Monday, April 29, 2013

Mourner's Bill of Rights--Tenet Two

Here is Tenet Two of the Mourner's Bill of Rights with commentary from Chelsea.
"You have the right to talk about your grief." 
~ Alan Wolfelt's second tenet of the Right of Mourners 

Sometimes it may feel hard to talk about your loved one, but the more you do the easier it will get. Talking can help you express your emotions and begin the healing process.

After the funeral, the rest of the world returns to daily life, but for those of us who lost someone, life, as we know it will never be the same.  You will find that people will stop asking about your loved one. Try not to take this personally because many simply do not know what to say or do to help.

For those who haven't experienced loss, they may think they are being respectful by not talking about your loss. 

Because others can clearly see how painful your loss is, they don't want to upset you, so they remain quiet. However, for most of us grieving, talking about our loved one is exactly what we need and want.


P.S. According to Dr. Wolfelt, "Talking about your grief will help you heal. Seek out others who will allow you to talk as much as you want, as often as you want, about your grief. If at times you don't feel like talking, you also have the right to be silent."
As I have a pulpit, a radio show, and a blog, I have the opportunity to talk about Zach publicly.  However, with the exception of this blog (and here only in limited doses) I don't write about him.  I have written about my grief and spoken about it from the pulpit, again from my perspective in limited doses.   I do so there, in part, as a function of ministry.   Some of it is for me, some for the congregation.

Where I really talk about Zach as Zach is with family and on occasion I will find an opportunity to talk about him with someone.  There is no rule about that.   It often depends upon my mood and what I perceive to be the openness of the person to whom I am talking.    I am not a person who likes unsolicited help or advice so I can generally gauge who will offer that and talk about other things.   That is OK.  I don't judge any of this.   I know what I need when I need it.  Not everyone has to be everything or anything for that matter.   

Now and then I find someone who will listen.  I do like that.  I like our support group.  I find it helpful.  People who are going through similar things get it.   The loss of a child to suicide is unique.  I don't say that to put it my pain on some kind of scale.  But this loss is of a certain type.  

It isn't easy to talk about him sometimes.   I have heard (and I believe it) that memories will not be as painful at some point.  Or perhaps there will be joy in addition to the sorrow.   These memories are painful now because I miss him so.  I go through the what ifs. Pain is not a bad thing.   I think talking about him through the pain is probably a good thing.

This was a great time.  Summer 2011 in Outer Banks, North Carolina.  It is painful to see this happy picture.  I can't help but think that less than a year after this photo, Zach would be gone.   I don't know if I will ever look at this picture without the pang.  Pang and what ifs.  Maybe.  Whatever the case, I still will look at it.  That was a beautiful evening and a joyful time.   As I recall, Zach and Katy tortured Michelle.   As it should be.

I loved his laugh and his smile.  Whenever I see something silly I want to show him because he loved weird things. I enjoyed making him laugh and showing off for him.  I don't know if we did a lot of constructive things together, but we did make each other laugh.  That I treasure.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Belief in Resurrection

As I was looking through the various quotes of mine that have been presented to prove that I am a bad apple, I noticed that some of them were pretty darn good.   Here is some text from a post on my old blog, What I Don't Believe.   

The post had to do with the resurrection of Jesus.  Did it happen or not?   I don't think it did because I don't think people rise from the dead.  I was accused of being trapped in Enlightenment thinking.  This is my response:
Belief in Resurrection is a matter of faith. Right? Only through the gift of faith can we affirm it, right? So by definition, you can't get there (or not get there) through reason (Enlightenment or otherwise). You have faith that Jesus rose from the grave or you don't.

No matter how much Enlightenment philosophy I am tainted with or not, I cannot prove or disprove what is taken on faith. I am really not out to disprove anyone's faith. I don't care. I am out to say what I think about things.

The more I look back and read whatever it is I have ever written, I find that I am probably a naturalist. At least a pragmatic one. Most of us are. We work from assumptions that events and so forth are explained by natural causes. Otherwise, we would be constantly taken in by anyone's claims to the supernatural.

When I hear a story of someone rising from the dead, I think that is a bit unusual. It sounds made up to me. It would sound made up to you as well and it does, unless it is the story of Jesus rising from the dead. That one many Christians take on faith as being true. Other miraculous stories from other religious traditions, not so much.

