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A Sermon on Suicide (June 10, 2018)

I had a sermon nearly written this week, when I woke up Friday morning to hear about the death of Anthony Bourdain. He died by suicide. This wasn’t the first time this week that a celebrity died by suicide. Kate Spade the famous handbag mogul also died by suicide this week. So, I’m at a place that we need to have a conversation as the body of Christ specifically about suicide.

Suicides have increased 30% in recent years and there have been two reported suicide clusters in Palo Alto in the last 5 years. Within the last year one high school student who died by suicide who was part of an ELCA Lutheran church in Palo Alto.

Since I have come to serve you as pastor, I have presided at one funeral for someone in our wider community who had died by suicide. Personally, I have known two people who have died by suicide, one of them being a family member.

I have had more than one conversation with someone contemplating suicide and I’m sure that I will have others.

Language

The first thing I want to say is that that we should no longer say that someone “committed suicide.” People commit robbery, adultery, murder, and lumping suicide in it can stigmatize mental illness and be not empathetic to those who have attempted suicide.

You’ll find that I use the words “died by suicide” or “completed suicide.” I understand that their are better ways to say things and there is a lot of discussion around which way is best, but it’s important to realize that the way we talk about these things also effects the way we see suicide.

Because if you see suicide as a crime or as a sin, it’s easier to stigmatize those who are contemplating or have attempted suicide.

Languages affects worldview and there is an old notion that somehow suicide is an unforgivable sin.

There is this part of the Luther movie, played by Ralph Fiennes, were a boy had completed suicide. The Father of the boy asks Luther what God says….there is no answer. The next scene is Luther’s struggle with this issue. He is praying to God and rebuking Satan and struggling with what had happened to the boy.

The next scene is Luther digging the grave in the church cemetery. The grounds keeper said the boy couldn’t be buried there because it was a mortal sin. Luther said, “Some say that according to God’s justice this boy is damned because he took his life. I say he was overcome by the devil. Is this child anymore to blame for the despair that overtook him than an innocent man who was overcome by a robber in the woods?”

He goes onto say, “God must be merciful. God is mercy.” Luther than prays absolution over the boy. Our language has to include our theology. We must not say that someone who dies by suicide is somehow in hell.

No, we must say that they were overcome by their depression or mental illness, no different than any other disease that someone is fighting against.

A House Divided

Jesus tells us a universal truth in today’s gospel reading. A house divided cannot stand. He is so right. He is so wise when saying this. What empire has ever lasted for eternity? None. Because they become a house divided.

But, in reality we are all divided against ourselves. We are all both sinners and saints and people who do not have the uniformity of will like Jesus does. So, when we recognize that we are at war even within ourselves we can then show understand how great God’s mercy is toward us, even if our divided hearts and lives end in our own deaths. God is still merciful despite our actions.

But as people of God called to reflect the reality of God’s Kingdom there is more that we can do. We can be truthful about what is happening.

Listen

Maybe someone has told you how bad life it, how they wish to end it all, or how better off people around them would be if they were not around. Maybe someone you know has said that they wished they were dead. Perhaps they have even said that they wanted to die.

I want you to know that if some someone has alluded to death, named it outright, or has claimed the feeling of not wanting to go on any longer, they have trusted you with that information.

They have reached out to you with their thoughts. And they are possibly reaching out for help.

Now we are not mental health professionals. But, we are Christians and we can see we are all made in the image of God. Everyone is worthy of being listened to, truly heard and understood, and taken seriously. 

It is our human nature to deny the tragic reality in front of us. Our brains will make up excuses. Our discomfort and fear and maybe even anger will try and make us believe that someone didn’t just say what we thought they just said. We will lie to ourselves that our friends just said they didn’t want to go on any longer.

But, we have to fight against that impulse. Ignore that feeling. You have to fight against your own impulse to change the subject, ignore what they said, or lesson the impact.

They deserve to be listened to. Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “Those who can no longer be listening to their neighbor, will no longer be able to listen to God either.”

