Thursday, October 14, 2010

Can We Let God Be Kinder than We Are?

When it comes to pain and suffering, how is it that we can be closer to Job's clueless "friends" than Jesus? See also the critique of the pop dictum "God Never Gives Us More than than We Can Handle."

Granted we can read Job as a story that has a Walt Disney ending all because of Job's faithfulness. That's not the only reading we can employ though. So why come down on the side of meanness instead of generosity and grace? Does God really take away our health - or dish up trouble- whatever the reason? Does God really extract everything from our lives so that one day, when everything and everyone is gone, we'll somehow accept Jesus? That is so unnecessary and harmful.

In ethics, we would call that employing the ends to justify the means. That very reasoning is used to justify any and all kind of harm done to others. I find it very sad and draining whenever I encounter it- and I do all too often with "believers." But applying this kind of toxic rationale to God is an ethical and theological nightmare we don't have to dive into. Nor should we!

I suggest we choose Jesus over whatever reading of Job may please us: "Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will perish as they did. Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on the them- do you think they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem?" Luke 13:2-4 By offering these rhetorical questions, Jesus has our number too. The issue is about what's in our control, not about the stuff that happens to us. It's about our own choosing- or repentance.

Better to change your own mind about God than misrepresent both God and God's world! Even though we can be artists at projection, let's allow the Holy One to be better and bigger than us, full of grace, truth, and wonder. We don't need to add to the world's suffering by making faith a cover for our own meanness, sin, and small-mindedness.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Survivors of Suicide- A Grief Like No Other

Pastors and care-givers have the terribly isolating experience of surviving a parishioner, friend or family member who has taken their own life. I found the following advice from former NFL quarterback Eric Hipple:

"It's hard to describe [the pain of suicide] unless you have been close to someone who did commit suicide. That's why those of us who have been through this need to help each other. And please, if you think about suicide, go see a psychologist or a doctor. Get some treatment. Don't wait."

Don't try to reason with someone who is in clinical depression and making suicidal statements or threats. They're in that place because their thinking is compromised. For spiritual care givers, it maybe helpful to report your concerns to the next of kin and/or the physician(s) who is responsible for the care plan. This can be done in the best interests of a person who has come to see you for help, even while you honor the confidentiality and trust of a parishioner by asking for their permission to act on their behalf.

Sometimes we see why suicide runs in families. That's explained, in part, because mental illness is a family and not just a personal problem. The grief of surviving a suicide is so painful that suicide is sometimes seen as the only way out. At the same time, seeing how suicide harms everyone involved may help to limit an at- risk person's suicidal thoughts and behaviors.

Another option is 72 hour observation in a hospital. Although that is temporary, the truth is that being taken into police custody to a safe place may be what is called for. No one will say that such an experience is pleasant at all. But they may still be living to talk about it.

For survivors, some crisis hot lines also partner with support groups, where you can can break through the isolation and loneliness of grieving this loss. Making contact with other survivors can be one of several healing things you can do for yourself and others who share your journey.

Oldies but Goodies