Opinions expressed here are my own and do not represent the views of the congregation I joyfully serve. But my congregation loves me!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Birthday

My birthday is today.   I am 51.  I remember my father's 51st birthday.  It is the first birthday of his that I remember.   I was seven.   The previous summer we had moved to Butte, Montana from Winthrop, Washington.  My father decided that seven years of cattle ranching was about enough fun and returned to teaching.  He taught Chemistry at Montana Tech in Butte until his retirement.

On his 51st birthday, my mom made him a cake.  It had five big candles and one little candle.   I remember this so clearly.  She counted them off:  "Ten, Twenty, Thirty, Forty, Fifty, and one."   Blowing out 51 candles would have been vulgar.   Once you hit fifty you start counting in decades.   

Longevity is in the genes.  I celebrated with my father his 94th birthday this summer on June 6th.   I can't remember if we had a cake for him or not.  If we did I am sure we used those candles that are shaped liked numbers, 9 and 4.   Funny, I really don't remember if we had candles for him or not.  After 94 birthdays he may have graduated from having to blow out candles.   Just give him his favorite, pecan pie, already.

My father has had a lot of birthdays.   I haven't been there for all of them but for a good number of them.   I am lucky that way.   I have to remember that today.    Because it is going to be a sad day.  Zach won't be at his old man's 51st birthday, let alone his old man's 94th should that unlikely event occur.

It is those little things like memories of birthday candles that come out of nowhere and heat up that burning hole in the chest. 

Here are a couple of photos I just found in my Facebook collection.  Here are my parents and me from three years ago in Montana. 



Zach and I (and Lovely in the background) waiting outside Grimaldi's in Brooklyn, NY on Thanksgiving 2010.   That was a good trip.


Birthdays still happen until they don't.  As impossible as it seems, we still have memories to make.    

And...she cooks!

Our own Sandra Garrett (known as "Snad"on the blog comments) was featured in the Elizabethton Star regarding her culinary talents.  Check it out:
Sandra Garrett and her husband, John Dewey, are big fans of the first meal of the day.

“Since my husband works nights, and I work part-time in the afternoons, we get to luxuriate over breakfast a lot,” Sandra said. “We enjoy our breakfasts.”

She enjoys experimenting with recipes. For instance, she enjoys combining different ingredients in her omelets, including pepperoni and cottage cheese as well as smoked salmon and cream cheese.

Sandra now has an extensive menu she has compiled around the breakfast meal.

“I have some favorites that I’ve developed: baked oatmeal, oat flour-spelt pancakes, baked eggs with greens, tofu scrambler, oven-baked pancakes with apples, sausage biscuits, and of course, milk gravy and biscuits.”

Sandra’s an enthusiastic breakfast advocate.

“I encourage people to have fun with breakfast, to slow things down and enjoy it,” she said.

Sandra laments the notion for some that breakfast is a “throw-away” meal. “I’m happy to be part of a breakfast renaissance,” she said.  (Read More)
Great article, Sandra!   She even included a mention of your favorite congregation.



Monday, August 27, 2012

Rev. Jacqueline Luck, Encore Presentation, What Is Unitarian Universalism, August 30 - September 3 on Religion For Life

Rev. Jacqueline Luck is the minister at the Holston Valley Unitarian Universalist Church in Gray, Tennessee. Among many projects, Rev. Luck is active with United Religions Initiative and the Green Interfaith Network. She talked with me about the history and commitments of Unitarian Universalism, and practicing a liberal faith in East Tennessee.



Listen...

Thursday, August 30th at 8 pm on WETS, 89.5.
Sunday, September 2nd at noon on WEHC, 90.7.
Sunday, September 2nd at 2 pm on WETS, 89.5.
Monday, September 3rd at 1 pm on WEHC, 90.7..
Via podcast.

Gary Barrigar Receives Lifetime Environmental Award

Our own Gary Barrigar who along with his wife, Nancy Barrigar, co-chairs our congregation's Peacemaking Committee, received a prestigious award from the governor of Tennessee.  It is the Robert Sparks Walker Lifetime Achievement Award for Gary's work with environmental awareness, education, and advocacy.  Here is the story:
The Robert Sparks Walker Lifetime Achievement Award was given to Carter County native Gary W. Barrigar, an award-winning science teacher and long-time advocate of Tennessee’s environmental heritage.

“Each year, we recognize an individual who has devoted a lifetime of exemplary service to environmental protection or conservation stewardship in Tennessee,” said Martineau. “Gary Barrigar has imparted the value and importance of the natural world to thousands of students, parents, administrators and various organizations throughout his 40-year career by using nature as a classroom and integrating environmental education into daily curriculum.”

In 2000, Barrigar was selected to chair the Tennessee State Board of Education Science Standards Committee that developed standards for high school courses in Ecology and Environmental Science that remain in use to this day. Barrigar also served as the president of the Boone Watershed Partnership from 2005-2012, growing the multi-faceted partnership from a loosely organized group to a highly effective 501(c)(3) organization that works to identify and address water resource issues in the Boone watershed, located in East Tennessee and parts of Virginia.

Barrigar also has served in a number of leadership roles with various environmental and conservation groups, including the Southern Appalachian Highland Conservancy, Friends of Roan Mountain, the Buffalo Creek Watershed Alliance and the Overmountain Chapter of Trout Unlimited.

Alongside his wife, Nancy, Barrigar has led the “Peacemaking Committee” at First Presbyterian Church in Elizabethton, Tenn., for more than 20 years – a group that involves church members in a variety of projects and activities focused on improving our natural environment. 
Congratulations, Gary!  We are very proud of you!


 TDEC Commissioner Bob Martineau and Deputy Governor Claude Ramsey present Gary Barrigar of Elizabethton (center) with the Robert Sparks Walker Lifetime Conservation Achievement Award at the 2012 Governor's Environmental Achievement Awards.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Chasing Happiness--A Sermon

Chasing Happiness
John Shuck

First Presbyterian Church
Elizabethton, Tennessee

August 26, 2012

“His disciples said to him, ‘When will the Father’s empire come?’ ‘It won’t come by watching for it. It won’t be said, ‘Look, here!’ or ‘Look, there!’ Rather, the Father’s empire is spread out upon the earth, and people don’t see it.’”
--Gospel of Thomas 113

Happiness is the theme for this summer’s worship services. For the past few years I have coordinated the worship services around the four paths of Creation Spirituality. I connect a path to a season of the year. Summer with its abundance seems logically connected to the via positiva. The way or the path of wow and wonder. It is a path of fullness. It is life and light and fruitfulness. It is royalty and celebration. It is music in 4/4 time. It is joyful. It is happy.

