those who went before are with us still

Films offer us compelling narrative and visual images that can stand in for other more complicated ideas in our lives. The scenes figured in Revelation 7 and Hebrews 12 remind me of two stories in particular, one of which I’ve seen again this week and the other I’d forgotten till someone mentioned it recently. The second film is Places in the Heart. The last scene of which depicts the dead and departed gathered together with the living while the congregation shares the Lord’s Supper. Reconciliation is embodied as the sinners and sinned against break bread and share a common cup.

More familiar to me is the Harry Potter series. In several of the books and films Harry is met by those who have died and yet continue to love and encourage him – first his parents, then a gathering of family and friends and again, and finally his mentor. In each instance Harry receives first hope, then strength, courage and finally wisdom – the very things we would want from a “great cloud of witnesses”.

These are not allegories for the texts or other biblical truths – that would risk abuse of both the scriptures and the cultural narratives. They do illustrate this longing we have to believe that we are indeed surrounded by those who have gone before, and that their presence is a help to us.

This is the hope that Hebrews 12 affirms. In our struggles, of faith and otherwise, we are not alone. We are not the first, and we won’t be the last. Others have endured trials perhaps more arduous or lengthy and triumphed. Whether our adversary is physical or mental illness, political or social injustice, theological confusion, or temptation to sin, Christ is our shepherd and all these saints prepare the way of The Lord before us that we might walk in it. To “prepare the way of the Lord” (Lk 3:4) means to make a clear path for God in the world and in people’s lives (first our own). It also means that, like a group of people walking or cross country skiing through deep snow, the first person clears a path so those who follow will have an easier time of it.

footsteps in snow
Shore of Lake Michigan. Chicago, IL © Ken G. Crawford, 2014

In chapter 7 of his Revelation John sees these witnesses who have remained faithful to Christ in the face of great struggle standing around the throne of God in worship. They lead us in worship of God just as in discipleship to Jesus. They go before us to prepare the way, to show us how to worship. When we enter into intentional, focused worship of God we recognize that they are already there. We are “returning to the show already in progress.”

WorshipBeforeThroneOfGod
c.1020 CE, artist unknown [i]

I appreciate Bob Cornwall’s reflections – in particular that they remind us of the global nature of this cloud of witnesses – they come from “every nation and tribe and people and language” in other words every demographic group imaginable. This is reminiscent of Matthew 28:16-20 “go into all the world and make disciples from every nation” and Luke 10 where Jesus appoints 70 additional disciple missionaries to go (70 thought to represent the nations of the ancient world because of the 70 family names descended from Noah in Genesis 10).

As I look at these texts, several things come to mind.

  1. We are not the first ones to walk this faith journey. Often it feels as though the challenges before us are insurmountable and no one has ever faced them before. Clearly that is not the case. Despite technical and political developments, life is really not so different. We live, we love, we get hurt, we forgive, we create.
  2. We will also die. One day the arguments we are having will be in the past of another dimension and we will be with God, worshipping in fullness that which we only know in part today.
  3. Others will be where we now are. As we remember those who have gone before us, one day someone will light a candle, speak our names, and remember us, shedding a tear at the same time that they smile for having known and loved us.
  4. Those who have gone before us may have some lessons to teach us, not the least of which could be to relax just a bit. The things we think, say and do matter, to be certain. They impact the lives of others and the world. But they are not permanent. They too will pass away. Others will need to live with the consequences of our choices, but those consequences are not permanent. Perhaps, as a result, we might learn to hold on to our opinions and needs more loosely, and hold on to God and one another more faithfully.

As I light candles in memory of those I’ve loved and lost, I will be considering how my life might be more filled by God’s grace and mercy. How might I find courage and hope in the witnesses who surround me and cheer me on, even as they surround God’s throne in worship and praise? What might I try, risk, strive, during this next year because I know I’m not alone, because they’ve gone before, because others are coming behind? I’m stirred yet again by Mary Oliver’s words:

“Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?”

Mary Oliver, The Summer Day

Written as a reflection on for All Saints Sunday, 11/2/14, at St. Paul UCC in Dallas. Based on Revelation 7 and Hebrews 12.

[i] http://iconsandimagery.blogspot.com/2009/09/worship-before-throne-of-god.html

Preparing for my final Sunday as pastor of Forest Grove Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Lucas, TX. Sermon is ready. Still have work to do to ready my heart, mind and spirit. Time to pray. I am hopeful, for the congregation and the wonderful people there, as well as for myself and my family and our ministry that goes forth from this place out into the world. We will carry with us so much that we have learned and received. We are stronger, wider, humbler, and hopefully more faithful and loving followers of Jesus Christ because of the time we have spent here. I hope the same is true of them because of our time together. If you need a good cry, FGCC at around 10:30am tomorrow is a good place to be. There will also be some laughter and many prayers and blessings. Sermon notes will be up tomorrow afternoon on Mark 4 – “Seeds on the wind”. And then later you’ll hear more about what is next for me in my new ministry that God is unfolding in and through me.

