Thursday, January 25, 2007

Under a Spell

I've been recording Six Feet Under on my DVR lately. After a few years of friends suggesting that "you'd really love this show," I finally have the impetus to watch--and boy am I glad. Tonight I just finished watching what I think is the first episode of season 3, where Nate has multiple visions of possible lives while under aneaesthesia. I thought his (what I assume is the first) vision, being married to what's her name--Lisa? Enamored with fatherhood, was beautiful and reminicent of life on this homefront. There were also plenty of quirky little Los Angeles things that I thought were fun, like Lisa's annoyingly self-absorbed boss "in the business." I would just say, I think every person in the ministry should watch this metaphysical comedy drama mystical treatise on life and death and the hereafter. Good schtufff.
On the subject, I rode with the local funeral home director on a 20 minute drive out to the country cemetary where we buried Jerry today. As we pulled in to the cemetary, after a long conversation about the culture of grief in Oklahoma (which perhaps I'll blog on another day) I finally worked up the nerve to ask him if he was a six feet under fan. He laughed and said he loved it, and that he got that question from families all the time. His kids bought him the collectors edition for Christmas, and he would stay up late at night and plop in a DVD after his wife went to bed. we laughed b/c we both have the same watching pattern (his wife doesn't appreciate some of the more "left coast" morality of the program, mine just doesn't have the time to get hooked into another t.v. program--although she's watched a couple, and I can tell she's weakening in that conviction. He offered to let me borrow his box set, because he's on season 5, and I think I've missed several episodes of 1 and 2. How cool is that--borrowing 6 feet under from the local funeral home director? Ha! That's small town for you!

Monday, January 22, 2007

Death on the Doorstep

Helping people experience death is one thing I didn't feel prepared for going in to the ministry (largely because apart from a friend's suicide when I was 17, I had not experienced much death). However, after two years of ministry, I don't know that any amount of "experience" with the dying and survivors prepares a minister to be what he or she needs to be in the face of death. Only the action of the Holy Spirit makes us "qualified" to help anchor people in times of crisis. I have learned more about grieving and the typical processes of encountering death through seminary and other programs since, but these last two weeks have been unusual.
First, I received a call from a church member a week ago last Friday that alerted me to the death of a young woman that I knew from around town who had found her husband, age 39, on the floor of their living room that morning. She didn't have a church family, although on occasion had expressed interest in attending our church, and her family and his family were both from out of state. The caller was concerned that there may not be anyone there for them. So, I got on some clothes and headed over there around 7am. I knocked on the door, and the policeman opened and let me in. I noticed the deceased man laying on the floor, and went into the kitchen where the woman was being comforted by another woman. They looked at me, puzzled and relieved to see me. They explained that they hadn't even called anyone, so were unsure how I knew, but were happy I was there. I was puzzled too, and we put it together that perhaps the person who called me had heard on the police scanner. I stuck around while the police waited for the coroner, then the funeral home. The woman was concerned for her son, who had not woken up yet. He is only 11 years old. They also have a young daughter and a daughter Wesley's age.
I remember the shoebox on the kitchen counter full of rolled coins. They had had a family discussion the night before about savings.
I wasn't sure what I could do or how I could be of help, but I remembered my dad saying that "sometimes your presence there is simply reassuring to people." So I stood in the kitchen and talked with the woman and the folks who streamed in as the news began spreading around town. Eventually the son woke up--the widow took him by the shoulders and steered him into the game room. I followed, partially pulled along by the older woman who had been there when I first arrived. I remember her saying, "brother" and thinking--well, who the hell is this boy going to think I am. I had met him once before, but doubted he remembered me. So I sat with him and his mother as he learned that his father had died, I just put my hand on his shoulder. The funeral home arrived, so the woman left and I stayed in the game room with the boy. I prayed that God would help me be the presence for this boy that I would hope someone would be for Wesley if he were in this boy's shoes right now. I thought that he might feel awkward with me sitting there, so I just told him, "You don't feel the need to say anything to me if you don't want to, I'm just going to sit here and stay with you, OK?" He nodded his head and then slipped into a long, deep stare at the Dish Network screen saver that kept jumping around the screen of the television.
Eventually, folks came into the room with us, and the boy decided he wanted to get some clothes on. I went and stood with the policeman and coroner as they wrapped up their conversation. The funeral home had come and gone. I decided to go ahead and leave at the same moment the police and coroner left. I remember feeling like one of the "officials" leaving the women behind to cry on each other's shoulders.

