Systematizing the “Right” Way to Grieve


When I watched my grandfather die, the weirdest thing to me was that I had no idea what to feel or how to respond. Humans have been dealing with death for hundreds of thousands of years and we still are paralyzed by it. We click into any number of different responses ranging from shutting down to explosively acting out.

For my current class on caring for those at the end of their life, we went over some theoretical models for grieving and bereavement. Going through the history, it was fascinating just how desperately humans have wanted a framework for how we respond to death and dying.

Part of the problem is this: how do you define “successful” or “healthy” grief? Moving on with life while living a joyful, grateful existence full of robust social connections? I think most would agree that’s a good picture of it. But the real difficulty when you’re sitting in front of a grieving person (or are going through it yourself) is: how do we get to that place?

I think many of us believe that you really need to feel the sadness, stare it in the face, deal with it, process it, sit in it for a time. But why? My gut thinks that’s the way it should go, but the research says otherwise.

Plenty of people go through a huge loss, feel a twinge of sadness, and then get up the next morning and move on with life, with no discernible negative impact on the rest of their life or relationships. When people aren’t actively in emotional distress, there is little evidence that forcing someone to do “grief work” is actually helpful.

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When Death and I have met


I’m currently in a class on caring for those at the End-of-Life. At the beginning of this course, we were given an assignment (which you can do yourself) to give us a baseline as to our feelings and experiences around death and dying, and begin cultivating an awareness of how we cope with it.

I thought I had a good sense of my relation to death in my life, but this really clarified and confronted me in some profound ways. I saw just how unacquainted I am with death, and struggled to recall times it had entered my life.

The first death I knew of was my great-grandmother, with whom I had an oddly strong connection. But I was 10 or 11 at the time and heard about it from my mom, I think, while we sat in the car in our driveway. I remember numbness and confusion, not really knowing how I was supposed to feel. I felt solace in how religious she was, and I felt a responsibility to carry on her “legacy”.

But still, we did not return from Virginia to Texas for her funeral. This meant that my first funeral for a little boy at my church who had drowned. I was maybe 14 at the time. I did not know him, nor his family, and had no connection with them other than we went to the same large church. I went more out of curiosity and was confused at how detached I felt.

My biggest acquaintance with death was that of my grandfather. It was the first dead body I saw, and I was present for the hospice care and process of dying and grief over the course of a couple of weeks or so. But I will have more to say about this death another time.

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Lent, Accompanied by Death


I am back in school. After having received my Masters of Divinity several years ago, I am now completing the other half of training for my desired career path: a Masters of Social Work.

I’ve been working in the social work field for over a decade and have known that I’ve wanted to move towards more clinical therapy-type work. All along, I have imagined this would be your run-of-the-mill outpatient counseling with adults dealing with addiction, marital issues, mental health concerns, etc. I have respected those that work in inpatient settings, with kids, with the elderly, and such–but I have not imagined that would be my route. And I still don’t.

However, here in my second semester, just as the Christian Church is in the season of Lent, I am taking a course on End-of-Life Care, and it’s shaping up to be one of those courses that will profoundly affect me in the long run.

I’m taking the class not only because my desire in clinical work is to try and bring some greater sense of wholeness, health, and dignity to the hardest parts of human existence, but because death is an aspect of human life I’ve not had a lot of experience with. I’ve had some family members, a few acquaintances, and plenty of clients die over the years; and I’ve walked with others in their grief over the loss of others. But still, I’ve had relatively little training and direct experience with it.

Also, while religious faith can provide a structure and a sense of resilience, coping, and meaning in the face of death–that’s certainly been true for me–it can also sometimes serve as a distraction from our mortality. It can be used to minimize death, prevent us from taking it seriously, or keep us from really grappling, internalizing, or accepting it.

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Ideas for Lent: Fasting, Prayer, & Generosity


Tomorrow, Lent begins. The Lent tradition began in the 3rd-century and is a 40-day season of meditation and repentance in anticipation of Easter celebration. Whether you are just beginning to explore Christianity, or have been a Christian for some time, Lent is a perfect season to allow God to shape your life in fresh ways.

Historically, Christians have used three broad categories of practices to engage in this season: fasting, prayer, and generosity.

These practices are external means and postures for shaping one’s soul and interior life. Fasting removes things to create space in your heart and life, prayer is a way to fill that interior space, and then generosity is giving out of the overflow we trust is there.

