Mason Counsels Suicide Prevention

Review of Karen Mason, Suicide PreventionKaren Mason.[1] 2014. Preventing Suicide: A Handbook for Pastors, Chaplains, and Pastoral Counselors. Downers Grove: IVP Books.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

If you are contemplating suicide, help is available.

Call: 1-800-273-TALK.[2]

Earlier this month with the death of two prominent celebrities, Kate Spade (June 6, 2018) and Anthony Bourdain (June 8, 2018), the epidemic of suicide in America has become more obvious to the public. The New York Times reported already in 2017 that suicide rates reached a thirty-year high (Tavernise). For those of us personally touched by suicide, the more surprising report is that, like Kate and Anthony, the fastest growing demographic affected by suicide is the fifty-plus age group, which is historically anomalous—we do not expect successful people to kill themselves.

What, if anything, can be done about it?


In her book Preventing Suicide, professor of counseling and psychology at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, Karen Mason, cites philosopher William James who“regarded religious faith as the most powerful safeguard against suicide.” (17) Her focus in writing is “on suicidal acts that include at least some intent to die.”(22) This definition is important because not all acts of self-harm are suicidal. For example, cutters, usually young people in deep emotional pain, normally use the pain of cutting themselves to distract their minds from their emotional trauma, but do not intent to kill themselves.

What Can Be Done?

Mason sees the pastors, chaplain, and pastoral care workers as able to reduce suicide rates by:

  1. “Teaching a theology of life and death, including moral objections to suicide.
  2. Teaching theodicy, or how to understand and manage suffering.
  3. Directly engaging the issue of suicide—stigma free—when people become suicidal, attempt suicide or die by suicide.
  4. Teaching how to build a life worth living with meaningful purpose and belongingness.
  5. Offering community where relationship skills are learned and practiced and where those who need support get it.
  6. Partnering with others in preventing suicide.”(18)

She sees the goals of suicide prevention as being realistically achievable, but those who attempt suicide must be taken care of. Those who attempt suicide but do not die are at much higher risk of succeeding on a second attempt—“A prior suicide attempt is the single strongest risk factor for death by suicide.”(114)

Personal Experiences

Suicide has been a part of my life experience since my youth.

The year before I came to Christ at age 13, my best friend’s father shot himself to death.

During my graduate program at Cornell University (1976-1979), I found myself in the midst of a cluster of suicides on campus. So many suicides occurred in my first fall on campus that students demonstrated to close the school until something was done. One student reportedly jumped off a bridge (Cornell is located on a mountain) and, after suffering only a broken leg, crawled up to the bridge a second time and jumped again, this time to his death. During that fall, one of my housemates attempted to overdose herself and within my circle of friends we knew of half-a-dozen suicides.

During my clinical pastoral education at Providence Hospital in 2011-12, I met with and counseled numerous patients who had attempted suicide, either through my work in the emergency department or psychiatrics. I also counseled a number of cutters. Being the first one to visit seriously with someone after an attempted suicide is a heavy, burdensome responsibility. After such visits, I often ended up in the chapel in prayer.

During the past twelve months, two fifty-plus age men in my family circle of friends killed themselves. One of those men was someone that I had attempted to reach out to and provide support, but he proved unwilling.

Organization of the Book

Mason writes in nine chapters preceded by acknowledgements and an introduction and followed by a conclusion and notes. The chapters are:

  1. “Who Dies by Suicide?
  2. Shattering Myths About Suicide.
  3. Suicide and Christian Theology.
  4. Theories of Suicide.
  5. Helping Someone in a Suicide Crisis.
  6. Helping a Survivor of Attempted Suicide.
  7. Helping the Helpers.
  8. Helping Suicide Survivors.
  9. Helping the Faith Community.” (vii)

What is interesting about these topics is the range of issues and people involved. Mason makes the point that suicide clusters—copycat suicides—can be dramatic.