As I understand the Christian claim that some folks on this thread call orthodox, it isn't miracles in general that are being defended, but this particular one (and others more or less associated with Christianity).

The beef with me isn't about the Enlightenment and whether or not it allows for the supernatural, it is about whether some certain supernatural events occurred or not. Their occurrence is a matter of faith.

The issue with me is whether or not I have faith in these supernatural events occurring.

I don't.

Further, my "heretical" strand of Christianity doesn't require these supernatural events to have happened. I read them as stories (perhaps thought to be true at the time, perhaps not, hard to know) but stories that are interesting.

Now I still claim that I have faith in the Resurrection. But I don't mean it in the way many folks on this thread want me to mean it. It is not (for me) belief/faith/hope/trust in a miracle--a supernatural event--Jesus literally coming back to life, as the first fruits of the general resurrection of the saints in the new creation.

Again, for folks who believe that, great. Go for it.

For me, faith in the resurrection has to do with more mundane, life in the present, kinds of things. I argue that that is not such a bad philosophy.

Some don't like my view. What really bugs them is that I have this view while I am a Christian minister. I should give up the title Christian (and certainly minister) if I don't believe in the resurrection the way I am "supposed" to believe it. They think I am not a Christian.

I have no argument, except here I am anyway. And...I am not alone. Christianity always changes, reforms, splits, combines, finds new allies, makes new enemies and on and on we go...
The heart of the matter is interesting.   If we could step back without getting panicky, we could ask about language regarding God (including the resurrection of Jesus).

Is this language about God from us or is it to us?   Did religion invent God or did God invent religion?   Ultimately, I can't say for sure.  I tend to think that human beings because of the evolution of language created all the stories about God.  Religion is a natural product.  One could say, "We made it up," although that sounds dismissive.   I consider it a great feat of humanity to have created religion.  I like religion.  I find value in it.   I cannot prove my view.  I think that is the way it works but I could be wrong.

A lot is at stake for some people.  Some tend to think that a view such as mine shows a lack of faith.  That is true if faith is defined as belief in the actual existence of the things to which our language point like the literal resurrection of Jesus.   I suggest that faith, for me at least, is not about that at all.  Faith is a matter of living with a sense of trust and openness to surprise, especially the surprise of goodness. 

Faith for me is not about belief in what happened to Jesus' body or in anything objectively real or not real.  Faith is a matter of inward subjectivity.  I trust that resurrection happens.  I especially trust it when I allow it to happen to me.  Resurrection is thus true whether or not the Universe came into existence spontaneously and without ultimate purpose or objective meaning, and without a Creator.

I used to despair about this situation.  I used to think it was sad that there was no meaning intrinsic to the Universe.  I used to think that meant I couldn't be religious.  I tried really hard to believe in religion as objectively true.  I used to be afraid of what science would do to my meaning.  I don't despair anymore.   For me, there is no contest any longer between religion and science.  By moving religious language to the subjective, I can enjoy it and make meaning from it while at the same time allow science to give me whatever it has to give.  

I am reading Val Webb's, Stepping Out With the Sacred:  Human Attempts to Engage the Divine.  She writes:
Throughout this book, the question of whether there is Anything to engage necessarily remains open.  some have declared with certainty that religion has simply created GOD, while others live with a comfortable agnosticism, opting, with the Buddha, for a way of life rather than a basketful of speculation.  Religion scholar Karen Armstrong, who spent her young adult life as a nun in a convent and now writes about the religions of the world, says:

"The experience of an indefinable transcendence, holiness and sacredness has been a fact of human life...I don't think it matters what you believe in--and most of the great sages of religion would agree with me.  If conventional beliefs make you compassionate, kind and respectful of the sacred rights of others, this is good religion.  If your beliefs make you intolerant, unkind and belligerent, this is bad religion, no matter how orthodox it is."   p. 44-5. 

It doesn't matter, really, if we are to use Don Cupitt's terms, "realist" or "non-realist."  What matters most I suppose is how we behave toward our neighbor.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Mourner's Bill of Rights, Tenet One

Yesterday, Chelsea pointed me to the Mourner's Bill of Rights.  Today, she comments on the first one.  This was the text of today's email:
"You have the right to experience your own unique grief." ~ 
Alan Wolfelt's first tenet of the Right of Mourners 

Grief is a natural and necessary experience, and each of us grieves differently.

