astonishing, isn’t it, that God spoke creation into being?   It should give us pause, I think, to consider the importance of the gift of language.  Perhaps that, language, is the real key to our having been made in the image of God.  Not that we can speak worlds into being.  But the gift of language, of vernal communication, is what distinguishes us from all other creatures.  And language does enable us to create our lives through relationship with others.  As a person who has always found language, and communication, fascinating and meaningful, I have always pondered the creation story from that vantage point – that God spoke, and things happened.

But what happened?  That’s our first question tonight.  That’s one of the things I’ve been pondering for the last couple of weeks – what was it like, 14 billion years ago, when God said, “Let there be light?”

Was it all at once, a sudden, huge, bright, blinding sort of light – like lightning, only wider and thicker and more dense and even brighter, creating an entire dome of brightly lit sky?

it like a tentative sunrise over the sea, with streams of rose and tangerine and violet stretching like wavering threads across the horizon as a small golden orb began to poke its way upward until it finally bounced, a liquid bubble, clear of its seeming bounds and into the freedom of space?

What was it like when God created light??

Perhaps we’ve had some clues this month.  Atlantic Magazine and NASA have conspired to post online images from space, and they have presented us with the magnificent imagination and artistry of our God.

Swirling, sparkling gasses and clouds in a multitude of colors, identified as stars and galaxies and nebulae, which are clouds of gas and dust.

Whole words beyond our sight or experience, unless we happen to operate the Hubble telescope.

Are these extraordinary amalgamations of time and space and matter an indication of what it was like, and what it is still like, when God says, “Let there be light?”

Or . . . and . . . is God’s illumination of the universe like something else?  Like something Noah might have seen: glimmering, glistening rays bouncing off quieted seas after a massive deluge, witnessed by only a few straggledy humans and animals, paired up and peering over the side of a small boat?

Is God’s idea of light akin to the clarity of the words of prophets, incisive and focused, cutting to the bare bone of what it means to walk with kindness and justice and humility?

Is God’s light something now celebrated during Hanukkah, a flickering oil lamp, shining for eight days in a hollowed out and crumbling temple, an insistent sign of hope amid the debris of human warfare?

Or . . .  and . . .  is God’s light a human being, God’s very self and a tiny infant all at once, a reigning creator who can command creation into being with a word and a small baby who can cry only for milk and comfort?  Is that what, or who, God’s light is?

This is a remarkable story, this Christmas story of God and us.

We may be so accustomed to hearing it that the miracle of it eludes us.

We may have so sentimentalized it that the harshness of it fades into the shadows.

We may have so commercialized it that’s if difficult to distinguish the baby at the center from the characters who pass across our screens and into our stores.

But, pared down to its essence, it is a remarkable story.

Dreams and disrupted plans and dislocated people.

The might of political power pressing itself into ordinary lives.

Lengthy and uncomfortable travels, destination unclear.

Uncertainty and fear and hard work and . . .

a tiny, helpless infant born to impoverished parents in an out-of-the-way location.

Is this, too, what it looks like when God says, “Let there be light?”

It’s a remarkable story because it is our story.  And it is our story not simply because its basic elements reflect those of our own lives – the ordinariness and the confusion and the labors and the disruptions of our own – but because the light shining from the sky above and the light shining from the humble birthplace of Jesus illumine our lives – with meaning, and purpose, and love.

Did you ever wonder what is was like, what it IS like, when God says, “Let there be light?”  It’s all from the same source.   It all follows the same pattern.

NASA’s image of the Lagoon Nebula in the sky, a colorful conglomeration of young stars and the hydrogen cloud from which they were formed, looks to me just like Michaleangelo’s painting of God reaching out to touch life into Adam.

The Bubble Nebula, a sphere of sparking blue which happens to be a star in the process of formation , looks surprisingly like Planet Earth.

There’s one called a Colossal Shell of Light which a friend of mine thought looked like a manger.