Warning Signs

Mason cites a serious loss as triggering event, which can be a legal problem, financial difficulties, relational breakup, or unemployment. Other warning signs include:

  • “Talking about or writing about death, dying, or suicide.
  • Threatening to kill oneself.
  • A worsening mental health problem such as depression, especially when accompanied by agitation.
  • Dramatic brightening of mood after a period of depression.
  • Seeking access to means, such as hoarding pills.
  • Reckless behavior, such as increased substance abuse.
  • Decreased hygiene, such as not showering.
  • Social withdrawal.
  • Preparatory behavior, such as giving away prized possessions.”(84).

Those contemplating suicide may talk to friends, family, and/or clergy before attempting suicide. “Based on large national surveys, it is estimated that for every fourteen suicides per hundred thousand people each year, approximately five hundred people attempt suicide and three thousand think about it.”(28)


Karen Mason’s Preventing Suicideis an important resource for caregivers who assist those who think about, attempt, and commit suicide. I wish that I had read this book years ago because the guidance that Mason offers would have been helpful, particularly in dealing with those who survived an initial suicide attempt. Because suicide rates have reached crisis levels, this is a book that caregivers ought to read and discuss.


Tavernise, Sabrina. 2016. “U.S. Suicide Rate Surges to a 30-Year High”New York Times. April 22. Online:, Accessed: 13 March 2017.


[1]; @ivpbooks.

[2]Or text: CONNECT to 741741. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

Mason Counsels Suicide Prevention

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Prayer Against Dark Shadows

FPCA Avian-Spirit CrossBy Stephen W. Hiemstra

Almighty Father,

We praise you for your love in creating us in your image,

confess that we are unworthy of this high honor, and

thank you for the faith that you have given us to endure suffering knowing that until you return in glory “suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope” (Rom 5:3-4 ESV).

Knowing also that for those whose faith is weak you are ever-present and offer us dominion over every creeping thing (Gen 1:28),

we claim this promise in the strong name of Jesus Christ,

who died on the cross and was raised from the dead.

In Jesus’ name, we bind every dark shadow,

break the power of every curse, every abuse, every evil thought, and

cast every spirit of self-destruction and resignation into the fiery pit.

We raise up the cross and say: no more, be gone.

Fill every heart with your Holy Spirit, that life might echo your joy, your light,

and every child confess that Jesus is Lord until you return in glory.

In his holy name, Amen.

Prayer Against Dark Shadows

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Giving Thanks 

A Place for Authoritative Prayer 

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Image Theology and Idolatry

Stephen W. Hiemstra, Simple FaithBy Stephen W. Hiemstra

Being created in the image of God—

“So God created man in his own image [בְּצַלְמֵ֖נוּ], in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (Gen 1:27 ESV)

—may sound quaint to postmodern ears, but it becomes terribly important in understanding the implications of idolatry, the worship of images other than God. Think of idolatry as a hierarchy of priorities. The First Commandment makes this point: “You shall have no other gods before me.” (Exod 20:3) For example, how time or money each week do you spend in different activities? How does God stack up in this list of priorities?

The Second Commandment reinforces the point of the first one:

“You shall not make for yourself a carved image [פֶ֣֙סֶל], or any likeness [תְּמוּנָ֡֔ה] of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.” (Exod 20:4-6)

The focus on “carved images” suggests pagan temple worship, as the Psalmist makes light of:

“Their idols are silver and gold, the work of human hands.
They have mouths, but do not speak; eyes, but do not see.
They have ears, but do not hear; noses, but do not smell.
They have hands, but do not feel; feet, but do not walk; and they do not make a sound in their throat.
Those who make them become like them; so do all who trust in them.” (Ps 115:4-8)

The key verse here is the last one: “Those who make them become like them”. Image theology implies that we grow to become like the god that we worship, even if we worship idols. Our number one priority, which is a question of identity and attitude, is effectively our god. Idol worship threatens all that we are because over time we become like the god that we worship.

Is this statement hyperbole? Not all all. If we worship idols, they let us down. When our idols crash, we experience an existential crisis because we must completely reorganize our priorities, which is never easy.

Think about the priorities in the United States today. If your number one priority is work and you loose your job, what happens? Even a casual observer knows that anxiety, depression, drug addiction, and suicide are rampant in the United States.

