Being Wise

Once upon a time I thought that I needed to know everything and tried to do that.  However, earlier in my life I also learned being an elementary school teacher that I didn’t have to know everything.  Of course, over time I have learned the difference between knowledge and wisdom.  Today, if I want to know something I often turn to “Google”.  If the answer isn’t there, I can make up my own and off we go, but I have to admit most knowledge (correct or not) can be found there.  Wisdom is not so readily available.

How often it seems much easier if we can get someone to give us the answer.  Having spent most of my life as a minister in the church, I have learned that people want to be told what to believe (at least they think they do).  Yet when I preached one of the greatest compliments I could receive was that of hearing that parishioners were not asked to check their brains at the door.  I often said that if someone has all of the answers, they haven’t asked all of the questions.

I have read somewhere that knowledge comes from filling one’s mind with information and data.  On the other hand, wisdom usually involves emptying one’s mind.  Sadly, I have learned that too many people walk around with lots of knowledge (or at least know where to get it), but wisdom is a rare commodity.

At its simplest wisdom can be called “common sense”.  But as someone commented, “It is too bad that common sense isn’t even common anymore.”  We live in a world that tends to value knowledge more than even common sense.  We listen more to those who claim to have the answers, rather than attempting to live our lives out of wisdom.

I read recently that the theologian Paul Tillich when accused of not answering a question he had been asked replied, “It is not my task to answer your questions. My task is to help you discover the right questions, so that the answer will become obvious to you.”  That is a wise statement.  (However, I am afraid now that too many politicians might say this when they want to avoid answering a question.)

What happens when a sense of wisdom conflicts with being truthful?  Life encourages us to be truthful but also kind and respectful. When asked “Do these jeans make look fat?” knowledge immediately sets our mind to work (no not really). Because we all know that wisdom tells us to be more respectful than even truthful.   No matter how smart we might be, it is better to be wise.

Wisdom does seem to come with age, but age is not the main factor.  How often have we heard the expression “Out of mouths of babes…”? Sometimes an infant may simply be telling the truth and sometimes it may hurt, but even then if we take the time to go beyond what we have heard and take the time to really listen, we may find the nugget of wisdom that we can use at another time.

To me, when I hear someone ask: “how can someone so smart do something so dumb” I realize that knowledge has once again fallen flat on its face and wisdom has gone unheeded once again.

 

Being on the Same Page

As a child growing up I often heard recited the adage that “sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me”.  At the time, I felt the adage true but have come to learn that names or words often hurt more than anything physical.  My bones will heal must faster than names/words that are used against me.  Of course, I am not alone in this matter. Far too often the wounds of name calling can last a life-time.

To make matters worse I have often heard the Bible (sometimes called the Good Book) used more as a weapon (sometimes quite literally) that causes harm rather than offering words of comfort.  In the movie “Saved”, Mary is considered a backslider and needs “saving”.   After being hit by a thrown Bible she turns to the thrower and says “This (the Bible) is not a weapon”.

I would like to say that such usages is a large part of the reason that many people have stopped attending worship, but I don’t think it is a much the words themselves as it is our understanding of the words.  One of the main reasons, I believe, that many folks are not keen on the church as an institution has to do with intolerance of those who think or look or even act differently.  Too often we are unwilling to think that because someone is different or differing views that they are wrong and we are right.

I experience this concept most recently when I listened to a sermon that was preached (the fourth in a series) entitled “Jesus was an Exclusionist”.  The gist of the message was that unless one accepted Jesus as Lord and Saviour and rejected any other there would be no being saved and if one is not saved there could be no admission to heaven.  I have to admit that I was at odds with the message right from hearing the title, but I plugged on.  When the sermon was finished I immediately had two questions come to mind.  (I am sure there were others but my mind could only handle two that day.)  The questions both had to do with how to understand certain words.  I wanted to know the speakers definition of the words “saved” and “heaven”.  I have to report that the speaker has yet to give me an answer.

The point I wish to make here is not that I was not given an answer by the preacher, but that definitions are often quite different.  I would not want to say that his (it was a man preacher) definitions are wrong. They are his. But does that mean that my understandings are not correct?  More than anything else I believe that our understandings are what cause us to turn away.

Some years ago now a book was published entitled: GOD: the Greatest User of Capital Letters and was sub-titled “A Modern Churchgoer’s Dictionary”.  The author (the Reverend Andrew Jensen) wrote many hilarious definitions about “churchy” words and things.  In the introduction talking about his reasons for the book we can read “Jensen introduces religious folks…through high exaggeration and double meaning, he helps us to view life in its proper perspective”.  When we fail to see “life” and meaning of even words from different perspectives we fail one another.

