Watching Public Figures Grow Up and Old

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One of the childhood memories of early TV were the broadcasts of the Billy Graham’s crusades. I remember being a little afraid of Rev. Billy when he would grow loud for emphasis, but also I remember enjoying the stories he told. I quickly realized he was nothing like my preacher dad who tended to be soft-spoken and much more academic in his approach than Billy Graham. Regardless I was riveted by his oratory style and watching him in action was like watching an episode of Flipper, a favorite show for a 7-year-old. Even so really did not understand much of what he was saying. At the time, I actually wished my dad was a little more like him when I saw him on t.v.

Graham captivated the attention of many over the years even my dad. I remember hearing a story repeated several times by my mentor dad. He told of the story of a struggling pastor, a predecessor of his, who a few months into a new appointment had alienated much of the church leadership. When the District Superintendent  had to be called to try to calm down the discontent, a vote had been taken (even though this is not the way Methodist did things) and the majority of the members desired a pastoral change. An open meeting had been called for the church members to air their complaints. One of the complaints voiced was that this pastor could not preach very well. One complainant put it poignantly, “What we need is someone who can preach like Billy Graham.” Another complaint vocalized was that the pastor never ever had an altar call, like Billy Graham, and had not had many conversions and made new members, again like Billy Graham.

As my dad’s story goes, the Superintendent listened to all the complaints and then offered his opinion. He first agreed with them that Billy Graham was a very great and wonderful preacher, and that every church deserved someone who could deliver a sermon like Graham. He mentioned that they the members who had to suffer through the sermons of a preacher every Sunday probably best understood exactly the type of minister they needed so he was willing to make a deal with them. He would call Billy Graham and see if Billy was willing to come serve their small rural church. Heck, he was willing to waive the fact that Billy  wasn’t Methodist (before the merger into the present UMC). But they had to be willing to pay Billy’s salary and his staff’s salary too. The Superintendent mentioned that he would like it if all of the churches he was Superintendent over were as willing to pay their pastor 150,000 a year, which was Billy’s reported salary at the time. Or the other option was to keep their pastor at the time at $1500 a year salary. Of course the church decided that they couldn’t afford to pay that kind of salary and Billy was never asked if he was interested. Instead, the church decided their current pastor was probably more valuable than they first thought and certainly a bargain in comparison. The Superintendent also let it slip that he had taken part in a Billy Graham crusade, in another state and that many of the conversions at the altar calls were people already attending local churches which were nominated and invited  to wait to join the church during the Crusade with the idea that others who had been fighting the decision would be convinced to choose this opportunity to make a decision for Christ.

I remember reading Billy Graham’s syndicated column on occasion when I was a young parish pastor and marveling just has much more liberal, were the views being expressed in his writing in comparison to his earlier preaching when I was a child. I was not surprised when 15 years later as a hospital chaplain resident, one of the patients I was visiting showed me his column and was quite upset, because Billy was saying he had changed his mind on some of his “life and death” opinions including his prior belief, that hell was for all eternity. It actually took me awhile to reason with the man, that what Billy Graham believed really didn’t matter to his own faith and that preparing spiritually for a his next day dangerous surgery was much more important. Before I left the unit, I stopped in to see the patient a second time, only to discover his pastor had been into visit ( yes a United Methodist Pastor) and he had stirred the gentleman up again. What particularly had been difficult for the patient to believe was that Billy Graham had changed his mind in the first place. In his own words, “either Billy was wrong before or he was wrong now, since God doesn’t change God’s mind.” It was his belief that Billy was wrong now because in the column Billy has stated “he had changed his mind to now believe that God was a God of second, third, and one hundred chances,  never giving up on anybody, and continuing to try to redeem and restore those who found themselves in Hell.