The issue of suicide is indicative because suicide is currently at historically high levels. Two age groups stand out: young people under the age of thirty and older white men, a group not historically prone to suicide. Among young people, the typically reason for attempting suicide is a broken relationship (idolizing a person); among older men, the typical reason is a lost job (workaholism). Both problems suggest idols that have crashed.

For every suicide there are probably another five or ten people suffering miserably. If psychiatric problems, such as anxiety and depression, have a spiritual root (idolatry), then talk therapy and medication can only ease the pain; they cannot solve the problem.

To sum up, if we are created in the image of God and are commanded to love him and only him, God’s jealousy arises for our advantage. God’s jealousy is not vanity; it is part of his care for us. Love for God, as the prayer goes—

“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” (Deut 6:4-5)

—actually serves to vaccinate us from some serious problems.


Tavernise, Sabrina. 2016. “U.S. Suicide Rate Surges to a 30-Year High” New York Times. April 22. Online:, Accessed: 13 March 2017.

Image Theology and Idolatry

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Looking Back 

A Place for Authoritative Prayer 

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A Place for Authoritative Prayer

Cover for Simple Faith“In that hour he [Jesus] healed many people
of diseases and plagues and evil spirits,
and on many who were blind he bestowed sight.”
(Luke 7:21 ESV)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Richard Foster (1992, 229) describes authoritative prayer with these words:

“In Authoritative Prayer we are calling forth the will of the Father upon the earth. Here we are not so much speaking to God as speaking for God. We are not asking God to do something; rather, we are using the authority of God to command something done.”

As practiced in the church today, authoritative prayer is also referred to as deliverance ministry and, more popularly, as exorcism. Foster’s term, authoritative prayer, is more descriptive of the actual practice and less likely to evoke the baggage that accompanies other terms.

A reluctance to practice authoritative prayer exists among many Christian leaders. I would like to argue here that this reluctance needs to be reassessed because the need for authoritative prayer has grown dramatically in our generation, because authoritative prayer has been unfairly stigmatized and misunderstood, and because authoritative prayer has a legitimate therapeutic place even when other forms of counseling are available.


Jesus practiced authoritative prayer, as most authors recognize. E.P. Sanders (1993, 149), for example writes:

Exorcisms, which are a significant subcategory of healings, deserve fuller discussions. They were very important in Jesus’ culture and also in his own career.

Sanders then proceeds to list twelve scriptural citations where Jesus performs exorcisms[1] and also lists exorcisms performed by others in the New Testament (Sanders 1993, 15). Significantly, Jesus also commissioned the disciples to preach and cast out demons (e.g. Mark 3:14-15).

The early church took the need to cast out demons seriously because virtually all adult converts had previously worshiped pagan idols, which were believed to be demons. The church accordingly commissioned exorcists much the same as deacons and elders. The church has always recognized the need for authoritative prayer, even if some traditions have seldom openly practiced it.

Types of Healing Prayer

Interest in authoritative prayer in the modern period, outside the Pentecostal (charismatic) tradition, started with a Roman Catholic priest by the name of Francis MacNutt in the 1960s, who taught that authoritative prayer could be described as one of four types of healing needing prayer:

  1. Repentance of sin (spiritual healing).
  2. Emotional (or relational) healing.
  3. Physical healing. and
  4. Deliverance (healing from spiritual oppression) (MacNutt 2009, 130).

Distinguishing the different types of healing needs is important because many practitioners lump all healing needs into authoritative prayer and fail to distinguish spiritual oppression (common) from outright possession (rare).[2]

The Postmodern Need for Authoritative Prayer

In the modern period, the influence of rationalism in Christian thought led many to question the reliability of scriptural references to exorcism and other recorded miracles. This over-emphasis on rationalism and personal autonomy seems increasingly out of place in the postmodern period that we live in.