And paintings of the baby in a manger look like  .  .  .  a baby,  actually,  but the sort of baby who causes angels to fill the skies and sing praises to God.  Like, perhaps, all babies do, because God with us, Emmanuel, rejoices in us and with us, and sends messengers and song and light our way, if we will but look.

The light of Jesus illumines our own lives – just look around.  Look back at the past week.  Consider:

Have you not seen the light of Jesus shining – through your family members and friends, staying up late to wrap gifts, rushing home early to bake and clean, trying to clear desks at work so that colleagues could leave for a few days, knowing that the business of the month had been put to bed?

The light of Jesus shines in places many of us would rather not be – look at the faces of fire fighters and police officers and EMT drivers, of doctors and nurses and convenience store cashiers, of all the people who labor that the rest of us might be safe and cared for and filled with good things.

The light from that stable creeps into the darkest of places – a light flickering and fragile, a light as powerful and wild as a galaxy,

it makes its way into prisons and into migrant camps,

it slips onto the streets and under the bridges where the homeless camp,

it lines invisible battle lines inked between warring adversaries,

it glimmers in hospital corridors and hospice bedrooms.

The light of Jesus illumines even those places, perhaps especially those places.

“The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness—
on them light has shined.”

It’s all from the same source: The Love that generates and sustains the universe.  Love that shows itself

in the artistry of all things,

in the majesty of the heavens, and

in the intimacy of a stable.

And so, my friends, on this Christmas night, Look! Look up into the heavens, where colors unknown to us swirl about.  Look out into the world, where faces of all kinds and people in all sorts of situations are lit by the love of God.  Look around this sanctuary, in hope and in expectation.  Look into the face of a small and helpless baby, who takes on human life and gives completely to us the grace of his own being.

And know that God has said, “Let there be light!”

Image: https://www.theatlantic.com/photo/2018/12/2018-hubble-space-telescope-advent-calendar/577129/

Becoming: A Book Review

obama bookThis is one of the best books I’ve read in a long time . . .  and I read a LOT of books.

At first, it reads like a long chat with a girlfriend.  No weighty four-syllable words or policy discussions.  A friend curled up at the other end of the couch, pausing occasionally to sip from her glass of wine, and sharing stories of growing up in a close-knit family and vibrant but struggling neighborhood, academic and job successes and challenges, the well-trod paths of career discernment, job changes, marriage, miscarriage and infertility, mothering, daughtering, dreams and losses — all conveyed in a relaxed tone of voice, mostly optimistic about possibilities, and occasionally shaken by tough realities.

Eventually, of course, the path begins to take direction and the focus sharpens.  A husband with political ambitions, gifts, and speed.  One minute Michelle Obama is objecting to a run for the statehouse; the next, she’s negotiating with a Secret Service detail over concerns for her daughters’ safety not compromising their freedom and flexibility as young girls, at least not too much.  (She relates with great humor a hilarious scene in which she and high-school aged Malia make a determined dash for a locked door so that they can escape the confines of the White House and celebrate the Supreme Court marriage equality decision outside, enjoyed the rainbow-hued lights playing across the mansion’s façade in at least some proximity to the crowd gathered to celebrate.)

Of course, it doesn’t all happen in an instant and, as often occurs with such books, many more details emerge with respect to the Obamas’ earlier life in politics than regarding the later, presidential years.  The first years, from the statehouse to the Senate to Iowa, are marked by resistance, mistakes, naivete’, and a developing political eye on her part, helped along by the growth of a dedicated and brilliant support team. But the latter years are fascinating as well, as Mrs. Obama develops the projects that will mark her tenure as first lady, focusing on children’s eating habits and health, a direct response to challenges in her own family; on military families, as she comes to know a world previously hidden from her view; and on girls’ education, a commitment founded in her conviction that the South Side of Chicago as well as the rest of the country are packed with young people as intelligent and gifted as she and her brother, with young people who lack neither brains nor determination, but need the opportunities and support system that paved the path for a young Michelle.

