The last five minutes: “If I Only Knew!” Have you ever heard yourself saying these words after a painful experience or after having learned about a loved one’s sudden death? Most of us live life as if it will last forever. And because we think this way (probably a coping mechanism), we often whittle away our time as if the end of our earthly life will never arrive. Below is an interesting article by Samuel Freedom that speaks about living your last five minutes, or your last five days, or your last five years. Whatever the timetable might be, we need to treasure each day, giving thanks to God for the time that has been given us. Take a read below and let me know your thoughts. Pastor Karen Siegfriedt+
By SAMUEL G. FREEDMAN OCT. 1, 2016
Thirty years ago, amid the somber prayers of Judaism’s holiest day, Rabbi Kenneth Berger rose to deliver the Yom Kippur sermon. He spoke to his congregants about a tragedy many of them, including his daughter, had witnessed eight months earlier in the Florida sky: the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger.
Rabbi Berger focused on one particular detail, the revelation that Challenger’s seven astronauts had remained alive for the 65,000-foot fall to the ocean. He called the homily “Five Minutes to Live,” and he likened the crew members to Jews, who are called during the High Holy Days to engage in the process of “heshbon ha-nefesh,” Hebrew for taking stock of one’s soul.
“Can you imagine knowing that in a few moments death was imminent?” Rabbi Berger said at the Congregation Rodeph Sholom in Tampa, Fla. “What would we think of if, God forbid, you and I were in such circumstances? What would go through our mind?”
Not quite three years later, Rabbi Berger was on a flight to Chicago from Denver returning from a family vacation. The plane’s tail engine exploded en route, crippling the controls, and for 40 minutes, the passengers prepared for a crash landing.
The rabbi’s wife, Aviva, fainted from the shock. Rabbi Berger reached across the seats and gathered the hands of his daughter Avigail, 16, and son Jonathan, 9, trying to reassure them, Avigail would later recall. The plane burst into flames after it hit the ground in Sioux City, Iowa, killing 112 people, including the rabbi and his wife, both in their early 40s.
As Jews enter the Days of Awe, which begin at sundown on Sunday, Rabbi Berger’s sermon on the Challenger has achieved a piercing and eerie kind of immortality. Between its eloquence and its prophecy, “Five Minutes to Live” continues to be cited, written about and delivered as a tribute, especially during Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur.
Both the sermon’s theme and its presentiment of the rabbi’s death resonate with the theological essence of the High Holy Days. In his sermon, Rabbi Berger plucked several well-known sentences of the liturgy, rearranging them for heightened effect: “Who shall live and who shall die? Who shall attain the measure of a man’s days and who shall not? On Rosh Hashana, it is inscribed, and on Yom Kippur, it is sealed.”
“People are hungry for guidance in living a life that matters,” said Rabbi Edward Bernstein of Temple Torat Emet in Boynton Beach, Fla. “Rabbi Berger, in his words, inspired people to action. And his death made those words holy.”
Judaism is hardly unique among world religions in urging its believers to undertake a moral inventory. Catholics participate in confession, formally called the sacrament of reconciliation, while Muslims call the process of repentance by the Arabic word “tawbah,” which means “turning back.”
What is unusual in the American Jewish idiom is that heshbon ha-nefesh is addressed by rabbis on the two holidays each year when synagogue attendance grows exponentially. Mindful of another autumn ritual, Rabbi Berger called it “the World Series.”
Kenneth Berger, who grew up in suburban Philadelphia, was ordained by the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College and took on the pulpit of Rodeph Sholom in 1983.
There he made his reputation as a trusted confidant for congregants in crises who could also code-switch into donning a Big Bird costume to entertain the children. He boiled down Judaic erudition to aphorisms like “There’s no roof overhead unless you build it.”
Invariably chewing a straw and clutching a pen, he drafted his sermons on a yellow legal pad, and then read them over the phone to his father in Pennsylvania. When the rabbi’s words really connected to his synagogue audience, he would permit himself a brief moment of ego, telling his children, “I hit a home run.”
On Sept. 16, 1986, the day Rabbi Berger delivered “Five Minutes to Live,” the Challenger tragedy was fresh in the minds of his congregants. From that shared memory, Rabbi Berger extrapolated in both prosaic and profound directions.
He touched on the ordinary ways that people forget to express love for their families, blithely assuming there will always be another day. He recounted the story of a Jewish father, facing imminent death during the Holocaust, who bestowed a final kiss on the young son he was sending away to safety.
“That scene still haunts me,” Rabbi Berger said as the sermon closed, returning to the Challenger. “The explosion and then five minutes. If only I… If only I… And then the capsule hits the water, it’s all over. Then you realize it’s all the same — five minutes, five days, 50 years. It’s all the same, for it’s over before we realize.
