Sunday, February 22, 2015

How will you die?

I grew up with Dr. Death. To be truthful, I was in college, but it seemed like he was always in the news.  Jack Kevorkian pushed the idea of physician assisted suicide at a time when no one was talking about it.  It was a one man crusade and he paid dearly for it.

The idea seemed so foreign that a physician would help a person die or aid the dying.

The Senate Judiciary Committee in Hartford is now considering a bill that authorizes aid in dying and will hold a public hearing in the coming weeks.

I have been thinking about this and these articles have been part of my reading:

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/jul/12/desmond-tutu-in-favour-of-assisted-dying
Desmond Tutu: a dignified death is our right – I am in favour of assisted dying. The manner of Nelson Mandela's prolonged death was an affront. I have spent my life working for dignity for the living. Now I wish to apply my mind to the issue of dignity for the dying


http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/10/12/on-her-own-terms-why-brittany-maynard-has-chosen-to-die.html

Gene Robinson: On Her Own Terms: Why Brittany Maynard Has Chosen to Die - The athletic 29-year-old got a Stage 4 brain cancer diagnosis. So rather than lose her dignity, she’s ending her life. On November 1.
www.nytimes.com/2015/02/19/opinion/oliver-sacks-on-learning-he-has-terminal-cancer.html
A MONTH ago, I felt that I was in good health, even robust health. At 81, I still swim a mile a day. But my luck has run out — a few weeks ago I learned that I have multiple metastases in the liver. Nine years ago it was discovered that I had a rare tumor of the eye, an ocular melanoma. Although the radiation and lasering to remove the tumor ultimately left me blind in that eye, only in very rare cases do such tumors metastasize. I am among the unlucky 2 percent.

I feel grateful that I have been granted nine years of good health and productivity since the original diagnosis, but now I am face to face with dying. The cancer occupies a third of my liver, and though its advance may be slowed, this particular sort of cancer cannot be halted.
 
I have been increasingly conscious, for the last 10 years or so, of deaths among my contemporaries. My generation is on the way out, and each death I have felt as an abruption, a tearing away of part of myself. There will be no one like us when we are gone, but then there is no one like anyone else, ever. When people die, they cannot be replaced. They leave holes that cannot be filled, for it is the fate — the genetic and neural fate — of every human being to be a unique individual, to find his own path, to live his own life, to die his own death.
www.nytimes.com/2013/11/20/your-money/how-doctors-die.html
BRAVE. You hear that word a lot when people are sick. It’s all about the fight, the survival instinct, the courage. But when Dr. Elizabeth D. McKinley’s family and friends talk about bravery, it is not so much about the way Dr. McKinley, a 53-year-old internist from Cleveland, battled breast cancer for 17 years. It is about the courage she has shown in doing something so few of us are able to do: stop fighting.

This spring, after Dr. McKinley’s cancer found its way into her liver and lungs and the tissue surrounding her brain, she was told she had two options.

“You can put chemotherapy directly into your brain, or total brain radiation,” she recalled recently from her home in suburban Cleveland. “I’m looking at these drugs head-on and either one would change me significantly. I didn’t want that.” She also did not want to endure the side effects of radiation.

What Dr. McKinley wanted was time with her husband, a radiologist, and their two college-age children, and another summer to soak her feet in the Atlantic Ocean. But most of all, she wanted “a little more time being me and not being somebody else.” So, she turned down more treatment and began hospice care, the point at which the medical fight to extend life gives way to creating the best quality of life for the time that is left.
http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2011/11/30/how-doctors-die/ideas/nexus/
Years ago, Charlie, a highly respected orthopedist and a mentor of mine, found a lump in his stomach. He had a surgeon explore the area, and the diagnosis was pancreatic cancer. This surgeon was one of the best in the country. He had even invented a new procedure for this exact cancer that could triple a patient’s five-year-survival odds–from 5 percent to 15 percent–albeit with a poor quality of life. Charlie was uninterested. He went home the next day, closed his practice, and never set foot in a hospital again. He focused on spending time with family and feeling as good as possible. Several months later, he died at home. He got no chemotherapy, radiation, or surgical treatment. Medicare didn’t spend much on him.

It’s not a frequent topic of discussion, but doctors die, too. And they don’t die like the rest of us. What’s unusual about them is not how much treatment they get compared to most Americans, but how little. For all the time they spend fending off the deaths of others, they tend to be fairly serene when faced with death themselves. They know exactly what is going to happen, they know the choices, and they generally have access to any sort of medical care they could want. But they go gently.