Limits to Autonomy

In my own hospital experience, for example, I noted that about half the patients that I visited with as a chaplain intern working in the emergency department were admitted for reasons that could be classified as preventable, problems arising out of poor lifestyle choices, and other self-destructive behavior. In visiting later with the senior surgeon, I was corrected. He reported that the actual proportion of patients so classified was closer to three-quarters. Consequently, if in the concrete reality of medicine, we are incapable of maintaining our physical health in view of rational information to inform us as to how to accomplish this objective, then how much more incapable are we of maintaining our own spiritual health?

Growth of Suicide Problem

Outside of personal observation, we know from recent reports that the United States is currently experiencing a thirty-year peak in suicides, with the largest increase among men aged 45-64 (Tavernise, 2016). I personally know of two men within that demographic who killed themselves within the past year. If people are killing themselves in record numbers, it is safe to say that spiritual oppression is part of the picture, especially when drug abuse and deviant sexual activity are not indicated, because poverty, depression, and despair do not have to lead to suicide.

New Challenges

Outside of the medical and psychiatric fields, three factors suggest a need for authoritative prayer that could be classified as something new. First, the growth of interest in pagan religions and immigration from countries where animistic religions are commonly practiced show spiritual influences previously absent in the West. Second, the mainstreaming of alternative sexual practices and drug use (and the abuse that often goes with them) has the potential to increase the number of individuals susceptible to spiritual oppression. Third, the discrimination of secular institutions practiced against Christians reduces the number of individuals who are nominally influenced by the church and thereby able to resist other spiritual influences.

The Practice of Authoritative Prayer

A number of approaches have been taken in authoritative prayer. Here I will speak only of my personal experience in assisting a seasoned practitioner who is an ordained Presbyterian pastor in Charlotte, NC.


A typical session involves someone who has come to the pastor with a request for authoritative prayer. No attempt is made to compel anyone to participate or to accept anyone referred against their will. The session takes place in a private setting, usually a church or living room, and normally the pastor has an assistant, such as myself, who takes notes so that he can focus on the prayer.[3] Parents and other loved ones are invited to join in only if the person feels comfortable with them being there. The person receiving prayer does not need to disclose anything. After introductory conversation, the pastor starts by explaining the purposes of prayer and the scriptural authority being evoked in authoritative prayer.

Object of Prayer

The prayer itself starts with praise of God and the person being prayed over. As Christians, we believe that God is sovereign over all of creation, he is good, and he cares for us. This praise is important because God already knows what is on our minds and has promised to answer the prayers of his people. Our tiniest request from an infinite God provides more power than any spiritual being can resist. Most of the remainder of the prayer is for the benefit of the person being prayed over.


The prayer then proceeds to triage the spiritual issues that the person being prayed over may be suffering. Perhaps, the spiritual problem has been passed down through family or started with harsh words from someone important to the person. Perhaps, the person has experienced great shame or guilt due to sinful behavior, especially sexual or drug experimentation. Perhaps, the person has been overwhelmed with grief or pain. Perhaps, the person has refused to grow up in some important way or fallen in with bad company or hurt someone close to them or suffered some terrible tragedy.


As this prayer unfolds, the pastor prays with eyes open to observe the person’s reaction and the reactions determine how long particular issues are addressed. This triage process is important because many of the deepest spiritual problems that we face may have been repressed over years and the person may not even be aware of their emotional impact.[4] Because the person need not disclose anything going into prayer or coming out of it, their own awareness and willingness to confess their issues is not in view.[5] As such, authoritative prayer is not a substitute for counseling. In fact, it may be a prelude to counseling because the person may realize their issues need more attention.

Concepts Supporting Authoritative Prayer

A couple of theological concepts inform this method, but are not necessarily required.

Identity in Christ

First, our souls are composed of our will, our mind, our memory, and our social environment. A modern word for soul might be our identity. The idea that our identity is socially held[6] means that when we make Christ the cornerstone of our identity, we are not easily shaken the way that we might be if some other cornerstone were chosen. Treating Christ as a secondary part of our identity does not provide nearly the stability required to resist temptation and evil. As temptation and evil become more prevalent in the postmodern period, the need for this stability is greater than ever.

