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Suicide. Grace. God.

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genieIt’s hard to say goodbye to someone who has been an integral part of the American experience for so many years, and yet someone the vast majority of us did not really know. Robin Williams was a comedic genius who gave us so many voices to enjoy. He could make us laugh with only a facial expression, but when he opened his mouth, and who knew what was going to come out, we would all be giddy and goofy with anticipation. What a soul! He will be missed in this life, and cherished and loved for his gifts.

He was also a human being, and had all the flawed brokenness that is so endemic to our daily struggle. Like many others, he was not immune to depression because of money, fame or success. Probably the money, fame and success were some of the things that could exacerbate his depression. I’m not doctor, so I don’t speak from medical training. I’m just someone who has grappled with depression my entire life, and I can relate to the reality of the best times bringing on the worst. If you have asked, “How could he be depressed with all the money and fame?” then you’re probably not someone who has struggled with chronic depression. For you this could an opportunity to realize how difficult it has been for that friend or family member to deal with their depression. It defies logic. It is very real. It is not chosen.

So while we mourn and look around and listen to one another, there were a few things I’m not always hearing and I wanted to make sure got clearly said…

1) Depression doesn’t separate you from God’s love. No one should assume that struggling with chronic depression is in any way necessarily an indicator that someone has rejected God, lost God’s love or is trying to live life without God. There is no scriptural basis for that kind of judgment or condemnation.

2) Depression is never bigger than God’s grace and love. That goes for anyone who attempts suicide, succeeds at suicide or is a survivor left by a loved one who commits suicide. To be reminded that God’s grace is bigger than suicide is not to say that suicide is ok. Suicide is painful, hurtful and devastating for the survivors. And yet, suicide also flows from some of the deepest pain and anguish that we carry as humans. As our hearts are moved and made raw by the anguish of suicide, can we believe that the heart of God is any less moved? There’s no scriptural basis for saying that suicide is an instant separation from God… that’s a traditional teaching that needs to be corrected.

3) Beware the isolation. I’m not speaking here specifically to Robin Williams’ experience, but in a broader sense… don’t go it alone. Chronic depression and the feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness and shame that it engenders will move you to separate yourself from others. Please don’t. Seek people. Start with a doctor who can help you determine if there’s a medical need that requires treatment, and get with a healing community… your friends, family, church, synagogue, temple, mosque, etc.

4) Don’t help isolate people who are depressed! Please, don’t turn away from someone who is struggling with a depression that you don’t understand. Help create a community of hope and healing where you live. Read, study and pray to be prepared to be a healing presence for someone in need. Be prepared to love and to help as much as someone will let you.

5) For my fellow followers of Christ, if a “Christian” blogger or group speaks of suicide in a judgmental, accusatory fashion, lacking the grace and love we expect from Jesus, then for the love of Jesus DO NOT SHARE THAT BLOGGER! Why is it that the worst opinions and perspectives I have seen on the death of Robin Williams have been from “Christian” groups? This is not as it should be, and the solution is ours to enact. I refuse to link to them and expand their influence by sharing their hate and/or ignorance, even to refute and disown their words. Please, please, please be discerning.

If you’re up against that wall, when depression and it’s crippling grip have a hold, I’m yours. Email me, ok? We’ll chat. I’ll give ya my email, in code so the spammers can’t get in the way… it’s reserve7 @ gmail. com. Squish that together without the spaces and you got me. We’ll walk some road together. If you don’t like me, find someone else! We’re in this together.

“But no matter what comes, we will always taste victory through Him who loved us. For I have every confidence that nothing—not death, life, heavenly messengers, dark spirits, the present, the future, spiritual powers, height, depth, nor any created thing—can come between us and the love of God revealed in the Anointed, Jesus our Lord.”
Romans 8:37-39

AMDG, Todd

For some, there are days that are hard earned, when holding on takes every bit of faith and hope… celebrate the victory! Luka Bloom celebrates that in his song, You Survive.

Here are a few other resources…

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, call 24/7: (800) 273-8255

Suicide Hotlines by State

Crisislink

The Trevor Project for our LGBTQ youth,

and for our veterans… Veterans Crisis Line.

I Want to Be Your Pastor Because You Intrigue Me

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napowrimo april 2 2014.pngI want to be your pastor because you intrigue me. Sounds kinda selfish when I say it like that, huh? But it’s the best way to say it. I’m interested in you, your story, your likes and dislikes, your talents and your experiences. And I’m willing to listen.

There’s an outward movement in Christian spirituality that comes directly from the teaching of Christ and certain Pauline texts which push the envelope on being aware of the people around you. Jesus teaches a “neighborliness” in Luke 10:25-37 that has nothing to do with proximity or gain, but everything to do with seeing needs and moving outside my own wants to serve others, being aware and not just passing by other people’s lives. Paul follows up with a lot of statements about caring about one another, but my favorite is found in Philippians 2:1-11, Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.”

We miss something very important to being human and being a Christian when our religion and spirituality lead us to tell others what to be interested in more than listening to what interests them. 

Now, I will at times fail at this very thing I believe so deeply. There will be times I’m caught up in being busy, and I will fail. There will times that I am so interested in my own interests, so excited to tell you what I’m thinking, that I will fail… I am a “preacher” after all.

What I ask, no… what I invite you to do is break in on me. Maybe even, well… shush me. Just do it with some grace and some love. Give me a chance to hear you and understand. I might be distracted some days, but I still want to get to know you.