Her thoughtfulness about her choices, and her light but deft touch as she notes the particular challenges she faced as the first black First Lady and as a mother of youngsters and then teens in a political fishbowl, are likely to illumine the way for anyone seeking to clarify her goals for the next stage of life, whatever it might be.  As a 65-year-old white woman trying to sort through what I hope my next ten-to-fifteen years might look like, I find a lot of wisdom in these pages.

And finally — as Michelle Obama reflects on her last day as First Lady and the changes in our country since — well, she brought tears to my eyes.  As the good-byes are said peaceful transition of power occurs, she observes that the joyful diversity that marked her husband’s to inaugural celebrations has been replaced by a stolid, white, male “optic,” (a word that’s often been noted by her team in connection with her own efforts), and gives up on trying to smile.  And as she looks back at the atmosphere which has enveloped our country, she experiences the heartbreak that many of us share.  (On a related note, today’s news includes a report that the Trump administration is rolling back regulations regarding school lunches — legislation on which Michelle Obama quietly worked hard, part of her legacy in promoting healthy lifestyle choices for children.)

I don’t RE-read that many books, but I’m going to start over on this one as soon as I can.  Energy, commitment, determination, humor, and grace.  I am impressed, moved, and inspired.

 

 

 

 

Women Praying Together: a book review

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The first thing I did when I received this book was to skim the Table of Contents; the immediate second was to deliver my extra copy as a gift to a colleague whom I was sure would enjoy it.

A compilation of prayers ~ some accompanied by Scripture, some by essays, some by quotations you might recognize ~ by seventy or so young (that means under 40!) United Methodist clergywomen, We Pray with Her: Encouragement for Women Who Lead is for all women in leadership roles, whether in families or classrooms or board rooms, or hospitals or offices or nonprofits or churches.  The book is a small paperback and would easily slip into a purse or briefcase; the prayers are short and easily fit into many of life’s dilemmas.  The titles are little windows into the lives of women, and remind me of the gifts women in ministry bring into our lives in the form of intimate familiarity with pregnancy, miscarriage, and childbirth; with the care of children and parents, with divorce and dismay and, as two of the section headings point out, with resistance and persistence.

Here is a woman praying for that “one day when [she] will shout with joy.”  Here is a woman praying with Hagar for the quenching of thirst and for the knowledge that she is seen by God, even if not by others.  Here is a woman quoting Brene’ Brown in the midst of her life as a single mom and pastor who sometimes feels a bit of judgment coming her way: “If you’re not in the arena also getting your ass kicked, I’m not interested in your feedback.”  Here is a woman  I am privileged to know as a colleague in real life, praying about the task of persisting in the face of one challenge after another.

Down to earth, intrepid, hopeful, and faithful nevertheless, the women who wrote these prayers make excellent companions in the life of the Spirit.

 


I received two review review copies of We Pray with Her from Abingdon Press, and made no commitment in exchange other than to review the book.

Joy and the Abundant Life

“Joy comes in the morning” (Psalm 30).

When I say that joy is central to abundant living, I do not mean to imply that la-de-da happiness or frivolity is essential to the good life.  Joy refers not so much to a feeling, or even an attitude, as to a deep conviction that life has value and meaning. Joy is often accompanied by energy and overt delight, but I know far too many people (including myself) for whom joy has been a hard-won property to gloss over the challenges that may block its evidence.

As a conviction, joy exists as a possibility for us despite our circumstances.  I don’t want to imply that it is something we can achieve with ease, or to shame anyone for whom it remains elusive.  I’ve been hurt and offended by far too many Facebook pull-yourself-up and change-your-attitude quotes for that.  But my experience at this point is that we can open ourselves to an orientation toward joy and that, gradually and sometimes only in fragments, it will direct itself our way after that Psalm 30 long night of weeping.