“‘If only I knew’ — yes, my friends, it may be the last time. ‘If only I realized’ — yes, stop, appreciate the blessings you have. ‘If only I could’ — you still can, you’ve got today.”
The article below was written by Eric Wilson and featured in the Amador Ledger Dispatch on 2/5/16.
We are making our way along the Highway to Heaven — a meandering, 50-mile stretch of Amador County roadway that curls its way like a grapevine through the Sierra foothills, festooned along the way with clusters of churches and houses of worship that cohere to the sides of this rural thoroughfare like those bursting bunches of grapes growing in the vineyards along Ridge Road. In light of such surroundings, Amador Christians surely must have a special place in their hearts for the words of Jesus, who said, “I am the vine, you are the branches.”
Last week, we started our journey on a firm foundation at the New Life Christian Fellowship, whose accent on the quadratic wisdom of four-foldness reminded us of the many sacred instances of the number four — four Gospels, four cardinal directions, the “City Built Four Square” — all of which grounded our initial thrust upon this tour up Amador County’s main theological thoroughfare.
Our next stop takes us from Four to Three; or, more exactly, from Foursquare to Three-in-One. No mystery is higher or more expressive of Christianity’s living dynamic of love than that of the Holy Trinity. And it is the threefold action of charity, compassion and mercy which the Christians of Trinity Episcopal Church in Sutter Creek, guided by the skillful hand and heart of Karen Siegfriedt, most boldly practice and proclaim.
Through their many and diverse ministries and programs, the members of Trinity Episcopal reflect the love and care that the Holy Trinity — the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit — share with one another and, in turn, with all humankind and creation. They participate in the Interfaith Food Bank, and they sponsor Compassionate Amador, “a cooperative effort to restore not only compassionate thinking but, more importantly, compassionate action to the center of religious, moral and political life”; they “Break Bread with Friends,” along with other faith communities in the county, like their ecclesial cousins, the Methodists; the talented and lively Carol Harper directs their music ministry; there is a Centering Prayer circle for the contemplative; they have a Prayer Shawl ministry which, “prayerfully crafts warm, comforting shawls which are blessed and given to those facing surgery, illness or grief.”
While the Episcopal Church, itself an offshoot of the Church of England, arose out of the religious restlessness of the early 16th century, our local parish started off in the relatively recent, but just as restless, American Gilded Age, in June, 1897. The Rev. W. L. Clark was assigned by Bishop Anson Graves to preside over this area. In November, 1900, a lot was purchased on Amelia Street in Sutter Creek. The Reverend William Tuson conducted the first service in the newly constructed church on November 21, 1901.
However, the most recent venue for this spirited faith-community is the Noah’s Ark-shaped church building that you see at 430 North Highway 49, which stands about a Hail Mary football throw from the Sutter Hill crossroads (itself a fitting metaphor for the virtual crucifixion one must sometimes endure in attempting to cross over certain parts of it). This facility was purchased from the folks whom we’ll meet at next week’s stop along the Highway to Heaven, the Seventh Day Adventists, who ascended up the road about a mile to the east and just slightly more heavenward.
Built in 1959 and purchased in 1995, the new church was appropriated for Episcopalianism by the members of the Trinity community who refurbished it, and moved the lovely stained glass windows from the former sanctuary. The organ was moved to the choir loft.
What with all these church refurbishings, these active ministries, these compassionate programs of charity and public service, the Christians of Trinity Episcopal Church appear to be some the most dynamic in the county. This flurry of activity is true to the spirit of the third person of the Holy Trinity, Whose appearance at Jesus Christ’s baptism, according to traditional Christian theology, confirmed the historical revelation of God’s eternal three-in-one dance of love, which choreographs and calls the steps of the invisible and indivisible Christian Church in its holy, spirited square-dance around the world, through the great honkey-tonk of history.
It is not surprising, then, that in her exhortations to her flock, Pastor Karen emphasizes the work of the Holy Spirit as that Spirit is embodied in the hands, hearts and lives of God’s sons and daughters, Christ’s brothers and sisters. In one of her recent sermons, Pastor Karen preached that, “Spirituality has little to do with feelings and a lot to do with concrete actions generated by the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of ordinary believers. What this means is that Holy Spirit has given you gifts. Yes, you! And when you share these gifts, God becomes visible and the moment becomes sacred. So, let’s work together to find out what those gifts are and how you can use them for the building up of the common good. For this, we were born.”