I share all of this as a backdrop to a conversation I had during last week. The conversation at church on Sunday had turned to Billy Graham and his son Franklin. The person with whom I was talking had noted what he termed a “public falling out between Father and Son Graham in the past few years and wanted to know what it was about. My summation was that Billy was just aging and was in a different phase of life. Pressed for a more definitive answer about why they were squabbling over the finer points of theology, I shared with the person, it was about Billy becoming more Liberal in his old age and Franklin his son becoming more conservative. Initially, the person I was talking with thought I was talking about politically speaking they were now at opposite ends of the spectrum. So I responded that Billy Graham had been a friend, adviser, and confidant of such divergent presidents as Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and George Bush so I did not think that Billy Graham was very public in his support or criticism of any political group.

No Billy Graham had become more liberal in his theology and his son Franklin was still holding on to the views he had heard and been taught as a child by the same man. During the conversation I thought again about my own “preacher dad.” I thought about how we had long ranging debates, on theological issues, with his own liberal views becoming firmly rooted in me theologically, then observing him becoming much more conservative in his views during adulthood, only to become liberal again in his retirement and advancing years. I did not share this with my conversation partner.  I did share with the person, that we are all person’s with evolving understandings of God, faith, and life. I also mused that Billy and Franklin both probably would change their minds, as he probably had many times before it was all said and done. Finally, I thought the aging process did that to us all.

It is a funny thing to watch how aging changes us all and especially public figures like Billy Graham. I am sure the 20 or 30 something year old Billy Graham would argue theological points with the 90 plus year old Billy and probably not understand his positions on Hell and second chances. But how could someone younger share or understand what experience and maturing insight has taught an older version of themselves? I sure the experience of saying goodbye to his spouse in 2007 has changed him even more. It will be interesting to see Franklin if he lives as long as his Dad and to see his theological views when he reaches almost 100 years of age, after he has talked millions of times with God through prayer and struggled to hear what God was saying to him.

I have over and over again with those I have served as a Chaplain and pastor observed a change of thought process both theologically and politically brought on by age. I also have discovered some folks who fight changing their minds no matter what on matters of importance. One of the saddest quotes, I have heard from these people, describes them to a T. It goes like this: “I am the same Christian I was 40 or 50 years ago when I first became a believer.” This is very depressing because as we grow in faith and spirit shouldn’t that make us a different person. Living is about life long learning. Learning allows us to know more and theoretically change our minds. The aging process will teach more, which could and often does change our perspective and minds. I have changed my mind on matters of faith numerous times. Sometimes I am confronted with those changes, that is I get to observe how the aging process is developing me. Like when I sat down and read my early sermon notes, and was shocked at what I actually had said to those poor congregants that had to endure my sermons. Thanks be to God, that God continues to be patient with me as I develop in my faith and I age. Aging and its changing of perspective is such a neat thing to observe in oneself and others, including public figures like Billy Graham. I finished the conversation with the person I was discussing Billy with: “I like the Older, Kinder, Gentler, Billy Graham, a lot..”  The person finished my thought then with a question: “a lot more, yes?”

Boomers Will Change How We Look @ Death

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I do a lot of searching the web for articles about Baby Boomers. A part of my responsibilities as the Director on Aging and Older Adult Ministry, is to be on the forefront of theories about Boomers, because as we Boomers become oldish (see earlier post about what terms to use for us) strike that of us who are maturing, we will change aging, retirement, and the final phases of life. We have changed everything else: adolescence, youth, young adulthood, being grown-ups, so we will definitely change aging and old… there goes that word again, age. I also have a reading list of many of the recently published books on Boomers which I am slowly but surely whittling down by reading them. My plan is to eventually be an expert for the church on who Boomers are and how we are changing Retirement and Last Chapter lives.

While doing this reading and research, one of the more interesting things I have discovered is a  blog post which I came across. It  was from a funeral director named Rochelle Rietow. It was entitled 14 Things You Need to Know About Baby Boomers. The blog is intended  to be read by the funeral industry because it is entitled funeralOne Blog. Apparently funeral directors believe we boomers will change the dying biz like everything else we have laid our hands on, and they want to figure out how to market dying to boomers. Perhaps, I thought I should see their take on dying for boomers to understand better how the church who is in the dying business should market its services too.