Of course, doctors don’t want to die; they want to live. But they know enough about modern medicine to know its limits. And they know enough about death to know what all people fear most: dying in pain, and dying alone. They’ve talked about this with their families. They want to be sure, when the time comes, that no heroic measures will happen–that they will never experience, during their last moments on earth, someone breaking their ribs in an attempt to resuscitate them with CPR (that’s what happens if CPR is done right).
http://newoldage.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/12/30/when-doctors-face-death/

Supplemental...

http://www.courant.com/politics/hc-catholic-church-right-to-die-20150220-story.html

http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/npr-host-diane-rehm-emerges-as-a-key-force-in-the-right-to-die-debate/2015/02/14/12b72230-ad50-11e4-9c91-e9d2f9fde644_story.html

The Great Litany

This was said at the beginning of the service - the first Sunday of Lent...

O God the Father, Creator of heaven and earth,
Have mercy upon us.

O God the Son, Redeemer of the world,
Have mercy upon us.

O God the Holy Spirit, Sanctifier of the faithful,
Have mercy upon us.

O holy, blessed, and glorious Trinity, one God,
Have mercy upon us.

Remember not, Lord Christ, our offenses, nor the offenses
of our forefathers; neither reward us according to our sins.
Spare us, good Lord, spare thy people, whom thou hast
redeemed with thy most precious blood, and by thy mercy
preserve us, for ever.
Spare us, good Lord.

 
From all evil and wickedness; from sin; from the crafts
and assaults of the devil; and from everlasting damnation,
Good Lord, deliver us.


From all blindness of heart; from pride, vainglory,
and hypocrisy; from envy, hatred, and malice; and from all want
of charity,
Good Lord, deliver us.


From all inordinate and sinful affections; and from all the
deceits of the world, the flesh, and the devil,
Good Lord, deliver us.


From all false doctrine, heresy, and schism; from hardness
of heart, and contempt of thy Word and commandment,
Good Lord, deliver us.


From lightning and tempest; from earthquake, fire, and
flood; from plague, pestilence, and famine,
Good Lord, deliver us.


From all oppression, conspiracy, and rebellion; from
violence, battle, and murder; and from dying suddenly and
unprepared,
Good Lord, deliver us.


By the mystery of thy holy Incarnation; by thy holy Nativity
and submission to the Law; by thy Baptism, Fasting, and
Temptation,
Good Lord, deliver us.


By thine Agony and Bloody Sweat; by thy Cross and Passion;
by thy precious Death and Burial; by thy glorious Resurrection
and Ascension; and by the Coming of the Holy Ghost,
Good Lord, deliver us.


In all time of our tribulation; in all time of our prosperity; in
the hour of death, and in the day of judgment,
Good Lord, deliver us.


We sinners do beseech thee to hear us, O Lord God; and that
it may please thee to rule and govern thy holy Church
Universal in the right way,
We beesech thee to hear us, good Lord.


That it may please thee to illumine all bishops, priests, and
deacons, with true knowledge and understanding of thy
Word; and that both by their preaching and living, they may
set it forth, and show it accordingly,
We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.


That it may please thee to bless and keep all thy people,
We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.


That it may please thee to send forth laborers into thy
harvest, and to draw all mankind into thy kingdom,
We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.


That it may please thee to give to all people increase of grace
to hear and receive thy Word, and to bring forth the fruits of
the Spirit,
We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.


That it may please thee to bring into the way of truth all such
as have erred, and are deceived,
We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.


That it may please thee to give us a heart to love and fear
thee, and diligently to live after thy commandments,
We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.


That it may please thee so to rule the hearts of thy servants,
the President of the United States (or of this nation), and all
others in authority, that they may do justice, and love mercy,
and walk in the ways of truth,
We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.


That it may please thee to make wars to cease in all the world;
to give to all nations unity, peace, and concord; and to
bestow freedom upon all peoples,
We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.


That it may please thee to show thy pity upon all prisoners
and captives, the homeless and the hungry, and all who are
desolate and oppressed,
We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.


That it may please thee to give and preserve to our use the
bountiful fruits of the earth, so that in due time all may enjoy
them,
We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.


That it may please thee to inspire us, in our several callings,
to do the work which thou givest us to do with singleness of
heart as thy servants, and for the common good,
We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.


That it may please thee to preserve all who are in danger by
reason of their labor or their travel,
We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.


That it may please thee to preserve, and provide for, all
women in childbirth, young children and orphans, the
widowed, and all whose homes are broken or torn by strife,
We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.


That it may please thee to visit the lonely; to strengthen all
who suffer in mind, body, and spirit; and to comfort with thy
presence those who are failing and infirm,
We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.