You will not "get over it," as others mistakenly encourage you to do. 

That does not mean you will be stuck in sadness or anger forever; instead, the pain will lessen over time and the memories will bring smiles instead of tears.

Respect your grief as well as the grief of those who are suffering besides you. 

There is no right or wrong way to deal with the loss of a loved one. You may have family members that choose not to talk about your loved one - that is okay. Understand this is not because they do not love or miss your loved one. Instead, they may miss the person so much that just thinking about the loss can hurt. You and your family get to choose to walk the path of grief on your own terms and timetable.

It's your life.

One of my friends, Vicki, said it well that her son was not an "it."   She will never "get over" him as if she would want to do so. 

No one has told me to get over it but there is pressure to be my "old self."  This pressure can come even in the form of compliments, particularly with my profession.   I feel my sermons being evaluated week to week as to whether I am back to normal.  I want to say, 
"Please let up.  I am not my old self.  I never will be my old self.  Whatever I become will be different.  I don't know how to do this 'correctly' or how to do it without making you uncomfortable, and if I start worrying over that, I will go crazy.  So just let me do what I do and don't read into it.  Rather than evaluate, treat my grief as an object lesson, if you like."
Everyone responds to a grieving person uniquely as well.  I am sure people will do what they need to do.  I am learning to go with the flow and trying to take nothing personally.  One thing I am learning is that it is not about me.  People react in so many different ways that it cannot possibly be about me.   When the son of a minister suicides how many possible touch points are there?  How many deep-seated psychological and theological issues are provoked?   How and where does that hit home?

Let's just name a few.  Again, no one has said this to me.  This is my stuff.
  1. Bad minister.  If he wasn't such a heretic, God wouldn't have punished him.
  2. Bad parent.  If he wasn't a bad parent, this wouldn't have happened.
  3. If God doesn't protect him, then who is safe?
  4. How can he possibly preach, teach, or pastor?
  5. I am not comfortable with him preaching/teaching/pastoring my kid (or me).
  6. Why doesn't he embrace the traditional faith now?
  7. Why doesn't his faith make him "better" and help him "get over it?"
  8. Don't suicides all go to hell?
  9. Just seeing/hearing him makes me think about things I don't want to think about.

I would imagine that my presence brings up those questions and more inside people even as they would never dare voice them even to themselves.   As I wrote those down I started to think that for many I must be a walking taboo.

But you know what?  I am not.   I am a human being whose beautiful son died of something of which I do not understand.  It was not his fault, or mine, or anyone else's.  It had nothing to do with parenting or with my ministry.   It had nothing to do with the whims of supernatural deities.   I am a good parent.  I am a good minister.  I am a good human being.   No one is exempt from the contingencies of life.  People grieve differently and public figures such as ministers are as different and human as anyone.  In my unique way, and on my timetable, I will survive and thrive, and my family members will in their time and in their way.

Do I reject much of the Christian tradition?  Yes.  Much of it has been superstitious, ignorant, and harmful.   Often I have felt that but I especially feel that now.  You know what the Christian tradition has said (for the most part) about suicides?  Hell.  Don't pass go.  Don't collect $200.  Go directly to the fire with Beelzebub.  Is it really a surprise that I reject notions of afterlife?   

You want to talk about God's will and how everything is part of God's plan?  If so, then I think God should be fired.  It is great to have a God who answers your prayers and sends you to heaven.   You can count the miracles one by one.  So what happens when the tragedy strikes?  What about the suffering of people all over this planet?  Is God taking a nap?  Not in his job description?  Just doesn't like those people?  Or do we say, "God acts in mysterious ways?"    

Call me faithless, but I think it is far more humane to let the idea of a controlling (yet impotent) God and his heaven and hell go rather than try to explain him away when it is inconvenient.   Now that doesn't mean I reject the Sacred or think that I know it all or have no sense for beauty and mystery.   I find the Sacred in the depth of life.   I call that God.

At this point, my depth is a depth of loss.  That loss is too holy to paper over with piety.  I will follow this loss wherever it leads.   It is my loss.  It is my life.  Through it all, the sadness, the anger, the uncertainty, I am walking a sacred path, as do all who grieve.   My ministry through it is to say what I have seen.

