A couple years ago we had a late night house call. We drove up to the house, and an uncle came outside to meet us, explaining the situation we were about to enter.
“You guys are here for my niece, Sara.
She’s 16 years old.
Been fighting cancer for four years.
She’s in the living room with her mother, Joan.”
We entered the house, walked to the living room and were greeted by about 20 family and friends that were scattered all over the living room, some sitting, and some standing, others laying on the floor.
When a terminal person is dying under home care it’s normal for a hospital bed to be temporarily set up in a large room, enabling larger groups to visit the dying. In this case, the bed was in the living room, but the deceased wasn’t to be found lying on it; which was very unusual. We allowed them time to explain who Sara was, what she meant to them. All families need this time. They need to believe that through their stories Sara would be incarnated in us, so that we could love her the same … so that we could become a part of their family. Once we’re apart of “the family”, we no longer represent a cold funeral director, but a tender caregiver.
After their stories, we asked them if they were ready for us to make our removal. They all had said their last “good-bye”. And then we asked, “Where is Sara?”
“She’s here”, said Joan the mother. And then we saw her. When we first walked into the living room we saw a small girl being held by Joan. The girl looked to be around ten years old, and being that it was late we just assumed that this was one of Sara’s younger sisters who had fallen asleep in Joan’s arms. But, it turned out, Sara had died in her mother’s arms and there she laid.
Like the transfer of a sleeping child from one adult to the next, I got down on my knees, slide my arms under Sara’s head and thighs, lifted her starved body out of her weeping mother’s lap and carried her to our stretcher. The room was full. Full of love. Full of grief. Full of tears. And I was a part of it all.
I tell you this story because I want to make a distinction between empathy and sympathy. Let me explain the difference:
Imagine being at the bottom of a deep, dark hole. Peer up to the top of the hole and you might see some of your friends and family waiting for you, offering words of support and encouragement. This is sympathy; they want to help you out of the pit you have found yourself in. This can assist, but not as much as the person who is standing beside you; the person who is in that hole with you and can see the world from your perspective; this is empathy. — Dr Nicola Davies
There are times (at funerals especially) when all we can give is sympathy. When it’s outside of our ability to fully empathize with a person’s situation. But, there’s other times when you can’t help but be drawn into the narrative, so that you enter the narrative and become a character in the story. Not just a narrator, but an actual character in the drama of life and death.
Too often when child sponsorship programs like World Vision attempt to gain your support, they appeal to your sympathy. “Look at this poor, starved, naked child as he picks food out the dumpster. His distended stomach looks like a balloon and those flies around his face are the only friends he has.” Sympathy appeal, expected to make you go, “O.M.G. If I only spend $40 a month I can give him some rice and … maybe I’ll send him an iPad for Christmas.”
And sympathy works … it creates donors.
But I want to invite you to empathy.
Mother Teresa said, “Do you look … at the poor with compassion? They are hungry not only for the bread and rice, they are hungry to be recognized as human beings.” This “recognition” involves more than food, it involves
and food, agriculture and clean water.
All recognition factors that World Vision does in Guatemala and abroad.
In September I’m going with World Vision to Guatemala to visit a child that I sponsor. And I want you to sponsor a child as well (here’s a link to World Vision’s Charity Rating). In fact, my goal is to have 50 children sponsored by you, my readers.
So, I’m inviting you to empathy. I’m not selling you something or playing on your sympathy. No, I want you to get down on your knees, look into the eyes of someone you don’t know, learn about them and walk with them as they grow.
Enter a story.
Click here to sponsor a child in the village that I will be visiting. And, if you sponsor or not, help me reach my goal of 50 sponsorships by SHARING this post.
Last Friday, I posted this photo on my Confessions of a Funeral Director Facebook Page.
Since I posted it, over 2,000,000 people have viewed it.
Many have asked, “Where is this gravestone located?” “Who is the gravestone for?” And various other questions.
Here’s Matthew Stanford Robison’s “Find a Grave” page that will answer most of your questions:
|Birth:||Sep. 23, 1988|
|Death:||Feb. 21, 1999|
This unique monument shows the young boy jumping upward, out of his wheelchair. Confined to the chair most of his young life, he is now free of earthly burdens.
“And then it shall come to pass, that the spirits of those who are righteous are received into a state of happiness, which is called paradise, a state of rest, a state of peace, where they shall rest from all their troubles and from all care, and sorrow.” Peacefully in his sleep on Sunday, February 21, 1999, our cherished son, brother and friend, Matthew Stanford Robison was received into a state of happiness, and began his rest from troubles, care, and sorrow in the arms of his Savior and friend Jesus Christ.
