Grief and Bananas - Let's Dispense with the God-Talk Platitudes

This post might get a bit heavy - not heavy in the "I can't lift it" sort of way, but heavy in the "that's serious" sort of way. Now that you have been warned, let's dive in.

Years ago Elizabeth Kübler-Ross made the phrase 'death and dying' popular (I've always thought it should be dying and death - I mean don't they come in that order more often than not?).  The fame of her work and the mission of the resulting organization - now widely known as Hospice - has brought many of the issues around death and grief to the forefront. In her trend setting "Stages of Grief" model, Kübler-Ross has helped us understand that all people must travel through grief (to a great or lesser degree) when faced with a significant loss. Our grief journey isn't usually direct, neat or painless - but it is necessary. I've included a brief recap of the 5 Stages of Grief at the end of this post - since I know you are dying to really eager to learn more.

Here's the deal. People with a theistic worldview often turn to god-talk to try and deal with grief - quickly. The guiltiest of this are those of us who are looking from the outside-in at someone else's grief. Our thoughts and comments seem loving and well intended (yes. We all the road to hell is paved with good intentions). Ever hear or say one of these:

"We can take comfort that they are in a better place now."
"It is part of God's larger plan."
"I know he/she will be celebrating in heaven tonight."
"At least they aren't suffering anymore."
"He/she's with Jesus now."

Sound familiar? What could possibly be wrong with saying stuff like this? Two BIG problems.

First these are statements that are being claimed from the outside of grief and most likely are disconnected from the current experience of the grieving person. It isn't typically helpful to others - and most likely is an expression of our own difficulty dealing with the complex and uncomfortable emotions and concepts surrounding loss, death and our effort to understand the world. It is, in a way, like telling the child who just dropped their only cookie into the mud that "That's the way the cookie crumbles." We might as well say, "Get over it, kid." We need to be allowed to move through each step of grief - not challenged to jump to the end.

Secondly, when we toss around well meaning references to our perceived larger truths, we may be assuming the person even has a similar faith tradition. In a recent article in USA Today | News, an atheist's perspective on well meaning people of faith bring this to reality.

"We are facing an absolute loss, so when someone projects onto that the idea that we are going to be able to hold our children again or communicate with them, it is essentially dismissing the magnitude of that loss." - Rebecca Hensler

Common respect for another's belief should give us pause before laying down well meaning platitudes. My point (and I thank you for hanging on to my ramblings long enough for me to make it) is that we should approach discussions about dying and death "with fear and trembling" and thus, a high measure of respect. I would suggest we allow ourselves to be in the real and necessary discomfort grief - with the grieving. Perhaps we can learn another phrase or two:

"I know grief is hard."
"Death is tough to deal with - more than we usually imagine."
"My heart hurts with your loss."
"I can't know what you are feeling, and I want to help in any way I can."

I remember when a good friend and mentor of mine died. I was speaking to his widow a few days after his death and said, "I know this is a hard time and that there really isn't anything I can say or do to make it better, but is there anything little thing you need?" She looked at me a said, "Yes. Bananas." I must have looked surprised, because she started to smile and then we both laughed. Truly, she needed bananas to make a recipe for her son's school the next day. Sometimes, the best thing we can do to help people through their grief and for ourselves - is to just walk through the days with them. Bananas. Go figure.

The 5 Stages of Grief, popularly known by the acronym DABDA, include:

1. Denial — "I feel fine."; "This can't be happening, not to me."
Denial is usually only a temporary defense for the individual. This feeling is generally replaced with heightened awareness of possessions and individuals that will be left behind after death.

2. Anger — "Why me? It's not fair!"; "How can this happen to me?"; '"Who is to blame?"
Once in the second stage, the individual recognizes that denial cannot continue. Because of anger, the person is very difficult to care for due to misplaced feelings of rage and envy.

3. Bargaining — "I'll do anything for a few more years."; "I will give my life savings if..."
The third stage involves the hope that the individual can somehow postpone or delay death. Usually, the negotiation for an extended life is made with a higher power in exchange for a reformed lifestyle. Psychologically, the individual is saying, "I understand I will die, but if I could just do something to buy more time..."

4. Depression — "I'm so sad, why bother with anything?"; "I'm going to die soon so what's the point... What's the point?"; "I miss my loved one, why go on?"
During the fourth stage, the dying person begins to understand the certainty of death. Because of this, the individual may become silent, refuse visitors and spend much of the time crying and grieving. This process allows the dying person to disconnect from things of love and affection. It is not recommended to attempt to cheer up an individual who is in this stage. It is an important time for grieving that must be processed.

5. Acceptance — "It's going to be okay."; "I can't fight it, I may as well prepare for it."
In this last stage, individuals begin to come to terms with their mortality, or that of a loved one, or other tragic event.


The Bible Can't Prove It - Self Authenticating Authority

Just so I'm clear on this, you can't prove the infallibility of scripture by quoting scripture. It's an insane argument.


The Dark Side - Is It Really Necessary?

I love art, especially hand drawn works. I don’t draw (although I have been accused of drawling often enough). Two things seem very important in sketch art: what is there and what contrasts with what is there.