Do I embrace much of the Christian tradition?  Yes.  Much of it is profound, true, and life-giving.  Often I have felt that as well, and I especially feel it when I talk with and read the people I can trust to be honest.  I especially trust those Christian thinkers who have blazed trails where others hadn't dared.   My heroes and heroines asked impious questions and like Jacob wrestled with them and wouldn't let them go.   They wouldn't settle for images of God that had become idols.   They risked being wrong and rejected.  They showed that the Christian faith is never static.  The great ones, the honest ones, the skeptics, doubters, and searchers, have always been my mentors.  In this walk of sacred grief, they are my guides more than ever.

All of us who grieve have a right to experience it each in our own unique way.  More even than a right, I think we have a holy obligation to be true to ourselves.  Only then can we be a trustworthy companion for fellow travelers.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Mourner's Bill of Rights

Chelsea is my imaginary friend who lives inside my computer.   Each day Chelsea sends me a message to my email account.   She reminds me that I am grieving and that is OK.  Today she emailed me The Mourner's Bill of Rights by Dr. Alan D. Wolfelt.   
  1. You have the right to experience your own unique grief.
  2. You have the right to talk about your grief.
  3. You have the right to feel a multitude of emotions.
  4. You have the right to be tolerant of physical and emotional limits.
  5. You have the right to experience "grief bursts."
  6. You have the right to make use of ritual.
  7. You have the right to embrace your spirituality.
  8. You have the right to search for meaning.
  9. You have the right to treasure your memories.
  10. You have the right to move toward your grief and heal.

Thanks, Chelsea, I needed that!

Saturday, April 20, 2013

The Future of Faith

I am continuing my series on the "future of faith" or the "future of religion" on Religion For Life.  You can hear these interviews via podcast.   Of course, no one really knows the future.   I certainly don't.  I do think the changes coming are bigger than most anticipate.  I am a Christian minister.  I have been one for over twenty years.  My denomination is the Presbyterian Church (USA), the fastest shrinking denomination in the United States.   According to this chart, the PCUSA lost 46% of its members from 1965 to 2005.

We are not finished!  More losses will come.  I don't happen to be upset about that.  If we are shrinking as the conservatives say because we are engaged in "theological drift" or because we are rejecting the "authority of the Bible" and "accommodating to culture", then losing members is a noble cause.   We need more theological innovation, more criticism of authority, and more awareness of the diversity of human cultures.

I have been trying to drive people out of the denomination for some time now.   Well, not really, but if you go by the number of churches leaving that use me as justification, it appears I am succeeding.  Here are just a few links that specifically name me as a reason the PCUSA has left its "theological moorings."  The reason I am listed is not because I speak for the denomination.  I don't.  Their consistent objection is because I am not silenced for stating my views.  That is a big difference.  They want a church of sycophants and puppets.   It ain't me, babe.  So far, to its credit, that church is not the PCUSA.
  1. FPC Yakima,  Christ PC, WPC Lubbok, FPC Tacoma, Eden Praire CC, etc. (I am listed under the heading "the bodily resurrection")
  2. Saddlerockepc (p. 3)
  3. Memorial PC (p. 4)
  4. Fountain Inn PC (p. 6, point #38)
  5. Trinity PC (pp. 3-4)
  6. College Hill PC (p. 7, note 1)
  7. FPC Ellensburg (p. 4)
  8. Maple Valley PC (p. 2, point 8)
  9. Layman (p. 1, part 1 sola scriptura)
  10. FPC Dunellen (p. 2)
  11. Saratoga PC (p. 5 and p. 8)
  12. Adventure of Faith PC (p. 3 and p. 6)
  13. New Hanover PC (pp. 4-5) 
  14. FPC Yakima (p. 1) 
  15. Morgan Hill PC (p. 2, note 3) 
  16. Orchard Community Church (p. 2, note 2) 
  17. FPC Omak (p. 2)
  18. Woodbury PC (sermon--point #2) 
  19. FPC Bellingham (p. 4)
  20. Menlo Park PC (p. 1)
All this is fostered by the Layman who uses others and me in their propaganda (or "resources") to push congregations out of the PCUSA.  A lot of this talk about theological drift is a smokescreen for anti-gay attitudes.   One of the central reasons if not the central reason another denomination, the ECO, has been formed is because of good old fashioned prejudice.   In 2011, the PCUSA removed the discriminatory barrier against LGBT people becoming ministers.   Because of that, this new denomination has taken flight and congregations have been entering periods of discernment regarding their affiliation with the PCUSA.