This summer I thought it would be good to examine happiness. What can we learn about happiness from the sages in our past as well as from our present knowledge. What is happiness from the perspective of science and spirit? A helpful guide has been Jonathan Haidt and his book, The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom.

In one of his chapters he introduces the happiness formula:

H = S + C + V

H is happiness.

S is our biological set point. According to Dr. Haidt, happiness is set for us biologically. Happiness for the most part is in our genes. It isn’t only in our genes. We can adjust our set point or our set range. Dr. Haidt says we can cheat and push up that set point in three ways,

1. medication
2. meditation and
3. cognitive behavioral therapy (ie. “fake it ‘til you make it”).

The sages past discovered early on, long before medication, that meditation was the principle way to increase happiness, to raise that set point. They knew of medication too. But it is trickier. It can have side effects. Drink that gladdens the heart can also cause other problems. The medication that the psychologist, Dr. Haidt is referring to is modern medication such as Prozac. That has been helpful, in many cases life-saving, but also tricky. Of course, CBT or cognitive behavioral therapy was probably linked to virtue in the past. The ancient form of CBT would be in the Book of Proverbs. The wisdom found there is about changing behavior. Such as:
Do not love sleep, or else you will come to poverty;
open your eyes, and you will have plenty of bread.

All cultures have sage wisdom, much of it having to do with modifying behavior. For the most part, happiness is set biologically. From a modern perspective, these are three things that can boost up that set point and provide a head start: Medication, Meditation, and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.  That is the S in the equation. There is more.

H = S + C + V

C represents the conditions of life. While the Buddha might have insisted that happiness is within, there are some external things that can affect our happiness, and we would do well to change them if we can.  According to the serenity prayer:
Give me the courage to change the things I can.
The serenity to accept the things I cannot change.
The wisdom to know the difference.

Some of the things to change if you can are exposure to noise, commuting time, amount of control over your own life decisions and stressors, body image, and the one that trumps them all:  
“the strength and number of a person’s relationships.” P. 94 
This is what Dr. Haidt says about it:
“…having an annoying office mate or roommate, or having chronic conflict with your spouse—is one of the surest ways to reduce your happiness. You never adapt to interpersonal conflict; it damages every day, even days when you don’t see the other person but ruminate about the conflict nonetheless.” P. 94

So externals matter. There are ways to increase happiness by working on the conditions of life, particularly our relationships. That is the C in the equation. The most important condition or C is love—not just love in the abstract but loving relationships with real flesh and blood human beings.

H= S + C + V

V is action. These are voluntary activities. V stands for those things we voluntarily choose to do. They include activities that seek pleasure and that build on our skills and strengths. Haidt writes:
“So V (voluntary activity) is real….You can increase your happiness if you use your strengths, particularly in the service of strengthening connections—helping friends, expressing gratitude to benefactors.” P. 97-8

If C is love then V is work.

To put it simply in our happiness formula,

H = S + C + V

Happiness equals your set point plus loving relationships plus meaningful work.

That was a sermon I already preached on June 24th the first Sunday of summer when I started this series.

Four days later on June 28th, my 25 year old son, Zachary, died unexpectedly.

How do I fit that in the formula?

Happiness equals set point plus love plus work minus tragedy.

Jonathan Haidt does say that the set point is called set point for a reason. People win the lottery and after the initial euphoria wears off they tend to drop back to their initial happiness biological set point. People experience tragedy and after a time of grief then they tend to move back up to their biological set point.

I guess we’ll see. I am not so sure about that but I’ll keep you posted.

To prepare for this series I bought a bunch of books on happiness. They have titles such as:
  • Stumbling On Happiness
  • The Pursuit of Happiness: Discovering the Pathway to Fulfillment, Well-Being, and Enduring Personal Joy
  • Happiness: A Guide to Developing Life’s Most Important Skill
  • Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment
  • The Happiness Project: Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun
I think those are all probably very good books. I haven’t opened any of them.

Recall this scene in The Wizard of Oz.   The scene is near the end when Dorothy, the Lion, the Scarecrow and the Tin Man have discovered that the Wizard is a phony. He is no wizard. He is a blowhard from Nebraska. He does know a few things, though. He proceeds to pull out of his black bag a diploma for the scarecrow, a testimonial for the tin man, and a medal of valor for the lion. He knows that they had all those virtues already. They just needed them recognized.

Then it is Dorothy’s turn. Dorothy sees the helpless look on the wizard’s face and she realizes she is in a different universe from her friends. She says,
“I don’t think there is anything in that black bag for me.”

No there isn’t. She is from a different world. A tornado ripped through her life. Her friends can watch and try to comfort her from a distance but there is nothing they or the phony wizard can give her that will help her get where she needs to go.

Like Dorothy, there is nothing in that stack of happiness books for me. At least for now. They are from a different world. Maybe they will be helpful someday.

In a day or two lives will be ripped apart along Florida’s coast and the Gulf Coast due to Hurricane Isaac. Hopefully there will be enough warning so people can find safety but no amount of forecasting and television coverage can communicate the pain of loss. It is surreal watching the before knowing there will be an after.

This life is fragile. I wonder if the only way we can protect our sanity is to pretend it isn’t.

When I selected the texts for this summer, I chose this saying for today from the Gospel of Thomas. It is a quote attributed to Jesus that sounds a lot like one from Luke 17:20-21:
When asked by the Pharisees when the empire of God would come, he answered them, “You won’t be able to observe the coming of the empire of God. People won’t be able to say, ‘Look , here it is!’ or ‘Over there!’ On the contrary, the empire of God is among you.”

I like the Thomas version more:
“His disciples said to him, ‘When will the Father’s empire come?’ ‘It won’t come by watching for it. It won’t be said, ‘Look, here!’ or ‘Look, there!’ Rather, the Father’s empire is spread out upon the earth, and people don’t see it.’” --Gospel of Thomas 113

One question is whether or not Jesus is right. Is the empire of God spread out upon the earth and among us or is it something that needs to come? That is a big question. Is God going to make it better someday or is what we got what we got and you ought to find the the empire of God within it?

Scholars cannot agree on what Jesus thought about that. The texts attribute both views to him. Some say Jesus was apocalyptic, that is that God will intervene and make life better. Others say no, Jesus believed that life is what we see and what we make it to be.

So what view is likely to make us happier? Will we be happier if we believe that the empire is something that will come in the future or will we be happier if we believe that the empire of God is spread out everywhere right now?

