chaplaincy, christian ethic, christianity, death awareness, health care, medical ethics, pastoral care, psychology and religion, religion, religion and spirituality, religious faith, resurrection of the dead, Rev. Dr. Martha Jacobs, spiritual care, theology
And here is the million dollar question for all those who get into the debate of quantity vs. quality of life. I happen to believe that this debate is false to start with and is only the result of modern technology allowing us to unnaturally extend life. Yet, it is a grand topic in medical ethics.
Rev. Dr. Martha Jacobs takes this question and places into the mouths of Christian clergy and “Holy week.” She argues that if there is any time for Christian clergy to discuss death with their congregants, it is this week, leading up to Good Friday and Easter. Her piece seems spurned on by the article in the NY Times which I posted earlier today.
In reading her piece, she misses the key ingredient as to why the conversation isn’t taking place. It is very difficult to talk about death when we haven’t internalized the fact that each of us will die. If we accept that death is inevitable, and can grasp onto our own death awareness, something that is not so simple, then perhaps, yes, this can be a pulpit discussion. When I gave a talk to clergy about death and dying, I indicated that one just needs to concentrate on the liturgies of various religions to see that death is not something we can avoid talking about because it is all over the prayer. Additionally, most traditions speak of resurrection of the dead, which can only occur once death has occured.
Well, here we are approaching Holy Week. For those of us who are Christian, this is one of the most important weeks of our liturgical calendar. This is the week that we should be contemplating what we never want to contemplate: death — the death of the one who we believe God sent to earth to show us how to love our neighbor as our self; how to live with those who are different from us; how to honor all people, as we are, including our imperfections.
This is the week when I always hope that clergy will talk with their congregants about the “d” word — and this is the week when most clergy don’t talk about the “d” word. Of all of the weeks of the liturgical calendar, this is the week that clergy can use as the “excuse” to talk about our own dying, and yet, statistics have shown that clergy don’t talk about this topic — even on Good Friday, when we remember Christ’s death! Most would rather skip from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday with almost nothing said about our own dying and death. We do our congregants a great disservice and injustice when we don’t talk about our dying because we are all going to die and since Christianity revolves around one who died for us, we should not be so hesitant to talk about not only Jesus’ death, but our own dying.
Clergy owe it to their congregants to talk about what no one wants to talk about — the fact that we are all going to die — and yes, we are all going to die: there is a 100 percent death rate in our world. We can only ignore it for so long and then someone we don’t expect to die, dies, or someone who we thought was going to die, doesn’t. Clergy don’t have the answers. We may think we need to have them and those we serve think we should have them, but we don’t, so we don’t go there, and that is wrong.
We need to put aside our fears about talking about dying and death because we have an obligation to ensure that our congregants are informed about the various issues that can arise when one is dying. Clergy have a responsibility to talk about end of life issues with their congregants. And we all have a responsibility to acknowledge and work toward ensuring that we live and die responsibly. We need to be mindful of our resources, both medical and financial and, we are accountable for the decisions we make around those resources. So it is important that we know where we stand on how we want our body treated as we near the end of our life. Do we want our “life” prolonged no matter what the possible outcome? Or do we want to have our life prolonged if we cannot return to what we individually consider a “meaningful” life? The answers to these two questions will be different for each of us — but we should have had conversations about these two questions while we are still healthy so that our loved ones will know our wishes should they need to make decisions on our behalf when we are no longer able to make them. (For an excellent resource on this, see the op-ed in the NYTimes by Susan Jacoby entitled, “Taking Responsibility for Death or visit my website.)
By the way, there is no indication in Scripture that God prefers longevity over quality of life. So, for each of us, answering these two questions is an imperative as we move forward with our lives, serving Christ as best we can. So, if your clergyperson doesn’t want to talk about dying and death — challenge them to do so. It can be a positive experience since God will be right there as we preach about and talk about our dying, our death and acknowledge that Jesus, who was fully human, understands our fears and concerns about our dying and our death. And I believe that God expects nothing less from us than to consider both our living AND our dying.