There are no coincidences? 

Last week I pondered the lack of certainty that is embedded both in the Bible and by the priest and theologians that dedicate their lives to sharing the Bible throughout the ages:  

When we turn to the Priestly caste, by whatever title we bestow on them, in times of suffering or when our mortality is near its end, we don’t want uncertainty or insincerity. We want hope, consolation, and support. Sometimes we may want answers that cannot be answered by the best spiritual leaders in our community. Many priests fail here, not out of lack of trying, but out of over trying to help. They simply do not want to not deliver their faith in a manner that can bolster your faith when your tank is running on empty.

On Friday, two days after that post, I had 30 minutes to kill why in town before picking up my wife

from work. I had just recently bought three fiction books via Amazon and had no reason to go to the public library but went in anyway. Two books were in the new arrivals section display caught my eye. The Pastor, by Hanne Orstavik translated by Martin Aitkin and Birds of North America by the Audubon society.    Hanne Orstavik book was translated from Norweigen. 

The book itself looked tiny and is a work of fiction. When I picked it up, I did not read or delve into the background, which led to one funny revelation. I was many pages in before it was revealed that the Pastor was a woman. I had assumed the Pastor was a man. On revelation, the irony of my error perfectly matched some of the conflicts that the main character endured in the book.    

I have just finished the book. As described in Amazon today, the book is “A thought-provoking, existential novel – as Liv searches for meaning and identity in her own life, she must find the words to connect, comfort, and lead others.” I would have known that the main character was a woman and that the book would cover some serious spiritual questions if I had taken a moment to reach the prologue. I did not, as I was rushed and had other books to read anyway. But for some reason, I picked up The Pastor that night. This was backup. About halfway through, I ran into this passage on page 193 by the main character Liv. Liv had a visceral reaction to a conference speaker describing how he was increasing church membership and outreach by, in essence, “dumbing down” the message and delivering it in terms that young believers could grasp and believe with assured certainty. Liv, having recently come face to face with untimely deaths caused by suicide, was shocked at the speaker’s cockiness and self-assuredness.     She fled the conference in the confines of her room said these words:   

“Stay with me. Tears trickled down my cheeks. There I sat, the Pastor weeping. With no way of comforting myself, unable to save me. The man who’d been giving the talk, going on like that about blessing, how certain he’d been. “I speak from the Spirit of God.” How could he be so certain? I didn’t have it in me to say anything of which I was certain. I couldn’t, I wasn’t capable. But they could, just how unfathomable to me. My job, which I’d accepted by joining the clergy, was it to be able to point and say that somewhere certainty exists? Something solid and true? Something that won’t ever fail?”

And a little further on down the page, Liv reaches the following conclusion: 

“But trying to get rid of contradiction and ambiguity couldn’t help, the fall would still be bottomless, for the Bible couldn’t ever be as tightly woven as that. And what kind of certainty would it give, if not a single question were left?” 

Two powerful statements answer a question I had reflectively posted the day before about the quandary priest face when consoling the bereaved, especially the bereaved for unexpected and untimely deaths. In the fictional character named “Liv,” the humbleness required to be a devout follower of Jesus Christ and the complex mystery of the Bible are clarified in the art of a fictional character living a complicated Pastors life in a foreign land. 

Finding this book was completely random and unexpected. Finding the passage above resonated with the spiritual question of the day regarding uncertainty (of laypeople or priests) and sincerely supporting the bereaved was timely. I would say more about these two statements – but I think they speak for themselves better than me muddying them with my interpretation. 

Many would say mere coincidence.    Bernard B. Beltman M.D. wrote an article in Psychology Today

entitled “There Are No Coincidences,” where he points out the contradiction on that phrase and summarizes the challenge here:     

“Coincidences exist. Coincidences are real. Saying that there are no coincidences stops inquiry. Challenging the statement forces us to make sense of its ambiguity and explore our potential involvement. You can choose the random perspective and with a wave of a mental hand, dismiss most coincidences as not worth further attention. Or, you can seek out their possible personal implications and make life into an adventure of discovery both about yourself and the world around you. As you explore, you may uncover the latent abilities hidden within you.”