That it may please thee to support, help, and comfort all who
are in danger, necessity, and tribulation,
We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.


That it may please thee to have mercy upon all mankind,
We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.

That it may please thee to give us true repentance; to forgive
us all our sins, negligences, and ignorances; and to endue
us with the grace of thy Holy Spirit to amend our lives
according to thy holy Word,
We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.


That it may please thee to forgive our enemies, persecutors,
and slanderers, and to turn their hearts,
We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.


That it may please thee to strengthen such as do stand; to
comfort and help the weak-hearted; to raise up those who
fall; and finally to beat down Satan under our feet,
We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.


That it may please thee to grant to all the faithful departed
eternal life and peace,
We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.


That it may please thee to grant that, in the fellowship of
Blessed Peter and all the saints, we may attain to thy
heavenly kingdom,
We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.


Son of God, we beseech thee to hear us.
Son of God, we beseech thee to hear us.


O Lamb of God, that takest away the sins of the world,
Have mercy upon us.

O Lamb of God, that takest away the sins of the world,
Have mercy upon us.

O Lamb of God, that takest away the sins of the world,
Grant us thy peace.


O Christ, hear us.
O Christ, hear us.
Lord, have mercy upon us.
Kyrie eleison.
Christ, have mercy upon us. or Christe eleison.
Lord, have mercy upon us.
Kyrie eleison.    

Sermon: February 22

Take away, O Lord, the veil of my heart while I hear the scriptures and partake of your sacraments that I may hear your voice and feel your guidance. Amen.
There is an old rabbinic story about a faithful Jew who every morning would write down on a piece of paper the words I am but dust and ashes and place the paper in his pocket. Throughout the day he would take out the paper and read it; the words, spoken by the patriarch Abraham in the Book of Genesis (Genesis 18: 27), served as a prayerful reminder of his mortality and humility before God.
One day he showed the paper to his rabbi. The rabbi was moved by his congregant's reverence. But the rabbi took out a second piece of paper and wrote the Hebrew words Bishvili nivra ha'olam - "For my sake, the universe was created.”

"Take these words, as well, and carry them too," the rabbi said. "Let there be balance in your life. Realize that of yourself, before God, you are nothing - but because you are created in God's image, out of love, you possess the greatest dignity imaginable: you are a child of God." [As told by Burton Visotzky in Genesis: A Living Conversation by Bill Moyers.]
That beautiful story dovetails nicely with our tradition of Ash Wednesday – remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.

And so maybe we need to add the words: Bishvili nivra ha'olam - "For my sake, the universe was created.”

Our Lenten experience is a time for reaching that balance between realizing our humility before God and our identity as God's child. When we are consumed by the notion that we are in total control of our lives, when we have arrogantly self-absorbed because of what we possess and what we have achieved, we should take out the first "paper" & remember the dust on our foreheads: I am but dust and ashes and to dust I shall return.

I was listening on Saturday to “Whad'Ya Know?” Radio Hour on NPR where author and ASU Professor Lawrence Krauss talked a little a bit about our place in the galaxy, and said we were such a small part of it, we were but a dust speck in the universe. We are truly dust and ashes.

But when we feel abandoned, when hope seems far away, when we feel lost in the wilderness, we need to embrace the message of the second sheet: For my sake, God created the universe. I am God's beloved child; I am created in God's image.

As we sit with those two pieces of paper: dust AND our being made in God’s image, think again about the Temptation of Jesus in the wilderness, our first stop on our Lenten Journey after Ash Wednesday.
“And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.”
That is all that the Gospel of Mark gives us with the Temptation of Jesus. A quick snapshot. He was tempted. Out in the wilderness. Angels came.
“I believe that Jesus underwent this ordeal on our behalf, to break open the ground of the heart and make real choice possible for us.” ~ Malcom Guite
Mark doesn’t go into the choices; but as Guite puts it, Jesus undergoes that temptation for us, to break open the ground of our hearts and help us to see the choices before us, both our humility and our belovedness. A choice that also invites us to go deeper…
A young man sought out the advice of a hermit who lived deep in the forest.

“I love my wife deeply,” the sad young man said, “and I know she loves me. But she says almost nothing to me for days on end.”

“A love without silence is a love without depth,” the old monk replied.

“But she never even says she loves me.”

“Some people always claim that,” the old man answered. “And we end up wondering if their words are true.”