Please be you, and I’ll try to be me. When we get the authenticity right God’s amazes us, and I’m excited to see where we might go. It’s always been our struggle, to quit bringing God some manufactured gift, some consolation prize, instead of the reality of our open selves, “Open my lips, Lord, and my mouth will declare your praise. You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.” Psalm 51:15-17.

If I can serve you today, as a pastor and a friend, just let me know.

AMDG, Todd

I Want To Be Your Pastor Because I Need You

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community is needfulIndeed, I need you. I’ve grown up with various ways of expressing an old idea that each of us has “a God-shaped hole in our soul” that draws us to the divine. It’s been expressed in various ways from Augustine of Hippo in the 4th Century, Pascal in the 17th Century and our beloved C.S. Lewis in the 20th Century. I’ll let you do the Google work if you really want the quotes, but watch out for the misquotes! =)

It’s also a biblical idea that rings though in lots of scriptural passages like Acts 17 when Paul recognizes the religious nature of the people of Athens and in various bits of Ecclesiastes. Some have also linked teachings of Jesus to the idea, such as the “well of life-giving water” from within that he promises. And of course, it’s been sung, and sung and sung, by many in our lifetime.

Ok. I don’t have much of a complaint about that idea and have in fact felt an anecdotal affirmation of it in my own life. Yes, I have tried to walk away from faith, often to simply give myself some distance, but always have been inexorably pulled back. My doubt has always been as strong as my faith. I rest in a great tradition of faithful doubters involved in sacred vocation, Matthew 28:16-20. Still, I think there’s just as valid an idea and truth in these words: In each of us there is a need of one another that cannot be safely denied, completely ignored, or fully satisfied in anything but community.

In each of us there is a need of one another that cannot be safely denied,
completely ignored, or fully satisfied in anything but community.

There are many scriptural passages and themes that support this idea, and I’m happy to lay out a few that illustrate our need of one another and the value of practicing good community, found especially in the life of Jesus and community of the early disciples: Psalm 133; Micah 6:8; Matthew 5:13-16, 21-26, 43-48; Matthew 7:1-6; Matthew 22:34-40; John 11:1-44; John 13:1-20; Romans 13:8-10; Romans 14; Galatians 5:13-26; Ephesians 4:1-16; Colossians 3:1-17; and 1 John 4:7-21. And now think of the “communal correctives” embedded in the Ten Commandments and the teaching on prayer by Jesus: Exodus 20:1-17 & Matthew 6:5-15.

When I say I need you I really do mean it. We share life and we share caring, and that doesn’t lessen my value or expressiveness as an individual, but enhances and enlarges it. Yes, we are capable of doing community badly, but that doesn’t mean we no longer need community. The vast majority of religious moral and ethical ideas cannot find any fruition without our neighbor. And likewise, I believe that the deepest spiritual fulfillment, giving and receiving love, is also found with others.

I need you to give and receive love with me. My chosen vocation means that I am going to do everything in my human abilities to make that exchange pure and up-building. Pastors are never perfect, but in community, we find a rhythm of life and love that helps us share well. I’ll need your grace and your forgiveness at times. And you’ll have mine. I cannot be fully realized as a person, either religiously or spiritually, without you.

This is all exciting, scary and endlessly promising! And though it’s not always easy, community is always needful. Talk and I’ll listen. Share and I’ll hold your truths in confidence. Struggle and I will struggle along with you. Face victory and I’ll dance alongside you.

Life is ours.

AMDG, Todd

mother teresa of calcuttaP.S. And I love, love, LOVE me some Mother Teresa of Calcutta. She has a couple of a quotes that have become very dear to me, often shared and never old…

“Today, if we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”

And the Simple Path of Mother Teresa: “The fruit of silence is prayer, the fruit of prayer is faith, the fruit of faith is love, the fruit of love is service, the fruit of service is peace.”

Nov. 24, 2013 Civility in Xian Scripture

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pain of incivilityNovember 24, Incivility can truly be the end of us.

Galatians 5:15, “If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.”

By the way, please excuse my silly graphic, today.

When I was growing up in church, in my little slice of the world, there was definitely a lot more emphasis placed on being right than on love. In fact, unfortunately, love could be withheld on grounds of someone’s doctrinal correctness. It’s not that there weren’t mavericks who did dare to love, even to love the people with questions and shaky doctrines, because there were! Thank goodness for me!

I’m going to always agree that we should strive to have a good understanding of doctrines and treat right knowledge and thinking with it’s due respect, but correct doctrine is never lauded as the sum of the entire Law. Love, and it’s consistent expression, is. Here with the Galatians St. Paul echoes the summary of religious Law similar to the way Jesus summed it up (Matthew 22:34-40) a few years before him, and it’s worth seeing that passage expanded a bit:

Galatians 5:13-15  “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.”

We are called to be free agents, but with a choice. Our free will can be used to serve ourselves and our own wants and needs, or we can use our own free agency in humble service to one another, choosing paths that could mean the life or death of our communities and relationships. It sounds rather dramatic, but I have found it to be true. Biting and devouring the people around you is a sure fire way to be the last one standing. Call that a win if you’d like, but it sounds lonely and defeated to me.

Civility calls us to building others up and meeting their needs by word and action, as does our love and freedom. So maybe civility is the responsible expression of freedom? I think that when we choose an uncivil path, one of judging and not loving, or as Paul so poetically puts it, as one of biting and devouring one another, we can expect to be consumed in the end. We may be free while tearing and biting, and having a bit fun and filling our bellies, but that freedom is being squandered, and it’s ultimately lost in the demise of our relationships and connections.

AMDG, Todd