Finding Out About Beliefs—
Fourth series—Spring 2017
Sunday 26 February to Sunday 2 April 2017
For notes on this fourth series, please browse down this page.
Notes and resources for the meetings of the previous three series can be found at About belief.
All ages are welcome—all meetings held at
Newport Pagnell UNITED REFORMED CHURCH
The more we understand each others faiths and beliefs, the more we can understand ourselves and the more tolerant of differences we may become. These sorts of discussions also help us to clarify our own beliefs and thinking.
For more information on the URC see the United Reformed Church
SERIES 4—What Next?
Looking at living and dying well.
Session1—Talk—26th February 2017—Dying to live. Living to die
Given by Ruth Iley.
Every day we experience life and death, beginnings and endings. Life is full of change and every change we face begins with loss. Living is dying and dying is living- every change we experience starts with a loss. Loss comes before gain. So even if a change is positive, it still begins with a loss. This is the cycle of life. From the beginning when we experience loss in being pushed out of the womb!
As we grow up we leave the security of home to go to school. As adolescents we lose our childhood and have to grieve this. (A suggestion as to why teenagers spend time in front of the mirror is that they are ‘saying goodbye’ to their childhood face/ bodyshape.)
Even good change starts with a loss. We can fight those changes in childhood as change is not something that is easy. (At this point we filled in q1 on sheet, see questions following this text).
Loss can be painful- change makes us vulnerable and we can fight it/ don’t want it. Letting go is hard. We can look back and wish we were still in the ‘easy times’. Not facing change is easier- but not in the long run. (Question 2 on the sheet, see questions following this text)
The losses we do well/ let go and cope with, help us to prepare for death. If we have always fought the losses or not come to terms with them, we may fight death at the end. Living our losses well in life is a daily preparation for dying well. We need to practice letting go.
The ending is there at the beginning- themes we experience through our lives can be traced back.
Death can seem like a finite line- but we can still feel the presence/ influence of the person who has died and it can feel real to us. So maybe instead death is a meandering line? Dementia sufferers prepare for death- living in a sort of halfway place. Maybe death is a journey and the horizon of the dementia sufferer is just different to ours? And maybe death looks different where you find yourself in life? There are different horizons
Whatever we feel or experience of death, loss and dying, they are natural stages of life. But Why Do They Feel So Hard? Grief in coping with great loss- not just death- can feel like madness. And we will/ can/ do do anything to get away from it to lessen the pain and the struggle. We may bury it in excesses: food, alcohol, gambling, going out, travelling, keeping busy, in order to avoid the pain of loss. Because loss is painful. Love hurts. Love is costly in emotional terms. Grief comes from loving. And when we love something or someone, when we loss them/it, we hurt. And we have no choice but to move on, even though it may be physically painful. Ruth shared some personal experiences of loss. (Question 3 on the sheet, see questions following this text)
Can we transform this loss into gain and into moving forward? Biblically we can learn of and know the process of transformation through death and resurrection. Loss needs acceptance and this is a slow process. Ruth shared how she used to struggle as a child with Holy Saturday. From the loss of Good Friday to the joy of Easter Sunday- she wanted to skip to the chocolate. But she realised that Holy Saturday is vital. It is a time of processing and accepting loss. Of coming to terms with what has happened. We need time to accept and process loss and this is different for each person. We need to pay attention to our wounds, ‘keep them clean’ and look after ourselves. We create memories related to that loss that we can carry with us going forward. We may, in relation to a loss of a loved one, wear their ring, have a tattoo, wear their jumper- in effect carry that person with us. We have to find our own ways of helping the transformation that is necessary, to happen. And our spiritual life is an aid to this. We let go and let God. We open ourselves up to God to help us heal and accept the loss. Ruth shared a poem related to Psalm 138 she had written- about being knitted in our mother’s womb.