Below, you’ll find some brief words helping us think through these categories, followed by some ideas for how you can it in your life. Pick one, or pick several. The important thing is to try and do it consistently, and use times of frustration or skipping as a chance to meditate on your own limitations, and how God meets you in that. Continue reading

No, John MacArthur: Pandemic Church Restrictions are Not Persecution


California has experienced a huge surge of COVID-19 cases in the past month or so. In response they have placed further restrictions on gatherings and businesses, including restricting churches with capacity limits and no singing.

On Friday, California pastor John MacArthur, with his elders, posted this piece saying they “respectfully inform our civic leaders that they have exceeded their legitimate jurisdiction, and faithfulness to Christ prohibits us from observing the restrictions they want to impose on our corporate worship services.”

Positive Points

First, I want to commend MacArthur and his team. Not enough churches engage in civil disobedience against the government, oftentimes letting political interests tempt churches into compromising their core values and commitments.

It was refreshing to see a large, conservative church say once again that Jesus is Lord, not Caesar, and to reclaim the sense that the Church is fundamentally opposed to the ways that government and politicians do things, especially when they will obviously receive the scorn of a watching world and local government for the sake of their convictions. However…

Good Faith, Bad Faith, Insecure Faith

I really want to avoid whataboutism throughout this piece; yet, one cannot look at MacArthur’s letter without some confusion. This is a church and denomination that has given themselves so totally to one party in our political system, they have little integrity in saying they are now following Christ, not Caesar.

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This Easter just might be a lot like the first. [quote]


One of my church’s seminary interns, Tara (who did the Holy Tuesday video, by the way), wrote out this little reflection on our Slack channel and I thought it was a beautiful reminder during our social distanced Easter this year.

This is an unusual Holy Week–one that is perhaps not so far off from that first Easter. Anxious people huddled in their homes. Jesus mysteriously appearing not to crowds or synagogues or throngs of people–but to individuals like Mary, alone and grieving at the tomb, and to two disappointed disciples on the road to Emmaus, and to others in such small solitary groups. Jesus mysteriously appearing in their midst. Perhaps like us indeed this Easter.

Tara Ann Woodward

Holy Monday Prayer & Reflection: The Fig Tree


Here is the Holy Monday prayer and reflection from my church. Leaders from the church are doing videos for each day of Holy Week, going through our prayerbook liturgy for the day and offering some personal reflections. You can also find the audio version on our podcast.

Confess

We cannot come before God
unless we are first honest with ourselves
about who we are,
about the mistakes we make,
and about how well or poorly we care for others.
In this spirit, let us offer our prayers to God.

O God of peace,
I have built up walls to protect myself from my enemies,
but those walls also shut me off from receiving your love.
Break down those walls.
Help me to see that the way to your heart
is through the reconciliation of my own heart with my enemies.
Bless both them and me,
that we may both come to grow in love for each other and for you, through Jesus Christ. Amen.

~ Silent Confession & Reflection ~

Read

Selection from Mark 11.20 – 13.36

Then he began to speak to them in parables. “A man planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a pit for the wine press, and built a watchtower; then he leased it to tenants and went to another country. When the season came, he sent a slave to the tenants to collect from them his share of the produce of the vineyard. But they seized him, and beat him, and sent him away empty-handed. And again he sent another slave to them; this one they beat over the head and insulted. Then he sent another, and that one they killed. And so it was with many others; some they beat, and others they killed. He had still one other, a beloved son. Finally he sent him to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But those tenants said to one another, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ So they seized him, killed him, and threw him out of the vineyard. What then will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the tenants and give the vineyard to others. Have you not read this scripture:

‘The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
this was the Lord’s doing,
and it is amazing in our eyes’?”

When they realized that he had told this parable against them, they wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowd. So they left him and went away.

Practice

Jesus was rejected and overlooked. Take a moment to have a conversation with someone who is often overlooked — perhaps an acquaintance you know is lonely, perhaps someone living on the street. After your conversation, spend some time praying for that person.

For Families: Ask your children if they have ever felt rejected or overlooked (explain these concepts if necessary). Ask them if you, as their parent, have ever been the cause of them feeling that way. If so, apologize and repent to them. Help them connect this feeling to Jesus’ experience and let them know that, whenever they may feel that way in their life, Jesus knows and never rejects or overlooks us.