Subjectively I believe in Coincidences.  Of that I am certain! Too many have occurred to me that have knocked me off my center of objective stoicism and non-belief in such events.  They are unexplainable.  The above example is only a trifle and easily explainable as a consumer of vast amounts of literature is bound to find countless crossover connections between materials.   I do not intend to convert stoics or non-believers of coincidence – they have a faith of sorts all their own, defended by a different set of principles or philosophers.  As Beltman suggests, rather than fight over the unknown, let’s just delve into the mystery of the potential meaning of coincidences when they arise with discernment and dialogue – open to whatever may come. 

I don’t know if I recommend Hanne Orstavik’s book.  I found the writer intriguing and the storytelling good.  The subject matter dancing around suicide and deep theological challenges spun in a time-warping manner.  However, if you expect existential answers and certainty – you may be left wanting more.   Perhaps the Audobon Bird book can provide more certainty! 

Perhaps this quote from the internet web of images captures the mystery of coincidences.

Post-note: The hardest tragedy is the loss of a child. The following resource is scored 100 out of 100 by Charity Navigator. If you are interested in giving consider the Sudc Foundation: https://sudc.org/grief-resources/#

If you have lost a child recently or ever – my heart, compassion, and prayers have you in mind today. No discussion of coincidences, theology, mystery, causation, or other abstractions can change the reality of the loss of your loved one. I found this message particularly powerful.

Noa

I am up too late tonight.  I am somewhat in the valley of my mood range despite having no outward claim to be disgruntled, angry with my creator, or otherwise disenfranchised.    To the contrary, I have many gifts to be grateful for, including among them adversities that have ensured I am well grounded in humility and empathy for my fellow man and sometimes even for myself!  These adversities have also demanded I have it out with my conception of religion, of people of faith, of spiritual seeking people, and ultimately of God.

At pivotal points in my life, psychic pain and suffering pitted against belief in a merciful and personal God have come into sharp contrast and confrontation.  I like to think “I” have come through these events stronger and better prepared for suffering, yet I know that alone I would not last a second in some of the valleys I have traversed or may have to face down the road apiece.

What if I chose not to face those valleys?  What if life was so unforgiving and so merciless in my perception, in my reality for me, that it became unworthy living?   Most would not judge me well.  On the outside, I have all the “trappings of normalcy” sprinkled with my unique madness that makes everyone a little different, a little more mysterious.    Would you be in any position to judge me?  Can we ever really know the sufferer beneath the smile of the ones we love or the stranger next door?

Intellectually I can hold court with rational support for both sides of this debate.  I have no interest in doing so.  We would have to prioritize the issue on several levels:  societal values, individual rights, medical cost, impacted loved ones, moral and spiritual weights, philosophical underpinnings, and perhaps basic ethics.

There is a higher measure here — deep sorrow. Noa Pothaven died young and incited a Euthanasia debate that she did not want.  Her story and suffering will be a book a film no doubt – but will we learn and change anything?

Neo

Noa Pothoven

Noa suffered repeated trauma at the hands of others.  The stories referenced below do not focus on justice for Noah or efforts to prevent future traumatic events to girls and women.  Our professionals were not able to provide “trauma-informed care” to save this woman from the demons of her past experiences and the presence of deep psychic pain today.   Two major systemic failures leap out here in criminal justice and mental health fields.  Timely and effective prevention of sexual exploitation and violence and swift justice for acts of same is not an accepted or supported norm in our societies.  The mental health systems are not built to provide surround care and nurturing when these horrible acts transpire in a manner that truly embraces recovery.  Of course, this is an overgeneralization.

There are a wonderful therapist and crisis counselors doing awesome work and interventions out there.  They are just not armed with the resources to provide the system of care required to insulate and care for victims of horrendous crimes care.  We will never know where Noa would be if either of these two systems were fully and appropriately able to combat sexual violence and treat victims promptly and for as long as necessary with comprehensive care in a culture that does not allow for victim blaming and shaming.  Even in the absence of assault, we have to be responsive to people with mental health conditions that lead to self-harming behaviors.  Our observations cannot grasp the reality and suffering present within the mind of the person contemplating self-harm or suicide.  Eating disorders, major depression, bipolar disorder, addictions, alcoholism, and countless other maladies defy common understanding unless you experience it or are clairvoyant.   Help and provide hope rather than judge and run away.

I cannot type a word against Noa or even the “End of Life Clinic” pictured below.  They have a team of nurses and doctors that help people legally take their own life.  I wonder what they charge – rather callously, this post deserves no humor.