She asked us how we cope with loss? How do the emotions come out in you? What do we do to help ourselves through loss? If we allow things to help us grow and grieve then it makes our life journey easier. We still feel the effects of those things that have influenced and affected us in relation to the loss we have experienced, but it means we have been touched and changed by the loss, but still able to move forward in life.
And this leads us into contemplation. When we have to come to terms with loss, we face God. We come before God in our weakness and pain.
There are no shortcuts to living and dying well. But we can become agents of transformation in this world, if we manage to live well. So we need to deal with our loss and find ways to manage it and face it and live with it and then we can go out into the world and be Christ’s hands and feet. God’s desire is for us to live well in community.
Questions/ discussion: It is OK to sometimes just ‘get on with it’ and have a ‘stiff upper lip’ because we have to function. It is OK to keep a mask on. But we also need to be honest with ourselves and if we are never facing loss, we can never truly move on.
We need to find our way of coping. We need to find our place in which we can be vulnerable and open up. It may be in sharing with others, it may be in stroking the cat, going for a walk, whatever works for us.
Sudden loss is shocking. It is painful. But the coming to terms is again like Holy Saturday: a time of acceptance and transition. It is not gradual, but the process of acceptance is.
It is OK to experience all different emotions relating to loss. Anger, fury, annoyance, joy, it is all unpredictable- the process of grief can encompass a range of emotions. It is important to do what works for you/ feels right for you.
As people walking alongside those grieving loss, what can we do? Support, love, do practical stuff (non verbal stuff is best- food, hugs, touch, flowers, etc). All the senses need to be thought of in coping with loss.
THE QUESTIONS ON THE WORKSHEET
1. Think of a good childhood memory. What loss did it start with?
2. Thinking of your childhood memories, complete the sentence about a time when you thought, "I wish I was young again because then I would..." or a life state where I struggled to let go of something e.g. health, job, partner.
3. Write down a couple of words about a loss you, or someone else you know, experienced that looked like madness in yourself or another.
4. (To do in the coming week) Reflect on how the feelings/thoughts/experiences of loss come out in you
Session2—Discussion on the previous week's material—5th March 2017
Session3—Talk—12th March 2017—Life and death in the Bible. Focusing on the Biblical themes of life, death and resurrection
Given by Lawrence Moore (with poems by Lucy Berry).
Overview: Death, dying and rising is the pattern of spiritual living in terms of our Christian faith. And is what church is all about too (or should be!). If we are obsessed with our own survival this does not tie in with the death, dying and rising cycle and so we need to learn how not to hang onto our lives.
The following are key Bible references
Genesis: the story of creation (chs 1 & 2); the Fall (ch 4); These stories tell us that everything is not as it should be. Not to be taken literally!
(Lucy: God says,'do not go near the tree or you will die' NOT 'do not go near the tree or I will kill you'. Two very different images of God in these words.)
Revelation21: John the Seerspeaks of a new creation: new heaven and new earth. This has echoes of Genesis.
Bible overview: Creation/goes wrong/Easter/new creation (made possible because of Easter).
God creates a world that is a place of life and flourishing but the reality is that it is a place of dying and pain and sin. The death and resurrection of Jesus is the means by which we have the new creation. SIN=everything that is wrong in the world.
[Lucy's poem: Do not go near the tree.]
Genesis is a story that tells us that the world is not as God wants it to be
Sin: an action that adversely affects others; separation from God; the stuff that takes us away from living well; the stuff that stops us living for the common good; the 'not living God's way'. We DO sin: Rebelliousness, disobedience, separation from God. All of creation is the issue, NOT just personal stuff. Sin is a corporate problem, committed by the whole of creation together.
SIN=the way we live life, do economics, do politics, use power, use money, it is how we relate to each other. They are all disordered because they deal death and destruction, not life. Even our best efforst mean we are pulled off course time and again. When we turn from personal wrongs, we are still part of the world that allows sin to flourish. We experience sin personally, but also because of the way we have constructed our world and systems.