Insofar as the church goes, joy is foundational to vital congregational life.   Once again, it is only tangentially related to happiness, and largely a function of conviction.  “Behold, I bring you great joy” ~ if we as a church believe that good news, then membership, attendance, budget, building condition, programming ~ all those things we like to measure ~ are essentially irrelevant.  A small congregation whose building has just burned to the ground can evince far more authentic joy than a 3,000 member church with the latest in décor and technology.  Not that I recommend disaster or a lapsed insurance policy as signposts on the road to joyful living.  But when it comes to joy, faith in God’s love for the world trumps a balanced budget.

Abundant Life

What does it mean to have abundant life?

That’s the preliminary question posed to a small group of us attending a retreat for our Presbytery Vitality Committee tomorrow.  It’s been a long time since I’ve blogged, and I’ve made a bit of a promise to myself to write a few times a week ~ and the topic of abundant life seems a good one with which to start.

When you take a look at dictionary definitions of the word “abundance,” you immediately see a focus on quantity.  Abundance means “a great many” or “a large supply” or “a plentiful amount.”  At this point in life, however, I am inclined to understand abundance in terms of quality, rather than quantity.  When Jesus says “I came that you might have abundant life,” the quote (more or less) on which our discussion question is based, I don’t think he was speaking in terms of numbers of years or quantities of financial wealth.

Three things come to mind when I think of abundant living.  Preeminent among them is joy ~ a deep and abiding joy, gladness, gratefulness, in and for life, regardless of one’s circumstances.

The second is care for or service to others.  The richest depths of life are mined when we care about others and act for them ~ whether that care and action involves taking a plate of home-baked cookies to a homebound neighbor, or heading to Congress to advocate for legislation, or something in between.

And finally, abundant living is found when our individual gifts are engaged to the fullest.  It’s not possible to live abundantly, no matter the size of your stock portfolio, if you are miserable in the work you do, or a poor fit for the environment in which you find yourself.

I am pretty sure that these three things apply to abundant life for an individual or an entity, such as a family or a business . . .  or a church.  I think I’ll try to follow through on my writing resolution by exploring them one at a time over the next couple of weeks.

What Will We Say?

A Sermon on Suicide Loss and Prevention for Faith Hope & Life Sunday

What will we say – to ourselves and to others – in times of disaster, of catastrophic loss?  This morning, our readings invite us to consider what we say.  Do we speak for ill or for good, James asks?  We can use our tongues to destroy, he reminds us, but the reverse, of course, is that we can use them for great good.  Who do you say that I am, Jesus asks?  If we say that he is the Messiah, what does that mean for our daily lives?  When we tell the WORST stories of our lives, what do we say as a people of hope?

Here’s my worst story. It’s been ten years since my husband and I, in separate locales that day, received the phone calls that informed us that our lives had been altered forever: That our son Josh had died of suicide the night before.  Our tall, blonde and blue-eyed, brilliant, creative, athletic, and witty son, our beloved son Josh, was gone. I was standing in a small room, cell phone to my ear, and I could literally feel the floor beneath my feet tilting in some new direction I didn’t know existed.

Sometimes, when a person dies of suicide, family and friends perhaps don’t expect it, but they know it’s a possibility lurking out there.  There have been clear indications of mental illness, perhaps years — of suffering, psychiatrists, medications, hospitalizations, perhaps even attempts.  We were in the other broad category of survivors: We had no idea that death was just around the corner.  Later we would learn that our son had probably been struggling with a deep, and deadly, clinical depression for at least a few years.  Sadly, people of great ability and experiencing what appears to be solid progress in life often successfully conceal the despair of mental illness.  People can feel shamed by the discovery that there are challenges in life that they cannot seem to overcome, and fail to seek the help that would be so gladly given.