Matthew was a joy and inspiration to all who were privileged to know him. He was a testament to the supreme divinity of the soul and an embodiment of the completeness our spirits yearn for. The godliness of his soul inspired, influenced and blessed all who knew him. He came into this world as a miracle and left this world as a miracle.
Born with severe earthly disabilities on September 23, 1988 in Salt Lake City to Johanna (Anneke) Dame Robison and Ernest Parker Robison. At birth, Matthew’s life expectancy was anticipated to be only hours long. However, fortitude, strength, and endurance, combined with the power of God allowed Matthew to live ten and one-half years enveloped in the love of his family and friends. His family was privileged to spend time with him here upon earth, to learn from his courage and marvel at his constant joy and happiness in the face of struggle. His family will be eternally changed by his presence and temporally changed by his passing. His presence inspired all those who knew him. He opened their hearts as well as their eyes.
He is survived by his parents: Ernest and Anneke; sisters and brothers, Korrin, Marc, Jared, and Emily of Murray, Utah, and Elizabeth (Czech Prague Mission) Also, grandparents and other family members. A heartfelt thanks to his special care givers, especially Shauna Langford, and others at Liberty Elementary School.
Salt Lake City Cemetery
Salt Lake City
Salt Lake County
Here is part of Matthew’s obituary:
Most people only think about heaven / the afterlife during times of death. So, if you’ve had someone close to you die, you probably have strong opinions about the existence or nonexistence of the afterlife.
And, our opinions are probably wrong.
If heaven exists at all, it – by definition — is much different than what you or I imagine it to be. And while my religion’s scripture (Christianity) has little to say about what heaven is like, it seems that my religion’s preachers – especially the ones at funerals – know much more about it than their Bible.
So, here are eight common ideas about heaven that I think are false.
Heaven is not …
One. An opiate. Like religion, heaven has too often been used as an opiate to blind people to the dismal reality that someone is in fact dead.
Two. It’s probably not about you. It’s selfishness that has made this place so shitty. So, if heaven is better than what exists today, it will probably only happen when we are somehow drawn out of self-absorption by something greater (i.e. God).
Three. A product of subjective validation. If you find heaven meaningful, good for you. But, that doesn’t mean it exists. Just because you like the idea of an eternal life where everything is unicorns and butterflies is not proof for heaven being an actual reality.
Four. Subject to wishful thinking. “In heaven I’m going to have a Ferrari with Kathy Ireland as my wife. I’ll dress her up in My Little Pony outfits and I’ll play Black Ops all day. Oh yeah, and grandpa will be there too and we’ll fly around together on the back of my Pegasus.” Probably not.
Five. A product of communal reinforcement. If the only reason you believe in heaven is because your family believes in heaven and because everybody wants to believe in heaven, you probably haven’t thought about it too much. And any perception you have about heaven probably sucks.
Six. Escapism. Or, an excuse to trash this world because it’s going to be destroyed anyways (some evangelicals believe this.) If anything, I believe in an inaugural eschatology that is bringing heaven to earth as opposed to bringing us earthlings to heaven.
Seven. Hedonism. A place where we can do whatever the hell we want. Yeah, that place – if it exists – is called Las Vegas.
Eight. A certainty. That’s right. It’s a hope, not a certainty. It’s a valid hope during death. It has a valid place in our lives now, but you simply can’t prove its existence empirically. In some sense, we are creating heaven. We are bringing it into existence. And its creation is conditioned on us losing our egotistical outlook. Heaving is becoming, but it’s not a certainty.
The Vulnerable God
William Placher writes,
Love involves a willingness to put oneself at risk, and God is in fact vulnerable in love, vulnerable even to great suffering. God’s self-revelation is Jesus Christ, and, as readers encounter him in the biblical stories, he wanders with nowhere to lay his head, washes the feet of his disciples like a servant, and suffers and dies on a cross — condemned by the authorities of his time, undergoing great pain, “despised and rejected by others; a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity”
This week we reflect on the pinnacle of the vulnerably of God … the death of Jesus.
Pulled Into the Narrative of Suffering
In Matthew 20: 20 – 23, the mother of disciples James and John asks Jesus this question, “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.”
Jesus’ response turns the whole conversation on it’s head. James and John’s mother assumes that Jesus is coming into Jerusalem to set up his Kingdom, whereby Jesus will claim the thrown of David and push the Romans and their rule out of the land of Israel.