The monk then pointed to the field of wildflowers surrounding them. “Nature isn’t always repeating that God loves us. We only realize it through His flowers.” [Adapted from a story told by Paulo Coelho.]
Lent calls us to our own interior deserts — that place within us where we can turn off the noise and shut out the fears and tensions of our lives. It is only in such stillness that we can realize the many manifestations of God’s love in our midst, a love that is difficult to see in all the distractions demanding our attention and hard to hear in all the noise blaring at us.

Lent calls us to rediscover, in the stillness of our souls, what it means to be a person of faith, what values we want our lives to stand for, what path we want our lives to take on our own journey to Easter. May this Lenten season be a time for attaining that balance in our lives: a balance between humility that leads to selflessness and joy in the ever-present love of God in our midst as we plumb the depths of who we are as God’s beloved children. Amen.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Our Everyday Bias

Bias effects us all.  The unexamined bias hurts others.  We need to begin to address such lack of love toward our neighbors.

An excerpt from an op-ed piece:

Two scholars, Marianne Bertrand and Sendhil Mullainathan, sent out fictitious résumés in response to help-wanted ads. Each résumé was given a name that either sounded stereotypically African-American or one that sounded white, but the résumés were otherwise basically the same.

The study found that a résumé with a name like Emily or Greg received 50 percent more callbacks than the same résumé with a name like Lakisha or Jamal. Having a white-sounding name was as beneficial as eight years’ work experience.

Then there was the study in which researchers asked professors to evaluate the summary of a supposed applicant for a post as laboratory manager, but, in some cases, the applicant was named John and in others Jennifer. Everything else was the same.

“John” was rated an average of 4.0 on a 7-point scale for competence, “Jennifer” a 3.3. When asked to propose an annual starting salary for the applicant, the professors suggested on average a salary for “John” almost $4,000 higher than for “Jennifer.”

It’s not that we white men are intentionally doing anything wrong, but we do have a penchant for obliviousness about the way we are beneficiaries of systematic unfairness...Let’s just acknowledge that we’re all flawed, biased and sometimes irrational, and that we can do more to resist unconscious bias.
Read the whole article from the NY Times (Nicholas Kristof) here.

How was God created? Archbishop Rowan responds to a 6 year old


This is from a blogpost from the Telegraph (2011):
Alex Renton, a non-believer who sends his six-year-old daughter Lulu to a Scottish church primary school. Her teachers asked her to write the following letter: "To God, How did you get invented?"  He asked other churches their thoughts and then he sent it to "the head of theology of the Anglican Communion, based at Lambeth Palace" – and this was the response:
Dear Lulu,
Your dad has sent on your letter and asked if I have any answers. It's a difficult one! But I think God might reply a bit like this –
'Dear Lulu – Nobody invented me – but lots of people discovered me and were quite surprised. They discovered me when they looked round at the world and thought it was really beautiful or really mysterious and wondered where it came from. They discovered me when they were very very quiet on their own and felt a sort of peace and love they hadn't expected.
Then they invented ideas about me – some of them sensible and some of them not very sensible. From time to time I sent them some hints – specially in the life of Jesus – to help them get closer to what I'm really like.
But there was nothing and nobody around before me to invent me. Rather like somebody who writes a story in a book, I started making up the story of the world and eventually invented human beings like you who could ask me awkward questions!'
And then he'd send you lots of love and sign off.
I know he doesn't usually write letters, so I have to do the best I can on his behalf. Lots of love from me too.  +Archbishop Rowan
What the letter also tells us is that the Archbishop took the trouble to write a really thoughtful message – unmistakably his work and not that of a secretary – to a little girl. "Well done, Rowan!" was the reaction of Alex Renton's mother, and I agree.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Sermon: Ash Wednesday

Gracious God, out of your love and mercy you breathed into dust the breath of life, creating us to serve you and our neighbors. Call forth our prayers and acts of kindness, and strengthen us to face our mortality with confidence in the mercy of your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen. (prayer by the Rev. Thomas L. Weitzel)
Today, we begin our yearly Lenten pilgrimage, a pilgrimage that takes us from the beginning as dust of the earth, into which God breathes life, to where we are now, joining Jesus for 40 days, in temptation and hope. It all starts with ashes.

Ashes on our foreheads reminding us that we are dust and to dust we shall return. In those ashes are our acts of self-examination and repentance, of our beginning this Lenten journey in humility and hope. Ashes that were once palm branches held up in triumph at Jesus entry into Jerusalem last Palm Sunday, many turning into Palm Crosses and Jesus journey to death. Palms burned this past Sunday and turned into ashes.