Recently I wrote an article that talked about the meanings or “religion” and “spirituality” and how they used to be virtually one and the same but have come to mean different things to different people.  The problem arises when we assume that there is only one way to understand any word.  We become like the cartoon that shows neighbours arguing each in their own yard.  One passer-by overhearing this argument says to his friend that they will never solve their problems because they are “arguing from different premises.  And so it is that before we even disagree with another and their view, we should be clear that we know about that which we are arguing.

 

Words are Powerful

 

There is an expression somewhere about making sure our brain is in gear before we engage our mouth, or as my mother used to tell me:  Think before you speak.  In this day of modern technology when our words are in the public sphere almost as quickly as we type them, such an idea of thinking first becomes even more important.  Yet so often the words are out there not only immediately, but often permanently. Something we said years ago can be brought easily to the fore.  Now, I am not justifying the use of previous statements as final thoughts because we are all allowed to change our minds.  But given the opportunity, it is my guess that many of us would have been better off if we had only thought about it first.

Yet, today, words and expressions that were considered once acceptable have become inappropriate and vice versa, some words once considered too vulgar to speak have become just another part of the vernacular.  The fact that we can now use just letters or even emojicons to express thoughts and feelings can also become inappropriate if not downright dangerous.  I mentioned in another article about asking about changing dates on something and the reply was simply “np”.  I read the comment to mean “nope” (having dropped the vowels) whereas the sender meant “no problem”.  I had read the response completely the opposite of its intention.

Since this particular article is due to be printed in November and December, I want to make reference to the upcoming Christian season of Christmas.   I do not have any difficulty when someone offers a greeting about the season.  Yet many people and places of government in particular as well as television are quite particular about not excluding non-Christians and so some will go to great lengths to not use exclusively Christian greetings.  Some folks don’t like to be told what they can and cannot say and get quite upset with this change. On the other hand, in some instances, I have found that some folks use the term “Merry Christmas” or “Season’s Greetings” without giving much thought to their words at all. Which is, as far as I am concerned, maybe even more problematic?

I began to wonder about greetings or phrases that become so rote for us that we utter them without thinking.  Though much has been written about not using “Christian” specific terms of greeting such as “Merry Christmas” in that it may be considered inappropriate if speaking to a non-Christian, sometimes the words are out of our mouths before we think. What seems to be a larger problem than uttering the words is what can happen next.  Instead of saying we are sorry, we might try to defend our right to use such terms.  And even though, it may be our right, we must ask ourselves whether or not we are truly defending a right or making an excuse for our not thinking before we speak.

Whether we like it or not, Christianity is not the l state religion of Canada – not that any religion should be, but we must be respectful of other faiths and those who profess no particular faith.  However, we must not “throw out the baby with the bath water”.  My faith teaches me to be respectful and a large part of that respect means thinking before I speak.  What do my words mean?  Do I want to say something inappropriate?

There is no doubt that words are powerful and the use of words can lead to acting on those words or making an attempt to at least giving ourselves justification for saying that which we said.  Some things that I have learned most out of thinking and speaking are:  words are impossible to take back; words don’t always get heard the way they were spoken (even less so when written); words are easily taken out of context; and we might claim that “sticks and stones” may hurt, words can hurt even longer.

 

Children and Grief

In recent years it seems as if children are being acknowledged for their own sense of personhood.  There was a time that children were considered to be “adults” in miniature in most ways except in the area of grief.  For a long time, children’s grief was not acknowledged probably because many adults felt it didn’t exist.  It is more likely however that a grieving child was ignored because adults didn’t know how to deal with the grief of a child.

We have learned over the years that children are more than little adults.  Too often children were considered “possessions” to be seen but not heard.  As such it was also assumed that they did not experience grief like an adult and as a result the attention needed by them was ignored or at least not seen for what it was.

Like many differences with adults children often grieve differently. (But then again, though grief is experienced by all, it also unique to each person).  Depending on the age of the child, they will experience grief differently from other children who may be grieving over the same loss.  Unfortunately, adults have not paid enough attention to a child’s needs to help them grieve in a way that is helpful for their development.

Because of the length of time that I first encountered my own understanding of the needs of children in these situations, I have lost the source of the information I have carried with me.  When dealing with a child who is experiencing grief, I have used the acronym C.H.I.L.D.as starting place in journeying with a child through their grief.

The “C” reminds me to “consider” the needs of the child first.  They are different but no less important than those of anyone else who is grieving.