So listen. Listen intently.

Ask Questions

You are not going to heal their brokenness, but once you’ve listened you can ask questions.

Why do you want to die?

Have you thought about dying by suicide?

If someone is telling me about their depression or their thoughts about death, a very simple questions I ask is, “Have you thought about suicide?”

Most people appreciate the question. They want to know you take their thoughts seriously. They want to know that you are taking their pain seriously and that you want to know how bad it is. More often than not if I ask someone if they have thought about suicide and it’s not that bad for them, they have thanked me for asking, because they know I’m seriously listening to their pain. In asking that questions they have felt heard.

Now, the concern is always that the answer will be yes. That someone has thought about it. The next question should be, “Have you made a plan?” or “When have you thought about doing it?”

You have to know the risk they pose to themselves. If they say something like, “After I talk with you” or “Later on today.” You know that they require immediate help. It might be time to take them to the hospital or call for help.

Ask them if they own or have access to a firearm. Because if they do, you can make sure that it gets secured in a safe place, away from them.

Stay with them, ask them their risk of completing suicide today. Don’t shy away from direct questions that could possibly save their lives.

Don’t let your fear of what someone might say get in the way of asking direct questions.

Persuade and Refer

You have listen to them, you have asked questions, now is the time to persuade them. Now is the time to ask them not to complete suicide.

There are better ways to do this than not.

Tell them how their death would affect you. Tell them how sad you’d be if they died. Tell them how you would mourn them. Tell them that you would suffer if they were gone. Ask them not to die by suicide.

In my experience telling people there is “so much to live for” isn’t helpful.

Telling them that “they are being selfish” isn’t helpful.

Asking people to look for the good things in life rather than the bad or cheer up,or get some exercise, or just not feel that way is not helpful.

Mental illness is not a matter of lifestyle change. Lifestyle changes can only be so helpful. And sometimes it can take years for someone with a mental illness to get their medication right. Sometimes it can take a long time for them to get semblance of equanimity in their lives.

When my sister-in-law got breast cancer she said, “My breasts are trying to kill me. It’s a weird thing that part of my body is trying to kill me.” Some people brains are trying to kill them. That’s what mental illness can do.

Persuade them to get help. You are not a mental health professional but you can refer them to one. You can refer them to a crises line, you can drive them to a hospital, you can help them get the help that they need. 

Listen, ask questions, persuade, and refer to help.

For Those Who Suffer Suicidal Thoughts

If there are any of you in the congregation here today that are thinking about dying by suicide. If any of you here today feel the darkness creeping in and that it seems like the only way out, please talk to me about it. We can arrange getting you some help. Any time of day any hour, I will sit with you, I will be there to help you through this. This doesn’t have to be the end for you. We want you around. I would be so sad if you were not with us anymore. Please talk to me or talk to someone.

Prayer

Will you pray with me?God you are merciful and abounding in steadfast love. You have created us good and yet sometimes we are a house divided. Help us to listen to others,help us to ask questions, help us to persuade to get the help that they need.Most of all be with those who are suffering. We ask for your peace to cover those who suffer and the vulnerability to reach out for help before their suffering become unbearable. That all may live whole lives centered on your merciful love. We pray these things through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

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My Problem With Anti-Racism Classes

I have talked before about occupying two worlds here Mixed Race, Tortillas, and #DecolonizeLutheranism so I don’t really feel the need to talk about it again. I will say that I am constantly trying to deal with the white privilege that I have while at the same time being Latino and not always understanding were white folk are coming from.

I’ve also attended more Anti-Racism classes than I can remember.  They have taken many forms whether they be 2 hours, 6 hours, or weekend events with multiple sessions. The programs have looked different with some being more engaging than others.

Anyway, in general, my problem with anti-racism classes are not the classes themselves but that everyone attending are at different places.

For some they need to be convinced that systemic racism and white privilege are  real things.  They want it solely make it about the individual action and intentions that people have. And since they don’t have those they can’t be racists. One reason being shown how it works on a systems level is essential to understanding what People of Color experience on a daily basis.

