“We Will Never Forget: The Sanctity of Human Life”

September11-Theme-Blank.jpgJarrid

On this now September 12, 2019, I have so many words to say about September 10 and 11, 2019.

September 10 is World Suicide Prevention Day. A day where we all remember that each person’s life matters and we are all in this together. This year this day took a different focus for me as the news was shared that Pastor Jarrid Wilson took his own life by suicide on September 9, 2019. He is the second megachurch pastor, after Andrew Stoecklein who took his life in August 2018. There have also been more pastors who have taken their lives, it just hasn’t made headline news.

When we hear of the suicide of any loved one it shocks us. We wonder why? We wonder is there is anything we could have done to help. We take classes, we save the suicide hotline phone number to our phone to be prepared to help, and we as pastors journey with those who are suicidal all while dealing with the pressures of life and ministry.

Often times, it is also us who do the funerals of those who commit suicide. Some of these people we actually knew well and others are those we have never met. At some of these funerals we can name that suicide occurred, but sometimes the families are not ready to share that information yet as they are going through their own grief process.

I can tell you I have been doing more of these funerals in the past five years and they are heartbreaking. Sometimes it is a young adult who makes a rash decision to end their lives and sometimes it is an older adult who cannot deal with the pain of their illness anymore. Both cases are devastating. Their lives matter and there is a hole in this world without them.

Although I did not know either of these pastors personally who took their own lives this past year, in the world of pastors we are all connected and I have many friends who did know them well.

Pastors are people too and pastors struggle. Ministry is hard. We journey with hurting people on a daily basis and we also have our own personal lives and families to deal with too. I feel blessed that I do feel like I have a community of support as a pastor, but I know not all pastors share in that blessing as they move around from place to place.

Yesterday, we commemorated the victims of 9/11. After this unspeakable evil occurred  I traveled to New York with my family to see the hole in the skyline where the world trade center had been and went to the street in front of where the world trade center had been in see the hole in the hearts of so many family and friends who had lost loved ones or who were still looking for them.

I have been to the museum in New York City and I too have placed my hand upon the names at the Memorial Pools. These people who lost their lives did not lose them by their own hands, but due to the evil in the hearts of others and the hatred they embodied. The lives of these victims matter. Their lives too were cut short, snuffed out, before it was their time.

So today I mourn. I mourn for a nation still grieving the loss of so many people who didn’t have to die. I mourn for a nation that is divided and has forgotten that we are better when we help each other and give one another hope. I mourn for my own community of pastors. Colleagues I have gleaned from 10 years of ministry who are either struggling with depression suicidal ideation, or know someone that has committed suicide. I mourn with the family and and friends of all those who have died by suicide this past year.

Mourning is a beautiful part of who we are as the people of God. This is how God teaches us to respond to evil in the world and to respond to death, but we do not mourn without a purpose.

We mourn because we know that the life that God intends for us is so much more beautiful than the life created for us by terrorist or depression. We mourn, but we also know that “nothing can separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 8:37-39).

We mourn because morning is taking action.

We mourn because in our mourning we still hold onto hope.

God is calling us to continue to be in relationship with each other, even though there is the risk of pain when we lose someone we love unexpectedly. God has given us the gift of each other to love, cherish, encourage and celebrate in this life.

If any of you ever need to talk because you are mourning or depressed please do not hesitate to contact me. Your life matters and I love you.

~ Pastor Jessie Colwell

“Dessert First”

dessert first book cover
Today we continue on in my series on raising up women’s’ voices that I think you need to hear. These books will richly bless your life and your journey of discipleship.

Today I lift up my friend, Dana Trent, and her book, “Dessert First.” I first met Dana when I attended Duke Divinity. I was struck by her intelligence, kindness, and calm presence. Since that time, she has gone on to write four additional books “Saffron Cross“, “For Sabbath’s Sake“, “One Breath at a Time” and today she is releasing her newest book “Dessert First.”

Dessert First” is a tragically beautiful account of the sacred time that Dana spent with her mother during her final days. The purpose of Dana sharing these important moments in her life is to help other people who are caring for a loved one who is dying. In her book, Dana reminds the reader not to be afraid of this time, but to use it well to celebrate and honor the person who is about to die.

In the introduction of her book she says:

“But the greatest lesson my mother, brother, patients, their families, doctors, nurses, fellow chaplains, and dying loved ones taught me is that we are terminal. After sitting with over 200 dying people (not all at once), I learned to unwrap the gifts our finite bodies—and their deaths—offer us: reality, courage, and curiosity. I became a friend of “terminal,” facing the fear in order to begin with the end in mind. That is death’s lesson: it teaches us how to live.”