Lent, the End of the World, & the Coming of the Son of Man


This meditation on Mark 13.1-27 is expanded from the Liberti Church 2020 Lent Prayerbook

__________

If you participated in Ash Wednesday a few weeks ago, you may have felt the shocking way Lent sneaks up on us. It refuses to ease us into its contours and instead hits us in the face with as much blunt force reality as it can: You are ash. You will die.

For those uncomfortable with these sorts of truths, the text  below does not let up. It is a scary and confusing one, speaking of death, torment, wars, and destruction–even among those most innocent in society. The confusion of this text led some Christian traditions (especially the 19th-century American Church) to separate these words from their original context and history and see them as terrifying images of the end of the world. Perhaps you grew up in such a tradition and read these words with that filter.

To the extent there is good news in this, it is that these words are not in fact talking about the end of the world. The bad news? Well, the truth of what it is saying is even scarier.

Jesus is not talking about an end-of-the-world Armageddon here. Instead, he is predicting the destruction of the Jewish Temple (which happened at the hands of the Romans 35 years later) and telling his people what to do when it happens. Just look at the verses immediately preceding the scary ones. Jesus says the Temple will be destroyed, his disciples ask when that’s going to happen and what will it be like, and then Jesus says all this stuff. When you start reading it that way, it’s pretty straightforward. But why does this matter?

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Lent: The Anointing & The Plot to Kill Jesus [guest post]



This meditation on Mark 14.1-11 is excerpted from the Liberti Church 2020 Lent Prayerbook, and is for the second week of Lent. It is by Tara Ann Woodward.

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Reflection: A Fragrant Offering

As Mark’s plot picks up speed toward Jesus’ death, the story pauses to show us a quiet interaction between Jesus, a woman, and Judas. In it, the woman anoints Jesus’ feet with expensive perfume as a symbolic preparation of Jesus’ body for death. While Judas seeks to betray Jesus, she has a different sense of who Jesus is and his purpose on earth. Jesus is the only one to notice that “she has done a beautiful thing” by preparing Jesus’ body with perfume prior to his burial, and so this beautiful thing stops the story in its tracks. As the Lenten season unfolds, we don’t want to miss what God is doing in the midst of our hearts and lives. May her posture reshape how we purposefully engage the journey to the cross.
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Ideas for Lent: Fasting, Prayer, & Generosity


Note: This was originally three separate posts that have been collated into one for future reference.

The Lent tradition began in the 3rd-century of the early church and is a 40-day season of preparation and repentance in anticipation of Jesus’ resurrection on Easter. Whether you are only beginning to explore the claims of Jesus, or have been a Christian for some time, Lent is a perfect season to allow God to shape your life around the cross and empty tomb of Christ in fresh ways.

Historically, Christians have used three broad categories of practices in this season: fasting, prayer, and generosity. If you’re like me, you forget to think about this until Lent has already started, so hopefully this helps us all.

If you think of these practices as external means and postures for shaping one’s soul and interior life, then fasting is a process of removing things to create a space, prayer is the way we fill those interior spaces, and then generosity is giving out of the overflow we trust is there.

To use another analogy, prayer is like the soul’s inhale, and love/generosity is its exhale; fasting or other ascetic practices are ways to increase our “lung capacity” or quicken our breath for a time from spiritual exertion in order to take in and give out more than we normally would. Continue reading

Transfiguration: Christmas Revealed (An Epiphany Reflection)


This Epiphany reflection is the final meditation from the Liberti Church 2019 Advent and Christmas Prayerbook.

__________

The Transfiguration has always bothered me deeply. Jesus takes his closest friends to a mountain and is “transfigured”: his clothes turn white, he talks with some Old Testament prophets, God says nice things about him; everything then calms and they walk down the mountain like nothing happened.

But… what is a “transfiguration”? Translators use that word because no one knows what this moment is or was. “Transfigure” doesn’t mean just a change in appearance, but an actual change in substance and form.  There’s simply no word in language that can communicate it. “

Transfigure”, then, is an almost nonsensical word. It’s merely a placeholder for something whose meaning we can’t ever know. So even though the words sit there in black-and-white before us, we will never know nor have access to what this actually means or is saying.
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