Imagine two different groups of scientists. One group, armed with a set of encyclopedic guidebooks which are constantly being annotated, take turns to look at a distant star or galaxy through an extremely powerful telescope. The scientists offer comments from what they see, and in the light of what they see, or deduce, further annotations are made in the guidebooks, and their deliverances are passed on to anyone who is interested. The other group of scientists is standing round the rim of a huge concavity in the surface of the earth, or maybe there are in submarines, gazing at the rim of a huge concavity which has been detected as giving form to the sea bed. They are trying to work out what has happened, what force, what dimensions, what speed, produced this impact, and what the consequences have been, or are, or will be, for life on the planet as a result of whatever it was that produced this concavity.
Of the two groups of scientists, the one which offers the closer analogy to the discipline of theology is the second group. For the discipline of theology, a distinctively Christian discipline, presupposes a happening, an impact, an interruption, having already happened, and offering a shape which can be detected as the consequences of its having happened spread further. Furthermore, it presupposes that that happening, that impact, is not only a blind collision, of the sort produced by a meteor in the vicinity of the Yucatan peninsula, but is an act of communication. This means that the theologian is not merely an outside, commenting about something having happened, but is on the way to becoming part of the act of communication from the inside. Is on the way to becoming a shock wave from the impact, which is part of the impact itself.
-James Alison, Undergoing God, page 1.
This article comes from friend and co-worker Emily Ostrowski. Emily is a suicide prevention counselor working with an organization that helps youth dealing with suicidal ideation. I think you’ll find what she’s offered here both helpful and moving.
In Infinite Jest, renowned author David Foster Wallace, who tragically took his own life in 2008, compares suicide to a trapped person jumping out of a burning building. Wallace writes, “Make no mistake about people who leap from burning windows. Their terror of falling from a great height is still just as great as it would be for you or me standing speculatively at the same window just checking out the view; the fear of falling remains a constant. The variable here is the other terror, the fire’s flames: when the flames get close enough, falling to death becomes the slightly less terrible of two terrors. It’s not desiring the fall; it’s terror of the flames.” He goes on to note that, “Nobody down on the sidewalk, looking up and yelling ‘Don’t!’ and ‘Hang on!’, can understand the jump. Not really. You’d have to have personally been trapped and felt flames to really understand a terror way beyond falling.”
That idea of the hapless bystander unable to help or understand is one I’ve struggled with ever since volunteering as a suicide prevention counselor this past April. Continue reading
I have at least two more posts to share with all of you on the subject of suicide. This one comes from a woman, Julie Heidingsfelder, who is a member in our meeting. Julie has been impacted by the suicides of her grandfather and aunt. We are telling these stories because we think it’s important to reflect on the nature of suicide and how it impacts our lives. We are telling these stories because they’re important threads in our lives that have challenged and changed us.
This post was written in 2010 for Peggy’s Personal blog “A Silly Poor Gospel” after the death of Friend and member of Freedom Friends Church of which she was then the pastor. Peggy’s ministry has been important to me over the years and this post is no different. J. who this post is about was a friend, Quaker and someone who features prominently in my dissertation.
This post continues the theme of reflecting on suicide and its impact in our lives. It is written by Aaron Scott, a close friend, biblical scholar, poverty initiative activist, and all around awesome person. She lost her grandpa earlier this year to mental illness, here is some of Aaron and her grandpa’s story.
My grandpa committed suicide in early February of this year. He had slipped rapidly into a hallucinatory and paranoid form of dementia (after his death, a doctor suggested lewy body dementia). Between the quick onset of the illness and the agonizing slowness of the health care system to respond to our family’s requests for help, he ended up going without care for much too long. There’s more to say about all of that. But today I am wondering about: how past experiences and political realities shape people’s experiences of paranoia (especially when their minds are coming undone).
Grandpa served 32 years in the US Air National Guard. He was never deployed, but his unit was activated during the Cuban Missile Crisis and his base helped with tactical and supply operations through the Korean and Vietnam wars. According to my dad, Grandpa held a lifelong empathy for working people and his politics reflected this. But he was also a law-and-order, career military man (I think he joined up before he was twenty years old). My dad told me they barely spoke to one another during the Vietnam war. Grandpa was staunchly ideologically in support of it. My dad, just fourteen years old then, committed himself to resisting the war after being educated by his local UMC pastor on the economics behind it, becoming critical of the way he understood his peers’ lives were being used for profit.
Image on flickr by martin_kelley
This week is suicide prevention week and so it’s got me thinking more about suicide. I wrote some of my story about the suicide of my step-dad a few weeks back called “Suicide and the Things We Carry”.
My wife Emily and I had moved to Los Angeles a few months before my step-dad died. And I didn’t talk to him more than a few times in the period leading up to his death, though I did speak with him a week or so before. If I had known anything about suicide at that point – I was 24 – I would have known to take seriously some of the remarks that he made. But I was a kid and I didn’t really know how to help anyone with these kinds of issues, let alone one of my parents. I don’t blame myself for what happened but I do wonder if I had taken the signs of his spiraling depression more seriously, could I have been brave enough to call help for him?
It’s really scary when you find yourself on the other end of a phone call, or standing in front of, someone who has lost all hope. You want to believe with all your heart that they’d never “do it.” You want to believe that they know somehow deep down inside that are loved, they are precious, they are wanted and needed. But this is not always the case and it can be a dangerous assumption to make. Do not assume that someone you love knows, or understands, that you love them or how deeply you love them. And don’t assume that your love is enough on its own to pull them back from the brink. Continue reading
That a woman not ask a man to leave meaningful work to
That a man not ask a woman to leave meaningful work to
That no one try to put Eros in bondage.
But that no one put a cudgel in the hands of Eros.
That our loyalty to one another and our loyalty to our work not be set in false conflict.
That our love for each other give us love for each other’s work.
That our love for each other’s work give us love for one another.
That our love for each other’s work give us love for one another
That our love for each other give us love for each other’s work.
That our love for each other, if need be,
give way to absence. And the unknown.
That we endure absence, if need be,
without losing our love for each other.
Without closing our doors to the unknown.
They fail to read clearly the signs of the times who do not see that the hour is coming when, under the searching eye of philosophy and the terrible analysis of science, the letter and the outward evidence will not altogether avail us; when the surest dependence must be upon the Light of Christ within, disclosing the law and the prophets in our own souls, and confirming the truth of outward Scripture by inward experience; when smooth stones from the brook of present revelation shall prove mightier than the weapons of Saul; when the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, as proclaimed by George Fox and lived by John Woolman, shall be recognized as the only efficient solvent of doubts by an age of restless inquiry.
John Greenleaf Whittier: The writings, 1888-9, vol. 7, p. 313. Letter to “The Friends Review,” 1870.
This is the text I preached on this past Sunday.
“When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable. “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, ‘Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
He said also to the one who had invited him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.””(Luke 14:7–14)
Children Meeting for Worship / Photo PYM
This is a guest post written by Chad Stephenson a Quaker from San Francisco. It is a response to the Friends Journal article “Bringing Children to Worship” and my follow-up article found here. This article comes largely from Chad’s work with children as a librarian as the San Francisco Friends School. He’s a good friend of mine and I’ve always appreciated his insights and thoughts, I think you’ll find the same is true for what he’s written here.