–This is an adapted excerpt used with permission from Dessert First: Preparing for Death While Savoring Life © Chalice Press, 2019, which releases this week. Learn more and purchase here.

As a pastor with 10 years of experience in ministry, I have not yet come across a resource quite like this. This book teaches individuals and families to put just much time into dying well as they do into living well. Dana gives practical tools and advice in how to be a “death doula” and aid your loved one in the dying process. She also shares an honest account of her grieving process which offers comfort to anyone who has lost a loved one. She shows in her grieving process that there is sadness and tears, but there is also laughter and hope.
Dana’s vulnerability, humor, and practical advice make this book a must read for anyone who is journeying with a loved one in the final stages of death, as well as those grieving their loved ones. It is also a helpful resource for pastors and for families who are going through this experience.
Everyone should by this book! It is an easy and insightful read that will benefit your life and the way you look at death.

It goes on sale today and you can buy it here.

dana trent
J. Dana Trent

Author Bio

The Rev. J. Dana Trent is a graduate of Duke Divinity School and professor of World Religions and Critical Thinking at Wake Tech Community College. An ordained Baptist minister and former hospital chaplain, she has been featured on Time.com, Religion News Service, Religion Dispatches, as well as in Sojourners and The Christian Century. Her fourth book, Dessert First: Preparing for Death While Savoring Life releases in September 2019 from Chalice Press. It chronicles lessons on life, death, and grief from the bedsides of the dying–including her mother. Dana is also the award-winning author of books on holistic wellness and multi-faith spiritual practices: One Breath at a Time: A Skeptic’s Guide to Christian Meditation ; For Sabbath’s Sake: Embracing Your Need for Rest, Worship, and Community ; and Saffron Cross: The Unlikely Story of How a Christian Minister Married a Hindu Monk. She is a certified group fitness instructor and teaches for the YMCA. She and her husband Fred are longtime vegetarians and live in Raleigh, NC, with their orange tabby cat.

“Shame Off You”

shame off you book
Continuing on in this series of lifting up other amazing writers whose voices I want to share with you, we come to “Shame Off You” by Denise Pass. I was blessed to work with Denise in my last appointment and since that time we have become very close.

The number one thing I appreciate about Denise is her faith and her authenticity. She loves the word of God is this is where she starts with her understanding for everything. Also she is unashamedly herself because she claims the person God has created her to be.

In her book, “Shame off You” she recounts various encounters in her life that caused her shame. She pairs these experiences with Scripture, reflection questions, and a prayer. Her book is for anyone who has held onto shame for any reason. It is all about letting go of our shame and holding on to God’s grace.

This book is especially helpful if you identify in the #metoo movement. Denise takes the pain of her past and shares her voice to give other people hope. If you are looking for hope and to release shame in your life, check out her book. It is great for individual reading and for a church Bible study.

You can purchase it here.

“Everything Happens For A Reason”

EVERYTHING HAPPENS BOOK COVER

After I attended the She Speaks Conference last month, I felt challenged to use my blog as more of a platform to uplift other voices. The late Rachel Held Evans inspired me by the way she did this so that more people in the world could hear amazing people called by God to share God’s message in a different way. I, too, feel the need to uplift these voices.

Over the next couple of weeks I will be uplifting some amazing women and their books in the hopes that you would be open to the message they have to share. This week, I wanted to start with “Everything Happens for a Reason and Other Lies I’ve Loved” by Kate Bowler.

New York Times Bestseller, Kate Bowler, the author of “Everything Happens For A Reason and Other Lies I’ve Loved” honestly reflects her experience of questioning God’s will in the midst of her suffering. Her soul piercing honesty, humor, and ability to hold onto her faith in the midst of great suffering make this book a fantastic read for anyone and everyone. It is a reminder to us all that community is a gift and that God is still with us in the midst of suffering.

If you have not already, I hope you will read this amazing book as I do feel like it will enrich your life. You can purchase it here.

This past six-weeks, The Rappahannock Charge UMC did a book study sermon series entitled: “Sticks and Stones: The Things We Say” using the lectionary scriptures and Kate Bowler’s book. We studied these phrases: 1) Love the Sinner Hate the Sin 2) You’ll Be in My Thoughts and Prayers 3) God Helps Those Who Help Themselves
4) The prosperity gospel (that week we used Kate’s other book “Blessed”) and 5) God won’t give you more than you can handle and 6) Everything Happens for a Reason. If you are interested you can find the sermons here.