Hospital Employee Grief and Loss Support Program

We will have our Town Hall meeting with the whole staff this week to begin rolling out this program. I am looking forward to good conversation among colleagues regarding how we can better support one another. The healthier and stronger we are emotionally and as a community, the better patient care we can provide.

Leadership and Life Development Coaching. Ken G Crawford. Synchronous Life.

The following is a discussion starter for developing a support program among employees as a 40 bed hospital. If you have insights from your own experience, I would appreciate hearing them. And if you would like help thinking through your own situation, I’d be happy to share in that conversation also.

An updated summary version is available here in pdf.

Initial conversation –

In the past few months several of our coworkers have experienced the death of significant person in their lives. Others are entering a new stage of life with parents and others experiencing a decline in physical or mental health. Still others experience stress and grief related to relationship conflicts and disappointments. All of this has prompted a discussion regarding how we as a staff support one another during these difficult seasons.

Some considerations –

Work relationships are important. People spend half of their waking hours at…

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Hospital Employee Grief and Loss Support Program

The following is a discussion starter for developing a support program among employees as a 40 bed hospital. If you have insights from your own experience, I would appreciate hearing them. And if you would like help thinking through your own situation, I’d be happy to share in that conversation also.

An updated summary version is available here in pdf.

Initial conversation –

In the past few months several of our coworkers have experienced the death of significant person in their lives. Others are entering a new stage of life with parents and others experiencing a decline in physical or mental health. Still others experience stress and grief related to relationship conflicts and disappointments. All of this has prompted a discussion regarding how we as a staff support one another during these difficult seasons.

Some considerations –

Work relationships are important. People spend half of their waking hours at work. We often spend more time interacting with coworkers than any other people. At a place like TCH, because of our size, the potential increases for us to develop a sense of family. In our families we typically know how to respond when someone has a loss, but at work we may be less confident in what we might say or do to support one another.

What happens when a TCH staff member has a loss? Who do they tell, and what happens next? Some possibilities:

  • Employee informs supervisor
  • Supervisor/employee informs HR
  • Supervisor or HR have a sit-down with employee offer support and discuss bereavement leave and EAP
  • Supervisor or HR informs leadership team & Support Team (Psychologist, Chaplain, Social Workers, etc …)
  • Employee’s immediate coworkers are informed, with the permission of the employee
  • Formal acknowledgement of sympathy is sent (card, flowers, memorial, etc)
  • A “Buddy” coworker is tasked with offering intentional and focused support to the employee, with training and backup from the Support Team. Support may include how often to follow up and how – i.e. have lunch weekly for a month, and monthly for a year. Invite conversation, offer permission to share thoughts and feelings, and to normalize the grief process over time.
  • Supervisor or HR follow up periodically, prompted by a reminder in Outlook.
  • Employees have the right to “opt out” saying, “I do not want to receive specific attention for my loss” and to change their minds and “opt back in”.

 How do we as a staff support one another more generally?

  • Normalizing the grief and loss experience:
    • Recognition that loss comes in many different forms – death, divorce, illness or disability of self or significant other, loss of a hope or dream, significant geographic move of self or others, graduation of kids from High School or College,
    • Recognition that grief is expressed in many different ways – sadness, depression, flat affect, anger, lethargy, manic episodes,
    • Recognition that grief does not respect rules or a timeline – it ebbs and flows, sometimes sneaking up on us and taking us very much by surprise.
  • Periodic in-service training and town hall meetings to discuss various topics (quarterly or semiannually?)
  • Monthly book study

What is the difference between “sharing information to enable and encourage support” and “gossip”?

What are the boundaries between being friendly, collegial, supportive, and being intrusive? How do we invite/encourage each person to state their need and be able to speak when their need changes?

What other questions/considerations need to be raised that are not identified here?

QUESTIONS – A LOOK AT DEATH AND DYING

  1. When you were a child, how was the issue of death dealt with in your family?
  2. What do you think causes most deaths?
  3. Do you believe that psychological factors can  predispose someone toward dying?
  4. In your thinking, what role does god play in the areas of illness, suffering and death?
  5. What does death mean to you? (Use words or phrases to express what you feel.)
  6. What aspect of your own death is most distasteful or frightening to you?
  7. If you could choose, when, where and how would you die? Who would be with you?
  8. Does the possibility of massive human destruction by nuclear war influence your present attitudes toward death? How?
  9. When do most people face the reality of death?
  10. Do you believe in a life after death? Why?

 

PERSONAL SPIRITUAL SURVEY

  1. Explain in a few brief sentences who God is for you.
  2. Of what does your belief system consist?
  3. What form does your prayer usually take?
  4. When you question the meaning of life for yourself, what convictions strike you most clearly or deeply?
  5. When you try to fathom the “why” of illness and suffering, what thoughts or feelings are conjured up within you?
  6. If you have spent some time considering your own death, what strong thoughts or feelings about it do you have? If you have not, where would a consideration of your own dying take you?

* from Jacik, Miriam. “Spiritual Care of the Dying Adult.” In Carson, Verna Benner. Spiritual Dimensions of Nursing Practice (Philadelphia: W.B. Saunders 1989) p259, 277.

For a pdf of this page, click here: QUESTIONS – A LOOK AT DEATH AND DYING