Parasitic Spirits

Second, the image of an evil spirit being confronted in authoritative prayer is that of a parasite. An evil spirit is parasitic in the sense that it cannot exist independent of its host for very long, much like tick would starve in the absence of blood host. Driving it out therefore risks that the parasite will seek another local host and the prayer must account for this behavior.

Permission Denied

Third, evil spirits are driven out, not by shouting or employing incantations or any special form for prayer, but by denying that they have permission to inhabit the person being prayed over and appealing to the power and authority of God. Evil spirits act like bad lawyers arguing for their rights to oppress a person. Thus, it is important to have the person’s permission to pray because it implies that the demons do not have permission to continue their oppression.

Return to Biblical Authority

The primary reason that many people question the existence of evil spirits is that the spiritual world is itself thought not to exist, a result of an animistic tradition debunked by rational thinking. But if rational thinking is only part of our own thinking, why would it preclude the existence of a spiritual being who is divorcing itself from God? Furthermore, why, if you believe in God, would you then question the existence of other unseen spiritual beings? The Bible treats angels and demons as heralds of Christ himself (e.g. Mark 5:7). Denying their existence is tantamount to denying Christ’s divinity, because Christ treated exorcism as important in his ministry.


Foster, Richard J. 1992. Prayer: Find the Heart’s True Home. New York: HaperOne.

Francis MacNutt. 2009. Healing (Orig Pub 1974). Notre Dame: Ave Maria Press.

Jung, C.G. 1955. Modern Man in Search of a Soul (Orig Pub 1933). New York: A Harvest Book.

Sanders, E.P. 1993. The Historical Figure of Jesus. New York: Penguin Books.

Tavernise, Sabrina. 2016. “U.S. Suicide Rate Surges to a 30-Year High” New York Times. April 22. Online:, Accessed: 13 March 2017.

[1] Mark 1:23-8/Luke 4:31-37, Mark 1:32-34/Matt 8:16/Luke 4:41, Mark 1:19, Mark 3:11/Luke 6:18,
Mark 3:20-30/Matt 12:22-37/ Luke 11:14-23, Mark 5:1-20/Matt 8:28-34/Luke 8:26-39, Mark 7:24-30/Matt 15:21-28, Mark 9:25/Matt 17:18/Luke 9:42, Matt 4:24, Matt 9:32-34, Luke 8:2, and Luke 8:2. (Sanders 1993, 149-150).

[2] MacNutt (2009, 167) distinguishes deliverance ministry (relief from spiritual oppression) from exorcism (relief from possession).

[3] These notes are taken to allow the pastor to return to issues undercovered at the end of the session and are given to the one being prayed for at the end of the session. No record is retained by the pastor or the assistant.

[4] Jung (1955, 1, 33) saw the unconscious as playing a leading role in neuroses and viewed the unconscious secret as more harmful than one that is conscious.

[5] Jung (1955, 30-31) viewed psychoanalysis as a modern form of confession.

[6] The Alzheimer’s patient is an example of someone whose identity is only held by their loved ones and care givers. When we die, our identity will likewise be held primarily by God.

A Place for Authoritative Prayer

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Prayer for Healing, Comfort, and Deliverance

A Roadmap of Simple Faith

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Frankl Finds Meaning Outside Self

Vicktor Frankl, Man's Search for Meaning

Frankl Finds Meaning Outside Self

Viktor E. Frankl. 2008. Man’s Search for Meaning: A Classic Tribute to Hope from the Holocaust (Orig Pub 1946).[1] Translated by Ilse Lasch. London: Rider.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

What is the meaning of life? “To glorify God and fully to enjoy him forever.”[2] Reminding ourselves of the centrality of God in our lives is a good theme for Holy Week.

For unbelievers, life is a bit more complicated, kind of like the mathematics of planetary motion for people who still believe the universe revolves around the earth. The mathematics of planetary motion became so much easier after Copernicus demonstrated that the earth revolves around the sun, not vice versa.