I tend to think that people believe what they need to believe. For what it is worth, I say, believe whatever gets you through.

This came in an email to me today. I liked it so I will share it with you:
Hope is not pretending that troubles don't exist.
It is the trust that they will not last forever,
that hurts will be healed and difficulties overcome.
It is faith that a source of strength and renewal lies within
to lead us through the dark to the sunshine.

I suppose this empire thing is both/and for me. Sometimes the sadness and pain are too great to see the beauty and hope that is present, but I have trust or faith that it is there and that it will come. Maybe, in time, we will find it--in a happiness formula, maybe in someone’s black bag, a stack of books, a song, a scripture verse, a journey inward, or maybe through the eyes of a friend who can help us see it.

Amen.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Bitchy

The song that keeps running through my head is "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away" by the Beatles.   Before all the Beatlemaniacs tell me what the song "means" or "meant" for me it is about grief.   Grief is Love.   Grief is Love that has lost its object.   It doesn't matter whether the grief is over a breakup or a death, the song speaks about the loneliness of grief, its shame and its social stigma.     Here are the lyrics
Here I stand head in hand
Turn my face to the wall
No that won't do.  You've got to hide your grief away.  Hide it away.  We don't want to see it.  Take it to a shrink or to a group or to your momma but don't show it.   Your time is up.  We have to move on.  When are you going to get better?  When will you be your old self again?   When are you going to get to that "new normal?"   No one is saying this.  This is my projection even as it isn't just my projection.   No one wants to see people grieving forever.   So for those who do wonder when I am going to be my old self again, I do have an answer.   Here it is.   I will be better on April 1, 2075 at 3:30 p.m.  Can you wait that long? 

The astute observer will note that the patient is starting to get in touch with his anger.   It reveals itself in sarcasm and painful witticisms.    When approaching the patient take care not to do the following or you may lose your eye teeth.
  1. Mention God.  The patient and the Divine Master of the Universe are not on speaking terms.  No theological acumen on your part will do anything to change that.
  2. Attempt to cheer up the patient or say something "hopeful" such as "Someday you will grow from this."   Grrrrr.
  3. Give advice to the patient of any kind about any thing.  Period.
I know this is confusing.  It is one thing to respond to someone's hurt and pain.  It is totally another to try to respond to anger.   The most important thing to know about "the patient" is that if you do run into anger, remember it is not about you.   You could note that the sky is blue and I might trip out on you.   I have changed, not anyone else.    Those of us who are grieving may not even know what these feelings are about and where they are directed.    The sad part is that "the patient" may drive away those s/he needs most.  At least that is what the patient fears.

So, please, hang in there with the patient and keep trying.

For those wanting to be present with someone in grief, here are some suggestions

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

A Universe From Nothing

I just interviewed Lawrence Krauss, physicist and author of A Universe From Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather Than Nothing.    I enjoyed both the book and the conversation and you can hear the interview in a few weeks on Religion For Life.  

This is a book about cosmology and the universe and how wild it is.  He takes a few well-deserved and necessary pokes at theologians who want to fit "God" in there somewhere.   He shows convincingly to me at least that there is not much place for "supernatural shenanigans" as he puts it.   He writes:
A universe without purpose or guidance may seem, for some, to make life itself meaningless.  For others, including me, such a universe is invigorating.  It makes the fact of our existence even more amazing, and it motivates us to draw meaning from our own actions and to make the most of our brief existence in the sun, simply because we are here, blessed with consciousness and with the opportunity to do so.   p. 181

I have been blathering for six years on this blog.  I have expressed my doubts about God, life after death, and what have you from the vantage point of a minister.   I like religion.  I embrace its social aspect.  I regard its mythologies as poetry.   When religion is honest it is good.  But it is hardly ever literal for me.   

In doing this, I have felt a little guilty.  Perhaps I was writing from the perspective of a person born sucking a silver spoon.  Perhaps if I suffered more I would more readily accept the teachings of the orthodox faith and bow to the wisdom of Mother Church and her guardians.  If I was more acquainted with pain I would embrace the truth of the bodily resurrection and the reality of a personal God.

Now with the death of my son, I think I am a legitimate member of the "sufferer's club."   If that isn't a pitiful club to join I don't know what might be.

Yet even after this experience, I cannot say I am more willing to embrace orthodoxy.   I am pretty much the same as far as all of that goes.  I recognize the impermanence of life more.   Some of the theologians got that right.  I do love church.  I love the hymns and the scriptures, but more importantly I love the people.    I am fiercely proud and in awe of anyone who does and believes in whatever they need to do or believe in in order to cope with the excruciating fragility of life.

But after all of this, I am, at the end of the day, no more and no less than I was before, still in the camp of Krauss, who writes about the universe's future thusly:
Our universe will then recollapse inward to a point, returning to the quantum haze from which our own existence may have begun.  If these arguments are correct, our universe will then disappear as abruptly as it probably began.

In this case, the answer to the question, "Why is there something rather than nothing?" will then simply be:  "There won't be for long."  p. 180

Oddly enough, I am OK with that.


    

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Carol Delaney, Encore Presentation, Columbus and the Quest for Jerusalem, August 23-27 on Religion For Life

Cultural anthropologist, Carol Delaney, returns to Religion For Life to discuss her latest book, Columbus and the Quest for Jerusalem. We know the children's rhyme: "In 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue." But why? Because he wanted to find gold in order to start a crusade to conquer Jerusalem for the Christians so that Christ would return. Professor Delaney takes us into the medieval mindset and helps us understand Columbus in his time and place. I discussed her book in a recent sermon and you can hear her provocative thesis on Religion For Life.

Image

Listen via livestream...

Thursday, August 23rd at 8 pm on WETS, 89.5.
Sunday, August 26th, at noon on WEHC, 90.7.
Sunday, August 26th, at 2 pm on WETS, 89.5.
Monday, August 27th at 1 pm on WEHC, 90.7.
Via podcast.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Preferences

On the upstairs coffee table the change is piling up.   I empty the change out of my pockets there at night.     Every couple of weeks it would vanish.  It was kind of a game.  Zach would grab it--probably for cigarettes or gas or who knows.   Yesterday I told Lovely that he hadn't picked up the change and she said she used to leave things around, too.  She would leave for him leftover food especially of the meat and potato variety.    Now we will have to eat our own leftovers and spend our own change.

It is the little things that get me.   That hollow burning pain in my chest never leaves even as it changes in intensity.  It burns when I drive by the Dairy Queen, or Mellow Mushroom, or Lowe's, or the Roadrunner, or ETSU.  I haven't driven on the street by his apartment since we closed accounts with his landlord.   I don't like to drive to that side of town. 