As a result I read and re-read this Blog. I found it fascinating because it was full of advice for how to properly market funerals to Boomers and it seems to be a parallel universe about how to market the church to boomers. No puns please of marketing a dying institution to the dying. This blog  was very revealing  about how we boomers view death, and contained useful information that funeral directors and churches need to know to be able to provide different but somewhat similar services.

When we get old, strike that (I had a temporary case of the forgets since boomers do not like or use that dirty word which begins with an o…) when we mature we do think about death. We cannot help it because it becomes something which we experience over and over again in the death of parents, teachers, coworkers, etc. who are older than us and this accelerates as our circle of friends and we too age. It is also something which forces us to think of our own mortality as we know spouses, neighbors, friends, and even children who pass from us. It is also a part of our natural psyche to begin to think about whom we have been, what has been our ultimate purpose in life, and begin to face the end of the road.

Interestingly, according to the funeral home blog, we Boomers have thought about death a great deal more than our parents, especially when our parents are Builder Generation or Silent Generation parents. No we have a different approach to death. The silent generation approached death as one of those things, a person accepted but did not think or talk about it very much. Kind of a “suck it up” philosophy since you can’t stop it or do much about it there is nothing to do but to carry on approach.  But we boomers are the kind who feel the opposite. We want to talk about death and dying because in doing so we feel like we can control it or at least we are still be in control of our lives and destiny.

So in this Funeral home blog #10, #11, & #12 did not surprise me in the least as the kind of things Funeral directors need to know to market and appeal to Boomers:  the blog pointed out we BB’s are interested in talking about death, we BB’s want control of our stairway to heaven, and we BB’s want to pre-plan their funerals.  These three items suggest as does the whole blog, one central point: we Boomers  want to wrestle control over when and how we experience death. Why?

In survey after survey, death and decay or decline of the body or mind, are always at the top of what we boomers fear in life. What we fear is important to motivating Boomers because it is what is on our minds. We then are thinking about death as we grow older. Unfortunately our thoughts are usually how scarey the unknowns of death are and so we are trying to hedge our bets, by figuring out a way to control death’s onset. It is a great part of the youth and wellness movement among Boomers. If we look young then we are young. If we are young then we do not have to worry about death for a little while until we get old. This mindset is seen in the fellow Boomer who told me once, “I am hopeful they will find a cure for Old Age in my lifetime and I will not have to ever worry about death or dying.”

But there are some things in life we cannot control. Others still we should not try to control. Death is indeed one of them. I am not sure I even want to control death. There was a movie about 15 years ago and one of the characters told the story of becoming unable to die. It was entitled “Long Green Mile.”  Apparently he had been healed of a digestive disorder by this prisoner he guarded as a guard who had remarkable powers. As a side effect of this healing his aging process had been delayed or postponed, making him over 110 years of age and not looking a day over 70. He complained about his condition, because he had no friends or family left, and that he really was tired in life and wanted to move on to the next realm.

Every good story has to have a good ending, including the story of our lives here on earth. Would you rather live a long time or live a great time for a short while in life? Just prolonging life doesn’t mean a person is living their life. Because I have learned that I can’t control so much in life, I would make the later choice to live a great life over just living an inordinately long life. So as a result I am looking forward to what is out there beyond death. I am just not looking forward to it anytime soon. After all I am still a Boomer, and I would love to squeeze as much into life here before I go. I would love for the choice to be up to me. Did I happen to mention I am a Boomer. I do like having control sometimes.

Old Age isn’t all Bad….

Being old is thought of in such negative terms these days in America and something to be avoided at all costs. From Baby Boomers to Millennials to I kids we do not really respect those who have collected a significant number of years. We look up to those older adults who seem eternally young, that is like us, still active, still doing, still working. Yes, I know I am guilty of this too. When a person reaches 40 or maybe 50 we often do not think of ourselves as that old. And old to us is someone our parent’s age, or older than us by at least 15 years. Why all the negatives of getting old? Why do we struggle with seeing ourselves in this role?