In his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl shares both his concentration camp experiences during the holocaust and his observations as a logotherapist (meaning therapist) on the meaning of life. (104) His purpose in writing, as stated in his preface, is that: “I thought it might be helpful to people who are prone to despair.” (12)

Problem of Despair

This purpose statement is a massive understatement, as we later learn from Frankl’s own summary of the predicament of our times, when he writes:

“Every age has its own collective neurosis, and every age needs its own psychotherapy to copy with it. The existential vacuum which is the mass neurosis of the present time can be described as a private and personal form of nihilism; for nihilism can be defined as a contention that being has no meaning.” (31)

Neurosis can be defined as an “excessive and irrational anxiety or obsession”[3] while an existential vacuum (lack of meaning in life) “manifests itself mainly in a state of boredom” which afflicts 25 percent of European students and about 60 percent of American students, according to Frankl’s own statistics. (110) As a parent, I used to say that the two most dangerous words in the teenage vocabulary were “I’m bored”; apparently, Frankl would agree.

Meaning of Life

In reading Frankl’s work, we can surmise that Frank’s life work as a logotherapist arose immediately out of his experience during the Holocaust, but we are never explicitly told. What is remarkable is that Frankl, like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, was offered the opportunity to immigrate to America before such opportunities went away, but stayed in Vienna to look after his parents who were not offered this opportunity (13).

Why link meaning in life to experiences in a concentration camp? Viktor again does not explicitly tell us, but he does explain how he managed to survive the Holocaust when 27/28 camp inmates did not. Frankl busied himself in the camps contemplating the lectures that he would give after the war on the psychology of the concentration camp! (82) In other words, this book was the therapy that he administered to himself in the camps—outlining what he would write in this book. Contemplating the meaning of life in the camps gave life meaning, as he spent his days laying railroad tracks and, later, caring for inmates dying of typhoid.

Surviving in the Camps

Frankl offers numerous tips to prospective concentration camp inmates on how to survive. Among his observations are:

  • Don’t draw attention to yourself from sadistic guards.
  • Shave daily, walk briskly, and stand up straight to look healthy enough for work.
  • Applaud profusely when sadistic guards read poetry.
  • In walking in formation, stay in the middle or the front to avoid those that stumble and the beatings that follow.
  • Offer free psychiatric counseling to guards in need of it.

Short timers, who have given up on life, ignore these rules and smoke cigarettes that might otherwise be traded for food.

Critical Role of Meaning

A critical point in all this craziness is that, according to Frankl, survival depended on finding meaning in suffering. Frankl reports that the death rates in the camps days after Christmas in 1945 rose dramatically, not because of any external deprivation, but simply because inmates who had hoped to be released by Christmas gave up the will to live in the days thereafter. (84) When life hangs by a thread, small changes in attitude make a difference. Frankl writes:

“Woe to him who saw no more sense in his life, no aim, no purpose, and therefore no point in carrying on. He was soon lost…we had to teach the despairing men, that it did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us.” (85)

So Frankl learned that inmates needed to live for other people who depended on them and to live to finish unfinished tasks, like the book he was to write. (87, 109) In other words, meaning comes not from looking inside one’s self, but from transcending one’s self.(131)


Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning is an unusually fascinating book. Frankl does not dwell on the horrors of the camps, but develops lessons from it for daily life in a postmodern world. When he discusses his survival tips, my mind immediately jumped to office situations where the same tips would be pertinent, suggesting not an opportunity for dark humor but that the camp experiences helped Frankl strip away the thin veil of the civilized world to see more fundamental truths. This is a book that you will want to read and, perhaps, return to occasionally for reference.


[1]Ein Psycholog ergebt das Konzentrationslager (A Psychiatrist’s Experience of the Concentration Camp).

[2]“The Larger Catechism” (7.111) The Book of Confessions. Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Part 1. 2004. Louisville: Office of the General Assembly.


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Prayer for a Friend

God of all Mercy and Compassion:

You are the alpha and omega; the beginning and the end; the one who is, who was, and who is to come (Revelation 1:9). For you created heaven and earth for your glory and we praise you for their beauty and our creation (Psalm 19).

Make your presence especially known among us for our eyes are heavy with tears and our ears barely hear. With heavy hearts we, your people, stand before you today confessing our sins and our doubts but confident of the love of Christ.