On some days or on some parts of a day, when the chest burning is low, I think that I am coming along.  Then I realize the truth.  It shrieks through me like a January Montana wind.  He isn't here.  He isn't coming back.  Ever.   What does any of it matter?  The burning starts again.   It reminds me of Robert Frost:
The sun was warm but the wind was chill.
You know how it is with an April day
When the sun is out and the wind is still,
You're one month on in the middle of May.
But if you so much as dare to speak,
A cloud comes over the sunlit arch,
A wind comes off a frozen peak,
And you're two months back in the middle of March. 
I have led worship three times.   This was the first I didn't have to hold back tears during the sermon.  I was doing pretty well until our organist, David, played "Be Still My Soul" during the offertory.  Then I started blubbering.   I guess I am just going to have to blubber through every damn song in the hymnal.

The funeral home has been very helpful in many ways.   I subscribe to a daily grief support--words of wisdom thing--via the email.  This was today's:
Your Needs Come First When Grieving 
  1. Express preferences. Pay attention to your preferences. Let others know what you can't or don't want to do. 
  2. Know your limits. If you are tired or don't feel like doing something, you can choose not to do it. The most important thing is your care. Your friends and family will understand if you do not join in some activities.
  3. Say no. If you are invited out, but do not feel like going, it is okay to say no. Others may want to see you out, as they do not like to see you in pain. If you choose to decline some activities, you do not need to give a reason.

That is nice to know.  In that spirit, here are some preferences. 

I hear tell that there is a presidential election this year.   I am not really that oblivious but I really don't care.  I will show up and vote for one of the suits, but it is all so shallow to me.  The only thing more shallow is Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) politics.    Many of those in my former life who were on the "other side of the aisle" have been gracious to us through this loss.   That matters to me.   I will go to the presbytery meeting and stay for worship and see people.  But I doubt I'll be present for the business.   I don't want to debate or to engage in decision-making or watch others do it.  I sure as hell don't want to fight.

I have resigned from every community and presbytery committee and board.  Every day when I open my e-mail I "unsubscribe" to the various newsletters of groups soliciting my righteous passion.     In regards to work, I am letting go of anything I have to run, plan for, organize, schedule, or moderate (except for the monthly session meeting).   Thankfully, I have a great secretary, Sandra, who can administrate a lot of this.

Also, I have a colleague, Rev. Don Steele, a retired PC(USA) minister who I wrote about previously.    Don is taking some of the load of working with committees and so forth.   We have given him the title, "Assistant to the Pastor."   Hardly a title for what he has done for me, my family, and my congregation.   This is all I am going to say about it, but I do hope our presbytery will recognize his gifts and receive him as a member.  As far as I am concerned, no minister can hold a candle to him.

For my part, I can lead worship.  I will do the radio show, Religion For Life.   I will do the funerals and the pastoral care and counseling, the weddings, the hospital, the conversations over coffee, and the meeting of new people.    I will hang out with the youth, but I won't run the program.    I am getting more and more requests for holy unions for same-gender couples.   I am glad the word is getting out about that.   Those are gratifying.   Don will help with all of this, too. 

I'll show up for stuff.   Sometimes I may not.   On some days I will just stay home.   Lovely doesn't have such flexibility with her job.  But since I do, I will take advantage of it so I can be more present to her.   

I will also find ways to grieve for my son both with Lovely and Daughter and the extended family and alone.

So let it be written. So let it be done.






Sunday, August 19, 2012

And David Danced--A Sermon

And David Danced
John Shuck

First Presbyterian Church
Elizabethton, Tennessee

August 19, 2012

David and all the house of Israel were dancing before the Lord with all their might, with songs and lyres and harps and tambourines and castanets and cymbals.
2 Samuel 6:5

My wife’s grandmother is one of those people I have always enjoyed.
She is very down to earth.
About ten years ago the family was gathered and we were talking politics.
The conversation turned toward President Clinton
who at the time had just left office.
Grandma Helen had the best evaluation I have heard then or since.
She shook her head and said,
“He was a good president but a naughty boy.”

I think that might be a good evaluation for King David in the Bible.
He was a good king, but a naughty boy.

Some of the best literature in the Bible is found
in the narratives of 1 and 2 Samuel.
They are the stories, for the most part of David.
He is the shepherd boy chosen by God over his older,
stronger brothers because the text tells us
For the Lord does not see as mortals see;
they look on the outward appearance,
but the Lord looks on the heart. 1 Sam. 16:7

David is the one chosen by God to replace Saul and be king over Israel.
Many of the stories reflect this tension between Saul and David.

When Saul goes mad, David is the one who soothes him with music.
David is the brave young man who slays the giant Goliath
with a slingshot and a smooth stone.
David is a mighty warrior.
While Saul kills his thousands, David kills his ten thousands.
The plot is complicated as Saul’s daughter Michal loved David.
But David really loved Saul’s son, Jonathan.
When Jonathan is killed in battle, David weeps for him and says,
“..my brother, Jonathan,
greatly beloved were you to me;
Your love to me was wonderful,
Passing the love of women.” 2 Sam. 1:26

David is a victor and knows how to celebrate his victory.
After he brings back the ark of the covenant,
           he strips down to his underwear and dances.
David and all the house of Israel were dancing before the Lord with all their might, with songs and lyres and harps and tambourines and castanets and cymbals. 2 Samuel 6:5

His wife, Michal, is not impressed and tells him that
 he is dishonoring his role as king.
But apparently, God was on David’s side on this one.
The text says that
“Michal, the daughter of Saul had no child to the day of her death.” 2 Sam. 6:23

Biblical literature has an odd way of punishing its characters
in its attempt to determine what God might think.
I think it is important to remember that this is literature
and these are all literary characters created by their authors.
These literary characters include the character, God.
This literature has left a legacy in which tragedy is viewed as divine punishment.
But just because these ancient authors wrote in that way,
it doesn’t mean it is true.

Yet the passion is poignant.
David is acquainted with grief.
In addition to the death of his beloved, Jonathan,
David’s son,Absalom, also dies in battle.
David voices one of the greatest cries of grief
known in western literature:
‘O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would that I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!’ 2 Sam. 18:33

In David, we see great joy and great grief.
And it is all out there.