The disciples see Jesus’ entering Jerusalem as a power play and they want a piece of the power.
It was evident that James and John, their mother and the disciples had yet to understand the nature of the Kingdom: freedom, vulnerability, love and often suffering.
Jesus responds, “You don’t know what you are asking. Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?” In the Old Testament “the cup” was a metaphor for suffering … the very opposite of power. In fact, power is the human response to suffering. Power is the human response to vulnerability. Suffering is the divine response to vulnerability.
Jesus then states, “You will indeed drink from my cup ….”
And although they didn’t understand it, the disciples eventually would understand the brokenness of God over the world. They would eventually re-narrate the vulnerability of God in their own suffering … a re-narration that God invites all of his followers to embrace. As we’ve prayed so often, “Lord, break my heart with the things that break yours.”
Simon of Cyrene
Perhaps that re-narration is nowhere more visually clear than in Simon of Cyrene. It seems that Simon is actually forced into helping Jesus carry the cross to Golgotha. Mel Gibson portrayed Simon in “The Passion of the Christ” as being unwilling to carry the cross.
And I think most of us respond in the same way. When God asks us to help him carry his burdens and we realize that his burdens are the weak, the poor and the sinful, we all turn our heads in disgust.
“You mean you’re calling me to weakness?”, we ask. “I thought you saved me in order to give me strength?” we snark.
And we find ourselves like Simon of Cyrene being forced to carry a cross that isn’t ours.
“But, you’re God … why can’t you carry this on your own?” we retort. “Aren’t you all-powerful? Aren’t you the one who created the world?”
The truth sets in.
God needs our help.
HE CAN’T CARRY THE BURDEN ALONE.
Some final thoughts from William Placher,
If God becomes human in just this way, moreover, then that tells us something about how we might seek our own fullest humanity — not in quests of power and wealth and fame but in service, solidarity with the despised and rejected, and the willingness to be vulnerable in love.
We become human when we become Simon of Cyrene and embrace the vulnerability of God by carrying his cross with Him.
Where do you look for Jesus?
Do you look for Jesus in Church?
Do you look for Jesus in the Word?
In your quiet times?
We’ve all looked for Jesus in these places. And we’ve found Him there, once or twice. And we (I) have thought, “Jesus dwells in the Word … so I will wait here until He comes back to show Himself to me again.” And I wait. And we wait.
Martin Buber has said that community is the place of theophany, so we go to church and except that “where two or three are gather” there He is. And I wait. And we wait to find him in this place.
Quiet times alone in prayer, worship and the Bible are the place where our personal relationship with Jesus is built. And it’s true … to an extent. He speaks to us and then silence. Silence. And we wait.
Where is Jesus? Why is it that He’s so silent, so often, despite the fact that we are genuinely seeking His presence? Why does He so often remain so distant while our faith so languishes in the desert?
God is rarely present in a place, or a set aside time. But, “He dwells with the broken and the contrite.”
Jesus says, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
But, it is not us giving to the have not’s. It’s not those of us with a spiritually induced Messiah complex swooping in to help the broken. No, those aren’t the one’s meeting Jesus either.
Jean Vanier, a former naval officer, former professor who received his Ph.D. in moral philosophy in Paris, and eventual founder of “L’Arche”, (a movement of communities that seeks to create a family environment for those who’ve been rejected because of their mental disability), has this to say:
“Jesus came to bring the good news to the poor, not to those who serve the poor! I think we can only truly experience the presence of God, meet Jesus, received the good news, in and through our own poverty, because the kingdom of God belongs to the poor, the poor in spirit, the poor who are crying out for love … God is present in the poverty and wounds of their heart.”
So that the one “place” we might always find God is in brokenness. I’ve seen people who have tried to “break themselves” so as to spur the presence of God in their lives. And that’s not what I’m talking about here.
Buber was right. Jesus was right. Theophany is in the community, AND he dwells with the broken! But it’s not always in individual brokenness, but in the broken community.
God calls himself the “Paraclete” which means “the one who answers the cry.”
We will find Jesus at the funeral.
We will find Jesus around the death bed.
We will find Jesus in the prisons.
In the hurting families.
With the fatherless. With the widow.
And we will find Him, not as outsiders of the broken community, but as ones who find ourselves apart of it.
And I think we will soon realize that He himself is not dwelling with the broken and the contrite as just the “Paraclete”, but because He too is most like … most comfortable with the broken. It’s not that he’s there just because he’s saving us … it’s that He’s with the broken because He’s most like us.
I hope we all find that Jesus dwells with the broken communities.