Monday, July 14, 2008

In the Midst of Sorrow

“In the midst of life, we are in death; from whom can we seek help?” Those are the words that begin a Service of Committal, the time after death when the loved one is either buried or cremated. “In the midst of life, we are in death.”

How true those words are, first written in a ninth century prayer book. So where does our help come from? The service goes on to read, “Our help is in the name of the Lord who made heaven and earth.” It is so often at times of death that people do turn to the name of the Lord, the creator of all, the Holy One who holds together the entire universe.

I’m not sure what it is about the month of July, but it seems to be a time when many do die, especially the elderly. I have spent much of the last few weeks at the bedside of the dying, comforting the families, preparing and attending funeral services. In conversation with several clergy friends, I find that they, also, have an unusually heavy load of funerals right now. In the last two weeks, I have lost two friends whom I had been privileged to know in these last few years, a high school classmate of my brother, and my mother just phoned with the news of yet another death of someone I had known since early childhood.

And late last week, I found that a friend whom I’ve known as soul mate has developed a particularly virulent and fast-acting form of leukemia. She was in New York City when it was discovered, was immediately put into a hospital there and is now undergoing heavy, heavy blasts of chemotherapy.

I long to be at her bedside, but cannot leave here right now, so I’ve been calling her daily. In today’s conversation, she said, “I am just beginning to understand that I probably won’t make it through this.” Yes, in the midst of life, we are in death.

Our help? It is in the name of the Lord. The worship service goes on to say, “God, who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your moral bodies also through the Spirit that dwells in you.”

This is the hope that Christianity offers to the world that cannot be found elsewhere: Christ was indeed raised from the dead. In that act, death lost its sting. Because there is a resurrection, because our mortal bodies will indeed put on immortality, death has lost its victory.

Does it hurt when we have to say these final good-byes to those whom we love? Oh my—the pain is so great that sometimes I wonder how we bear it. But we, who call upon Jesus as Lord, do above all have hope. And so in our final prayer at the graveside we say, “Gracious God, we thank you for those we love but see no more. Receive into your arms your servant and grant that increasing in knowledge and love of you, they may go from strength to strength in service to your heavenly kingdom though Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”

May all who find themselves in sorrow discover anew the words of hope.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Still Drugging Our Children

A few months ago, I wrote about my concern that normal teen-aged rebellion is now being considered a mental illness to be treated with drugs that would make youth more compliant. In a recent news release, the American Academy of Pediatrics now recommends that children as young as eight start routinely being given cholesterol-lowering drugs, and that babies as young as one year old be switched over to lowfat milk. By the way, they also note this: “The academy has long recommended against reduced-fat milk for children up to age 2 because saturated fats are needed for brain development.” However, these wise pediatricians have apparently decided that brain development is far less important than weight issues.

These recommendations come “from recent research showing that cholesterol-fighting drugs are generally safe for children.”

Kudos to the American Academy of Pediatrics—by all means, let us grow up a nation of skinny teens and adults whose brains stay at a childlike level so they’ll happily accept whatever expensive drug therapy next devised by the ever-hungry-for-profits pharmaceutical companies. By all means, let us routinely give “generally safe” drugs to our children while having no idea what the long-term impact of such drugs would be. Great idea! Why worry about proper food and good exercise when we can just give a pill instead?

Yes, I’m being sarcastic.

And yes, childhood obesity is a problem and seems to be getting worse. And yes, we are a nation of overweight people who live with the consequences of those extra pounds. My son, who currently lives in France and has spent much of the past five years in South American and Australia, was here in the States for a visit recently. His comment to me, “Wow, Americans really are big aren’t they?” The years away give him a different set of eyes.

Here, as always, I am reminded again of the wisdom contained in the Bible. Wisdom that reminds us that gluttony and greed—the need for more and more, well past the satisfying of necessary and important needs—sets us up for unhappiness and failure. When unrestrained gluttony and greed are mixed with laziness and the desire for a quick fix, i.e. an easy to swallow pill rather than the hard work of changed habits, then we’ve left behind the wisdom of God’s word to us. We’ve exchanged wisdom for foolishness, and we all pay the price.

Right now, it looks like the ones getting most hurt are our children. It’s time to stop this craziness.