In a narrative that begins with another great line from literature,
         “In the Spring of the year the time when kings go out to battle,”
David does his naughty thing.
He spies on the beautiful Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah, bathing.
He has an affair with her while her husband is fighting for him.
Because he thinks she might be pregnant,
David tries to cover it up by calling Uriah
back to spend the night with his wife.
Uriah is such an honorable soldier that he
refuses to enjoy pleasure with his wife
while his comrades are fighting.
Then David has Uriah sent to the front lines where he will be killed.
After that happens, David makes Bathsheba his wife.

David’s scheme does not go unnoticed.
The Lord who sees on the heart also sees the sins of the heart.
The prophet Nathan confronts David with a story:

Once there was a man who had a small lamb.
He loved his lamb as if it were a child.
Another man had many lambs.
But the day the wealthy man wanted a feast
he took the poor man’s lamb and slaughtered it.

“What should happen to that man?” Nathan asks David.
David filled with righteous indignation said that the wealthy man deserves to die!

And Nathan says, and I need to use the King James to get the full effect,
“Thou art the man!”

Nathan tells David of his sin and David repents.
In the biblical way of regarding tragedy as judgment,
the child of David and Bathsheba dies in infancy.
And in the biblical way of expressing redemption,
another son of Bathsheba and David,
Solomon, eventually becomes David’s heir.

David is credited with writing the psalms,
all the great poetry of praise and lament.
It was fitting to credit David with that as his own life was filled with passion.
Plus he was a musician who could dance.
Current scholarship does not regard the psalms as authored by David.
In fact, the literature surrounding David is now considered by many scholars to be fiction more than history.
He is like King Arthur, more of a legend than an historical figure.

While that might be considered a loss,
that is the loss of the historicity of David, I tend to think of it as a gain.
Seen as literature, the authors come alive.
What is it they want to tell us about life, passion, and God through these stories?

In the character of David,
we are shown the depth and the height of human experience.
The greatest joys and the deepest sorrows are found in him.
In David, kingdoms are formed.
Battles are won.
Battles are lost.
He achieved greatness and he paid for that with great personal pain.
In the portrait of David,
the authors paint a life fully lived, filled with joy and sorrow.

This summer’s sermon series is on happiness.
One of the resources is a book by psychologist Jonathan Haidt,
The Happiness Hypothesis:  Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom.

One of the topics he addresses is life’s purpose and meaning.
Rather than speak objectively about the meaning of life,
which is pretty hard to do, actually,
he writes subjectively about something that is a bit more approachable.
What is the meaning within life?

How can we make our lives meaningful and purposeful? He writes:
Why do some people live lives full of zest, commitment, and meaning, but others feel their lives are empty and pointless? P. 219

The goal isn’t to judge ourselves or others
but really to give ourselves permission to invent or to reinvent ourselves.
We might look at some of the things human beings need.
In the end he says we are social creatures and industrial creatures.
We need love and attachments.
We need real relationships.
Also, we need vital engagement and meaningful work.
We need a calling, if you will.

He writes:
Happiness is not something you can find, acquire, or achieve directly. You have to get the conditions right and then wait. Some of those conditions are within you, such as coherence among the parts and levels of your personality. Other conditions require relationships to things beyond you. Just as plants need sun, water, and good soil to thrive, people need love, work, and connection to something larger. It is worth striving to get the right relationships between yourself and others, between yourself and your work, and between yourself and something larger than yourself. If you get these relationships right, a sense of purpose and meaning will emerge. P. 237-8

As I look at the story of David
who has relationships with many, both men and women,
who had meaningful work, battling giants and enemies
who established a kingdom for something higher than himself,
          that is God,
who sins, and yet knows enough not to blame someone else for it,
          or wallow in guilt,
          but repents and pays the consequences,
who grieves deeply in his heart,
who makes music, writes poetry, and dances…

…so what of David?

Was he happy?
He probably had a good a chance as anyone.
So do we all….

Amen.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Meaning of Life, Part 77


"He was a gift to us for twenty-five years.  When the gift was finally snatched away, I realized how great it was.  Then I could not tell him.  An outpouring of letters arrived, many expressing appreciation for Eric.  They all made me weep again:  each word of praise a stab of loss.

How can I be thankful, in his gone-ness, for what he was?   I find I am.  But the pain of the no more outweighs the gratitude of the once was.  Will it always be so?

I didn't know how much I loved him until he was gone.

Is love like that?" p. 13


"....Rather often I am asked whether the grief remains as intense as when I wrote.  The answer is, No.  The wound is no longer raw.  But it has not disappeared.  That is as it should be.  If he was worth loving, he is worth grieving over." p. 5

--Nicholas Wolterstorff, Lament For a Son

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Six Weeks

Lovely's sister and family have returned to Brooklyn.   There may yet be a lasagna in the freezer but most of the delicious food from the church folks that we have received over the last six weeks has been consumed.   The casserole dishes have been washed and returned to the church kitchen for pick up.   Lovely has been teaching for two weeks.  Daughter has been working for over a month.  I have led worship twice.  The green paraments in the sanctuary remind me that it is "ordinary time."  It is time to reenter this world.  The liminal period has ended. 

I am not ready.  Still I am liminal.   I remember reading Victor Turner in seminary:  
The neophyte in liminality must be a tabula rasa, a blank slate, on which is inscribed the knowledge and wisdom of the group, in those respects that pertain to the new status. The ordeals and humiliations, often of a grossly physiological character, to which neophytes are submitted represent partly a destruction of the previous status and partly a tempering of their essence in order to prepare them to cope with their new responsibilities and restrain them in advance from abusing their new privileges. They have to be shown that in themselves they are clay or dust, mere matter, whose form is impressed upon them by society.

Turner is writing about the rituals preparing someone to become a chief.   However, liminality also describes that experience of "betwixt and between" during any transition.   I feel like a tabula rasa waiting to be inscribed.  I am needing to learn who I am to be and how I will fit in this world after this ordeal.   The temptation is to "man up" and just get on with life.  I hear my inner curmudgeon tell me,
"Don't think about it too much and just get back to work.  Move on, move on."   

But, aside from that being less than healthy for me, I also want something from this.   If the gods, fates, and demiurges are not going to give me my son back, then I at least want some wisdom.  If I can't hear the sound of my son's voice then play for me some music through my hollow-reed heart. 

I do like Joyce Rupp:

A small, wooden flute,
an empty, hollow reed,
rests in her silent hand.

It awaits the breath
of one who creates song
through its open form.

My often-empty life
rests in the hand of God;
like the hollowed flute,
it yearns for the melody
which only Breath can give.

The small, wooden flute and I,
we need the one who breathes,
we await one who makes melody.

