Friday, August 05, 2005

To comfort, or to clobber?

Six hundred miles southwest of me, a man named Shorty died about 3 AM this morning.

I didn't know him - he was my dear Kansas City friend Mike M's sponsee. He'd lived a hard life - alcohol and drugs had helped him throw away a lot of dreams in his forty-five short years. And when he was diagnosed with a massive brain tumor eight months ago, he threw away what sobriety he had and spent two months drinking over it. Then his lady intervened, and he spent the last six months sober and active in AA.

It's interesting that as death approaches, people get a little crazy, and start forming debating societies and splitting into camps of doctrine and dogma. Was Shorty really Christian? He was still living with his girlfriend (although I'm not so sure how much sin you are capable of while having chemotherapy...); more than one voice, I'm sure, asked "Can you really be a Christian while 'living in sin'? He's not gonna go to heaven like that..."

The debates weren't limited to the religious side of the house, either. In his last month, when the tumors started metastatising just about everywhere, the pain became unendurable for Shorty, and they put him on morphine. "That sumbitch ain't sober if he's taking morphine," said more than one legalistic AA voice, who was talking without the benefit of sharing Shorty's experience. "I'm not gonna hang around and watch while they juice up some damn junkie."

And then there were the people who just came to comfort, and be a blessing to a dying man...the ones who listened to him yell about the pain, and the injustice of dying at 45 (as if there is less injustice in dying at 55, or even more for dying at 12 or 22). They listened, they talked, they helped take care of his girlfriend, Lisa Jo, and they loved Shorty, knowing that they wouldn't get the chance much longer.

With his death this morning, the camps are lining up again. "He's in a better place," my friend Mike said this morning. "He's sitting having coffee with Bill W. and Dr. Bob, and our buddy Steve, and Doug K...and laughin' at all of us." Then there's the group preaching, "he should have repented of his sins, he's burning in HELL! And YOU need to repent RIGHT NOW and accept Jesus Christ..."

A friend often says that "Death makes universalists of all of us," and I agree wholeheartedly. My only prayer for this man I didn't know is, "May God be merciful to him, and comfort his family and friends," and trust that when I die, that my God is greater than my theology and my dogma.

9 comments:

Tom Scharbach said...

The dead, God be praised, no longer have to listen to the yapping.

Hope said...

Stuff like this makes me crazy in the head.....can't have morphine because then he wouldn't be sober? Are they nuts? I just spent a week sitting at the bedside of a dying friend. My God, I cannot imagine the pain she would have been in had she not had morphine. Even with it, it was almost too much to bear witness to. If my sobriety hinges on no pain meds at the time of my death then I guess I won't die sober. Oh well.

wesd said...

Brer' Manning refers to the Bros. Karmakov Indictment in his gospel. The Church adjudged we really didn't want freedom, so it was usurped on our behalf.

If we're honest, we don't want freedom. We prefer the hollow sustinence of our fears.

Shorty's passing has the significance of a raindrop getting too heavy to stay in the cloud.

Our emotional anguish, over the fulfillment of the laws of physics, points to our pedigree - created in His image. However, weaning eludes us.

I'm not sure where Brer' Raindrop is this morning, but Everything is a closed system. I'm sure he's around here someplace!

Stan F. said...

The first funeral I ever did as a pastor was my mother's memorial service. I spoke of her being with the Lord.

Afterward, some women from her "support group" actually came up to me and said "How do you know she's in heaven? We tried to talk to her about being born again."

Frankly, they didn't deserve to know (first time I've ever had that thought).

What they didn't know was that my mom did have a faith that deepened as she struggled with cancer for 10 years before she died. Yes, she was an alcoholic and not sober. True, her ethics were different than mine.
But God is gracious to all, meaning even those women blinded by ignorance.

I'm just salvation doesn't depend on getting it all right, or I would be in deep trouble.

Michael said...

The first person I was with when she died was my grandmother, my mother's mother and a woman who meant a lot to me. I had been ordained a priest just three months earlier, and when the medical team rushed into her hospital room to try to revive her, they let me stay when I told them I was her grandson and a priest. All I could do was stand out of their way in a corner, tell her we loved her, say goodbye and pray. That is all any of us can do in the face of death. Tell them we love them and pray to God -- who loves them beyond our imagining -- for them and for those they leave behind.

At her funeral, held in the little country fundamentalist church to which she belonged, as I sat with the family wearing my Roman collar (at the specific request of my mother), I was subjected to a sermon about how "some people" had better change their ways or they would wind up in a warmer place than even East Texas on that late August afternoon.

God save us from those who think they are God's best friends!

wesd said...

According to the promises I read, being reborn has a long list of benefits. They're all "in this life," however. There's no mention that my eternal status changes a bit.
It's too bad we've allowed "born again" to be used derisively. Seventy years ago, the word "reborn" had a different meaning.
From what I hear, Job is arguably the oldest book in the Bible. Appropriate, I should say: it's the warning we should all read before we start trying to guess someone else's relationship with the Creator.
There's a prayer, well-known to at least some of us, that begins, "My Creator I'm now willing that you should have all of me: good and bad."
It's amazing to me how quickly we skip past the breath of fresh air inherent in that statement. He isn't so worried about our character defects as we think!

curious servant said...

I'm sorry to hear about the judgemental folks. I believe salvation is much simpler than that.

The "living in sin" thing is silly. We are ALL LIVING IN SIN.

Every time we put anything before God we are sinning. When we are proud, when we act superior, when we boast, and strive for attention, and cheat on our taxes (even a little), and allow others to shoulder burdens that are ours, and. . . and. . . and. . .

The Lord isn't interested in our legalistic weighing of sins. He reduced them to just two.

And it all boils down to something very simple.

Love.

"may we be forgiven our sins as we forgive the sins of others."

We all have plenty of room to worry about our own mistakes and needn't worry ourselves about the errors of others.

It's a good thing that the Lord is so forgiving. I sometimes wonder why He loves us so.

God bless.

curious servant said...

One more item.

My first child died at three and a half months old. I am certain he is in heaven. Folks can argue salvation all they like, but there are many things that have no proof.

It is faith.

Lorna said...

Oh Lord, how long will we Christians carry on causing such pain in your name? For all of you, priests and lay people alike, I am so sorry that you have been hurt by thoughtless words at the death of your loved ones :(

We are saved by faith, not by meeting other people's criteria. I don't think heaven is a g&t swilling country club (as one friend of mine recently put it) where we hang out with our pals again, but I do think when we get there, there will be faces we are surprised to see, and absences we are equally surprised by.

I'm really sorry for your pain.

I thank God for Shorty's life. The good days and the bad. Thank you Lord there are friends there to minister Your loving kindness to his family and friends who mourn him now.