Then, yesterday, as I was walking back to my Sunday school class of youth, a church member came running in the door from outside and saying, "pastor, we need you." A member who lived across the street from the church was lying on the ground in front of his front porch. There was a circle of people around him, and one of my members was trying CPR on him. The man's brother is our next door neighbor, he owns the four pecan trees and the empty lot to our south. I jogged up to a group which was mourning, urgent, shocked, worried, and praying. I remember thinking when I first saw him laying there with his head and feet on the ice covered ground that he looked peaceful. I put my arm around the man's wife and just stood there with her. Lara was already over there, and she held her hand. We stood and hoped, quiet. When the ambulance finally got there, they got him on a gurney and took him inside. Then the ambulance just sat there. We got folks into various cars and trucks and ready to go to the hospital, and still the ambulance sat. One person theorized that they were trying to get him stabilized for the trip over to Okmulgee. Lara, impatient, went and asked the police officer what the holdup was. She came back over to me and said, "Go and speak to that policeman." i did, and he walked over to the side of the ambulance opposite the family's house. "Pastor, it doesn't look good, so I don't know if that changes your approach to things, here, but I can just tell you when they've tried CPR for this long with nothing happening, it's usually not a good sign." He told me what I knew, but the ambulance wheeled around to head toward the hospital anyway, and I got in the car and followed the family out to the hospital. I remembered seeing folks headed into town that were coming to church, and I thought, what should I do? I stayed at the hospital for a few minutes, waiting to hear the inevitable, then decided to go on back to the church for the worship service.
I expected it to be a small gathering, but I walked into a packed church. I suppose a week cooped in the house because of an ice storm will make good church goers out of a community! I told the people the news, and then prayed the 23rd Psalm. Then we went on with the service as normal. It was weird. Lara came back from the hospital right before the children's sermon, so I went down into the pews and sat with her as she told me that he had died. I waited until the children's sermon was over and the kids had cleared out for children's church, and then I told the congregation the news that he had passed away. I prayed a prayer from the funeral liturgy asking for God's presence as we shrink before the mystery of death and God's power in our lives to embolden us to live as those who are prepared to die and to die as those who go forth to live. Then I asked our pianist to play "Stand By Me," instead of the hymn that we had selected for that morning.
Afterwards, when it came time to share the joys and concerns, it occurred to me that we gather as a community to worship God and share with one another our grief and our joy, and that in the sharing of those things in the community of Christ, Christ comes into our lives and experiences those things with us. The Spirit moved in that church building that day, and I believe all who were there felt a new sense of the importance of community. As for me, it was troubling and at the same time emboldening to lead a group of people through an experience like that. I didn't feel qualified to do it, but asked for the guidance of the Spirit, and know that the prayer was answered.

Friday, January 12, 2007

intrigued--children of men

Lara and I went to see the children of men the other night--It was really the only movie that we were interested in, and it was our 9 year anniversary as a couple (not wedding anniversary) So we gave it a look. It was definately one of those movies that leaves you thinking about all the angles and symbols and meanings. I loved it. the action sequences were also very involving--what a vision of the future! Now I've checked out the book from the library--I've also gone to the www to try and find some conversation about the movie. I ran into this blog, and I want to save it for me for later (which, by the way, is the original "purpose" for weblogs) so here is a link to an interesting site, if interested--some kind of community blog about symbolism and Christianity.