Suicide: The "Taboo" Topic

Pastor Mary’s Musings

Psalm 139: 13 For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14a I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made…”

 The Psalmist knew in the deepest reaches of his soul that in spite of his own character flaws and the troubles which surrounded him, he belonged to God, was beloved of God, and no matter what, was in the care of God’s tender mercies. This gave the writer courage to face the next obstacle, whatever it might be.

These ancient words can be encouragement for us when life overwhelms, when we feel alone and afraid, when there seems to be no end in sight to the current difficulties. But sometimes, when things are really hard, the line of hope that connects us to God and each other becomes so thin and frayed that it snaps completely. Tragically, this can lead an individual to make the decision to end their own life, leaving confusion, chaos and grief in the lives of those left behind. 

Death by suicide is not new to human kind. But new awareness of the devastating effects of unsuccessfully treated mental illness comes about when the headlines bring it to our attention. And when it touches our family and our community, it is important to address it head on so that healing has a chance.

So first off: Depression is a treatable illness. It is NOT a character flaw. It is NOT a sin! (Neither is any other mental illness, by the way!) Many have found that with patience, perseverance and the proper medical and mental health care, depression can be managed even lifted. So if you are feeling suicidal, please, reach out for help. Call 911, call the American Foundation for the Prevention of Suicide: 800-273-8255 or text 741741. You are not beyond help. There is hope. The promise in Psalm 139: 10   “even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.” No matter how dark or distant the journey seems, God is with you each step of the way! God loves you and wants you to be well.

Secondly: If you have lost a loved one to suicide: IT IS NOT YOUR FAULT! Ultimately people make their own decisions. Sometimes, they have purposely hidden their plans from their loved ones. Sometimes, for whatever reason, they refuse help that is offered. Sometimes, we didn’t “miss the signs.” The signs weren’t necessarily there to see.  There is help for you as well, in your grief. One organization with people who understand is Friends for Survival. 800-646-7322. There is also NAMI, National Alliance on Mental Illness. 800-950-6264.

That being said – few people throw the word “suicide” around in jest. If someone you know uses that word with reference to themselves, or even hints around at it, please take it seriously. You won’t put a new idea into someone’s mind if you ask, “Are you seriously contemplating suicide?” If they aren’t, it will put your mind at rest. If they are, you have let them know you care, and can point them towards helpful resources. If necessary, you can call 911 yourself. Remember, we can be loving and supportive, but most of us aren’t professional councilors (and even professionals don’t “treat” family and friends!). Our role in such times is not to “fix” others, but support and love them on their journey towards healing.

One other thing: We know that the mental health care system in our country and our state is broken. It isn’t funded properly or staffed adequately. There are gaps in insurance that can make health care unaffordable and unattainable. The only way to begin to fix this is to contact our legislators and let them know the needs. Vote. Become part of organizations that advocate for mental health. Don’t remain silent in the face of ignorance and apathy. Jesus said we are to care for “the least of these.” We can’t care if we choose to look the other way.

Suicide is a tragic and fatal symptom of a terrible illness that hasn’t been successfully treated. Suicide does not define a person’s life or character any more than does cancer or diabetes or heart disease. We are each defined by the love God has for us. We are defined by Jesus’ love and forgiveness. We are defined by the fact that we are part of God’s “very good” creation, and that we are fearfully and lovingly made. In Christ, let us help each other take courage in that promise, and live to his glory!   AMEN.

In his peace,

Pastor Mary

Summer musings

Pastor Mary’s Musings

I Corinthians 3: 7,9: “So neither the one who plants, nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. For we are God’s servants, working together; you are God’s field….” 

Of course, Paul wasn’t talking about real plants; he was talking about the congregation’s spiritual (and, yes, numeric) growth. But this time of year, as I look at my garden and see sprouts and vigorous plants in all my raised beds and pots, it is easy to see the similarities between church and agriculture. 

In a really productive garden, there is not simply one planting, then stop and wait.  The grower plants seeds and crops in season successively. Thus, when some plants are coming ripe, other seeds go in the ground. The harvest is extended, both how long fruits can be gathered, as well as the variety of food available. For example, in my own yard, while tomatoes are only blossoms, and beans are only sprouts, I have been enjoying peas, rhubarb, chard & kale for several weeks. I can’t enjoy all the fruit all at once, but there is the promise of moving from one as it wanes, to the next as it comes in season. But just because I planted the seeds, doesn’t mean I get full credit for the harvest. I did not send the rain, create the soil, or engineer the DNA that allows a shriveled seed to know, once buried in the ground and watered, whether it will be a sunflower or a zucchini or a bean or a carrot. I can only plant and trust God at work in the growth and harvest. Occasionally, some specific crops disappoint, the weather doesn’t co-operate, the bugs get more than their share – but I usually have enough of some portion of the crop that not only do I enjoy it, I have some to share.