We thank you for sharing this friend with us during his season of life. We praise you for his compassion, his quiet dignity and devotion to family, his constant smile and companionship, and his daily presence in our lives.

In the power of the Holy Spirit, grant us a season of grief with his passing. Open our hearts; let us cry; help us feel and express our loss.

Place your hedge of protection around us as we grieve. Protect our persons and our spirits; protect our relationships; protect our jobs. Let us not have to choose between expressing our grief and other things.

May our grief be godly grief until salvation, not worldly grief that leads to sin and death (2 Corinthians 7:10). In our grieving, let us be like Job who did not sin in spite of many afflictions (Job 1:13-22). But let us turn to you in our lament, great giver of life, to empty our hearts of the pain, the shame, the guilt, and the grief so that we might once again enter your gates with praise. For we know that you grieved over Lazarus and the widow’s son, and raised them both from the dead even though no words of faith were spoken (John 11:1-46; Luke 7:11-17).

And we know that through Jesus Christ death is not the final answer. And we like Him will one day be raised from death to new life. Remind us daily 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.” (Romans 8:38-39)

In the power of your Holy Spirit, grant us strength to turn to you in our grief, following the example of Christ at Gethsemane (Matthew 26:3), to live life in view of the resurrection and the eternal life that is ours in Jesus Christ (John 3:16).

In the strong name of Jesus we pray.  Amen.


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The Divine Gift of Sledding


For he will command his angels concerning you
to guard you in all your ways. (Ps 91:11)

The Divine Gift of Sledding

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

After living in the dormitory at Iowa University and taking all my meals in the cafeteria, when I was admitted to Cornell University I decided to live off campus. The idea of living off campus seemed to offer more freedom and would presumably allow me to live with great parsimony. With freedom and parsimony on my mind, during a visit to campus arranged by the department of agricultural economics in August 1976 I rented a basement in a large, cooperatively-organized house with 12 other students on Elmwood Avenue.

The basement was the largest room in the house and, because it was totally unfinished, I was able to rent it for $50 a month on the stipulation that I fix it up. Having worked as a carpenter’s helper and other construction jobs during the summers in college, fixing up a basement to make it look like an apartment was no problem. During the week before classes started, I hung a door on the basement, walled in the heating unit, and wired several electrical outlets. I furthermore converted a small workroom into a study and organized the abandoned furniture into separate living room and bedroom spaces. As living space, my basement apartment was plenty big, but the lighting was poor, the floor was crumbling concrete, and the basement would flood in a heavy rain making it an uninviting place to bring friends; ultimately, it was a depressing place to live.

My living arrangements contributed to my goal of studying economic development by permitting me to save money to travel in Puerto Rico for my thesis project, but living off campus also contributed to my social isolation leaving me more vulnerable to depression, a problem widespread at Cornell that fall. In the fall of 1976 Cornell had record numbers of suicides and student demonstrations on campus before Thanksgiving demanded the college be closed until something could be done about it. Half a dozen students and faculty members, who I heard of through the grapevine, had attempted or succeeded in killing themselves, including one of my housemates—a bright, young premed student—who overdosed herself and was committed to a psyche unit in Syracuse. I drove up to Syracuse to pay a visit, but our conversation turned out to be rather awkward because I had no idea of how to cope with suicide and I was unprepared to learn that she had begun an affair with one of her doctors there—a newlywed. Awkward . . . depressing . . . I so wanted to help.

My own depression started during Christmas break for the first time when I stayed on campus away from my family during the semester break, which was a big mistake. Adding to my sense of isolation from family, most campus activities were suspended during the break and most of my friends disappeared to visit family or, if they had the means, took skiing holidays.[1] So Christmas turned out to be not much of a holiday and I found myself alone, in a cold, dark place with no obvious means of really celebrating the holiday.