“H” reminds me to be “honest” with the child.  Honesty means to tell the truth about what has happened.  Nothing could be more harmful to a child experiencing the death of a loved one, than to be told a falsehood even if it is intended to “lighten the blow”.  A good (or is it, bad) example would be to tell a child who is experiencing the death of parent that “God knows best” or “God needed her more, right now” or  “Grandpas has gone to sleep with the angels” or some such expression. Children can handle to true a lot better than we often give them credit.

“I” means that the child should be involved to the extent to which they feel comfortable. The degree of involvement will vary from child to child, situation to situation.  Let the child speak their needs.

The “L” is one the most important in any grieving situation, child or adult. As a caregiver, we need to “listen”.  Too often we feel the need to talk, to attempt to soothe the child by telling them what we know.  Instead of sharing our needs and answers we need to listen.

Lastly, “D” means we need to “do it all” again and again.

 

Children experience loss just like anyone else.  They need to be allowed to grieve.  They may also need help to do so, but they also must be allowed to set the agenda for it to happen in a healthy way.

Acknowledging the Deceased

 

I knew a man who said that the first thing he would read in the morning was the obituaries.  If he didn’t find his name he said he just went about his day.  I am assuming he was joking, but I have to admit that many people seem to read the obits.  Yet in a day and age when news travels fast, it seems to me that information about death seems to be slow than before.  I know that for one thing news about deaths travels more slowly due to privacy concerns.  In a small town in which I once lived, the funeral directors would place In Memoriam cards through the town.  That is no more.

But one thing that I am reading more and more in these obituaries is that people are requesting that “no services be held”.  Whenever, I read that no service (funeral, memorial, celebration of life) is to be held I can’t help but ask ‘why?’   I am sure that the request was made out of a sincere belief that their life was over, and that we should get on with ours. Yet, I can’t help but think about those who are left to grieve their loss.

There are likely many reasons for someone to choose that nothing be held following their death.  It may be purely financial, although it is a law requirement that a mortuary (funeral home) be contacted.  They will simply receive that deceased and await instructions as to what to do next.  There are many different options (and prices).   For these costs contact your local funeral director.  Especially in a small town, these knowledgeable people can be very helpful and generally are not going to use your vulnerability against you.  However, sometimes the vulnerability of guilt felt by loved ones can lead them to “go overboard” when it come to making necessary arrangements.

Sometimes the choice to “have no service” is a result of the idea that “funerals” belong to the church, and since more and more folks are no longer connected to a church, there is a sense that to have a funeral is not in keeping with their “beliefs”.  But funerals are not the property of any religious institution. Those who die with or without any connection to a church can have a service following their death.

I have to admit that personally, I am not a fan of having nothing (no service) after death.  Funerals are as much for the living as for the deceased.  I have known dying persons to attempt (and succeed) in using their impending death to help heal a family rift.  I have also been approached by the child whose mother had wished to have ‘nothing’ after her death.  Two or three weeks later, the daughter and other survivors felt something was missing from their lives.  They felt they needed to somehow honour the deceased yet do something for themselves.

Some folks may even have a celebration of their life while they are still alive of thinking that if people are going to say nice things about them, they want to hear it (and rightfully so). Yet, upon the death, there still needs to be something for the living.  They may need to say good-bye; they may feel the need to be with others who have known the deceased.  Whatever the reason there will always be a need.

Hope is Letting Go

 

Gerald May uses the expression of “naked hope” meaning that hope “is not tied to any particular end”.  This understanding of hope is often the opposite of that to which most of us seem to prescribe.  For the most part many of us like the idea of hoping in something, or hoping for a specific outcome.  Hope in this instance is little more than wishful thinking or wanting.  I hope I win the next lottery.

But what happens when that for which I have hoped is not realized.  When it comes to winning or not winning the lottery many of us can easier tell ourselves that there will always be next time. (A friend of mine also reminds me to buy a ticket.)  But what about those times when there isn’t a second chance (or third, or fourth…)?

Of course, the biggie in this life is often death.  When we are told of our own or a loved one’s terminal illness, we often begin hoping for any number of things.  We may hope for more time, or a cure, or a miracle.  Often, we even hope against hope itself (whatever that may mean).  Even when we are told that the only thing left is good care, we want something more. (Palliative Care often fights an uphill battle because no one really wants to be told nothing more can be done – for many in the medical field, death means defeat.  Others may feel that doing nothing is the same is giving up.

Neither of these views is true. Death is never the victor. I often have used the expression of “death coming mercifully as opposed to being a friend”. Neither is dying well a matter of giving up.  What we really need is as May has named “naked hope”.  We need to look at life without any expectations of a specific outcome.  I can’t help but wonder what would happen if we didn’t wait until the end of life for ourselves or others to start living this way.