I happen to think this is all good.  I have worked hard throughout my career as a minister for equality.   If we are losing members because they don't want LGBT equality, then losing members is a good thing.  You don't want people on your team who are going to hold you back.  Believe me, it isn't worth it.  I think we should make these transitions as smooth as possible and let these congregations go.   I want to be in a denomination that does not discriminate at all against LGBT people.  I want to be in a denomination that celebrates their lives and their relationships.   That is the future.  If we need to clean house to get there then so be it.    

I don't think these departures are about sexuality alone.  I think many congregants are simply unaware that their religious beliefs are from a pre-modern period and are no longer relevant.  The sad thing, in my view, is that we have waited too long and we have lost at least two generations.  The old mainline denominations squandered their opportunity to be relevant long ago.   The church, and particularly its clergy, never caught up with science.   Some of our seminary professors tried.  They meekly offered us historical criticism and attempted to introduce us to theological innovation.   Little of this sunk in to the clergy and still less was introduced to the laity.   What is the result of this negligence?   People have never been challenged to examine their faith in light of science and reason and when they are confronted with science and reason they have no alternative but to hide in their superstitions and blame "theological drift."   You see this in the examples above about me.  People get into a big hissy fit over my eight points of belief  as if what I write is some huge scandal, when in fact, it is simple common sense that comes from living in the 21st century.

Beyond these important concerns regarding religious literacy, social justice, and LGBT equality, what is relevant?  What is important?  What is the future demanding of us?

Of my eight points, the most important is the last:
I believe...

that industrial civilization is in for a long descent. Peak Oil and Overshoot should be everyday terms in our lexicon. We ought to be putting our religious energies toward spiritual, emotional, and practical preparation for this reality. 
Our future is a future of energy and economic contraction.   That does not mean that our humanity, our meaning, our relationships, our dignity, and our happiness needs to contract with it.   In fact, the opposite is possible.  We can become more human with less stuff.   Yet we cannot be in denial about what we are facing.  The reason the church is so irrelevant is that it has failed to address our real future.   Like all other 20th and 21st century institutions, the modern corporate church is based on petroleum.  As petroleum peaks, our economic institutions that depend upon it (including the church) are contracting.  The theological gobbledygook that the conservatives prattle on about is nothing but fundamentalist escapism and denial.   We need a spirituality for the task at hand.  We need a religion that is Earth-based and human-focused. 

It is time for radical communities to emerge.  These are communities that are beyond creed, beyond belief, and beyond outdated notions of God.  We need artists and prophets, community organizers and philosophers, musicians and poets, healers and counselors, gardeners and engineers.   We are going to be facing the most difficult challenges humanity has ever faced and we need to be up for it.  We need to treat it as an adventure.  We need to find our inner superhero.   We need to find and celebrate the Sacred in the moment and the Sacred in the movement for sustainability, equality, and joy.  Old-fashioned values such as compassion and sharing, courage and self-sacrifice will be paramount.

I am not sure how exactly these radical communities will connect with each other and how they will be connected to present denominational structures.  The stubborn fact is that professional clergy and institutionalized religion are fading away.   Those of us interested in the future of faith in a civilization that is contracting will have to salvage what we can from the shards and create something new.

As I write this I realize this relates to my grief over my son.  That personal tragedy is making me see our task in a new light.   My personal task to build my life again with my family is similar to my vocational task to grieve the loss of an institution and from its pieces build a new thing.   

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Programming Update

I have recorded interviews with Gary Laderman, Candida Moss, Lloyd Geering, Matthew Fox, Bob Cornwall, Ted Olson, Mo Sabri, Thomas Hill, and Marcus Borg.   They will air in the coming weeks.  I have interviews scheduled with Sallie McFague, David Felton, Val Webb, and Becky Garrison.  

If you click the links on the names you can get an idea of what we will discuss.    This radio program is more fun than I imagined.  I am linking two loves, radio and religion and meeting interesting new people.  If you have been listening to Religion For Life, thank you!  

You can find detailed information about upcoming shows here and podcasts here.