Social Scientist indicate that the reason we Baby Boomers have such a hard time with the concept of getting older is two fold. One is we fear a loss of independence, control, and significance. This alone may explain why death is so frightening to us and why we feel so negatively about the final chapters of life, i.e. old age because it leads to a loss of control. We have grown up as the largest and most influential cohort in the history of the world and are use to having some control and exerting influence on our world around us. We want to remain youthful, because we equate being youthful with being in charge and in control. The second reason researchers tell us we have a hard time with looking forward to getting old, has to do with a lack of satisfaction with our lives. We are a generation which had great freedom in life so we also formed great expectations, hopes, and dreams. Old timers have said to me they never worried about having a career because they did not have that luxury. Work satisfaction and achievement was found in earning a living for one’s family and trying to make a better life for one’s children. We Boomer’s expect that the things we do in life should equal great satisfaction.

Plus we have grown up in a consumer world, where we have thousands of products aimed to make life easier and better. This is reflected in one Boomer’s sentiment to me: “I am not going to worry about old age because I am never getting old. By the time I get old maybe the doctors will have discovered a cure for old age. But time moves on whether we like it or not and our bodies and minds and spirits even are changing. I think back often to the things I have chased in my lifetime thinking they would bring happiness. Some of those things I wouldn’t think of doing now because my mind does think differently in maturity than before.

Perhaps in our rush to remain forever young we are missing the pleasures and gifts of old age. It is something for us to think about. Older adults move quite literally from doing into being. They often become more reflective, philosophical and mindful. Their concerns are not so much performance driven as they are legacy driven. Older adults I have discovered move from doing into being in life. So it doesn’t matter as much what they do in life as much who they are becoming. wrinkly-rappers-550

Isms and Sterotypes

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As I flew past my 50th birthday, a few years back I did not think much about it. I did not think of myself as Old, even though at the time I jokingly said, I am getting ready to celebrate the 10th anniversary of my 40th birthday. Now that I reached double nickels and beyond, I am beginning to feel old. As Janet said to me the other day, “it is one thing to be in the early part of a decade of living, but once you pass the mid-point, it feels a lot older to you when you no longer can say I am in my mid whatever’s.” While intellectually many of us Boomers still think of ourselves as fairly young, (I am 57), I am starting to see that to the world I am no longer young. To the world because I am looking my age I am getting old..not er but old…ish. I do not feel old even so why should I be old. Perhaps you aren’t as young as you feel, to the eyes of others.

I admire Older Adults and their wisdom. I aspire to grow wise and wonderful like those I know; just not yet. I think I realize older adults are often stereotyped if not marginalize. I have observed this over my lifetime in others and myself. As a kid I would believe that old people all drove slow, until I met a 70 year old who raced on weekends. Or I thought that rock artists all should be under 40 until Mick Jagger passed that milestone ages ago. Let’s face it though stereotypes have a kernel of truth and often fit a few people quite well, but they do not fit everyone. On the professional Facebook page I am always posting a few pics or articles of those who have collected many years, who defy these stereotypes. But I wonder if I am not fighting ala Don Quixote, the windmills here. By posting active, vibrant, amazing people am I not saying: “look the stereotype is true, however these are exceptions?” I think so, but I am left with no choice, because just like a politico who has been unfairly represented by an opponent, such a mistaken belief will continue unchecked, or perhaps grow if it is not confronted.

My friend Carol Orsborne points out most of us characterize older adults in one of 3 ways: Negatively, Romantically, or Realistically. Perhaps, I am guilty of the middle point of view of romanticizing aging and Older Adults. However, realistically characterizing of Older Adults doesn’t usually cut it when the viewpoint of most of the world is not realistic. Those who are not yet of a certain age, see the world and people very differently than us oldsters or in the way they will one day see the world when they are old. I know I do. I did not appreciate fully the gifts and perspective of my elders until I became one of them. Part of the difficulty is of course when a person reaches a certain age when they no longer define or view older adults through a younger perspective, there are plenty more who take their place. There is always those of a different age on the outside looking in, seeing the cultural differences through the lenses of their own generation. That is they do not see Older Adults realistically, but through the eyes of someone young who has not had the same experiences.