            The church to which Paul was writing had been arguing over whose “Christianity” was most authentic, based on the particular person by whom they had been baptized.  Paul dismisses that premise for conflict, by basically reminding them that, church wasn’t /isn’t about them. It is about God.  It isn’t what we do that makes worship or congregation valid, but what God has done in and through worship (forgiveness of sins in the sacrament, promise of divine presence) that makes church holy.

            That being said, we are not exempt from participation in the process once the seeds are planted! Paul wasn’t suggesting folks sit around waiting for something to happen! Simply that while they (we) work, we trust God for the results, rather than trying to force them, or take credit for them ourselves.  Then, when the results begin to take place – we still have cause to rejoice!

            God is also growing fruits of the Spirit here and we get to share in them, then share those fruits with others. Whether it is Bible studies, worship and music, thefood bank, quilting, or "just plain fellowship," it is always exciting to wait expectantly for the harvest the Spirit will bring! All are welcome to share in this joy --  including you! 

            Your fellow gardener for Christ,

Pastor Mary

Thoughts on Holy Week and Easter

Luke 24:1-12    1 But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. 2 They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3 but when they went in, they did not find the body. 4 While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. 5 The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, "Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen!

After this, Luke tells us that when the women told the rest of the disciples, those who had not been there considered their witness to be “an idle tale”.  For the past 200 years or so, many who hear the story of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection cannot believe it to be anything other than an idle tale. Yet, this is the message we proclaim! Not only do we proclaim it to be true – we insist that somehow this truth impacts our life, as well as all of creation.  A pretty bold statement, to be sure.  How do we make the connection between Jesus and the needs of a world 2000 years later? Why does this message make a difference?

These are questions the church attempts to answer all of the time, but during the season of Lent, followed by Holy Week (Passion /Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday and Good Friday), we try to tell the story most clearly. Through the readings, the sanctuary art, the hymns of the season help us reflect on these things:

  1. That God’s creation was “very good” and that God had a special role for human kind within creation. This role included being in an intimate, loving and obedient relationship with our Creator.

  2. Stubborn, willful, we decided we could do better on our own, so we wandered off from God, separating ourselves from him. That state of separation is what we in the church call “sin.” Because we live in that separation, our actions and our attitudes often (always?) fall short of God’s intent for us.  Guilt drives us even further from our Lord.

  3. This doesn’t sit well with a God who loves us beyond our capacity to comprehend. Refusing to be separated from us, God took on flesh in Jesus Christ, became one of us, submitted to human sin – dying because of that sin -- in order to bridge the gap we ourselves made. We call this gap-bridging, “forgiveness of sins.”  This is the good news to which we bear witness, for our own sake, for each others’ sake and for the sake of the world.

    But why does this make a difference? A partial answer is this: that when we experience forgiveness on such a divine scale, we are freed from trying to hide our sin from God. All of the energy & effort we have spent covering up our failures, hiding from consequences, justifying our behavior to ourselves and others – is now available for other things! Good things! God pleasing things! Things like: care of creation; seeing to the well being of those who are hungry, homeless or hurting in anyway; proclaiming to others who haven’t heard of God’s forgiving heart, that it is there for them as well.  As we are empowered by the Holy Spirit, such things become our privilege, our joyful duty.

                Of course, we need to be reminded from time to time, when the cares of the world, even our joyful duties become too large a burden on our hearts. Thus, the gift of worship: God’s gift to us; our gift in response to God. A dance of Holy Joy. So come – come to worship as often as you can to experience the dance. Come to the feast – take the song from this place to those who still long to hear. And, I encourage you to experience the whole story:  Begin with the contemplative tones of Lent, followed by the powerful rumblings of thunder and rolling stones of Holy Week. All of this, so that the crescendo of Resurrection explode in our hearts with delight! Then, we’ll be able to declare with all of the hosts of heaven: Christ has risen! He has risen indeed!


     Pastor Mary

This Preacher and Politics

It certainly is no surprise that with November elections just around the corner, political debates rage hotly. Candidates, not content to debate the issues on their own merits, resort to character assassination and name calling. Social media is ablaze with pictures of angry politicians, and overly simplistic memes supporting various views. The whole political atmosphere has a tendency to make folks heart weary, cynical, anxious or apathetic – or some combination of those things.

 And while Christians aren’t “of” this world, we are certainly in it, and we are both affected by the politics of our times, and also called to affect them through living and voting informed by our faith. 

So, what do 21st century U.S. Christians do when it comes to social and cultural issues, that are also matters of faith  and living? How does a Lutheran preacher, who likely pastors congregants spanning the entire political spectrum, speak to such heavily weighted issues as: (no special order!)

·        Gun control

·        Immigration

·        Marriage equality

·        Divorce

·        Abortion

·        School bonds

·        Human rights

·        Climate change

·        Living wage proposals

·        Voter registration requirements

·        Public assistance programs

·        Potty privileges

·        Transportation issues/ bus, etc.

