Sunday, October 27, 2019

Abundant Life

Abundant Life: 

This week's focus is on spiritual health. 

The Today Show interviewer asked me to name my favorite biblical verse. In the end I answered John 10:10, The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly (NRSV).

This was in some ways a more difficult question than it might seem on the surface. When I approach holy scripture, I look at it on four levels. I look at the particular verse (which was what her question was focusing on). But I also look at that verse within the larger passage in which it occurs. And then I look at that passage with in the social context of the time and what meaning it would have conveyed. And finally, because scripture is alive and continues to re-reveal itself generation after generation, I look at how this timeless message might speak God’s word to us today. It is through looking at a verse with in this larger context that scripture is best interpreted. To just look at a single verse runs the risk of misinterpretation.

Let’s look at what the verse about abundant life might mean using this method. I used William Barclay’s The Gospel of John (vol 2) to help with the interpretation.

First, on the verse level what I hear is that there is a distinction between mediocre and abundant life. A lot of people live a life that is run-of-the-mill—not terrible, not plentiful, just average. And I think fear has a lot to do with it. Average is okay, but to risk pursuing something greater makes people afraid because there can be a lot to lose. For example, I hear people say that they’d love to do something, but then come up with endless excuses why they can’t. And most of those excuses seem to be based on fear. To me this seems like a terrible waste—when I hear this I think of an old dried out plastic kitchen funnel, with one’s life slowly swirling toward the small constraining end with fear being the dried out plastic that keeps them  limited and confined. Abundance isn’t for tomorrow; it is for today. In this verse the Greek phrase used for have it abundantly means “superabundance of a thing.” To follow Christ is to have a superabundance of life now AND in the future.

This verse falls within a larger section of the Gospel of John that addresses the doorway to (abundant) life:
So again Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them.  I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. (John 10:10 NRSV)
Just prior to this Jesus had painted the comforting and familiar picture of himself as the Good Shepherd, but his listeners were still not fully grasping the meaning so he switched to explaining that he himself was the gate.
His listeners would have known that villages had two types of enclosures for sheep to keep them safe at night. In the villages there was a literal gate that kept the sheep safely in the enclosure. But when the sheep were out grazing in the hills, they could come and go through a gateless enclosure, but at night once all the sheep were in the shepherd himself would lie down and sleep across the entry making himself the gate to protect the sheep. The listeners at that time would have recognized the well-known Hebrew phrase to “come in and go out” as a description of a life that is secure and safe and without fear. Knowing God through Jesus’ “gate” opens the door for a life where worries and fears are no more.
And isn’t that what abundant life is? It is when we seek to know God and trust that life is indeed in God’s hands that we can walk without fear and find the superabundance that is promised us all…

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Suicide Prevention

This week's focus is on mental health. 

I would be remiss to not start this blog with an article on suicide prevention. Losing my spouse to suicide was heart wrenching and an indescribable tragedy. 
From the dark depths of depression--bipolar, major depressive, PTSD, psychotic (hearing voices telling you to kill yourself or that you are worthless and should die), situational from life events/losses, substance use or other--it can seem like the sun will never shine and that all is hopeless. Do not give up.  With good treatment, you will get through and a joyful, abundant life filled with hope can be found. 
The struggle is worth it. 
The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) has the following suggestions: 

What do I do if I am thinking about suicide?

Tell someone! You do not need to suffer in silence.
To get help, call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). There is also a Crisis Text Line: Text HOME to 741741. For crisis support in Spanish, call 1-888-628-9454..

How can I help someone who is considering suicide?

If you think someone is contemplating suicide, assume you are the only one who will reach out. When talking to someone who may be struggling with mental health issues AFSP recommends:
  • Talk to them in private.
  • Listen to their story.
  • Tell them you care about them.
  • Ask directly if they are thinking about suicide.
  • Encourage them to seek treatment or to contact their doctor or therapist.
  • Avoid debating the value of life, minimizing their problems or giving advice.

What do I do if someone tells me they have been considering suicide?

If someone says they want to take their own life, take that person seriously. Stay with them, and help remove any lethal means. In addition:
  • Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK(8255).
  • Text HOME to 741741 to text with a trained crisis counselor from the Crisis Text Line for free, 24/7.
  • Escort them to mental health services or an emergency room.

What are the warning signs that someone may be suicidal?

There are several warning signs that could indicate a high risk of suicide, including if a person talks about killing themselves, feeling hopeless, having no reason to live, being a burden to others, feeling trapped and experiencing unbearable pain.
The AFSP identifies certain behaviors that may also signal increased risk, especially when related to a painful event, loss or change:
  • Increased use of alcohol or drugs
  • Looking for a way to end their lives, such as searching online for methods
  • Withdrawing from activities
  • Isolating from family and friends
  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Visiting or calling people to say goodbye
  • Giving away prized possessions
  • Aggression
  • Fatigue
In addition, people who are considering suicide often display one or more of the following moods:
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Loss of interest
  • Irritability
  • Humiliation/shame
  • Agitation/anger
  • Relief/sudden improvement

If you or someone you care about is struggling reach out. There is hope. 

Sunday, October 13, 2019




I'm so happy to finally publish this site.  It has been a dream for a long time but somehow 80 hour work weeks as a resident got in the way.

Each week I will share something that I learned or encountered in my ecclesiastical or medical vocations that can strengthen spiritual, physical, or mental health. Focusing on these core areas is important because they provide a strong and balanced foundation. I believe that it is through this foundation that abundant life is found. And we can all find that abundant life we are promised, regardless of how old we are or what circumstances we may find ourselves in. Remember, you can't change the past but only you are the author of your future...

So check back each week for a bite of information that can help along the way.