And the one whose touch creates,
awaits our empty, ordinary forms,
so that the song-starved world
may be fed with golden melodies.

I also like this picture of Zach and me from last year's vacation at Outer Banks, North Carolina. 


There is not enough wisdom and music in this world to make up for this.   But I still won't leave this liminal state with nothing.  This is what Rabbi Harold Kushner got back from the gods:
I am a more sensitive person, a more effective pastor, a more sympathetic counselor because of Aaron's life and death than I would ever have been without it.  And I would give up all of those gains in a second if I could have my son back.  If I could choose, I would forego all the spiritual growth and depth which has come my way because of our experiences, and be what I was fifteen years ago, an average rabbi, an indifferent counselor, helping some people and unable to help others, and the father of a bright, happy boy.  But I cannot choose.  (When Bad Things Happen to Good People, pp. 133-4)
And that's the truth.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

John Michael Greer, "Apocalypse Not" on Religion For Life, August 16-20

In this conversation with John Michael Greer we discuss the "apocalypse meme." He is the author of Apocalypse Not: Everything You Know About 2012, Nostradamus, and the Rapture Is Wrong. Why is that human beings predict and even seem to desire an "end"? Join us for this fascinating discussion of apocalyptic movements in history.
Almost since the beginning of civilization, an insatiable willingness to believe has driven people to dream of the apocalypse that will replace the world they've got with the one they've always wanted. All of these predictions have one thing in common: every one of them has been wrong.
John Michael Greer talks to me about the "apocalypse meme" as well as some real things to concern ourselves about such as how we are managing our stewardship of Earth.





Listen...

Thursday, August 16th at 8 pm on WETS, 89.5.
Sunday, August 19th, at noon on WEHC, 90.7.
Sunday, August 19th, at 2 pm on WETS, 89.5.
Monday, August 20th at 1 pm on WEHC, 90.7.
Via podcast beginning August 21st.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

It's All God--A Sermon

It’s All God
John Shuck

First Presbyterian Church
Elizabethton, Tennessee

August 12, 2012

Jesus said, “I am the light that is over all things. I am all: from me all came forth, and to me all attained. Split a piece of wood; I’m there. Lift up the stone, and you’ll find me there.
--Jesus, Gospel of Thomas 77

When I created the themes for summer worship I chose the larger theme of happiness. As I look back over the summer worship guide, it seems like it came from a long time ago. Now as I am seeking to get back into a rhythm of life which includes worship and ministry with you and I look over these themes, I wonder what the old me was thinking. My mood was playful when I put this together. Playful and oblivious. In some ways, I was like a child, really, without a care in the world. That isn’t true, of course. I had many cares. They just seem so distant now.

I am no longer oblivious. I have seen something. I have seen the excruciating fragility of this precious life. You don’t come away from that unchanged. I hope and I trust and actually I know that that old playfulness will peek around the corner at me now and again. Thankfully, as we have been surrounded by the light that as Jesus says “is over all things” that  playfulness hasn’t abandoned me. It isn’t the playfulness of a puppy but of an older dog who for a moment forgets her aches and pains and remembers the old, familiar games.

Scripture is not written for the young. The guardians of scripture try to force it on the young. “Read this, it is good for you.” But you have to have experienced some fragility before its light reveals the places within you that were formerly hidden in darkness.

This text for example. Jesus says,
“Split a piece of wood; I’m there. Lift up a stone, and you’ll find me there.”

As you know I spent my childhood on a farm in Whitehall, Montana. I split a fair share of wood in the Summer and Fall to use for the wood furnace during the Montana winters. In Spring, after the field was plowed, disked, and harrowed we would hitch an old hay trailer to the tractor and pull it through the field. We would pick the stones that had been turned up and pile them on the trailer. Then we unloaded those stones in a pile on the edge of the field. As I split wood and lifted up stones, I really can’t say that I saw Jesus.
Split a piece of wood; I’m there. Lift up the stone, and you’ll find me there.

What is he talking about?

I know there are people who have seen the face of Jesus in the clouds, or on a tree or in their oatmeal. I found this article that was written just this week in the Christian Post:
An elderly man at an adult daycare in Texas says when he was having his bacon and egg breakfast taco, he noticed the face of Jesus on the flour tortilla staring back at him. He showed it to others to confirm, and the news of the "miracle" spread.

Ernesto Garza, 80, has now tucked away a half-eaten breakfast taco with an image of Jesus Christ, carefully wrapped in foil, in the refrigerator at La Amistad Adult Daycare in Beeville, Texas, and intends to preserve it for as long as he can.

Like any other morning, Garza sat down with his taco at the daycare's cafeteria and unwrapped it. But that morning, he decided to eat only the inside of the taco. As he was poking around, he noticed a face on the charred flour tortilla staring back at him.

"I looked at it for five minutes," Garza was quoted as saying. Then he showed it to a friend sitting next to him and asked what she thought the face on the tortilla looked like. Garza's friend looked at it and jumped from her seat. "Jesus," she said.

Soon, everyone at the daycare was in the cafeteria to have a look at the face of Jesus, followed by a pouring of phone calls by media outlets.

"Here's the eyes, nose, mouth, mustache," he told KRIS-TV.

"I consider it a blessing because it's unique," Angie Rodriguez, the daycare's director, stated. She also said she had prayed the previous night for a sign from God to reassure her in the midst of a crisis in her life. The "miracle," she said, touched her life. "We believe God works in mysterious ways."

For Garza, it was "a blessing from God."

Jesus said,
“Split a piece of wood; I’m there.
Lift up the stone, and you’ll find me there.
Unwrap your breakfast taco and you’ll see me there.”

I am not an expert on the Gospel of Thomas or on the philosophies that shaped its texts. Nor am I an expert in the authenticity of Jesus sightings. I don’t know what Jesus or the author of Thomas was thinking, but Taco Jesus probably wasn't it.

But you know, people do experience the holy and the sacred in ways that are open for them. There is a sense of longing for the sacred amidst our ordinary lives.  Consider life day in and day out in La Amistad Adult Daycare Center in Beeville, Texas.  For most of the residents, this is the last stop before exit.  I'll bet they could use a little divine intervention. Good for the director of the center to call in the media, make a miracle out of this, and brighten up these lives. Why not? It is holy playfulness.

Good for those of you who each day, make and celebrate miracles and make a big fuss over others in a playful and joyful way.

