This morning I drove from Yankton, SD to Omaha, NE. I was awed by the beauty of the landscape which wasn’t quite as flat as I anticipated. I drove through miles of farmland with some fields freshly furrowed to show the black richness of the soil. The trees that bordered these farms wore a hallow of pale green, nearly yellow buds just barely visible in the gray, misty morning. I entertained fanciful thoughts of hearing the earth singing songs of dormant prairie grasses to the rhythm of ancient buffalo hoofs running swiftly over the gentle hills. I felt the life waiting in the mud and the rain, just waiting to burst into the new, green loveliness that is spring.
Such were my thoughts as I drove along. The night before I’d given a talk on congregations and mental health and tomorrow I will lead a workshop on congregations and suicide prevention, intervention, and postvention. I frame these conversations in terms of embodying Christ in real and tangible ways, ways that demonstrate just how loved a person is, especially when that person is at their most vulnerable. I can’t help but hear Ezekiel’s question of whether these bones can rise again in the midst of all of this. Then Ezekiel’s question entwines with Jesus’ call to Lazarus to come out of the tomb to create an image of hope and possibility, an affirmation that death is not the end.
With all of this drifting through my brain, I arrived at my hotel room to hear the news that Amy Bleuel died by suicide. I feel such a deep sadness at the loss of a woman I’ve never met. You may not know that Amy was the founder of Project Semicolon, an organization that has brought hope to countless people with its messaging around suicidality. About two years ago, I got a semicolon tattoo as a symbol that I, too, believe the story continues. Pain, depression, PTSD, and all the factors that contribute to suicidal thoughts and behaviors are not meant to be the end of anyone’s story.
I don’t know what prevented Amy from being able to see the next part of her life unfolding. I don’t know what led her to give up her long struggle with suicidality. I do know how devastating it is to hear that one who had given hope to so many lost hope for herself. I feel angry that such a beautiful soul is no longer on this planet and I worry what news of her suicide will do to those most vulnerable, to those who looked to her for hope.
As I read through the texts this week, I was reminded of a conversation I had about 30 years ago with an amazing young man who was in the first youth group I led. He was handsome, smart, compassionate, and driven. We were putting up the youth bulletin board one afternoon and he said that he didn’t really believe in God. Or, if God existed at all, he was an old man in a Hawaiian shirt, sitting on the beach, drinking a beer, and watching the tide flow in and out. When I asked him why he came to church he told me that it “looked good on a resume.” When I asked him why he was so skeptical about God he said something like this: I scored perfectly on my SATS. I drive an Audi. I have a full college scholarship. I have a realtor’s license. What can God do for me that I cannot do for myself? At 19, I had no answer that I could articulate.
Rereading The Last Week by Marcus Bork and John Dominic Crossan has given me an answer that I wish I could share with everyone, especially those struggling with thoughts of suicide. Borg and Crossan make that point that there is no substitutionary atonement in Mark’s Gospel. Instead, there is an invitation to the disciples to participate in the journey from death to life. There is an expectation that a true disciple will respond to the call to come out of the tomb and experience new life, in this life. Driving through farmland humming with life not quite visable was a visual reminder of this call. To my young friend I would say that God gives you life. You cannot give it to yourself. Only God can call life into being, especially when it appears that there is only death.
I wish Amy had known this with clarity and certainty. Jesus is very clear that the story goes on. Pain, violence, death, and destruction are never meant to have the final word. I have been there. I have felt the powerful pull of death and wrestled for years before I found freedom from it. I wish I could tell everyone who feels the pull of death so strongly that they lose all hope, I wish I could tell them that God is present, God’s love is never ending, God yearns to call life into being, especially for those who believe that the tomb seems to be the only answer. For those of us who call ourselves Christians, we must embody Christ and lead the way from death to life with everything we say and do. We must embody God’s love for those who cannot see it for themselves.
Can these bones rise again? Amy’s story will continue through the lives of those she filled with hope. My story will continue because I will not remain silent when a beloved child of God dies by suicide or believes that suicide is the only answer for their pain. If you are struggling with thoughts of suicide, please reach out for help. New life is possible for you even now. Call the Lifeline – 1-800-273-8255 – or reach out to someone you trust. If you suspect someone you know is thinking of suicide, reach out to them. Listen to them. Hear their story and help get them to a professional who can help them on the journey from death to life.
Jesus calls to all of us to step out of the tomb and walk into the fullness of life, the abundance of life. Please, if you have answered that call from death to life and know the power of love and resurrection, then do all that you can possibly do to ensure that those you encounter hear the same invitation in the Love you embody. We need to work together to make sure weary, dry bones rise again and that all the Lazaruses out there can find a way to live again. As long as there is breath, there is hope. Please don’t give up on yourself or on those around you.
Amy, sorry does not begin to express my sadness and regret over your death. I wish I had known you personally. I wish there was someone in your life who could have held hope for you when you could not hold it for yourself. Maybe we can all continue your story by saving the life of another who cannot see beyond the tomb of depression and pain.
Jesus is calling all of us to walk from death to life, to come out of the tombs that surround and threaten us. May we have the grace and the courage to respond and to save the life of another.
RCL – Year A – Fifth Sunday in Lent – April 2, 2017