Even oldsters and Boomers contribute to this perspective, unwittingly. A friend of mine who is 10 years older than me was trying to tell me “little old lady jokes” the other day. So I asked him, whether he was telling them to me because, they featured women, or if it was because the women were old.” His response was he was telling them because they were funny. But a minute later he begin to be mindful for the first time, that he was contributing to the prejudice and stereotypes of Older Adults by laughing at these jokes. His eyes lit up with the sudden realization, that perhaps the world viewed him similarly.

Actually Ageism works both ways; it is not just Older Adults who face stereotypes from those who are not old like them. Our youth know a little of Ageism too. How many of us want to tell our youth, “you should be more like us?” Maybe we want to say that our youth don’t know very much because they aren’t experienced in life enough yet to know much.” They face folks who think they are as a group irresponsible, lazy, and perhaps stoners. I would be a rich man if I had a dollar for every time I heard church members say to me that “what the kids of today need is a good upbringing of hard work and discipline.” Is this not looking at the youth through the lenses of Adulthood? How many of us would choose a youngish looking woman over middle aged male doctor in choosing our surgeon?

In the church we bring with us the culture in which we live, so yes there is prejudice and ageism here as well. I am constantly hearing about how we need to reach out to young people to help grow the church. I have been hearing this all my life. Or we need to get young families in our church. We seem to prize the young people over older adults including Boomers in our evangelistic efforts. It is interesting it is the same thing I heard when I was a young adult, “we have to get more of you in the church.” Turns out I guess we were so good about getting us young people in the church, that now our church is made up of these young people now grown old. But then we lost all of the young adults who came after us, I guess. We want what we do not have.

Actually, it is amazing we do have as many Older Adults populating our churches as we have because we actually claimed so few of my generation, the Boomers when we were the young adults earlier in life and became turned off by the church. Those we claimed, are actually not representative of those outside of our churches. This is because as a group we are conformist Boomers, which the church did not know how to reach when we were young. Those Boomer who are outside the church are there for a reason. I am skeptical of any youth movement where the whole emphasis is claiming a whole bunch of young adults. It is not looking at the young adults realistically. It is romanticizing them. First, I think that when they become the established largest group within our churches if we claim enough of them, they will want to change the church in ways the church may not want to go. Already you see them being more open to an easing of the restrictions we have in place on the ordination and marriages of folks from the LGBT than their elders. Second, based upon my experience with my generation and the church, I do not believe the church will reach many of the young adults it seeks so desperately to reach.

I also believe it is sinful to only reach to one generation, even my Baby Boomer generation. Sin here being anything which separates us from God. If we do not value all generations we will be essentially getting in the way of the God who does value all generations equally. I do believe we should reach out to Older Adults a lot more than we do and value them equally with the youth of the world. I believe the youth and the Older Adults have a lot to learn from each other. They should because they both have faced ageism.

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The Art of Listening– A refresher Primer for when we fail to listen.

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Listening is hard. You might want to argue with that statement. People do because they hear all the time people talking, but listening is more than hearing. They also would like to argue with this statement because listening is something most of us feel we are pretty good at. I know I did. I thought I had polished the necessary skills of listening as a Chaplain Resident and then as an experienced Chaplain. Indeed, I had been told as a Chaplain, I did a pretty good job of listening. Last fall, in a meeting I had someone correctly tell me to shut up and listen. This was the second time in my life, I had been embarassed and humiliated publically by my inability to listen. I resolved to learn how to listen much better.

