An Open Letter to Our World:
UNDERSTANDING ROBIN’S DEATH;
TRYING TO UNDERSTAND REV. JENKINS
(UPDATED AUG 11)
My Dear Brothers and Sisters on this Journey of the Soul…
I want to comment about two things in this letter, please. First, the shocking news of the death of Robin Williams on Aug. 11 in what was labeled in early media reports as an apparent suicide.
Second, a recent news story about a Christian pastor at a Baptist church in Tampa, Florida, the Rev. T.W. Jenkins, and the teachings of that church in general, as Pastor Jenkins understand them…regarding God, and What God Wants.
I joined millions in finding myself deeply saddened by the news of Robin Williams’ departure for this life. Like so many of you, my life was made richer for Robin Williams having been here. And not just for his comedy, either. The expansiveness of his talent was evidenced in films like Goodwill Hunting and Dead Poet’s Society.
Many people find it hard to believe that another could end their own life — and especially a person who seems to have all the things that the rest of us dream of. Yet having such things is no guarantee that a person cannot or will not be depressed. And it is easier to understand how the desire to end one’s life can overtake someone — no matter how well their life may seem to be going — when we realize that…
“…a person living with depression does not always have the same thoughts as a healthy person. This chemical imbalance can lead to the person not understanding the options available to help them relieve their suffering.
“Many people who suffer from depression report feeling as though they’ve lost the ability to imagine a happy future, or remember a happy past. Often they don’t realize they’re suffering from a treatable illness, and seeking help may not even enter their mind.
“Emotions and even physical pain can become unbearable. They don’t want to die, but it’s the only way they feel their pain will end. It is a truly irrational choice. Suffering from depression is involuntary, just like cancer or diabetes, but it is a treatable illness that can be managed.”
The above information is from the website www.SAVE.org, where you will find insights about this tragic circumstance that could save another’s life. I found it very worthwhile to visit this site.
And may I offer a warning, please? If you know of a person who in your experience seems periodically seriously depressed, please take note if they are also using alcohol or drugs on a regular basis. Says the SAVE website:
“Alcohol is a depressant, so it can and often does make depression worse. Drug use alone or in combination with alcohol use for someone suffering with depression can be lethal. Too often people attempt to alleviate the symptoms of depression by drinking or using drugs which can increase the risk of suicide by impairing judgment and increasing impulsivity.”
Try to get them to seek help with this major challenge, if there is any way that you can. I was surprised to learn that, according to SAVE: “The majority of the people who take their lives (estimated at 90%) were suffering with an underlying mental illness and substance abuse problem at the time of their death.”
Of course, we all understand that those who commit suicide are suffering from some form of mental illness (i.e., severe depression, etc.) at the time of their death, or, one presumes, they wouldn’t have taken their own lives. But also a substance abuse problem? I knew, I suspected, that this number was high, but I wouldn’t have guessed that it stood at 90%.
In Mr. Williams’ case, he made no secret of his own addition to alcohol and drugs. He openly acknowledged his ongoing struggle with these substances. And his publicist said in a statement that he was dealing, once again, as he had before, with severe depression in recent months.
But now let’s look at the spiritual aspect of all this — not just in Mr. Williams’ life, but in the lives of all of us. People have been asking me about this.
The CWG book HOME WITH GOD in a Life That Never Ends devotes a fair amount of space to the question of suicide. It offers hope on several fronts.
First, it makes it clear that God does not “punish” the souls of those who end their own lives. Says God in this dialogue: “Comfort may come from knowing that the person who has committed suicide is all right. They are okay. But they will not have achieved what they set out to do. That is important for anyone who is contemplating suicide to know.”
Gods goes on to explain: “A wish to avoid that which is painful is normal. It is all part of the human dance. However, in this particular moment of that dance a person is trying to push herself or himself away from something that the soul has come to the body to experience, not to escape.”
God says those who end their lives will not elude the situation they were seeking to avoid—“nor do you wish to, because you have created your creations in order to recreate yourself. It will not benefit you, therefore, to attempt to sidestep them.”
So, says this powerful dialogue, “what you die with, you will continue to live with.” But the wonderful thing is that you will not experience this as painful. “I want you to be very clear here,” the dialogue goes on. “You will encounter yourself on the other side of death, and all the stuff you carried with you will still be there. Then you will do the most ironic thing. You will give yourself another physical life in which to deal with what you did not deal with in your most recent one.”
The good news is that you will not see this as a “punishment” or a “requirement” or a “burden,” because you will understand it to all be part of the process of self-creation, for which you exist. So you will actually be glad to return to the situation, and this time work it out in a way that further advances your soul’s evolution.
To use an example, it is like a dancer who stumbles and falls, but loves to dance so much that, even though the fall may have hurt a little, the dancer can’t wait to get up and go at it again.
I do not mean but the use of that example to make light of the intense emotional or physical pain that some people feel, which motivates them to end their life, but it does offer us a simile that might allows us to feel into what the soul of people who end their own life feels, and why they would decide, once on “the other side,” not to avoid what they thought they might elude, but rather, to return to physicality and experience life all over again, this time moving through it in a different way.
