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Book gives insights into ?living fully, dying well’

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A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose

The church has done a poor job of talking about death, says Bishop Rueben Job.
July 28, 2006

By Kathy L. Gilbert*

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (UMNS) — Dying is as natural as drawing breath, but the church has done a poor job of talking about the subject, says retired United Methodist Bishop Rueben Job.

To help open the door to this topic, Job, 78, has written Living Fully, Dying Well, published by Abingdon Press. The study includes a DVD featuring video segments by Job and other contributors as well as study sessions for adults and teens.

Video segments feature the Rev. Rick Gentzler, director of United Methodist Board of Discipleship’s Older Adult Ministries; the Rev. John Collett, senior pastor at Belmont United Methodist Church, Nashville; and Dr. David Jarvis, physician and member of Belmont. Other contributors include author Martha Hickman; Belmont member Mozelle Cor; insurance expert Charles Hewgely; nurse Bonnie Johnson; and attorney Mary Boyd.

The last video session includes personal stories from five contributors.

“The DVD adds the convenience of an in-class expert,” said Susan Salley, executive director of church program resources at the United Methodist Publishing House. “I’m really thrilled about the five choices for session eight, the final lesson. Here we have clips of personal interviews with five people; the personal stories are wonderful.”

Job discussed the project in an interview with United Methodist News Service.

Q: Where did the idea for this book come from?

A: I suppose the idea came about through my own life experience. For more than 50 years I have been deeply interested in spirituality, and I was always fascinated with the saints of the past and their incredible trust in God and their view of birth and death as a seamless garment of life. That stayed with me from at least my college years, when I took a course in religious classics and began reading in the field of what we now call spirituality.

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Photo illustration courtesy of Abingdon Press

Living Fully, Dying Well helps people deal openly with aging and end of life decisions.

In the early ’90s, I began teaching and writing in the field of spirituality. I was asked to do a workshop for workers with older adults from across the country on spirituality in aging. As I prepared for that, I discovered the one issue people refused to really talk about much was death itself — how we prepare for it, how we deal with it, what we experience while we experience death.

I think one of the things that gave urgency and passion to this project is my own health, and another is the experience of watching two brothers and a sister-in-law die a good death. I also think my interest is the result of a deep curiosity that I have about most of life. I am fascinated by the mystery that the Hubbell Telescope reveals and the tiniest particle that the new and powerful microscopes reveal, and I have always been interested in how things work and why. My curiosity about life naturally led to curiosity about birth, death and everything between.

The older adult group at Belmont United Methodist Church, Nashville, Tenn., where we worship, asked if I would make a presentation there. I made the presentation and I encouraged the staff of the church to do some teaching in this area about basically living fully and dying well — I think those were the words I used then.

Q: What is your fondest dream for this book?

A: I suppose my fondest dream would be that Christians everywhere, United Methodists and far beyond, find a way to live fully all of their days, and that would mean living fully and dying well.

Perhaps another dream would be to help the church to teach well for all stages of life. I think the church has not done that very well, and I’m a part of that, so I’m pointing fingers at myself.

In the broader perspective, I guess my dream would be to open the conversation about what may be life’s most important and dramatic experience, and that is death itself. We just don’t talk about it in our society ? people “pass,” but we never say they died. So to open this conversation among families, among congregations, among friends, so we know how to help one another during this second most important event in our lives. In this world, birth is the first, death is the second.

I suppose those would be my dreams. They’re lofty — loftier than the product. But you can dream can’t you?

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A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose

Bishop Rueben Job and his dog, Dakota, enjoy a walk in the woods.

Q: How do you prepare and reassure someone about the process of death?

A: First of all, you have to have some trust with the person so that they would feel comfortable with you, I think. And then second, you have to begin with the fact that it’s a natural consequence of living, just as birth is, and it is not some aberration of life, it’s a natural consequence of living, and that God provides for us all the grace, the strength, the courage, the trust to experience death well and fully without fear.

If we can live with God in this world, we should have no discomfort in thinking of living with God in the world to come; or passing through the veil of death that separates life in this world from life in the next world.

Q: Do you feel comfortable with your own mortality?

A: I have no fears at all about death. I think everyone has some apprehension about pain, and in the past perhaps we did not treat pain well. I think now that’s not true anymore. And even when we did not, I think the body itself begins to close off the functions so that the pain itself is lessened.

I always felt for a long time as a pastor that it was more difficult for the people who watched a loved one die than it was for the loved one who was dying. But now I think the medical profession handles pain so much better than they did in the past, so that is not so much a big factor.

I have no anxiety about my own death. I just had a stint put in, and for a person of my age — with a third of my heart function remaining — it’s a risky venture. But I went into that operating room with the same confidence that I lie down in my bed every night. Had I awakened in another world, I don’t believe I would have been surprised or afraid.

Certainly I don’t know what that’s going to be like, but I have some idea that it will be good because this life is good.

Editor’s note: Living Fully, Dying Well, along with study guides, the DVD and other material, is available through Cokesbury. For more information, go to http://www.cokesbury.com/search.aspx?scope=all&query=living%20fully%20dying.

*Gilbert is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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