A RESPONSE AND A RESOURCE
By now the news of Robin Williams' death has made its way through the news cycle - first with the news he was dead, then the circumstances surrounding his death, then all the 'experts' pontificating at the same time that other conspiracy theorists are pushing all their 'ideas.'
You can go elsewhere to see all sorts of news about all this...today, I want to share with you what we as United Methodists believe about suicide, info about the National Alliance on Mental Illness, and a few closing remarks from me.
1. From our United Methodist Social Principles (2012 Book of Discipline):
We believe that suicide is not the way a human life should end. Often suicide is the result of untreated depression, or untreated pain and suffering. The church has an obligation to see that all persons have access to needed pastoral and medical care and therapy in those circumstances that lead to loss of self-worth, suicidal despair, and/ or the desire to seek physician-assisted suicide. We encourage the church to provide education to address the biblical, theological, social, and ethical issues related to death and dying, including suicide. United Methodist theological seminary courses should also focus on issues of death and dying, including suicide.
A Christian perspective on suicide begins with an affirmation of faith that nothing, including suicide, separates us from the love of God (Romans 8: 38-39). Therefore, we deplore the condemnation of people who complete suicide, and we consider unjust the stigma that so often falls on surviving family and friends. We encourage pastors and faith communities to address this issue through preaching and teaching.
We urge pastors and faith communities to provide pastoral care to those at risk, survivors, and their families, and to those families who have lost loved ones to suicide, seeking always to remove the oppressive stigma around suicide. The Church opposes assisted suicide and euthanasia.
2. National Alliance on Mental Illness - NAMI.org
Mental illness affects everyone. Nearly 60 million Americans experience a mental health condition every year. Regardless of race, age, religion or economic status, mental illness impacts the lives of at least one in four adults and one in 10 children across the United States.
People living with mental illness need help and hope: they need a community that supports them, their families and their recovery.
Because mental illness devastates the lives of so many Americans, NAMI works every day to save every life.
NAMI is the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the nation's largest grassroots mental health organization dedicated to building better lives for the millions of Americans affected by mental illness. NAMI advocates for access to services, treatment, supports and research and is steadfast in its commitment to raise awareness and build a community for hope for all of those in need.
NAMI is the foundation for hundreds of NAMI State Organizations, NAMI Affiliates and volunteer leaders who work in local communities across the country to raise awareness and provide essential and free education, advocacy and support group programs.
3. A Pastoral Word
No matter how well we may know people, the fact remains we cannot know completely what someone is thinking or feeling. All we can do is love those we treasure, making sure to never miss a moment to let people know - through word and action - how much they mean to us. When someone makes the tragic decision to take their own life, it is ultimately their decision. As natural as it may be to reach for guilt, the reality is that we can do only so much.
When I heard the news of Mr. Williams' death and the circumstances surrounding this tragic news, I think back to the words I shared at a funeral for one who took their own life - words inspired by my grandfather. For, you see, one of my grandfather's closest friends, his cousin who was more like a brother, took his life when I was a young boy. It was a shock, to say the least.
Thing is, 30+ years later, as I visit with my dad and my uncle when we are all together, we still tell stories about how much he impacted our lives, and the lives of those we loved. We all know how he died; yet even though his life ended in a most unfortunate way, the circumstances of his death, for some reason we celebrate the joy he brought us all throughout the years. Like happens when we talk about him, many of the same stories are told many times.
In other words, no matter the circumstance of the death of a friend or loved one, the circumstances of their death do not define their life or their their impact on ours. Like everyone and everything in all of creation, our friends and loved ones are nothing more and nothing less that gifts of an extravagantly generous creator God.
Will that in any way mollify the pain we feel when someone we love chooses to take their own life? No. It will hurt. Period. And yet, in the midst of this pain and sorrow we must have Paul's words to the Romans (8:38-39) echoing in our heads...
For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
No matter where we go, no matter what may happen to us or those whom we love, God is with us. People will come into and out of our lives by all sorts of methods. Some will be celebrations; some will be tragedies. The only constant in our lives is the God who created us will never forsake us. As John Wesley, the founder of our movement, said on his deathbed:
The best of all is, God is with us
We will never know why. We do know who will sustain us, if we allow it. May it be so, now and always.
Grace and Peace, Lamar