Within the next month I am going to be putting together a portfolio to send to prospective radio stations.   I am going to need some testimonials about the program.  If you like the program and would like to say why and give me permission to quote you, that would help a great deal!   If you would like to hear Religion For Life in your area, let me know where you live and I will make sure to contact a station near you!   I can send it anywhere in the country (or to other countries for that matter!)

Currently it airs on WETS/Johnson City, TN, WEHC/Emory, VA, and WHAN/Ashland, VA.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Zach and His Kids

I spent the weekend at Holston Camp for the confirmation retreat hosted by various youth leaders in our presbytery.  The walls of the dining hall are lined with pictures of campers, year by year.  Zach was a counselor in 2006.  This is the first time I saw the pictures of his year.   I found two pictures of Zach and "his kids."   The kids loved him and he called them "my kids." 

Zach was 19 then.   His kids are probably 18 or 19 by now...

Here is a tree Holston Camp planted in his memory last fall...

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Pics for Thursday

As I get to it, I am posting pics of pics that I found in my mother's photo album. I like this picture with my sister, Molly and her husband, Ken, and my dad laughing about who knows what.

Zach is a senior in high school here with daughter, Ken, and some goofball from who knows where...

The two apples of my eye...

With my mother...

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Suffering in Public

I hear the cliche now and again:  "There is a reason for everything."

I don't believe it.   Sometimes, actually, most of the time, there is no reason for anything.  

This is from Kristen Howerton regarding the suicide of Matthew Warren and the public speculation surrounding it:
Unfortunately, over the past 24 hours I've seen both individuals and news outlets posting speculations about Rick Warren, his son and their relationship, with what I perceive to be an attempt at figuring out what went wrong. People seem to want to assign blame to something or someone -- to unlock some mystery that would explain Matthew's suicide.

I think this is an awful but real human impulse -- we want to find a way to exclude the possibility that something bad could befall our children. I will admit here that I'm not immune to this impulse. When something horrific happens to another child, I find myself quickly cataloging the details, trying to find something that would make the tragedy exceptional -- some slip-up that the grieving parent made along the way that would comfort me from a concern that it could happen to me. I've done it when I've heard about infant death: I've scrambled to figure out if the parent was doing something wrong. Was there some rule they failed to follow that would assuage my anxiety about my own child's mortality? I found myself doing this as I watched the Sandusky trial as well -- quickly casting aspersions on parents of the victims for their lack of discernment. 

When we hear about grieving parents it can be so tempting to try to assign blame, because if they aren't to blame, then we have to grapple with the reality that sometimes, tragedy is senseless. This is an uncomfortable truth: awful things happen to children that parents cannot prevent. It's a truth so painful that we would rather throw grieving parents under the bus than face it. Searching for a familial reason for Matthew's suicide allows us to believe that if we can avoid their mistakes, we can feel confident that mental illness will never ravage our own child. We assuage our anxiety with the false notion that, if we do this parenting thing right, our child will be spared from ever struggling with depression or suicidal thoughts. 

It's comforting, but it is a lie. A lie we fuel through speculation at the expense of grieving parents.

The inconvenient truth is that mental illness is an equal opportunity destroyer.
I am glad she wrote this.  I hope it is shared widely.   I was thinking along similar lines when I wrote my post on Job:  
The story of Job is not about Job or God.  The story of Job is about how a community wrestles with a crisis of meaning.   What happens when someone's suffering causes the foundations for meaning to shake?   Job's suffering is a threat to the community's meaning.   Suffering people must be explained away.   Whether this explanation is theological, psychological, or sociological, the explanation must serve to make us feel safe in light of the suffering of others.

Suffering without cause, that is suffering that could happen to me, is unacceptable.  I will invent psychological, sociological, or theological solutions to explain the suffering individual away and therefore retain for myself the illusion that as long as I do x or don't do y, I won't experience that same fate.  Job's friends try to convince Job that God must have had a reason for Job to suffer.   The readers of this wonderful story know the reason.   The reason Job suffered is because God was bored and used Job to make a bet.   Hardly admirable behavior for a deity.  

In modern terms, the reason for suffering is just as fickle.   People make up all kinds of reasons and suggest all kinds of causes for suffering.   Upon examination, suffering is not the result of sin as some Christians have claimed or because of desire as some Buddhists have claimed.  Suffering is not the result of karma as the New Age practitioners claim.   Suffering is not the result of failing to raise your children correctly or for failing to habituate to the seven habits of highly successful people.