Others strongly believe that racism is a problem still and understand that systemic racism is prevalent but that somehow they stand outside of that problem.  As if being a white liberal exempts them from having bigotry and prejudice in their own hearts. These folks act as if racism is something that exist purely at a systemic reality and they, being enlightened, exist outside of it. White liberals are racist too.

For People of Color, they are made aware that this space isn’t really for them. At one of the most recent events I went to we are asked was that if we had ever had a Latino in our home. My brother responded, “Every damn day.”  Three of us who are Latino started laughing. That wasn’t a questions that was for us. So, I question what is there for us in these events?

I find myself feeling so awkward in these spaces because I am embarrassed for people. Vulnerability could just be white fragility. Anger could just be unprocessed paralyzing white guilt.

Surely there is another way.  Am I being too critical here?

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Books I Read in 2016

Helping Children Succeed: What Works and WhyPracticing the Way of Jesus: Life Together in the Kingdom of LoveThe Relational Pastor: Sharing in Christ by Sharing Ourselves

 

The Children of Light and the Children of Darkness: A Vindication of Democracy and a Critique of Its Traditional DefenseStrength to LoveDaring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead

The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms YouTaco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered AmericaJesus: The Human Face of God (Icons)

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Doodles on Divorce

So, here is my time to come out to those of you who don’t know.

I am now divorced.

It’s actually been awhile but I haven’t felt the need to talk about it publicly for a variety of reasons. I have been reflecting on myself and the whole process of divorce and have jotted some stuff down throughout the year. Here it goes…

  • Accept emotional roller coasters.
  • Trust your intuitions about relationships. If something doesn’t feel right, it’s most likely not. It really does take two people for a marriage to work.
  • Realize and try to accept that all issues may not be resolved. Life doesn’t always resolve with tidy bows on them.
  • Forgiveness is a daily practice.
  • Divorce affects more relationships than just you and your spouse. More relationships are affected than you will know.
  • Divorce especially sucks if you liked your spouses family.
  • When people ask, try and talk only about what you did wrong, not what your spouse did.
  • If you can’t say anything nice don’t say anything at all. Sometimes this means being in the same room and not talking.
  • Families tend to rally around their own. It’s natural for family to want to defend their family member and place blame on the other.
  • No matter how much I want to justify myself, I am also to blame.
  • Take one for the team if you have children. This means having to push things aside for the sake of your children.
  • Children suffer the most. They are the ones who have to travel from house to house.
  • Mourning takes a while. Let it.

(Quick Disclaimer: I recognize that every divorce is different. These were notes I wrote to myself and do not mean for them to be universal in their application. I wrote myself these notes to remind myself of my own ideals.)

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A Primer on White Privilege

I’ve been thinking a lot about white privilege and racism in these United States for a while now. I’ve been collecting articles that I like and feel would be helpful to describe what is going on.  Today I post them.

If you have any contributions please leave it in the comment section of this blog.

Explaining White Privilege to a Broke White Person

White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack

What I said when my white friend asked for my black opinion on white privilege

Dante and David apply for the same job but only one gets an interview. Here’s the rest of their day.

The racist housing policy that made your neighborhood

Dear White America: which form of protest do you prefer?

Post your articles below.

 

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Our Lady of Guadalupe (Part 2)

The story of Our Lady of Guadalupe is amazing to me for two reasons. First is the person of Juan Diego. Second, is the image imprinted on the tilma.

Juan Diego was an Indian who recently had converted to Catholicism. Let’s be honest, these weren’t willing conversions.

Juan Diego received a message of divine revelation in his own context.  In Aztec culture you could be assured that the divine was speaking to you if flowers and songs were present. You’ll notice that at the beginning of the story Juan Diego notices the bird singing before Mary appears. The story ends with the flowers he wrapped in his tilma. The songs of the birds and flowers are confirmation that the divine was present.