SIN=an alternative world to the one God intended; it's affected and driven by the 'powers' (money, government etc.). Sin is addictive and we keep repeating the same behaviours. Sin enslaves us, we can't stop it, we want to continue our own styles of (comfortable) living and won't give them up. The images of sin we have: when God came to earth, we killed him (because humankind loves the darkness); we trash our planet and keep choosing to do that.
SO HOW DO WE DEAL WITH THIS?
Sin cannot be fixed, in Biblical terms, can't be cured, reformed; IT HAS TO DIE, it has to go; If sin is to die, creation has to go! (Noah: story of trashing sin. When are God's options in overcoming sin? Jesus dies on behalf of the world and rises on behalf of the world in order for the new creation to come about. God takes on all of that. AND THE CHURCH IS SUPPOSED TO BE THE PICTURE OF WHAT THE NEW CREATION LOOKS LIKE; because of Jesus's dying and risin.
if we want to be the church that God is calling us to be, we need to learn to die and rise; we need to follow the lead given in the Bible. The Disciples in the Bible represent the church, in the Gospels. And the Gospels are telling us what to do/calling us into being and response.
[Lucy's poems "About the Church, The day God came to Church"]
We can live in fear as Christians and churches, desperately clinging to our lives, we can cling to survivalism. But all that will do is maintain what is already there and keep being more of the same. BUT JESUS CALLS US TO LIFE, ABUNDANT LIVING, TO DYING AND RISING. The church has a future if it learns to engage with this process of living and dying and rising.
HOW DO WE DO THIS?
Repentance: dying to the stuff that gets in the way; seeking the kingdom, embodying the kingdom through leaving behind the stuff that limits and condemns us. (This is what Baptism is all about.) When we are baptized into the new life of Jesus, we get the new life he promised, because he died for us. Repentance is turning our back on all the stuff that's wrong and acknowledging that even when we try hard, we are constantly sucked back into the sin of the world. This is why we seek forgiveness when we come to worship and in our prayer life---we are responsible as part of humanity. When Jesus was baptised, he turned his back on his old ways and the world he knew and turned his back on the possibilities that lay ahead (marriage, family, expectations on a young man) and went God's way. He sought the kingdom of God. WE ARE CALLED TO DO THE SAME.
Forgiveness: is allowing something new to be born. Forgiveness is 'I take the cost of someone else's sin onto myself. I bear the sins of others'; it is going beyond self; dying to self in order to change the world. JESUS DID THIS. We are called to do the same.
Love of enemies: Jesus calls us to love 'whatever'. They will still be your enemies, whatever they do; Love them. If we learn that unconditional love modelled in Jesus then we are being the church, being God's people, embodying the kingdom.
[Lucy's poem "But Lord ..."]
Embrace of the other: This is a welcome that never stops. It is always offered and involves dying to self. If we do this then we embrace the new life God in Christ offers us and we are the church.
[Lucy's poem "Family of the Church ..."]
Session4—Discussion on the previous week's material—19th March 2017
Session5—Talk—26th March 2017—Dying well---end of life thinking; Thinking and talking about death, for those dying and those left behind
Given by Steve Barnes, Chaplain at Willen Hospice
Death is an inevitability. We need to all grasp the idea that people die. Once we accept that, then we can truly live, In the BCP there are words included for the Curate to use that 'prepare people for their death'. Once we accept that death will happen, it loses its power over us. It may sound trite but actually people do not expect to die. It is part of living.
As a Chaplain, it can be hard when faced with a person of faith who is totally convinced they are going to be healed/recover and this does not happen. They pray and pray and they (and those around them) ask: 'Is God still listening?' But the issue is—we all die and there are average life expectancies and an inevitability. We question: 'Why?' around death. When we ask 'Why me?' the response can be 'Why not me?' Some people get ill because of lifestyle choices, but telling them that is not helpful at the time of terminal illness. And also, some get ill and die and they have lived lives free from poor lifestyle choices. Some rail against death, others are thankful for life. There are many different attitudes to death. There is actually not right or wrong way to face death, but usually we face death as we have faced life. If we rail in life, we rail in death and vise versa. And if we are a person of faith then we can often be celebrating what is to come at the same time as mourning death. Some people feel they are being punished. Some feel angry towards God because of what they are suffering. They say, 'I can't believe in God because if there were a God there would be no suffering, I wouldn't be going through this.