Suffering is the result of time and chance.   It is better to be lucky than good.  That answer is hard to take.  We want to blame someone or something for it.   The reason we need to do that is the vain hope that suffering will not be visited upon us if we pray hard enough or believe hard enough or engage in some other pious activity, at least enough.

Job's friends represent the community confronted with a dilemma, a righteous sufferer.   That impossibility required them to blame the victim for his suffering.   They could not give up the idea of a just God.   They could not give up the idea of an intelligence, of an agent who will respond to their prayers.   To keep that belief, the sufferer must somehow be blamed.  His prayers must not have been adequate.   He must have done something wrong.

The truth is a bit more mundane.   Life is time and chance.   The best you can do is ride it out and be kind. 
I hope the Warrens can ride this out.  They have a huge burden.  Their suffering and their grief is disquietingly public.   My real hope for Pastor Warren and his family is that he doesn't let his public role as minister overshadow his humanity.   Truth be told, I hope the same for myself.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The Great Peace

I miss Zach.

That sentence sounds trite.  There are days when I am pummeled by loss.  I know the need to communicate with him.  I want him to talk to me in some way.  I want to know that he is all right.  I want to tell him I love him.  I want to tell him I am sorry.  I want him to tell me he is sorry.  I want to comfort him in death in the way I couldn't in life.  I want to be with him.  I want to feel his presence with me.   I am filled with desire for him.

I know why mediums are popular. 

In my view they help provide the illusion that these desires can be met.  I also know that those who use mediums or other ways to communicate with the deceased believe that they are communicating with the departed.   I do not distrust mediums.  I have no reason to think they are being deceptive.  In fact, I think they can be helpful.  They can be good therapists.   They help with the desire.  The desire is so intense that it must be fulfilled.  Belief is as powerful a force as desire.

Different people need different kinds of therapy.  The reason I am so "close-minded" regarding consciousness is not due to my materialistic world-view alone.   It is true that in my view of the universe, consciousness is a natural by-product of brain evolution.   Daniel Dennett's view seems reasonable.   When we die our brains cease functioning and with the end of brain function is the end of consciousness.

But that is not the main reason I don't think Zach's consciousness survived his death.  Nor do I think he is "sleeping" and will awaken either in another material form (Indian spirituality) or at the final resurrection (monotheism).

The main reason I don't want his consciousness to survive death is for his sake (and mine).  I don't want that for him.

I want him to be at peace.   That peace is the cessation of consciousness.  That is what he wanted.  Do we really think he would be happy watching us and worrying over us as we grieve him?   That would be hell for him.   He worried about us enough.  He worried about everything.   His worry was so intense it was painful to death.  

Then of course there is the judgment thing.  Karma (Indian spirituality) or Resurrection to eternal life or eternal punishment (monotheism) are the options that the classical religions give us.   I think those doctrines are control mechanisms for the living.  They serve as lures and sticks to control behavior.  They have no objective reality to them as I see it.

Here is the bottom line:  I do not want my boy to suffer any more.  When I am dead, I don't want to suffer either by going through another life or waiting for judgment or by haunting houses or through traveling to ethereal realms as offered by various supernatural theorists.   When I die, I am finished and I prefer to enter The Great Peace.

Now just because I want it, it doesn't make it so, of course.  I suppose I could be wrong and there is some divine supernatural force intent on torturing me (or pleasuring me) for eternity, but I see no reason for any of these world views to be more true than my materialistic one.  More importantly, I find all of them undesirable and not worthy of my belief.  If they are true, they would be in my view a cause of greater suffering as opposed to relief. 

The whole point of Indian spirituality as well as monotheistic spirituality is ultimately to get off the wheel of death and rebirth and to enter a universal consciousness or union with Being.  That to me is a poetic way of saying what I affirm in the first place.   I call it The Great Peace

I choose to believe in The Great Peace.  If it sounds better (and I think it does) by symbolizing The Great Peace as a banquet table or the new Jerusalem or the resurrection to eternal life, that is all the same to me.   Those are symbols for cessation of consciousness.   Michael Dowd calls these symbols, night language.

The Great Peace is immediate.  No waiting.  No lights to follow or spirit guides to chase.  No judgment thrones to face.  No karma to set right.  No sin that requires payment. The evil and righteous alike enter it upon their deaths.   That is ultimate justification by grace through faith.