What we found about these phrases is that most people think they are from the Bible, while in fact, they are not. Now there may be some remnants of the phrases that can be found in the Bible, and yet they have been taken out of context to support the phrase.

We talked about phrases that are more helpful to say…phrases that foster relationships and life. Here are a couple of phrases we talked about to use instead of the above phrases:

1) Love the Sinner Hate the Sin: We are all sinners in need of God’s redeeming grace and I believe God created you for a purpose.

2) You’ll Be in My Thoughts and Prayers: How can I pray for you right now? (and pray with that person or simply sit with them in silence)

3) God Helps Those Who Help Themselves: Everyone needs help sometimes, this is why we were created in community.

4) The prosperity gospel: Instead of being lured by the promises of wealth and success of the prosperity gospel, Christ is calling us to surrender our lives to God’s calling where we empty ourselves of our own desires so that others may come to know the love and grace of God.

5) God won’t give you more than you can handle: Christ will return in victory! In the meantime, we are called to shoulder each other’s burdens and rest in the presence of God.

6) Everything Happens for a Reason: God is with you through it all and I know God has not left you and I am here for you.

This has been a beautiful and edifying series as we learned to better care for one another in ways that are biblical. A special thank you to Kate Bowler for writing her book and for the many lives she will inspire and touch through her courage, honesty, and faith.

 

“You Will Be in My Thoughts and Prayers”

prayer hands 1

This Sunday, July 21, we will start the second week of our “Stick and Stones: The Things We Say” Sermon Series. More than any other week, I think all of us have said this phrase: “You will be in my thoughts and prayers.” I know that I have. We say this phrase to communicate with those we care about that we will continue to think about them and lift them in prayers of intercession. I also believe that when we say this phrase, we really mean it. We do think about our loved ones and we do pray for them.

Although the origin of this phrase is unknown, it gained momentum after the Columbine shooting in 1999.[i] It seems these were the only words we were able to utter as a nation after this unspeakable tragedy. In my study of this phrase, I also learned that it is uniquely American and not in other countries.[ii]

Although we do not know the exact origin, we can mark in history when there was a shift in how this phrase was being used and received. What happened was, when a school shooting would happen people would respond with this phrase, but after multiple shootings occurred in a short period of time, people started saying that thoughts and prayers were not enough, and that action needed to be taken to save future lives.

As we reflect on this phrase: “You will be in my thoughts and prayers,” we will see how Jesus Christ calls us to respond to our neighbors who are suffering.

I believe that the desire of our heart while using this phrase is to connect with those who are suffering. It is our attempt to show compassion. Kate Bowler, the author of “Everything Happens For A Reason and Other Lies I’ve Loved” gives us some additional examples in her book of actions we can take instead of saying these words.

When Kate was diagnosed with stage four colon cancer at age 35, she shared that people wanted to make meaning out of her diagnosis. They said many things to her including: “God has a better plan…At least you have you son…At least you’ve had an amazing marriage…God needed another angel.”[iii] Yet responses like this, as Kate reminds us, are not helpful to utter to someone who is suffering, nor are they biblical. Kate reminds us that there are better actions that can be taken while someone is suffering that will remind them of God’s presence and embody our identity as the community of God.

Our Gospel lesson from Luke 10 shows the relationship Jesus developed with Mary, Martha, and their brother Lazarus, and how later he responded to their suffering with compassion and action.

In Luke 10, we read once again the Scripture about the sisters Mary and Martha. This is probably a more familiar parable to us. Here we see type A Martha running around the house trying to make sure everything is perfect for Jesus. Then we see her type B sister Mary who sits at Jesus’ feet. Which personality type are you?

This Scripture sets the stage for us to see how Jesus was making disciples out of these two sisters with the relationship he was building with them and their brother Lazarus. This passage is important for what happens next.

We see that in this scripture Martha questions Jesus with a why question. “Why do you not care that my sister is not helping me?”[iv] Jesus told Martha not to worry about making everything perfect, but to spend time with him, just as Mary was doing.

Later in Scripture in John 11, we again see Martha questioning Jesus with a why question. “Why did you not come sooner?”[v] She was upset. She was grieving and looking at her personality from the other scripture, she was probably the one who had taken on the responsibility of the household to make sure everything was getting done after Lazarus had died. I think she was probably tired and stressed out too.

