Archive for August, 2016

Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.”

— John: 14:1-2

Because I’m a former hospice chaplain and a night-shift hospital chaplain, this quote from a fascinating New Yorker Magazine profile* of a hospice nurse resonated with me:

    “Some hospice workers believe that working with the dying is the closest you can get on earth to the presence of God.”

I’ve often said I never feel closer to God than when I’m pastoring someone at the end of life. And I believe there is no greater privilege than to walk with a dying person and the loved ones.


photo by Eugene Richards for New Yorker Magazine)

It so happened happened that shortly after I read the aforementioned article last month, a friend of many years emailed me to inform me that her mom had died. She told me about her experience with hospice care, with which she and her family were pleased.

She told me that weeks and days before her mother died peacefully in her home, her mom told the family she was ready to “go home.”

As in home to God, which the family members didn’t understand at first. Not until a hospice chaplain explained that dying people often speak of going “home” in the spiritual sense. (*See note about a chaplain’s role at bottom.)

My friend’s mom was 83. My friend said she and the family had a hard time letting go, of course, initially resisting doctors’ suggestions they sign up for hospice visits in the home.

Letting go of anyone dying–even someone who’s had a long and good life–is as hard as it gets. But honoring the expressed desire to “go home” is a way of honoring the dying one’s personhood. It’s best to affirm the dying wish by saying something like, “We know you’re ready to go but we’ll miss you.”

There is a time to live and a time to die: the elderly at the end of life see that with such clarity they no longer have any fear of death, if they ever did. It’s typically some of the family survivors who can’t bear to hear mom or dad or some loved one speak of their own death.

It’s why so many keep their loved ones living on machines that provide artificial life, not real life, in resistance to “a time to die.”

With respects to Dylan Thomas, who was a great poet but no great shakes of a theologian, our bodies are made to "go gentle into that good night."

With respects to Dylan Thomas, who was a great poet but no great shakes of a theologian, our bodies are made to “go gentle into that good night.”

In the fascinating biography of David’s intense and fascinating life as told in the Old Testament Books of Samuel, there’s a story about the last days of King David’s loyal friend Barzillai.

Barzillai was a wealthy man from Gilead. He had shown King David hospitality and provided his army provisions in a time when few people dared to stand by David because of an uprising led by the king’s own son Absalom.

Now at the age of 80, Barzillai went with David to escort him over the Jordan River, where David would regain power and wage a national revival.

David said to his loyal friend at the riverside, “Come over with me, and I will provide for you in Jerusalem at my side.”

Here’s how that went according to scripture:

    “But Barzillai said to the king, ‘How many years have I still to live, that I should go up with the king to Jerusalem? . . . Why then should your servant be an added burden to my lord the king? . . .

    Please let your servant return, so that I may die in my own town, near the graves of my father and my mother.” (See II Samuel 19:31-37)

Barzillai was at peace with his personal end times. He was plenty ready to return to his hometown in order to “go home” in the spiritual sense.

It’s hard to let go of our beloved parents and others as they near the end, but there comes a time when one is too spent to “rage against the dying of the light.”

And why rage against it anyway. I’ve always said that God brings us into the world with our kicking and screaming and adjusting our tiny eyes to the light. But God in God’s tender mercy takes us back home gently as the body steadily shuts down. As it does so, one has no more desire or need for food or water and pain dissipates into peace.

A natural death can be, and should be, a “good death”–a death in which one can naturally “go gentle into the good night” of perfect rest, perfect peace.

*Note: In signing up for hospice care, patients or families are asked if they want “spiritual care visits” from a chaplain. Because chaplains provide “spiritual care” and not necessarily Christian care, a Christian chaplain sometimes visits people of other religions or no religion at all; the aim is to be a “listening, nonjudgmental presence” to someone in grief.

I’ve prayed many times with Jewish patients, Muslim and Buddhist and Hindu patients–even atheist patients who, when asked them if they wanted me to pray for them, often said, “I guess it can’t hurt anything.”)

*(photo is from the aforementioned New Yorker Magazine profile of a hospice nurse. link here.)
* And here are useful facts about hospice care in a time when growing numbers of people are reaching the ends of their lives.

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Tony Rath, a world-renowned Belizean photographer, shared this video on FB today, featuring work he did for a CNN travel program a few years ago.