Life is full of unexpected turns and twists.  Robert Frost talks about the importance of choosing the road less travelled, but we don’t always have to do that to find unexpected results.  We can also make life more difficult for ourselves when we refuse to accept that which comes our way. Now, I am not saying that we should just roll over and play dead.  There are times when we need to stand up and be heard (ideally, we can do that respectfully despite the fact that the opposite is found so much on social media). But the real name of the game is to deal with the situation in which we find ourselves in a positive way.  Harold Kushner wrote a whole book about dealing with life when “bad things happen to good people”.

The term “little death” has been used to talk about those times in life when we feel a huge loss (sometimes even retirement can be included here).  Regardless of the “death” little or large, how we deal with it becomes central to us.  If we get what we “hoped” for, than I suppose we should be happy, but even when we get a different outcome, we can still carry on.

Real hoping means being able to let go.

Ready for Death

While looking through some magazines the other day I ran across a couple of books that I had been thinking about purchasing.  The first was the The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning by Margareta Magnusson.  It is a book about going through one’s own “stuff” before death and getting rid of what you don’t need or want any more.  The idea behind such a “cleansing” is to make life easier on the loved ones left behind who usually have to sort through these things.  The other part of this cleaning is to clearly mark who will receive those things that often don’t get include in the Will.

Before my mother died, she distributed to her children those things that she felt each child would like to receive or maybe would appreciate the most.  Personally, I received a lot of books.  Some of these books had been my Grandfather’s.  Others were antiques and could be kept or sold.  Some were really worth very little if anything at all and were recycled.

At first I thought her efforts to make these offers to her children and grandchildren were too much.  Not too much in any dollars and cents way of thinking, but in a more morbid way.  She was preparing to die.

At the time I was likely shocked, but as I have come to study and learn about dying and death, I can see a real value in this exercise.  I have a box (a good-sized box) of old photos.  As I look through them as I have done occasionally, I recall the story behind each photo.  Then I ask myself if my children or grandchildren will know these stories.  Generally, they will not unless they are told.  Unless the photos are dated and people named they might mean more, but even that is questionable.  Fortunately today photos can be taken and categorized more easier, but are they?

Death cleaning is such a valuable exercise.

The other book that is of interest to me is entitled I’m Dead, Now What? by Peter Pauper Press.  This book is a resource type book that helps with our death cleaning.  Part of its introduction reads “This practical and not at all morbid book walks you through the important stuff: personal information, medical information, key contacts …personal wishes and last words.” Now, of course, it would be ideal if such matters were thoroughly discussed with loved ones before hand, but that rarely seems to happen.

I realize that very few of us care to discuss these types of issues, least of all with loved one.  Yet, as much as we might hope otherwise, death is going to happen to us all at some point.  Age is not a factor.  Our health may not be a factor either.  We have all known of someone who has “left this earth far too soon”, yet for some reason we put off preparing.  Even those who have a strong belief system that they are going to a better place may put off the inevitable.

We might claim that “life is uncertain, so eat dessert first”, yet how many of us really believe it?

Tough be Christian Today

 

 

In times of difficulty the old adage often quote is that “there are no atheists in foxholes”.  The author of such a statement is accredited to many different individuals. More importantly is that it suggests that when one is experiencing a struggle of some kind in one’s personal that is larger than oneself, the person will seek to find something or someone (God, a god) hopefully for deliverance beyond the present situation. It is being suggested then that everyone believes in something of another worldly kind.

Some individuals who have practised leadership within the Christian church have become self-described “atheists” which seems to be a double contradiction given their position of “minister” and the old adage.  Many have questioned how one can be a Christian and an atheist.  The two seem to be at odds to one another.  At least until the definitions are further explored.

Firstly, one asks:  what does it mean to be Christian?  The simplest answer seems to be that a Christian is one who believes Jesus is the Son of God, the Saviour of humankind. At the same time there are those Christians who profess to follow “the Jesus way” (showing love, compassion, empathy, inclusion to name a few of his qualities) who don’t feel the same about the man’s role in the world.  To quote Tim Rice from Jesus Christ, Superstar: “He’s just a man” with human not superhuman qualities. Between these two extremes lie the rest of those who call themselves “Christian”.