Original art - Vanessa Boynton

The use of shadow, contrast and ‘white space’ serve to catch my eye and draw a needed focus to the rest of the work. Without shadow and contrast – the main image and focus is impossible to see. The darkness and the light are necessary. Now allow me to think out loud for a moment.

I’ve heard many people wax philosophical about the role of shadow, darkness (aka evil) in our lives. It is sometimes casually mentioned, “Well, if it wasn’t for the bad – we wouldn’t appreciate the good.” While there is some truth to this in art and artistry, I believe I will take exception with any universal application of that slogan - at least today.

Poetically speaking it may be true that struggling in the dark, searching for a light switch, may lead us to feel relieved when we flip on the light (heck! I certainly don’t want to trip over my dog in the night. He might bite), it is not then necessary for me to have that darkness to appreciate the convenience of light. I don’t have to have wet to enjoy dry, or black to like white, or loud to love quiet. However, let’s assume for a moment that these life contrasts are necessary – it still doesn’t prove we need evil. Speaking of evil, let talk about parenting (funny? Yes?)

If you grow up as a child with loving, attentive and kind parents – do you require bad parents to recognize this? I don’t think so. You just live and thrive within the goodness of your “Leave It to Beaver” household. There doesn’t have to be an abusive, molesting father in the world in order for us to benefit from and enjoy the tenderness of a loving parent. No. There seems to be a point at which the contrasting experiences of our living cease to be variants of natural conditions and become something qualitatively different.

I think my point is that there is a real, not just theoretical distinction between artistic or life reference contrast and the real ‘darkside’ of our life. There are bad, severely misshaped realities (read people) in our world. We should work to change that and under no circumstances should we justify their existence with some artistic or poetic analogy.

Does this make sense to you? Is there a line, however difficult to draw consistently, that separates acceptable differences from just plain wrong?

Note: strange thought just now – I believe both Hitler and Jesus would agree with the above. That’s scary.


Whitney Houston Prediction - Another Drug Death

I'll go ahead and make the assumption and prediction: Another celebrity with amazing talent, success and fame has died because of drug and alcohol addiction. The news of Whitney Houston's death has exploded through Social Media and traditional media outlets. Everyone is being very careful, and apparently respectful to report the causes of her death to be "unspecified" at this point. I'm going to take a leap here, and I'll take full responsibility for being wrong - if I am. Her death is related to drug and alcohol abuse.

Celebrities often become the focus of news and discussions about addiction. I don't even have to name them off, you can do that yourself. From Joplin to Jackson the list a very long and well know one. However, behind everyone of these celebrities is a raging sea of human causalities tossed aside.

Listen as you hear people talk about Whitney this week. There will be the politically correct response of "What a tragic loss. She had an amazing voice." There will be a mention of the bad Bobby Brown. Then we might hear the story turn more personal. We might hear our family and friends share about those they know and have lost to addiction.

I've spent over a decade of my life among and around addicts trying to recover. For every celebrity addict news mention I can personally name multiple men and women who have died from addition. Men and women who were bright, gifted, funny and intelligent. Addiction seems to like those types of people, likes to destroy them. It makes me furious that there is this cunning, baffling and deadly condition among us that destroys life - often in dramatic fashion. In some ways, I believe Whitney hardly had a chance.  The numbers alone were against her. According to some sources, addicts have (at best) a 30% recovery rate, and if we look at alcohol, that success rate drops to about 14%. Add to that equation some financial success  (so you don't run out of money) and fame (so people tend to tell you what you want to hear), and the odds against an addict finding recovery are low enough to make a Vegas bookie salivate.

I don't have the answer.  Some celebrities make it. According to a NewLifeRecovery article Bonnie Raitt and Eminem seem to have made recovery and stardom work. For the rest of us, the treatments are fairly well known: 12 steps programs, Outpatient therapy, Individual Therapy, Support Groups, etc. The biggest problem with an addict's success  in recovery is the addict. The addict has to want to learn how to live without mind and mood altering substances - continuously. The greatest success is when that addict seeks recovery within and stays connected with others who are seeking to recover.

The Grammys are tonight, and no doubt Whitney's death will flavor much of what is said. It is my hope that at least some of the chatter and sentiment will carry a message beyond the tragic loss of one amazing artist, and to the greater issue of addition in entertainment and our larger culture.


Yes. Wish I Had Said That - Carl G. Jung

There is very little change without pain and pain is most often the thing that moves us to change. I've heard it said: "When the pain of the same is greater than the pain of change - we will."


The Event of Preaching - Wishful Preaching

I had the privilege of standing in the pulpit on a weekly basis for more than 15 years. Let me first begin by saying something about that privilege. Preaching is an event with very specific religious components. Commonly surrounded by music, readings, prayer and liturgy, preaching is encased in worship. As such the preacher has the role of delivering a spoken word about God (at a minimum) and from God (at best). Preaching is best done in the voice of authority. Truths are to be proclaimed, not suggested. A message of godly importance should not be offered half heartedly or with timidity. In such authoritative form, preaching then forces us to grapple with a truth proclaimed in substance, a word spoken with palatable form. As such, preaching is never to be considered only as an act of proclaiming, but as an act consisting of equal parts speaking and hearing. The event of preaching is meaningless without the collision of word and ear...