The appearance of Mary was given to someone outside the power structure of the Catholic Church. God speaks to an Indian, not the Bishop, and tells him to bring a message to the people in power. The Bishop, the one who is perceived to have the authority of God, is now placed in the position of having to listen to God through the ones that he had subjugated. Just when we begin to believe that God only works through the church and the people God has given to those who are in charge, Mary appears to a poor Indian. It’s like the hot lava of divine revelation had to break through the magma that had solidified at the top of the volcano of institutional powers. So, Juan Diego delivers the message to the powers that be that a church must be built at Tepeyac. (Interesting side note: The hill were the appearance took place was previously a temple to the Aztec Mother Goddess Tonantzin)

The image that was imprinted on the tilma is amazing because of the symbolic meanings that it would have given the indigenous of Mexico. The first is that the girl does not look like a Spaniard, but indigenous. She has dark skin signifying she is like them.  As for the image itself, Virgilio Elizondo writes:

“The lady hides the sun but does not extinguish it. This is most important, for the missionaries were trying to destroy everything of the native religions as diabolical. She is greater than the natives’ greatest manifestation of the deity, the sun, but she does not destroy it. She will transcend, but not do away with. This is the assurance that their ancient way of life will continue, but now reinterpreted through something new and greater. she is standing upon the moon and therefore superior to their second greatest manifestation of the deity.

She wears the turquoise mantle. Turquoise was the color reserved for the supreme deity, who alone could bring harmonious unity out of the opposing forces that governed the universe. Her dress was the pale red  of the blood sacrifices. She had assumed the blood sacrifices of her people and was now offering herself to her people. She appears with hands folded over her heart and pointed in the direction of the people.-the native sign of the offering of self to others.

She who was greater than all their divinities was herself not a goddess, for she wore no mask and her eyes were beautiful. In her eyes, the image of  a person is easily discerned. In her eyes, every generation of Mexicans has seen themselves personally accepted, respected, loved, and valued. There is nothing more life giving than to see ourselves reflected, accepted, and valued in the eyes of  an important other. In the very gaze of the eyes there is rebirth.

This beautiful lady who is truly from above and yet very much on of their own is pregnant, for she wears the waist band of maternity. Furthermore, over her womb, one finds the ancient Aztec glyph for the center of the universe. Thus, she, according to ancient Nahuatl cosmology, has assumed the five previous ages-called suns-and is now the sign of the sixth age. What she offers to the world she carries within her womb; the new center of the universe about to be born in the Americas. Through the lady millions would approach the church for Christian instruction and baptism.”

The Future is Mestizo, pg. 63-64

 After taking this class at the Jesuit Seminary, I understood what she means. She is a sign of liberation for a people who had been oppressed. She is a sign that God doesn’t always work through the power structures. Previous forms religion and culture do not need to be demonized or done away with because of oppressive colonial conversions and rule. Our Lady of Guadalupe carries in her new life for the world, Jesus, who would save us all from even from the ways we abuse Christianity.

Virgen_de_guadalupe1

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Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe (Part 1)

Ourlady

Our Lady of Guadalupe has this special place in Mexican culture that I haven’t always understood. My grandmother, aunts, and uncles, would at one point or another urge me to call on her to pray for me and whatever situation I was going through. Growing up Catholic this is no surprise. But, she didn’t really move me all that much.

It wasn’t until I took a class at the Jesuit Seminary at the Graduate Theological Seminary did I being to appreciate her and what she means.

In this post we will learn the story of Our Lady of Guadalupe. In the next post we will learn what the story and image means. It’s actually pretty awesome!

The story of Our Lady of Guadalupe is written down in a tract published in 1649 in Mexico City by Luis Las0 De la Vega. written in Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs. Luis Laso De La Vega was a vicar at the chapel at Tepeyac. Tepeyac is the hill where the appearances took place.

Here is the story in visual form. (unfortunately I am unable to imbed so click on link to go to Youtube to watch video)

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