So with these ashes, we are marked as human, as dust of the earth, placing ourselves with all of humanity& creation.
“A person is a person through other persons” is how Archbishop Desmond Tutu put it. “None of us comes into the world fully formed. We would not know how to think, or walk, or speak, or behave as human beings unless we learned it from other human beings. We need other human beings in order to be human. I am because other people are.”
We don’t live into our humanity in a vacuum or alone. We journey with others. This year, those ashes aren’t there for our new growth, our own fruitful lives alone. They are for the betterment of all creation.

Our service on Ash Wednesday calls us to repentance for we have not loved God with our whole heart, and mind, and strength. We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We have not repented of our self-indulgent appetites and ways, and our exploitation of other people, nor of our waste and pollution of God’s creation, and our lack of concern for those who come after us.

There is sin and much to repent of (Lent!) but those ashes are not a scarlet mark for us to be shamed by, but to live into hope. As the author Stephanie Paulsell put it:
“The smeared crosses on our foreheads are an incarnational work of art that helps us confront our greatest fears. When we are marked with ashes we are marked not only with a sign of our mortality but also with a sign of the struggle to remain human under the greatest possible pressure. We follow Jesus into the desert of Lent to learn about the most mysterious possibilities that our humanity holds: healing, resistance, love, and forgiveness. Again and again, year after year, he teaches us that human life holds more possibilities than we’ve ever imagined.”
In his poem for Ash Wednesday, the Poet Malcom Guite, reminds us of our need for repentance and renewal of the sinfulness and destruction of God’s creation by our hands.
Receive this cross of ash upon your brow,
Brought from the burning of Palm Sunday’s cross.
The forests of the world are burning now
And you make late repentance for the loss.
But all the trees of God would clap their hands
The very stones themselves would shout and sing
If you could covenant to love these lands
And recognize in Christ their Lord and king.

He sees the slow destruction of those trees,
He weeps to see the ancient places burn,
And still you make what purchases you please,
And still to dust and ashes you return.
But Hope could rise from ashes even now
Beginning with this sign upon your brow.
In these ashes are hope, hope that could rise from the sign of the cross upon each of our brows.

So let us work this Lent, let us repent of our actions and words that hurt, let us renew our world with acts of kindness and generosity, let us walk with creation and believe anew what our gracious God can do in us:
So let us be marked
not for sorrow.
And let us be marked
not for shame.
Let us be marked
not for false humility
or for thinking
we are less
than we are

but for claiming
what God can do
within the dust,
within the dirt,
within the stuff
of which the world is made,
and the stars that blaze
in our bones,
and the galaxies that spiral
inside the smudge we bear.
(poem by Jan Richardson)
Amen.

Hand Out on Ash Wednesday

Take a glass bead…
Think about its composition (sand, ash,)
Think about your composition…
Think about others…
Give thanks to God your Creator for it all
And remember all in your prayers

For you yourself created my inmost parts;
you knit me together in my mother's womb.

I will thank you because I am marvelously made;
your works are wonderful, and I know it well.

My body was not hidden from you,
while I was being made in secret
and woven in the depths of the earth. (Psalm 139: 12-14)

Ash Wednesday (all poems by Malcolm Guite)
Receive this cross of ash upon your brow,
Brought from the burning of Palm Sunday’s cross.
The forests of the world are burning now
And you make late repentance for the loss.
But all the trees of God would clap their hands
The very stones themselves would shout and sing
If you could covenant to love these lands
And recognise in Christ their Lord and king.

He sees the slow destruction of those trees,
He weeps to see the ancient places burn,
And still you make what purchases you please,
And still to dust and ashes you return.
But Hope could rise from ashes even now
Beginning with this sign upon your brow.

Communion Table

The centuries have settled on this table
Deepened the grain beneath a clean white cloth
Which bears afresh our changing elements.
Year after year of prayer, in hope and trouble,
Were poured out here and blessed and broken, both
In aching absence and in absent presence.

This table too the earth herself has given
And human hands have made. Where candle-flame
At corners burns and turns the air to light
The oak once held its branches up to heaven,
Blessing the elements which it became,
Rooting the dew and rain, branching the light.

Because another tree can bear, unbearable,
For us, the weight of Love, so can this table

Stones into Bread
The Fountain thirsts, the Bread is hungry here
The Light is dark, the Word without a voice.
When darkness speaks it seems so light and clear.
Now He must dare, with us, to make a choice.
In a distended belly’s cruel curve
He feels the famine of the ones who lose
He starves for those whom we have forced to starve
He chooses now for those who cannot choose.
He is the staff and sustenance of life
He lives for all from one Sustaining Word
His love still breaks and pierces like a knife
The stony ground of hearts that never shared,
God gives through Him what Satan never could;
The broken bread that is our only food.