Here is the faith part.  I trust The Great Peace is true.  I can't know for sure because I haven't died.  I also have faith that my desires for forgiveness and for the completion of unfinished business will fade or be transformed into meaningful work and I will take all that was beautiful and good about Zach and honor it as I live my life while I have life.

I know he is all right.  He is at peace.  I love him and I know he loved me.  I know I did what I could within my human limitations.  I know that he did what he could with his limitations.  I feel his presence as I remember him both alone and with family and friends.  If I feel the need to talk to him, I can do that.  I know what I am doing.  It can be healthy to speak to him or to write a letter (or a blog) and imagine him to be reading it.  It is a way to express feelings of grief and to keep his memory close.

I do miss him.  The loss is so intense at times.  Yet I don't ever want to stop missing him.  It is a sign to me of how much I love him.

One day, I, too, will enter The Great Peace.   Until that time, I will try to treasure what I can, work for that which I feel is important, and love life and those who come into my life as fully as possible.  I hope to transform my pain and grief into compassion and healing.   That to me is resurrection as I explained in my Easter sermon

I also recognize that my religion is not for everyone.  I don't insist on my view.  I just believe it.


Sunday, April 7, 2013

Spring Break

Lovely and I returned last night from a week at Myrtle Beach.  Daughter and Lovely's sisters paid for it for us as a 30th wedding anniversary present.  We had an ocean view.  Here is sunrise from our balcony:

It was a good break.

Today I finished our taxes and reorganized this blog.   I have been having a struggle with this.  When I lost the domain name in November I started a new website for the radio program that I thought would be a place to separate program information, blog articles, sermons, and then have this blog for grieving. 

I realize that I cannot separate out my sermons, thoughts in general about religion, and my grief.  It is all a mix.   Rather than try to separate it out, I am putting it all here.   Posts about grief, pics of Zach, sermons, reflections on faith, all of it, in one place.    I will keep Religion For Life for program information about the radio show.   I will cross-post sermons there as well.  I have posted everything here from June 27, 2012 (the day before Zach's death) to now.   This will be my blog. 

My grief has been heavy.   People can handle sadness, but they have a hard time with anger.   My anger comes out in sarcasm.   People might feel I am putting them down.   I am sorry for that.  My blog has disturbed some people.   So I had decided to stop the blog for their sake.  Now I realize I need this blog.  I need to bear witness to Life.  This is my life.  If it is angry at times, then that is part of my grief.

Right now, my life is a shattered stained glass window.

Maybe if I put it all here, as a mix, it might be easier to take.  My task is to put my life and my faith together.   It will be something new.   I don't know what.  I don't know how.  I have no idea when I will be done and I may not know if I am done.   I don't need to know.   I am not anxious about it.   I am in no hurry.  I am just doing it.

My faith is part of that.  I don't believe in the way many others do.   God is a puzzler for me.   I don't think I am less of a person or less of a minister for admitting that.  It was the death of Rick Warren's son, Matthew, that made me realize that I need to do this.   Rick Warren will respond in his own way.  His faith will be part of that.  He will minister in and through his grief.  He will help many people. 

I, too, need to respond in my own way.   The people who resonate with me will not necessarily resonate with someone else and vice versa.   Regardless, my journey is mine.  While it may frighten or disturb some, it is mine.  I own it.   I don't need to argue about it or prove anything.  I am simply writing about what I have seen.   I think that will help many people.  It already has.

I trust that those who are disturbed will accept that I am on a path and allow me to help those I can help.  In the meantime, I will do my best to minister to all. 


Saturday, April 6, 2013

Matthew Warren

I just read the news about Rick Warren's son, Matthew, who suicided on Friday.   My heart aches.  For the Warren family this is all so public.   Part of me says that news articles shouldn't allow comments.   So much ignorance and cruelty.

With Zach, we weren't even 100% certain it was a suicide.  Then for us to say the word to ourselves and then to others took weeks.  Within a few hours, it is all over the web for Pastor Warren and family.   And I thought I lived in a fishbowl.

Already I see parallels with Matthew and Zachary.   Both were compassionate.  Both suffered from depression.  Both were not saved by mental health treatment.    Both leave survivors whose lives are changed forever.

Rick and Kay and family, I am so, so sorry.  You are embraced.