AS a result I have read a fascinating book entitle “The Lost Art of Listening.”This book explains why we have problems listening by examining the psychology of listening, and then looking at what common mistakes we make when we do not listen very well. Our listening styles it points out are formed in early childhood through the relationships we have with parents.Parents who listen it is pointed out help their children feel worthwhile and to develop self esteem. The author Dr. Nichols points out that when an adult has trouble listening to others, as many of us do, it is usally a result of feelingso of a lack of worth, so we insert ourselves and opinions to prove our own worth. Children learn early on they have a hunger to be noticed by adults. When we encounter strongly opinionated people, many times they are so because, their parents simply did not notice them as children and so they struggle to balance the book as adults.

Dr. Nichols points out that many of us are guilty of hearing but not listening to others.The reason we hear without listen is that we can’t wait to respond next, so we are formulating what we will say next  so trully miss an opportunity to receive understanding from the person we are talking to. We are already failing at listening at this point because we are placing our own desires for recognition and needs to be heard ahead fo the other person. A person who truly is a good listener is able to suspend their own needs,memory, or judgement in order to listen to someone else. This is the first step only however in true listening. The next step is to place oneself in another person’s shoes so to speak, and to have empathy for what they are going through.

Empathy is a component of good listening. But many of us fail to practice it. We think we do according to dr. Nichols but we still insist upon understanding what is being said through our own filters which depending upon what they are will filter out sometimes crucial information and sometime filter in information which doesn’t need to be a part of the equation. I really say to someone I know what you are feeling or thinking because I have been through this before. Even if a person goes through the same event as another person, neither will have the same experience as a result of the event. But more than taking us away from being empathetic, saying this, doesn’t connect us with them, rather it drives a wedge, for it means we are understanding their experience through our own, which is not really listening either.

True listening doesn’t fit other’s experience within ours but the other way around. It fits us into others experiences so we can better be understanding. Often times this placing of the experience of others into a box we define based upon our own experiences, leads to us reacting rather than reasoned, carefully thought through, process. We merely react to whatever what we hear provokes in us. Reacting often is a bad because it almost always allows old tapes or remenants of past relationships  to resurface, meaning we filter what we are being told by all our other relationships of our past.

How many of us enjoy listening to someone who is talking all the time? I know this is a stupid question because the answer is usually 0. Conversely this means that Most people will not pay attention to what we have said until they feel we have listened to them first. Moreover, listening I learned is a matter of giving up control and becoming vulnerable. How many times in life have we forced conversations to avoid touchy subjects.

The major reason I am discuss listening in this blog, is my approach has changed considerably since I have stopped feeling inadequate. When I feel ok about myself, I have noticed I have not been racing to speak or respond to the statements of others. No, I have spent more time observing and trying to observe others. It is amazing how much more I am seeing with coworkers, partners,and others when I look to see how good they are truly with their listening.

I bet Jesus was a good listener. In fact in John the women at the well as much acknowledged as much. Here was someone who she had just met but could tell her everything about herself because he did such a good job of listening.A couple Sundays ago, we celebrated Transfiguration as a church. In one account of the story, the voice from heaven comes down and expresses that Jesus is God’s son or representative and then directs the Disciples to listen to him. This wasn’t btw merely an invite or even a demand for them to listen, no.It is a stressing of how important listening is. As Dr. Nichols goes on to say Listening is not so much hearing as it is coming to an understanding with others.

I am getting to the point of this entry into my blog. The problem with our church today is not that we hare not hearing each other speak, it is we aren’t listening to each other. The problem is with most of us is that we seldom truly practice good listening skills with God either. If we do not listen well with each other why would we be any different with God. The problem of course with not listening very well with God, is that we end up being really hard of hearing spiritually. Then we either complain God is not listening to us and is hard of hearing or that we start telling God what God should be hearing from us and doing for us, rather than allowing God to speak for us to direct our labors.