Martha had a lot on her shoulders, and she reached out to Jesus for help and she was upset that Jesus did not respond in the way she wanted and she made this known to Jesus. She told Jesus, “If you would have been here, my brother would not have died” (John 11:21).

Then we see how Jesus responded to Mary, who was grieving. Although Mary did not run to meet Jesus, Jesus called for Mary to come and see him…and she got up and went to see Jesus. What is also beautiful in this Scripture is that the community who was grieving with her came along. She was not alone; her community was with her.

Now Mary came to see Jesus, but she wasn’t particularly happy to see him. She said to him the same thing as her sister, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (John 11:32b).

It was when Jesus had this encounter with Mary, who so attentively sat at his feet the last time he visited, that he was moved deeply and began to weep.

Jesus response to suffering was to cry with those who were suffering. This is a completely appropriate and biblical response to those who are suffering. So often we think that we must be strong for the person suffering, and we are afraid to show our grief so as not to overshadow their grief, but Jesus calls us to grieve with those who are grieving, this is powerful action from Jesus. We also see this in the community’s communal grief as they sat with Mary.

This verse about Jesus crying is so comforting to us because it calls us to remember that Christ weeps with us when we are grieving. It also reminds us that instead of saying you are in my thoughts and prayers, we don’t have to say anything at all, but we can offer our presence. We can simply sit with those who are suffering and embrace them and cry. It’s okay to not know what to say.

In her book, Kate Bowler talked about the countless friends, colleagues, and family that held prayer vigils for her throughout her surgery and recovery. These prayer vigils were particularly meaningful as Kate experience the power of prayer and the love of God. She was floored that people were actively grieving with her about the news, and yet that they still had the audacity to pray for a miracle. They still held onto the hope and promise of new life that comes through our faith in Jesus Christ.

I know for myself; it was very moving for Nelson and I to receive card after card, from you, and from our family and friend when he was going through his cancer diagnosis and surgery. In that act of sending cards, we received mercy and compassion during a difficult time in our lives. We are thankful for the action of love you took toward us during that time in our lives.

It reminded me that the people of God are always looking for helpful and fruitful ways to respond to suffering and tragedy.

We see later in the book of John, after Jesus offered compassion to Martha and Mary, that he took action. He raised Lazarus from the dead. He showed that he could defeat death and foreshadowed what he was about to do a short time later.

The good news for our lives is that Jesus is calling us, like Mary, to come and rest in the presence of God. God is calling us to take action, although that action may look different than we had originally thought.

We too are called to take action in the midst of suffering and tragedy. Instead of using the phrase “You are in my thoughts and prayers” we are called to sit beside people during their grief and suffering. We are called to pray with them in person or over the phone.

There are also some additional helpful things we can do to journey with those who are grieving.

1) Find time to spend with the person who is grieving.

2) Pray for and with the person grieving. I understand that some folks are afraid to pray out loud in front of someone else, but perhaps, like Esther, God is calling you “for such a time of this,” to make yourself vulnerable in this action, so that the one you are caring for can benefit from this way you can spiritually care for them. Some of the most beautiful prayers I have ever heard are from congregation members.

2) Become the contact person for the family of those who wish to bring food as an expression of their love.

3) Talk about the loved one they have lost and that impact they made on your life.

4) As people lose their loved ones, they may need rides, or find comfort in having others come to appointments with them. In this way, we can be advocates for our loved ones and another set of ears as they are hearing about upcoming appointments and treatment options.

As a church may we continue to rest in the presence of God, like Mary, and be mindful of those who are suffering as we care for them. In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Prayer: Loving God, help us to respond to tragedy with compassion and grace. Help us in the times we don’t know what to say. Help us when we say hurtful things even when we have good intentions. Give us the strength to sit with those who are grieving and give us the fortitude to respond to those who are grieving through embodying your love. In the name of Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen. 

Endnotes

[i] https://www.dictionary.com/e/history-phrase-thoughts-prayers/

[ii] https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2017/10/thoughts-and-prayers-vs-policy/542076/

[iii] Kate Bowler. Everything Happens for a Reason and Other Lies I’ve Love. Random House Publishing. New York: NY, 2018. P. xvi.

[iv] NRSV. Luke 10:40.

[v] NRSV. John 11:21.

Additional Resource
Keck et al. The New Interpreter’s Biblical Commentary. Vol. IX. Abingdon Press. 1995. P. 227.

Image used with permission with subscription to ShareFaith.com.