·        Prison reform

·        Mental health care

·        Defense budgets.

·        Violence in homes and streets.

·        Racism

·        Ageism

·        Sexism

·        Foreign Policy

·        Economic issues 

Like many of you, I have strong opinions on some of these issues. I find others quite complicated, and many of them are interlinked. The only way I know to link my faith with my political practice is to prayerfully, and as fully informed as possible,  both by world events and my understanding of scripture, exercise my right to vote.

 As far as ministry goes, I will never tell a congregation who or what to vote for from the pulpit. I will however, frequently point out that when biblical prophets spoke of “justice”  it was usually w/ regard to economic stability for the poor,  and proper treatment of widows, orphans & foreigners.

I don’t hesitate to note that Jesus pointed to God through his acts of healing, forgiveness and inclusion of the outcast. You will often hear me say that Christ showed us that relationships are more important than rules. And I will strongly encourage every voting eligible person to prayerfully consider the issues and exercise one’s right to help change the community and the world we live in for the better.

 Over time, some people have taken risky personal & public stands, because they perceived that their faith in God both called them to it, and gave them strength for it. Their willingness to be agents of change, has indeed tilted the world: Jackie Robinson, MLK Jr., Mother Teresa, Rosa Parks, etc.

What the Holy Spirit calls each of us to might not be as public, or as extravagant, but may still feel risky to us. It might look like politely refusing to ignore the racism of a beloved cousin’s not so funny joke. Or voting to tax ourselves in an already stretched economy, in order that our children and grandchildren and our neighbor’s kids have food security, a decent education, and adequate health care. Maybe it is welcoming the marginalized, who for whatever reason, had previously found church and church people to be hostile and unsafe to be around.  

Whatever it is, we remember human efforts matter, and that we are called in Christian freedom to be of service to our neighbor in order to bear witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is both our duty and our joy to do so.  

However, we must also remember it is not our efforts that will bring ultimate healing to the world.  Our efforts merely point to Jesus. It is Jesus himself who promises to make all things new!  And in fact, what he does is not turn the world upside down, but turns a wonky world upside right again!

 So my friends, exercise your rights: vote. And exercise your hearts: vote according to the love you know Jesus has for all. Then, whatever happens, trust God to be with us through it all!

Pastor Mary's Musings

Pastor Mary’s Musings

Luke 10:2  He said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.

 It is that time of year again! God, in his abundant provision, has seen to it that the fruits of the fields and the orchards and our gardens are beginning to ripen. All at once, it seems!  And even though I myself planted rather haphazardly, nonetheless, I have found myself gathering in more tomatoes, squash and greens than I can eat while fresh. Additionally, I have been generously gifted with some excess from others’ fruit trees! So, not only must the food be harvested, it must be prepared and preserved so that it is available for the garden’s winter rest. So, in between laundry, family time, and on-going ministry, the canning pots have been bubbling, the dehydrator blowing, and the freezer freezing. We will be able to taste the Lord’s goodness all winter in my house, and still have some to share.

 Well, it is no different in the church! The Lord is causing great things to grow and come to fruit right here at United Lutheran Church, and it might be so much as to feel overwhelming. Being heaped on our spiritual table are even grander ministry opportunities AND ideas for how to fund them. These ministry and funding ideas go beyond the generous and sacrificial offerings of our own church family, and will be inviting many others in the community to participate in the harvest for the sake of the Gospel and the future of those we serve.

 I am so excited by all the potential we have for inviting others to “taste and see the goodness of God!” (Psalm 34:8)  Yet, we all know that what some experience as exciting, others experience with anxiety. This is understandable. But it isn’t helpful to dwell on the fear. While excitement and urgency can spawn creativity and action, anxiety and fear have the opposite effect. They can shut down useful action and paralyze us spiritually, intellectually and practically.  Sometimes, well-meaning comments inadvertently trigger fear. When this occurs, how do faithful Christians respond? A faithful response could come from of God’s own Word on the matter. We remember that part of the purpose of the fellowship of the believers is expressed in Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians (5:11): to “encourage one another and build up each other.”

            We can help do this by following Paul’s instructions to the Philippians: “Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”( 4:8) When we are caught up in what is true and pure and otherwise positive, we’ll be less likely to drown in a whirlpool of the negative. After all, as Paul reminds us in II Timothy, “God did not give us a Spirit of timidity, but of but rather a spirit of power and of love.”

 The true key, of course, is not that we are focusing on “The Power of Positive Thinking,” but rather, we focus on the Source of our power: Jesus, whose Spirit is our gift in baptism. When we keep our eye on JESUS, when we ignore all voices but the Voice of our Shepherd, we cannot lose our way! And we will be provided with all we need to do what he calls us to do! And for this, we rejoice and give thanks!

 In His Service,

Pastor Mary!