Last night I was at the Johnson City Cardinals ball game. In between innings they have games for the kids. One of the games is to be the first to put on jersey and a helmet and run to slap the hand of the guy with the microphone. In this contest, there were two boys. One of the kids was able-bodied and the other was in a wheelchair. The able bodied kid took his time, purposely fumbled with the jersey and helmet so the boy in the wheelchair would win.

Those little miracles of kindness happen all the time. Peter Mayer in his song, “Holy Now” writes:
…the challenging thing becomes
Not to look for miracles
But finding where there isn't one

We long for the sacred and the holy. We long for the story of Moses confronted by God in the bush that burns but is not consumed to be true. We long for the miracle of Jesus turning the boy's lunch of bread and fish into a feast for 5,000 to happen today. We want to see Jesus in his glory on the mountaintop as did Peter, James, and John. In a similar story from the Hindu tradition, Krishna gives Arjuna eyes to see as God sees and he is transported to view the cosmos in a way he has never seen before. He is confronted by the holy and his life is transformed.  We want that.

Those are the stories of scripture. They are not repeated literally in our lives, but they speak to the experience of the holy that we glimpse when we are open and vulnerable to it.  Now we might see it in acts of kindness when this ordinary world with its excruciating fragility is embraced by the light of love and human compassion. In that light, wood, stones, and even breakfast tacos become experiences of the holy.

Amen.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Me and Coop

Lovely's sister and her new baby, Cooper, are here for the week, visiting from Brooklyn.  She had lived with us since we were in seminary and she was in the seventh grade.   She grew up with our kids.     Now, she is married and has a new son, Cooper, who Zach didn't quite get to meet.   She wasn't able to be here for the memorial service.  It is good to have them here.  Here's Coop on his birthday.



Cooper and I are home with the dogs while all the women are at book club.   Lovely's sister dressed me up in this baby wrap thing and I  took Coop and the three dogs for a walk.  I am sure I frightened the neighbors.


 Then Coop and I watched the Sony Movie Channel:  Breakout, The Hunt for Eagle One, and Bite the Bullet.    He is a good movie partner.  Few complaints.   Eats.  Poops.  Likes being held.  My kinda guy.


Thursday, August 09, 2012

Five Weeks

Five weeks ago today my Lovely and I were in Pittsburgh getting ready for the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA).   We were looking forward to an exciting week.   I was elected as a commissioner and Bev was going to enjoy some vacation.   Zach was going to house sit and take care of the dogs.

Bev and I settled in to our hotel.  Then we wandered around the city.  We went out to dinner and then to a comedy club.   I texted Zach:  
We are at the bar in Pittsburgh.  Going to watch a comedy show.  Pittsburgh is a neat city.  
He never got it.   He never got any of those texts we sent that day any more than he gets the texts I continue to send him into the aether.

On our way back to the hotel we received a phone call from our daughter.  She was crying and sobbing and scared.  She told us that the police had been to our house looking for us and were coming to her apartment.   By the time we reached our hotel the police had arrived at her apartment.  They told her in person and us by phone that Zach was found in his apartment dead.   In time, when the family is ready, I'll write about the manner of his death.

We packed our things and drove back to our home in Johnson City.

Our lives have been changed forever.

The other day I heard a man in his mid 50s tell his dad who is about 80, "See ya, Pops."  They have lunch every Friday.  I realized another loss.   I won't be growing old with Zach.   All these memories that are so fresh now, will age as will his pictures.   His photos will be dated like those from my high school days in the 70s or like those of me when I was 25.    Unlike my photos, he will be frozen in his forever.    

I was 25 when he was born.  I was on the radio.  I was a disc jockey in Seattle for 106-FM KRPM.    I had just finished my show.  I worked evenings, seven to midnight.  As soon as I left the building my wife had called the station.  On my way home the woman who followed me announced on the air that my wife's water broke and I had better get home.    These were the days before cell phones.   That was TMI for the rest of the radio audience but I got the message.    I'm glad I was listening.

I rushed home.  We went to the hospital and within an hour Zachary Andrew Shuck was born, February 8th, 1987 in Renton, Washington.

Our lives were changed then, too.  A new son to go with a toddling daughter.



It is right for a father to get a call about his son's upcoming birth.   That is a good change.

It isn't right to get a call about his death.




Sarah Sentilles, Encore Presentation, Breaking Up With God: A Love Story on Religion For Life, August 9-13

Sarah Sentilles broke up with the Creator of the Universe just as she was about to be ordained as a priest in the Episcopal Church. She tells all in her book, Breaking Up With God: A Love Story.



In this interesting and thought-provoking interview on Religion For Life, Dr. Sentilles shares her theological journey and demonstrates why if the church is going to have any relevancy to educated and inquiring minds, it is going to need to challenge its patriarchy and its outdated images of God.



I wrote about her book on my blog here and here and posted an excerpt from her book here.

Listen...

Thursday, August 9th at 8 pm on WETS, 89.5.
Sunday, August 12th, at noon on WEHC, 90.7.
Sunday, August 12th, at 2 pm on WETS, 89.5.
Monday, August 13th at 1 pm on WEHC, 90.7.
Via podcast.

Monday, August 06, 2012

Surviving

We made it through church.  You can even read the sermon.   Everyone was loving and kind.  I feel bad feeling bad because everyone is so kind.   I hope they know that my feeling bad has nothing to do with them.   There is no way ever that anyone is going to fix or ease anything, no matter how kind.   

I am a black hole. 

So after it was over I felt, I am sorry to say, a sense of dread.  The problem is that I need to do it again.  And again.  And again.  Every Sunday until I retire or die with my robe on.  

I have nothing to give.   All I have are grief and pain.  

On the sermon menu are grief and pain.  I may be able to serve up a side of bullshit.

My anxiety says, "Who can possibly listen to that week after week?  What congregation could be patient enough to wait for me to 'get through this?'" 

I know.  One sermon at a time.  One week at a time.  One day at a time.  I got it.  I'll get up there.  I'll do it.

That is what I mean by fake it 'til you make it.    It's called surviving.

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Finding Yourself and Loving What You Find--A Sermon

Finding Yourself and Loving What You Find
John Shuck

First Presbyterian Church
Elizabethton, Tennessee

August 5, 2012

You are the light of the world.
You are the salt of the earth.
--Jesus

The Lord lives in the heart of every creature.
He turns them around and round upon the wheel of his Maya.
Take refuge utterly in him.
By his grace you will find supreme peace,
and the state which is beyond all change.
--Krishna
Bhagavad Gita 18:61-62

I have often said that if Jesus, Krishna, Buddha, and other true
Emissaries of God came together, they would not quarrel,
but would drink from the same one cup of God-communion.
--Paramahansa Yogananda

It has been six weeks since I preached my last sermon. This is the longest I have been out of the pulpit since before we moved here seven years ago. My last sermon here on June 24th seems like and really is from a different world, a different life.