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Seeing Red Cars- We concentrate upon those things we see

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Earlier this month during a staff meeting we were shown an interesting video entitled “Seeing Red Cars.” It was subtitled “Getting More of What You Want.” It was produced by Laura Goodrich who is a life coach but produces filler motivational videos for the corporate world. It was a very great video which I resonated with very much making connections with Norman Vincent Peale’s “Power of Positive Thinking,” the Pseudo -Psychology of “The Laws of Atttraction,” and SFBT (Solution Focused Brief Therapy). The point of this video is that many of us see what we focus on in our minds; if it is positive then it becomes an asset to us but if we focus upon negatives, such as fear, it robs us of some of our abilities. In this short video, the clip points out what happens when we have performance anxiety and fear, we have a self fulfilling prophecy with our fears being realized.

The reason this video, is important for us as we age and face life (notice I said face life not death and dying), is fear can become our reality. It can destroy our ability to be productive, to live fully, and to die well (read faithfully). When I served as a Hospice Chaplain in an earlier configuration of my ministry, I tried SFBT (Solution Focused Brief Therapy) as a tool with those who were actively dying and in their final months. I used this technique not because I really understood focus real well but because it seemed like something i could borrow (o.k. copy and steal) from another Chaplain in Pittsburgh. This other Chaplain had reported a reasonable amount of success with changing the final  days of life focus from fear about the unknown, feelings of vulnerability and powerlessness in the face of the illness, and from how little time was left to how amazing the final days could become.

For those not familiar with how this therapeutic approach works, it is often referred to as “Miracle Day Therapy.” Instead of focusing on the processes of the past and how someone came to be where they find themselves, instead SFBT focuses upon a client’s future hopes, ideals, and goals. It focuses upon the past only to convey empathy for where a person finds themselves now and to align the client and caregiver in partnership to build the best future they can. Fear, as the opposite of hope is not part of the equation. This approach focuses on positive reinforcement and gentle re-framing of focus on how to get to the ideal. Occasionally, the therapist or care provider has to reinforce confidence and a little less often has to help break the goal orientation down to more manageable, realistic, and achievable portions. Once the ideal is established then the framework begins to be built so the focus is upon where the miracle or ideal is already present in life and how to have more of it daily.

Back to my experience with it. I was blown away by its success with the 2 persons who allowed me to use it with them. One of them I am really indebted to because he would push me to apply it to my own life. He would say to me,”Are you doing this too.” Tich Nhat Hahn, speaks to going through many practice symbolic deaths in life. He called them “near Death Experiences.”   A person goes through a divorce, it is symbolically a death, loss experience for us. We lose a job, it feels like we have had to let go of our lives. What if we focused not upon the fearfulness of not knowing what is out there? How would that look? Can we describe what is over the rainbow after death?  See I am doing it with you already; I am also doing it with myself.

This is what we as disciples of Christ are suppose to give the world. The ability to see beyond loss, suffering, and death. We are those who can picture this for others like a chaplain or therapist so they can focus about what is out there waiting on them, not with fear and dread, but with wonder, and faith. It is important that this becomes the focus of us all, not just our clergy but our laity. This is thet Easter we will be journeying towards soon– it’s really about, imagining what is over the rainbow, and practicing the walk towards it.

As a church, however we often convey the same fears about death and failure, and concentrate upon what is in the past, instead of focusing upon what God has in store for us. This is seen in particularly in our obsession upon the decline of numbers in the United Methodist Church. The bad news is that the more we focus upon the decline, the more decline we probably will experience. As our agency leader, Tim Bias, said “We can concentrate upon survival and survive in a form which is unfaithful. We can win the battle and ultimately lose the war.” It is about focus. It is about focusing upon what the next chapter should and could look like with God’s help instead of our fear of what it could be like. .

The problem for most of us, is seeing over the horizon ultimately comes down to letting go of what has been safe and where we are now, to climb the mountain, to see over the horizon. We have to become old women and men who dream dreams and young women and men who see visions of what is over the rainbow and able to lead others to see the same thing. Otherwise like in the video we will not see the beautiful red car we dreamed of getting anymore and instead be in fear it is like every other care out there so not able to enjoy it. Instead of seeing hope for our church we will see only dying. Instead of seeing possibilities we will see limitations. Instead of see Christ we will see nothingness. And instead of living, truly living out our lives, we will  start dying now,because it is our focus.