Just as the definitions of what it means to be Christian can and do vary, do can and does one’s understanding of what it is to be an atheist.  In its simplest meaning one assumes that an atheist is one who doesn’t believe in God.  However, the next question has to involve asking just what one means when the “God” is used.  As this writer has often said before, there are nearly as many images or understandings of God as there are people.  Is God anthropomorphized as an “old man with a long beard living in the sky”? Does knowing all things dictate events in the lives of humans?  Does God care about “all of creation” or have a human’s first policy? Is it God who intervenes in some lives and not others and on what criteria?  The list can seem endless if it isn’t.

A news media reported that a particular atheist minister didn’t believe in the Bible.  Of course, this should not be called “fake news”, but it does mean that further questions need to be explored.  What does it mean to believe “in the Bible”?  Once again the extreme understandings of this book can and do create all kinds of havoc with one’s belief system.  Do we read the Bible as the “literal” word of God, penned by human hands but totally directed by God (an outside force)?  Does one read a history of a people and how that people rejected Jesus, as the Christ?  Sadly, the Christian church can’t even agree on which writings should be included or excluded. There was even a time when the idea of translating the Hebrew and Greek into English was punishable by death.

It seems to this writer that we have given up exploring the questions far too soon to be able to make any bold statements. We seem to limit ourselves to our comfort zone and choose to go no further.  By some definitions I too would be considered an atheist.  Many are also turning from the religious institutions that limit one’s understandings and questions.  Too often I also hear the adage that “if one doesn’t stand (believe) for something, than you fall for anything”.   This adage seems only to be true when we accept a narrow definition of our beliefs.

Watching our Language

 

When growing up there was an old adage we used to sing about name calling.  We would sing that “sticks and stones can break my bones, but names will never hurt me”.  At the time we may have thought it to be true.  But nothing could be further from the truth.  Name calling is probably even worse than being pelted with sticks or stones.  The damage that occurs emotionally is every bit as that caused to us physically.

Definitely words that might even have once been used “innocently” (without a sense of malice or with a lack of understanding) can and do hurt.  I would not even think of using the “N” word.  More recently, the “R” has been added to my list.  Sadly, the “F” word has become very common place in today’s world.

Regardless, words used to describe another person as opposed to words that are just used for the sake of emphasis are important for us all to consider.  It is not a matter of political correctness not to call other people by derogatory names.  Rather, it has to do with respect.

Some believe that all creatures have the right to be respected, not just people, but animals and elements of our environment.  It goes without saying that if we can’t respect other humans that we will likely not be respectful of other elements.  I have also met people who find it easier to kinder to animals and plant life and even objects such as stones, that other people because of how we as humans have abused creation.

When asked we have found many excuses to explain away our sense of abuse.  Some will even play the religion card saying that the Bible tells us to have “dominion” over other creatures.  Of course, there is a great difference between dominion and abuse.  It was from the Spiderman movie that we are told:  “with great power comes great responsibility”.  To be given dominion over something calls for us to care for, to be good stewards and not use our power for our own good.

All of us are responsible for what happens to each other and all of creation.  Sadly, it seems to our leadership (often those elected) that they are torn between economics and ecology.  We need to do better at both.

 

Dying as Living

Musings:  It seems as if much has been written about end-of-life care and medical assistance in dying has been pitted again palliative care.  The concern seems to centre on whether or not people who have been classified as palliative are choosing to end their lives with medical assistance rather than letting life take its natural course.  Like most discussions, it seems as if both side of this argument have scientific facts to support their statements.

Those supporting the importance of palliative care may not so much be opposed to MAID (medical assistance in dying) as they are seeking more effort and money be offered to palliative care. There is no doubt that palliative care deserves more than it is now receiving. Yet I suppose that any and every medical department could claim the same.

Despite the fact that good palliative care costs much less than long term care (at least in hospitals), it still remains difficult to get appropriate funding.  As a result we have the apparent conflict between end-of-life care and MAID.

Personally, I have to say that MAID does not have to been in conflict with Palliative Care.  The idea that good palliative care can provide all that is need to the patient (and survivors) just isn’t the case.  There are times when not even good patient management does not relieve the patient from his or her suffering.  The patient cannot find comfort and may choose to ask for MAID.  At present the rules are very strict for these procedures that MAID is truly a last resort for the patient to find the comfort that is expected.

Today, as has been the case for a long time, we have and continue to find new ways to “continue” life.  Again and again, ways are sought to prolong life.  Some treatments come with a claim that without said treatment the prognosis for length of life would be much less.  However, these same treatments often don’t discuss the quality (or lack) of that life being extended.

The question as always is one of ethics and morality.  I was in agreement with a comment that once said that ethics involves what one should do (ethics) and what one would do (morals).  Until we begin to care about the end-of-life and belief that dying is every bit as important as living we will continue to struggle with these choices.