We have felt the embrace of love and compassion from this congregation. From the first day that we received our tragic news, you all have been there for us and continue to be here for us. Do know that Bev, Katy, and I are very, very grateful to all of you for your love and support. We have been held by the larger community and by the friends we know from places we have lived previously. Bev and Katy have been embraced from friends at their workplaces. Complete strangers pray for us.

Katy has been back to her work for several weeks now. Bev went back to school this past week and greets students this coming week. Thanks to Don Steele for leading Sunday services these previous two weeks, I have been able to ease into a rhythm of sorts at church and in worship.

Today I am honored and privileged to be in the pulpit and to administer the sacrament of communion with you, my friends. This is a sacred space and a sacred time.

I have no idea what I am doing. I guess that is not unusual.

I don’t know what I am supposed to do or how to do it. I wrote in the White Spire that I hope to follow a path between two extremes. On one hand to avoid pretending that I can fulfill my calling as a minister as if my personal loss has no bearing on it, and on the other hand to avoid misusing the pulpit as my own group therapy. That seems to make sense, but I don’t know. I really don’t have a lot of rules about this. We’ll see what happens.

I do write some posts on my blog. That is a personal medium that kind of works for me. Feel free to read it, but I ask you not to read too much into it. It is one way I process a lot of things. Since Zach’s death, I use it to address aspects of grief that I feel comfortable writing about publicly.

That isn’t the only way. I won’t speak for Bev and Katy, but do know that we are doing what we need to do and getting the support we need socially and professionally. I know that you wonder what you can do for us and I am sure that you would like to ease our pain and that you probably feel helpless to do so. That’s real. I don’t know what to do to ease my pain and I feel helpless too. So we are in that same boat. But we are floating.

I also know that our grief can trigger the grief of others. Our experience has and will bring up emotions of loss that many have experienced. Perhaps this is true for you. I hope that you can be real with that. One of the things you might do as an individual is to pay attention to your own feelings of loss. I hope you can find a way to share that. Feel free to talk to me about that. I would like that.

One of the many things that was done in these past few weeks that I appreciated was the adult forum on grief that I heard Carol Ann McElwee led. It might be a good idea to have more of those kinds of forums.

Harriet Baker put a book in my mailbox courtesy of the Morris-Baker Funeral Home that has been really helpful. I would recommend this book to anyone, How To Go On Living When Someone You Love Dies. It is good solid truth about grief and loss. The author is psychologist Dr. Therese Rando. It validated so much of what I was feeling.

Maybe one of the things we can do as a congregation is to respond to our personal loss by becoming even more aware of the losses we all suffer and how we grieve them in unique ways. I know I would feel good to know that something helpful and healing could come out of this.

The sermon theme for this summer is happiness. I decided to stick with it. If happiness is real it is going to have to be tough and persistent. It has to be as the hymn says,  
“O joy that seekest me through pain.”

One aspect of joy is the awareness that we have something of divinity about us. We have a sacred dimension, perhaps a vertical dimension that transcends, permeates, and embraces all of our being.

I think this is what Jesus discovered when he said,
“You are the light of the world.”
“You are the salt of the earth.”

Or as Krishna said,
“The Lord lives in the heart of every creature.”

We are more than the sum of our body parts.
This is true whether we feel it or not.
Every life is a gift.
This is true whether that person knows it or not.
No matter what, Love will not let us go.

For the past month I have felt a physical burning in my chest, as if my heart has been emptied. It is hollow.  It is a hollow pain.

What does that mean to be hollow in the heart? 

This week I chose for one of our readings the poem from Hafiz about stealing the flute from Krishna. As I was writing this sermon I was curious about the significance of Krishna’s flute. I am sure that there are many, many meanings, but one I found that I particularly liked is this. It speaks to me of the meaning and possibility of this emptiness in my heart:
If you get rid of your ego and become like a hollow reed flute, then the Lord will come to you, pick you up, put his lips and breathe through you and out of the hollowness of your heart, the captivating melody will emerge for all creations to enjoy.

Amen.

Meaning of Life, Part 76

Something
In your soul trusts
Me

Otherwise it would not let you near
These words.

God has spilled a Great One
Into each of us,

This warrior is always fearless
But also always
Kind.

The only business I am concerned
With these
Days,

Since I heard the Moon’s drunk
Singing,

Is
Stealing
Back our flute from
Krishna.

Hafiz, The Gift

Saturday, August 04, 2012

Searching


I slept in Zach's bed the other night in Zach's old room.  I dreamt about him.  I can't remember much about it except that I was searching for him.   I keep searching for him.  I find myself searching "Zachary Shuck" on google every few days.   I text him.   He scrubbed his facebook page.  He wasn't much for social media anyway but nothing is left but his name now.

The last time his sister, mother, and I saw him was on Father's Day.  I revisit his last ten days between Father's Day and when he took himself from us.   I looked through his bank statement to piece together where he went and what he did.   I want to get in his mind and understand what he was thinking and feeling.   Why do I do this?   Perhaps there is a part of me that thinks that maybe if I figure out the puzzle there will be a different outcome.  I want one more chance.

  

It is comforting to know that searching isn't crazy.   The Morris-Baker funeral home provided us with a helpful book, How To Go On Living When Someone You Love Dies by Dr. Therese A. Rando.  She writes this about searching:
Obsessive thinking after a loss gives you the opportunity to look at the death in every way possible to try to comprehend the event and its implications.  At the same time, you are unconsciously hoping that the next time you review it the ending will have changed....

Preoccupation with the deceased is a natural response to the loss.  First, it is a wish to undo the loss.  It allows you to "be with" your loved one even if only in your thoughts.  Second, it is a reflection of the internal grief work being done.  You are focusing attention on the deceased in an attempt to hold that loved one close in your heart and mind.  This makes it akin to hugging someone and holding him tightly before saying goodbye and letting him go.  This preoccupation with the deceased is often manifested on obsessive rumination about him, dreaming about him, thinking that you have seen him, or actively searching for him.  This is accompanied by intense yearning. aching, and pining for what has been taken away from you.  p. 41
Tomorrow I preach for the first time.   It is back to the theme with which I started the summer sermon series, Happiness.   Guess I'll go by the old adage of "fake it 'til you make it" regarding that one.   

We are going to make it.  In fact, we are making it. 

I just wish Zach was here to make it with us.