September 1, 2014

The Sacred Struggle

By Diane Luton Blum |
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Diane Blum resized
The Upper Room Disciplines is a best-selling book of daily devotions published annually by Upper Room Books. Each week’s readings are reflections on scripture passages from the lectionary for that period. On Mondays the first reading for the week will be posted. We’d love to hear what you think about the week’s readings and prayers. Just sign in and add your comment in the Comments section following this post.

 

Read Exodus 12:1-10

The struggle for freedom from bondage is rarely enacted without sacrifice. In early Israelite religion the sacrifice of animals held a routine place in the worshiping community. The sacrifice provided a sacred meal and an act of worship.

The Israelites would not be allowed to leave Egypt without significant sacrifice. The mystery and power of the plagues represent a part of the sacred struggle God will enact to release the Israelites from degrading slavery. While sacrifice may seem unnecessarily violent, it is, in this instance, an action that ends the greater violence of bondage and oppression. True sacrifice always entails the giving up of something valuable in order to realize something of greater and enduring value.

As the sacrifice necessary for the liberation of Israel from Egypt receded into history, the coming generations would be challenged to relive a crucial part of their formation as a community of faith. The blood of lambs that had marked the homes of the Israelites, saving them from the deadly plague, would become central in the celebration of this memory. By slaughtering specially selected lambs from the flock, the Israelite households would recall the sacrifice made with God to bring their freedom. In the annual observance, young and old alike would confront death: death to the animal selected for the Passover meal and, through that death, the recollection of the life and freedom gained by this holy sacrifice.

What sacrifices have we experienced in our journey with God as individuals or as a people of faith? In Jesus we receive courage to seek justice for others and for ourselves, risking comfort and familiarity in the sacrifice for liberating action. Our willingness for loving sacrifice empowers us to be a doorway, not a doormat, in our relationship with God and others.

God of the oppressed, open our hearts and lives to your liberating power, through the sacrificial love we see in Jesus. Amen.

 

Diane Luton Blum, an ordained United Methodist minister for 35 years, serves as a retreat leader and spiritual director in Nashville, TN. She and her husband, Jeff, have 2 adult sons who share their passion for justice, love of the outdoors, and delight in the performing arts.

 
August 29, 2014

The Talk We Need to Have, Part 3

By Richard L. Morgan |
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Richard Morgan

I will never forget walking on a track with a physician. Our conversation centered around bioethics: When is the right time to say to a doctor, “Let my loved one go”? He cited several instances when the patient had not made end-of-life decisions and families kept their loved one alive when there was no quality of life.

I shared a story with him about how I had to “referee” a family battle around the deathbed of their mother. Since she had never exactly made her wishes clear, they were divided about heroic measures to prolong her life. I ushered them out of the room, reminding them that although their mother seemed out of it, she could still hear their bickering.

Finally, they decided to use a feeding tube. I wondered if that decision was based on the fact they had not had the best relationship with their mother and were trying to make up for it by keeping her alive as long as possible.

Although he was an agnostic, the doctor’s response has lingered with me for many years. He said, “Dick, why is it that those of you who are believers in a better life beyond this one would want to keep loved ones alive when there is no quality of life?” I had no answer for that!

My latest book, At the Edge of Life: Conversations When Death Is Near (Upper Room Books) grew out of my concern that most people do not deal with end-of-life issues, or they have difficulties talking with a dying loved one. This little book of 72 pages shows how to talk with one another when death is near. It offers conversation starters for talking with dying loved ones about life’s most important questions.

Katy Butler has well said, “Unless we create new rites of passage to help prepare for death long before it comes, we will remain vulnerable to the commercial exploitation of our fears and to the implied promise that death can forever be postponed.”

This article originally appeared on Richard Morgan’s blog “View from 80” (posted July 30, 2014) at http://richardmorgandr.wordpress.com/. Morgan, a retired Presbyterian (USA) pastor, stays busy writing and serving as a hospice volunteer in pastoral care at the Redstone Highlands retirement community near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
 
August 28, 2014

The Talk We Need to Have, Part 2

By Richard L. Morgan |
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Richard Morgan

I stood by the bedside of an old friend, age 97. She had lived such a good and full life, and had signed the Five Wishes document, which clearly stated her wish not to be kept alive when there was no quality of life. She had suffered a major stroke, was comatose, and already in a far-off land.

Yet her daughters rejected her wishes and insisted on keeping her alive, using a feeding tube for nourishment. This is not the first time, and it won’t be the last, that I have stood by helplessly when someone’s wishes for end-of-life were not followed. All this points to the necessity for people to make their wishes known to family and physicians before they can no longer speak for themselves.

Martin Luther wisely said, “Everyone must do his own believing, and do his own dying.” There are alternatives at the end of life. Some people may make no plans and allow medical technology to do everything to preserve life at any cost. Others may wait until the last moment, when death is imminent, and decide to trust family members to do the right thing. Others may make plans earlier. They communicate their wishes to loved ones: if there is a realistic hope that they can remain a competent human being, do everything possible, but if there is no quality of life, let them die.

There are two helpful programs to help people talk about end-of-life issues and make plans. Five Wishes is a program we have used in our retirement facility. I have expressed my wishes in this document and given copies to all my adult children. You can access this program at www.agingwithdignity.org.

There is a new program, Conversation Project, that includes a starter kit to facilitate conversation with families about end-of-life matters (www.theconversationproject.org). I urge you to take a look at either or both.

This article originally appeared on Richard Morgan’s blog “View from 80” (posted July 29, 2014) at http://richardmorgandr.wordpress.com/. Morgan, a retired Presbyterian (USA) pastor, stays busy writing and serving as a hospice volunteer in pastoral care at the Redstone Highlands retirement community near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Morgan’s latest book is At the Edge of Life: Conversations When Death Is Near.
 
August 27, 2014

The Talk We Need to Have, Part 1

By Richard L. Morgan |
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Richard Morgan

I went to a Quaker school in Philadelphia, and the Friends taught me about “having a concern.” I have a concern that all too often end-of-life decisions are not made or put off until the end of life.

As parents we planned and saved for our children’s college education. When the retirement age approached, we planned for financial and housing situations. Yet only 1 in 5 Americans plans for end-of-life issues.

As Carrie Madren writes, “End-of-life conversations can stir up a range of emotions from relief to fear.”1 Talking about these grave matters remains the “elephant in the room.” Older people often ignore it, and adult children are in denial and shun any talk of it. Many are like the woman who said to her husband, “I don’t care which one of us dies first, I’m going to Florida!”

I realize talking about end-of-life issues is a scary subject, a topic so volatile and threatening that people avoid it. However, it’s much better to talk about it in the light of day rather than in the heat of the moment. The sad reality is that even when older people have advance directives, their families often disregard their wishes and opt for “heroic measures” to keep their loved ones alive when there is no quality of life. It is time to end this conspiracy of silence and talk openly about these matters.

“Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12, NIV).

In my next post, I will suggest two places to start this neglected conversation.

1. Carrie Madren, “The Talk You Have to Have,” page 37, Interpreter magazine, May–June 2014.

This article originally appeared on Richard Morgan’s blog “View from 80” (posted July 28, 2014) at http://richardmorgandr.wordpress.com/. Morgan, a retired Presbyterian (USA) pastor, stays busy writing and serving as a hospice volunteer in pastoral care at the Redstone Highlands retirement community near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Morgan is the author of At the Edge of Life: Conversations When Death Is Near and many other books.
 
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