This video makes a great point we should take to heart. Our focus is important. We should focus on our own miracle of resurrection and not of the process of getting there.  One of the things we also did in the staff meeting was to focus on everything which was green in the room and then list them. Then in a twist we closed our eyes so we could not look around the room and then was asked to list everything red in the room. Of course from memory, there were a lot less items which were listed as red than green because after all we had been focusing upon green and often failed to truly notice the red. Focus is important. Focus upon God’s goodness and you will actually see over the rainbow.rainbow2

Before I Die, On Bucket Lists, Death Preparation, and Living

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In 2011, Journalist and author Candy Chang, decided to help her neighborhood share their wisdom with each other. She created a giant chalkboard where folks could answer everyday questions for each other on the sides of the house. A variety of questions were posed based on her dreams, her unanswered questions in life, her joys and grief’s, all with the hope to help to make the world a better place.

After losing someone close to her, she posed the following question, “Before I die, I want to.” To her amazement the next day this 4 sided chalkboard was filled in completely with the bucket lists of her neighbors and passerby’s. Realizing this question hit a nerve, she developed a toolkit for others to make these walls and now the “Before I Die, I Want to” walls have been made in over 70 countries. A book has been published as a result of the project entitled the “Before I Die Book” with some of the answers to this question and with interviews of those who filled in the blank on these walls.

I think this project is something which churches should try, especially with their older adult church school classes. It is death preparation, or should I say it is fully living preparation. This is because it is a safe way to think about our finite and limited lives more than it is to think about our eventual deaths. Whatever, we fill into the blank it gives our lives meaning and purpose, if we make a commitment to actually complete what we set out to do. In completing the goal or aim, we then can pass with the idea our lives meant something, there is some record of our existence, and we can let go of life feeling more accomplished.

In the 2007 movie, “The Bucket List,” this living fully in the last days of life is portrayed actively by two patients who are aware there time was short so they developed a bucket list of things they would experience and do together before they died and they committed themselves to helping each other achieve these items, and live a great life before they passed on. Fully dying means fully living before you die, so they took this to heart. This poignant movie portrays the mistakes they made along the way in marking off their “bucket lists,” but also what they really learned about living from their dying process; what they learned about life, themselves, and about others.

What is on my bucket list? Before I Die, I Want To? I thought by this point in the blog I would have come to a definitive answer. It used to be learning how to fly an airplane. Then it was to sail from Erie, PA across to Canada. Once upon a time it was to publish several books. The neat thing about this open ended question is that it can evolve as we grow, mature, and change. Last year, I simply said I wanted to experience a summer again of boating, read the Bible all the way through again, and go overseas, and see my Alma Mata Duke win another national championship in Basketball. .

Perhaps the question at this point is whether my goals in life are selfish or not. Well the goal to hang onto life long enough to see Pittsburgh Steelers grab a 7th Super bowl ring maybe, just look at my Chicago Cubs friends who are clinging to life so they can see their bums in the World Series again (I hope it is the Pirates instead), to commit to this question, if we do not want to live a selfish life, it should be to fill in the blank, “Before I Die, I Want to” with something which is altruistic, and benefit others. It is alright to have a bucket list of personal goals, but we should have a commitment to others in our choices. Therefore my final answer to this question is, “Before I Die, I Want to bring joy to someone every day.” I guess I want to help folks laugh, so maybe I will become a comedian before I die.

Now you. “Before you die, You want to ______________________.” I really hope to see churches put up these walls for folks to fill in their desires and hungers, share their wisdom, etc. As we do so we should remember this quote, I only began to truly live, when I accepted the fact I was going to die….we all live with a death sentence but we can choose to live life with a life sentence of squeezing as much of life as we can into the time we have here. If you complete all your blanks or bucket lists let me know.

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