120307070200-netherlands-euthanasia-clinic-story-top

https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/mar/17/assisted-dying-euthanasia-netherlands

The article above details their work.  To do the work they do I imagine they are a deeply caring lot that faces pain, controversy, and death every day. Taking on that duty of trying to reasonably provide an option to people living with unbearable pain while ensuring full faculty of mind is a terrible endeavor, not to mention morally confounding. 

deathIf we were doing our work well, they would not have a lot of business.  We are failing our youth in areas of education, nutrition, poverty, safety, civility, spirituality, and overall universally, global respect for all people (women, men, children, of every race, of every nationality, of every sexual orientation).  It is not just a Netherlands problem or an American problem, but a universal moral and spiritual failure.   

Hats off to our hospice and palliative care specialist as well that help people make informed choices, access treatments and define advanced directives that speak for them when they can no longer speak for themselves.  I owe this field an apology of sorts as I often make jokes about their grim reaper role, underneath it all they give care when it is most needed and most complex.  They are not at all “End of Life Clinics” despite many people they see are heading towards death’s door with dignity and respect.  palliative care

Euthanasia is a serious question, but can we first treat people with dignity and respect before they reach death’s door or before they reach such immense suffering that they are asking to kick the door in?  Hopefully,Phil_GatesOfHell they are not by this act kicking in the Gates of Hell as Catholic doctrine teaches voluntary suicide is contrary to church law.  Again can we work with what we know to be true and attempt to create heaven on earth by acts within our ability here and now on earth. 

Can we start with praying for Noa and her family and then go out and act on the greater good in each of our communities?  Prayer if well informed, can lead to noble and honorable action here and now supported by the grace of God.  The photo is of Rodan’s Gates of Hell.  I do not believe suicidal gestures and actions doom one to enter these gates.  I do believe we have to wrestle more earnestly with issues of human dignity, come to understand human suffering and expand our access to the mystery of the divine nature within all of us.  

Euthanasia is happening here in America legally, illegally, and in-between the two with a nod and an extra push on the morphine button.   Are we much different than the Netherlands?

“Death by euthanasia is 4% of all deaths in the Netherlands. Is that a slippery slope? I don’t think so,” said Pleiter. Much of the demand was coming from the baby-boomer generation, he added. “They are thinking differently about the way life ends. God and religion are less dominant in their lives. They want more autonomy. But every case is unique.”  In 2017, some 6,585 people chose euthanasia to end their own lives in the Netherlands, about 4.4 percent of the total number of more than 150,000 registered deaths in the country, according to the Regional Euthanasia Review Committee which strictly monitors all cases.

In the U.S., suicide is the tenth leading cause of death.  This number, representing only about 1.3 percent of all deaths, does not accurately account for deaths due to underreporting, intentional deaths by overdose, alcohol-related deaths, and suspicious deaths (with hidden motive and intentions). Legal or not, we have too many people successfully taking their own lives.

Additional Facts About Suicide in the US

  • The age-adjusted suicide rate in 2017 was 14.0 per 100,000 individuals.
  • The rate of suicide is highest in middle-age white men in particular.
  • In 2017, men died by suicide 3.54x more often than women.
  • On average, there are 129 suicides per day.
  • White males accounted for 69.67% of suicide deaths in 2017.
  • In 2017, firearms accounted for 50.57% of all suicide deaths.

https://afsp.org/about-suicide/suicide-statistics/

https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/nvss/mortality/lcwk9.htm

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/06/06/world/europe/noa-pothoven-instagram-euthanasia.html

https://nypost.com/2019/06/04/netherlands-teen-raped-as-child-legally-euthanized-due-to-unbearable-pain/

https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-7103019/Dutch-girl-17-legally-ends-life-euthanasia-clinic.html

Anyone want to join me on vacation to the Netherlands?  Pack light we can save on baggage fees and return airfare.    Okay, maybe the post needs a little dark humor.  

It is quiet now.  Three-twenty a.m. in the morning.  It is the most trying time for people who are struggling with mental health – no one to call and silence and quiet all around.  Spiritually it is a great time to pray and can be an equally challenging experience in times of desolation.  Woe is the person who faces both at the same time (sickness and desolation), yet they often come hand in hand.  Find solace in prayer and if nothing else works wake everyone the hell up – people love a little drama in the middle of the night!

darkness

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