My escape at that point was to get up one morning, despondent, and just go for a drive. Thinking of a park on the other side of town, I drove down the hill to Ithaca following an unfamiliar road—Cayuga Street—through town. Down that road, in the middle of Ithaca was First Presbyterian Church.[2] Curious about the church, I parked my car and went in the rear door—I am not sure that I even knew that it was Sunday. On the other side of that door, I must have had the look of death on my face because the music director stopped what he was doing and ushered me into the sanctuary to sing in the choir. In the choir were local college students from Ithaca who were home for the holidays and who invited me to a sledding party that evening. After sledding that evening, I began attending First Presbyterian Church and, when I later became a member, the elders encouraged me to work with their high school kids, which I did for a season.

My discovery of First Presbyterian Church that Sunday morning was a divine intervention and it enabled me to cope with the depression so prevalent at that point in my life. Life took another curve in the following year as I learned that Cornell had admitted me to their doctoral program provisionally—students were expected to maintain an A average in their classes, which proved difficult for me because Cornell adhered to a traditional grading policy. The grade competition was fierce and collaboration among students was not actively encouraged, as was true at Iowa State, in part, because of the Wall Street influence on campus. Wall Street traders at at point still competed in an open-outcry market which meant that a trader either got the bid or not, as is the nature of competitive bidding.[3] This competition sunk in for me when one day I organized a study group only to find when we got together that I was the only one who prepared to discuss the homework; later, members of the study group went on to ace the exam while I did not.

While I felt isolated from my competitive American peers, I increasingly felt at home with Hispanic students and I traded a relatively private office for a desk in the “United Nations” room where I shared a room with a large number of foreign students who studied with a beloved professor, who happened to be blind. The United Nations room was okay with me because I envisioned a career with the World Bank traveling throughout Latin America to visit investment projects and attend meetings, like some of my Washington friends. My goal of working in Latin American development meant that I fit right into my new office where I met colleagues who invited me to play in soccer games and to take part in other activities. One colleague also later became a roommate in the basement for a couple months before he took a job in Mexico City with the InterAmerican Development Bank. Meanwhile, during my first year at Cornell I studied Spanish and at the end of the year Cornell sent me to Puerto Rico for a summer’s study at the Estación Agrícola de Rio Piedras.

[1] Skiing was always a possibility in Ithaca because upstate New York has terribly cold winters with a lot of snow—including lake affect snow virtually every day as the cold wind blows across Lake Cayuga and deposits snow on Cornell which sits on the top an overlooking mountain.


[3] At one point, my marketing class visited a grain trading firm in New York City hosted by a trader who sorted through his mail while he talked with us—he never made eye contact with us.


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ShipOfFools_web_10042015Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil.
For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone
when he falls and has not another to lift him up! (Eccl 4:9-10)


By Stephen W. Hiemstra

In the second grade Mrs. S. quickly learned that asking me to stand in front of the class
was not a discipline strategy that worked well with me—I had too much fun!
So I went back to standing face in the corner
And getting wacked on open hands with a ruler.

Still, it was an interesting year.

At one point my class—the whole school—was dismissed to watch Astronaut John Glenn fly overhead.
His space capsule looked like a daytime star racing across the sky—
I don’t remember if we saw him fly around the earth all three times.

It was exciting—how could I forget?

Second grade was the year that I met Phillip.
Phillip was special because he lived on a farm down Good Luck road
Past all the new neighborhoods that had been built.

My mom used to drop me off afternoons or on the weekend.

The farm wasn’t much—just an old farmhouse, a garage, a shed and a lot of fields.
They didn’t have any animals or machinery—
no one seemed to care for the hay fields that it had
But the gravel road out front was just like Iowa.

And we wandered together around those fields shooting his BB gun and just being boys.

Phillip said that I was special because I did not run wild
And shoot BBs in the air like the other boys.
But I never saw all that.

Further down the road in the woods someone built a plywood treehouse
It seemed out of place and whoever built it left a lot of flares behind
Which we confused with dynamite.

It was scary.

Phillip’s mother didn’t mind us—she always made lunch
while his dad mostly sat at the table working on papers.

Phillip and I were friends until the fourth grade
When his father put a 22 caliber rifle to his head and shot himself.
Phillip and his mother moved to Bethesda.

I missed Phillip.

After a bit, I looked him up in the phone book
and called a bunch of folks until I got his number.
We talked a bit, but never spoke again.

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