In the first weeks and months and years, as we tried to figure out how to live again, there didn’t seem to be any reason for us to address suicide as an issue.  As I said, we were in the group of survivors who has no idea that it was coming.  I recall saying to my husband one night, “It’s as if a locomotive came out of nowhere and ran him down.”  We didn’t know much about recent and hopeful strides in mental health care; we didn’t even know that there WAS anything to know.  And certainly most of the people in our circles of friends and colleagues did not go around talking about suicide.

But then, three years later, I was diagnosed with breast cancer.  And I made an interesting discovery.  I had already found that I could clear a room by stating that I had lost a child to suicide.  Seriously, people became silent and moved out of my orbit as fast as they could when they heard that news.  But breast cancer?  People surrounded me with concern and support and information.  All kinds of information and offers of help.

Hmmm, I thought.  I remembered being a little girl and learning about breast cancer via my grandmother’s ladies magazines, and hushed conversations among women as I eavesdropped on the other side of the wall.  Breast cancer was something shameful, and its consequences so horrible that women DIED rather than speaking up or going to the doctor.

Today, two generations later, much has changed.  There’s money, lots of money, available for study and treatment, and lots of research being done on breast cancer.  It’s no longer stigmatized – even football players wear pink jerseys in October.  Public service announcements about mammograms appear everywhere.    Lives are being saved, and a lot of attention these days is being directed to the stubborn cancers that have resisted cure thus far.

All because women dropped the hushed tones, and started speaking out.

Could this happen with suicide, I wondered?  And so I spent some of my cancer recovery time learning new things, and became, in my own very small way, a suicide prevention activist.  Today I volunteer with a couple of national organizations, work which has taken me to Columbus and to DC to meet with legislators and their aides and to speak up for suicide prevention legislation and funding.  Like thousands of others, I participate in walks to raise funds for education, research and advocacy.   Last summer at GA, I presented a suicide prevention resolution that’s been adopted by our national church

But what does this all have to do with faith? Why bring suicide up in the church?  I think that the answer might be summed up in words I heard spoken many years ago by Unitarian pastor Forrest Church in a sermon at Chautauqua: We live, and we die, and our life of faith helps us make sense of those two realities.

Church, the community in which we worship and serve God, is also for many of us the most significant community in which we articulate and absorb realities about life and death.  It’s one of the main communities, sometimes THE main community, in which we meet and share loss.  All kinds of losses, but especially loss as a consequence of death.  We may be people of faith, and we may believe in an afterlife, but those realities don’t prevent us from suffering deeply, or from experiencing anger and bewilderment, in the face of death, and needing a place to go and be with those feelings.

Just last week-end, I conducted a funeral in Euclid for one of my former parishoners from our now closed BPC.  I spent some time there talking with one of her dearest friends, whom I had met years ago at OSC.  She has experienced three suicides in her family, and another recent loss, and is a mental health activist not to be crossed.  She told me that church is the place in which people have checked up on her, asked her how she is, and formed community around her.

It was in church, in a confirmation class a couple of years ago, that an eighth grader asked me, “Do people who die of suicide go to hell?”  He had pulled together various conversations he’d overheard after the death of a beloved uncle, and brought his confusion to his church.

Of course, church is no different from other communities in that we often struggle to discuss or respond to suicide.  It’s such a devastating, traumatic loss.  It so violates everything else we learn in church.  “Choose life!”  says God in the Bible.    How do we even begin address a topic, or a loss in our own small communities of faith, that collides so profoundly with all that we have absorbed and taught together?

That’s why we have days like this: To learn how to do it.  In some ways, it’s like any other horrible loss – but then sometimes we need to learn to respond to those, too.  In other ways, it’s very different.  I’m going to offer you three things today, because maybe three are enough to hang onto:

First, learn the language.  We try not to say anymore that someone “committed suicide.”  Why not?  Because that makes suicide sound like a crime rather than a consequence of mental illness, which science tells us that 90% of suicides are.  We would never say that someone “committed a heart attack,” or “committed cancer.”  We don’t stigmatize physical illness by calling it a crime.  Same with suicide.