The scenic Hummingbird Highway featured in the vid has a lot of interesting stops along the way, like St. Herman’s Cave at the Blue Hole National Park.

Nice place for some chilling in the bush.

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(“I’m Jesus and I approved this message.”)

This meme featuring a quote from that gentle, ever-quotable saint and spiritual writer Henri Nouwen was making the rounds on Facebook when I checked into FB this morning.14089094_1790025761282394_3469644006481416509_n

This is why I cringe when someone says Jesus was, or would be, a conservative or a Republican or a tea partier–or a Democrat or liberal or even a socialist.

Liberals want to paint Jesus and the early Christians as socialists all about sharing the wealth, while conservatives want to paint him as a conservative who blessed the use of the sword and tax cuts.

Both of which are ludicrous notions based on New Testament cherry picking.

First of all, Jesus would be, and Jesus is, nothing today except Jesus–the Jesus who condemned the power-mongers and rulers of his time on earth and condemned them harshly.

I dare say there’s not a politician or candidate alive that our Lord wouldn’t harshly condemn if he dropped into the political arena today.

Nouwen was so right, as usual. Jesus isn’t about conquest or ideology or domination–and certainly he wouldn’t bless America’s current politics of personal destruction.

Jesus is about love and it in all of love’s many dynamic manifestations.

Love is not necessarily about being Mr. Nice and I don’t think Jesus, the Lord of Truth, would play nice in anybody’s political camp.

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Young Democrats of Texas (top) are  joining forces with Young Republicans to aid flood victims.

Young Democrats of Texas (top) are joining forces with Young Republicans to aid flood victims.

Down in Texas, Young Democrats and Young Republicans are laying aside political differences to aid flood victims in Louisiana. (See the story here.)

This is the kind of political story that makes you go “Wow!”–in a good way.

It raised a couple of thoughts when I read it.

1. This is a story of young adults acting like adults, which adults don’t seem much inclined to act anymore when it comes to politics.

It’s a hopeful sign for the future that these young people are fellow Americans (and Texans!) first.

2. The thought occurred to me that disasters bring out the mettle in people. Too bad it takes catastrophic events for Americans to come together, to love one another, to help one another.

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Here’s an exclusive sneak preview of the Clinton-Trump debate.

Have some popcorn and a belly washer and enjoy.

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Miracle Assignment (Noon Wine)

“Miracle Assignment”

fresh-mown hay
windless air
drying air
grazing air
straw air
protein air
earthing air

* * *

clouds passing
Holsteins lazing
pond juice sipping
eyes popping
lips puffing
noses flaring
flies abounding
tails twitching

* * *

doe crouching
high alerting
ear twitching
joints bending
body quivering
legs darting
* * *

beaching air
playtime air
distant air
salting air
breezing air
healthing air
splashing air
children’s air

* * *

silver circle
lunar looming
silver mooning

* * *

miracle sky

* * *

sea wave

* * *

Pasture rolling


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The scene at a shelter in Louisiana, where people have a real disaster to cope with.

The scene at a shelter in Louisiana, where people have a real disaster to cope with.

I’ll swear, this is the media’s worst hour.

We have a Katrina-like disaster in Louisiana, and yet we’re getting a fraction of the coverage Katrina rightfully received.

I go to the (non-) news this morning to find that the media is obsessing on the latest in the loud clown’s campaign–the latest being “another big shakeup!” in the people running his disastrous excuse of a run for president.

And then there’s the perennial obsession with you-know-who’s emails. (I’m tired of their very names at this point.)

Long before I ever get to the 24-hour non-news channels I go to a lot of online news sources every day. I’ve had to scroll way down every day lately to find any coverage about Louisiana below all the meaningless presidential horse race stats showing who’s winning and who’s losing.

As if any of it is going to be remembered on Election Day three months from now–three months being an eternity in politics.

Three months from now, folks in Louisiana will still be coping with their pain and loss.

God help the great state of Louisiana–she’s drowning in flood waters and presidential trash.

And she needs your help and here’s one link for that.
*This just in to (Non-)News Central: 80,000 in California have evacuated their homes due to a wildfire. And in Milwaukee news, such as it is, the usual shouters are shouting down.

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