DISCUSS: Imagine a world where there is no suffering or death. Let us say God intervened and no child under the age of 5 could suffer. What would the world be like?
Some look at the Genesis story and see people living for huge numbers of years. But the story of the Fall sees Adam disobeying God and the separation occurred—from the animals (and we have freewill, conscience and morality) and from God. Humanity began to know good and evil and brought judgement upon themselves because they knew what was wrong and right (unlike most other animals). The Fall is like a 'coming of age' of humanity.
What do we do about the fear of death? People ask what will happen to me? For many it is the getting there and the actual dying that frightens them most. The pain; The struggle; The suffering. This brings fear. Mostly the actual event and the pain is nowadays managed well. But it is an honest fear—we can even fear exciting things we do when living (holidays, trips, etc.) and acknowledging that fear is honest.
What about regrets? For many it is 'I wish I had done/not done/said/not said ... when I had the chance. Some wish they could take back words or actions and some are huge and some are small and trivial.
Steve said that he does not believe that God singles out people for punishment of a behaviour or action, that they are paying the price for poor behaviour, words or actions. Often a good way of handling questions related to death is by passing it back to the questioner as Why do you think God is punishing you? They may say, 'Was I evil in the past, and paying the price now?' Allow people space to talk through their fears but do not belittle them.
Encourage people to put their lives in order. Think about what is going to happen. Type up passwords, codes etc so everyone has them. Write a will. People often cannot think about doing such stuff as they may fear it jinxes their recovery (or speeds up their death). Try to reassure that this does not happen. Also encourage the tidying up of social relations too. Encourage people to get in touch, have a chat, whatever works in order to help them. Reconciliation can be very powerful.
Funerals—should children attend? They need to say goodbye too. If we exclude children they can think that they are no longer cared for/loved (devoted granny who they stop seeing once she gets ill and never see again--they may think it is something they have done.) And also their imagination can run wild if they are excluded. Let them be a part of the whole journey. It helps them accept and understand death (goes back to what was said at the beginning of this talk). Allow them space to ask questions and understand what is going on. It may be that we do not like children to see us upset. But if we cry and then half an hour later are OK, it teaches them that it is OK to cry and that life goes on. Emotion is not to be feared. Again life lesson stuff.
Curtain shutting at the crematorium: if we do that do we deny people the chance to say goodbye? But if we don't, do we not acknowledge the finality of the event? What about having the coffin open and saying goodbye? How do we feel about all this? Funerals are often taken out of our hands by the funeral director or crematorium. What about inviting the family to gather around the coffin for the Words of Committal? We can choose to have certain things happen. We just need to make these known. There is no right or wrong. But make sure someone knows your wishes. Often the family may refuse to talk about death as it is too morbid. But that is because we cannot face death— original comment at the beginning!
What about the case of sudden death? We do not expect it and it is often the hardest as we have no preparation or expectation/time of acceptance.
DISCUSS: Judgement: What have I/she/he done to deserve this? How does the Bible speak to this? Retelling of some of Jesus' parables can speak into this. They can provide the hope needed. It is not good deeds that bring us closer to God, but good living. (Prodigal son/rich and poor man praying/love and acceptance of God, not punishing).
DISCUSS: Gravetalk: discussion starter cards; share some & discuss
What do you think heaven is like? Needs to be reassuring (e.g. Psalm 23). Jesus only put the fear of God into the self-righteous and proud; all the others he tried to give hope and new life to.
DISCUSSION: On burial or cremation (sometimes faith dictates).
and for your information: the body renews itself every 7 years, and so we are never the same person we were, physically at least!