Second, remember Jesus.  What does Jesus do when confronted with ill or heartbroken or grieving people?  He doesn’t turn away.  He doesn’t try to pretend he hasn’t seen them.  Jesus always wades right in, walks toward, reaches out.  Jesus is fearless! Jesus is always healing, with hands, and spit, and mud, and food, and drink, and words.  Jesus models for us what to do.  Walk toward, not away.  Listen. Offer help, and then actually give help.  Listen. Write notes.  Show up.  Listen.   You wonder whether people who die by suicide are excluded from eternal joy?  Look at Jesus.  He never condemns those who are in need of healing.  Listen, and then share the good news of hope: We are always, always, surrounded by loved.

Third, learn a little about suicide.  Learn about mental illness. Learn about help and prevention.

Learn, for instance, that suicide is preventable.  You will still hear people say that there’s nothing that can be done; that when a person makes up their mind to end their life, nothing can stop them.  NOT TRUE.  Research and experience continue to show us that when properly treated, people with serious illnesses such as depression and bipolar disorder, and people who have suicidal thoughts, can emerge from the darkness and move into productive and joyful lives.  Nearly everyone who has attempted suicide and lived to tell the story is grateful for whatever interventions restored them to life.  Don’t let yourself be fooled by platitudes which are downright wrong and even dangerous.

Learn the signs of mental illness and of the possibility of suicide.  Learn how to pay attention, and what to notice.  Learn how to respond.  Learn what to ask and what to do.

Church is a place we can do that.  Tonight, in fact, at the Methodist church across the street, there’s a program by a representative from Life Act, the organization I mentioned last week that does the walks at the Zoo and provides extensive education on suicide prevention in the schools.  Go across the street and learn!    Invite trainers in mental health and in suicide prevention to do programs in the church.  There is Mental Health First Aid Training, just as there is Red Cross training for dealing with injuries and for performing CPR.  There are programs specially focused on suicide prevention training. There’s even one  for congregations called Soul Shop, in which I was trained last spring.

Why do all this in church?  Why not leave it to schools, or community groups, or hospital classes?

Because we live, and we die, and the faith community is where we make some sense of those things – and we need to help each other do that in a context of God’s love, taught and practiced.

And because we in the church practice a faith marked by baptism and resurrection.

Do we speak for ill or for good, James asks?  Who do you say that I am, Jesus asks?

What DO we say?  What do we say when confronted by a catastrophic loss of life?  What do we say, and how do we live, when everything in our world is shaken, when the ground tilts beneath us, when nothing will ever be the same?  What are we saying, what are we believing, what are we enacting, when we respond to death by suicide, and when we take it upon ourselves to prevent future deaths?

This is what we say, and believe, and embody:

You, whoever you are, whether “officially” baptized in the church or not, you are a beloved child of God.  That is the name we say at baptism, and it is the name that is irrevocably yours.  Beloved child of God. You have been a beloved child of God since the very beginning of your life and nothing, neither death nor life, nor anything in all creation, can separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:38)  NOTHING.

And you, whoever you are, beloved child of God, your hope lies in the love and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and in the new creation toward which he is leading us, the new creation in which there is no more death or mourning or crying or pain, in which every tear is wiped away.

We live by faith and hope and love.  We have to do a lot of gritty work in between our birth as beloved children of God and our resurrection as beloved participants in God’s new creation.  We do a lot of living, and it isn’t all la-de-da.  Some of it is hard and life-altering and requires way more courage and perseverance than we ever had in mind to practice.

But we are a beloved people of the resurrection.  We are a people who speak out and live out the lives to which God calls us by faith and in hope and for love.  We are called as God’s representatives of a love so recklessly abundant and complete that it embraces us in all circumstances.  And so listen, and share your stories, and learn, and act – out of faith and hope and love. Amen.

 

 

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