Normally, death is a tool with which the soul creates a new and different life. “Suicide is the use of death to create the same life all over again, with the same challenges and experiences,” the Home with God dialogue said.
So I know that the soul of Robin Williams is already happily planning to return to physicality and face the same challenges that he was confronting when he left, but this time in different way. By this process his soul will, in a sense, exuberantly pick up where it left off, then to continue on its eternal and joyous journey.
I wish — and I know we all wish — him Godspeed and God’s blessing on his travels through all the corridors of Time and Space. He gave us all so much joy, and I know that joy will be returned to him sevenfold, even as he faces the same challenges again and changes course in how he deals with them.
Now, please…on to that story about the Baptist church in Tampa.
In connection with that, I want to talk about Love. And Compassion. And Mercy. And Forgiveness. All of which I thought were qualities of a Christian life. Then, a few days ago, Rev. Jenkins set me to wondering about that. Could I have been wrong about God? Or could I have simply misunderstood how love and compassion, mercy and forgiveness fit into God’s plan?
Let me back up here just a bit and tell you a story. It is a sad story, and you are going to find it hard to believe that it is true. But it is.
Julie Atwood, of Tampa, was standing by the side of the casket of her son, Julion Evans, at the wake following his death in early August when her cell phone rang. Answering the call, she heard the voice of her pastor, Rev. Jenkins. Julie had been baptized at the New Hope Missionary Baptist Church as a child, and several of her family members still worshipped there. It seemed natural to hold her son’s funeral there, in this House of God.
So the service had been arranged, and was to take place on the following day. A host of Julion’s relatives and friends were made aware of the time and place, and many planned to attend.
Then came the phone call as Julie stood at the side of her son’s casket during the wake. Inopportune as the time was, Rev. Jenkins couldn’t possibly have known that, Julie must have thought as she heard his voice. He’s probably calling to talk about some last minute arrangements for the next day’s service. Was there anything special she wanted him to say?, she imagined he might ask.
But that was not why the Rev. Jenkins was calling. He was calling to call off the funeral. It could not be held at his church, he said. Why-ever not?, Julie asked, frantically. Had there been a fire, a plumbing problem?, she must have wondered.
There was a problem, alright, but the problem had nothing to do with the church building. The pastor told Julie that he could not allow her son’s funeral service to take place in his church the next afternoon because her son was gay. Her son’s obituary, published in the newspaper, had brought that fact to public attention. A man named Kendall Capers was named in the obituary as “husband.”
The Reverend Jenkins said he had no choice but to cancel the funeral. Julie had to leave the wake and try to find some place where the funeral might be held on less than 24 hours notice.
Kendall Capers told the news media about all of this. He said he felt the public should know. I agree with him.
Mr. Capers said that he and Julion were partners for 17 years, and were married last year in Maryland. Julion died at home after a four-year battle with a rare illness which destroys organs in the body — Amyloidosis. The couple’s relationship and marriage were not hidden.
“Everyone who knew us knew about our relationship,” he said. “We didn’t keep secrets.”
When the media contacted the Reverend Jenkins, the comment he offered was this: “Based on our preaching of the scripture, we would have been in error to allow the service in our church. I try not to condemn anyone’s lifestyle, but at the same time I am a man of God and have to stand on my principles.”
My dear sisters and brothers, this brings up a huge question for me. Does Rev. Jenkins refuse to conduct funeral services for others whom he would have to consider, according to his preaching of Scripture, to be sinners? Is anyone, for that matter, without sin in the eyes of the Lord?
I want to ask all Christians everywhere: Was it Jesus who said, “Let those who are without sin among you cast the first stone…” ? Did I get that quotation from Scripture right?
I am personally not willing to go to a place where I hold that God feels homosexuality is a sin, but let us say that someone does believe that. Does this mean that even a sinner does not deserve a dignified funeral in the House of the Lord?
If you would like to let this congregation and its minister know how you feel about this decision — whether in support of it, or to offer your hope that a different decision in similar circumstances might be made in the future — here is the church’s contact information:
New Hope Missionary Baptist Church
3005 E Ellicott St, Tampa, FL 33610
The church’s Facebook page, where you may also leave a comment, may be found here:
It feels important to me, if our world is ever going to heal itself, ever going to embrace a New Cultural Story, that we stand up and speak — gently, and with love; compassionately and with understanding; but openly, and with clarity — in the face of what we consider to be that which no longer represents who we, as a species, choose to be. And, as well, if we support choices and actions about which we are made aware.
Many people do support Rev. Jenkins in his decision. I respect his choice, and his right to make it. I do not agree with it, and I experience the timing of it to be sadly insensitive (more than one friend of the deceased showed up at the church, not having been able to be gotten ahold of to hear of the sudden movement to the new location that was miraculously found, and so, they missed the chance to say this special goodbye, in God’s House).
And so, at this writing, I invite us all to send God’s love, flowing to us and through us, to Robin Williams, to his beloved family, to Rev. Jenkins and all who love him, to Julion Evans and all who loved him, and to all in our world as we each seek to find our way along this remarkable evolutionary journey of our soul.
As Tiny Tim said: God bless us all, everyone.