Growing up in America during the 1950’s seemed to be a more stable time in our society. The war was over, couples were having many children, and hope was in the air. People rarely questioned marriage roles, sexual orientation, or work place inequality. If you turned out different from “the norm” or you questioned the cultural wisdom of the day, you were often ignored, discriminated against, or punished. If you did not like your role in society, you would have to fight very hard to live an authentic life.
But as the 1960’s evolved, people revolted against limitations imposed by societal norms. The Civil Rights movement, Title IX, attempts at the Equal Rights Amendment, the sexual revolution, the ordination of women, and other human rights advocacy programs came about because people demanded equal rights for all people as well as the freedom to carve out their own destiny.
By the 1970’s society began to notice that there was quite a diversity among people and that not everyone would fit into a nice, tidy box. This became obvious to me when I worked as a pediatric nurse in a major medical hospital in Boston. Being assigned to the surgical ward, our plastic and urological surgeons would often do surgeries on children who were born with mixed genitalia, determining who would become a boy and who would become a girl. From physical observation, it was sometimes difficult to determine who was who because it was during the time before DNA testing was perfected. I often wondered if the chosen surgery was the right one.
By the 1980’s, the gay rights movement came into its prime. While society once thought of most people as falling into one of the two extreme categories (attracted to women or attracted to men), the Kinsey studies showed that most people are in fact not at one extreme of the continuum or the other, but occupy some position along the scale.
Now that we are well into the 21st century, understanding gender identity has come to the forefront. Gender identity is how people think of themselves in terms of sex (man, woman, boy, girl). In the past year, three transgendered persons (all of whom had been born with female sex characteristics but now consider themselves men), visited Trinity Church. None of these folks have joined the church as they are members from other Christian denominations. However, it did make me think about my need to better understand gender identity issues here in Amador County.
Unlike biological sex, gender identity is a psychological quality that can’t be observed or measured (at least by current means), only reported by the individual. Like biological sex, it consists of more than two categories, and there's space in the middle for those who identify as a third gender, both (two-spirit), or neither.
Since transgender persons are often misunderstood, denied the right to be authentic, and bullied, many commit suicide. Since we are compassionate people who respect the dignity of every human being, I think it is time for all of us to better understand this aspect of human diversity. To that end, Compassionate Amador is joining with the Trinity Health Ministries to sponsor a public community forum to better understand transgender people: Who, What, How, Why! Please join us for a compassionate and informative community conversation to hear transgender youth, their parents, and leaders speak about their journey. This forum will be held on Friday, October 2, 7-9pm at Jane’s Hall (behind Trinity Episcopal Church) on 430 State Hwy. 49 in Sutter Creek. Go to www.trinitysuttercreek.org for more information.
by the Rev. Karen Siegfriedt, Rector of Trinity Church
In 1995, I went on a two week vacation and left my dog with a friend. My beloved dog was a 14 year old Yorkshire terrier who was slowly diminishing in health due to kidney failure. By the time I returned, she had lost 50% of her body weight and was clearly dying. I took her home immediately and began to make her comfortable. By 10 pm that night, I knew she was at death’s door. She was in great pain, bleeding from the rectum, and helpless. My heart went out to her. I wish I had had the medicine to let her die peacefully that night but I had to wait until 8am the following morning when the veterinary office would open. It was a long night and I slept on the floor next to her shivering body. The following morning I said good-bye as the veterinarian put her to sleep. It was a blessing to see her finally at peace, in that place where there is no more pain or suffering.
Having worked as a nurse several years earlier, I had seen many patients suffer in the final chapter of their lives. While the medical community has improved with pain control management, many folks still die in pain or in humiliating circumstances. I often wonder what I would do if I found myself in the same kind of situation. I think I would like to have the option that my dog had some 20 years ago.
In the past year, I have met two older people in Amador County (one who was paralyzed and the other who was disabled and suffering from pain that was not alleviated with pain medication). They both thought about the issue of the “Right to Die.” These folks wanted to have an “end of life” conversation with their physicians but one was rebuffed and the other did not feel safe to speak about this issue with her doctor. While large doses of pain medication is administered during the final days of life (which speeds up the death process), it seems that our current laws prohibit a planned process for dying with dignity before the final day.
While the California Legislature has recently tabled SB128 (End of Life Option Act), the majority of American adults support expanding end of life options. This includes the right of an individual (who is suffering from a terminal disease) to make a request for a drug to be administered by the individual for the purpose of dying peacefully. Do we have the right to make this decision when faced with a terminal prognosis? Should a person have a right to control one’s own body at the end of life? How do we deal with unredemptive suffering that cannot be alleviated with current medical intervention?
In 1997, the State of Oregon enacted the Death with Dignity Act. It allows for terminally ill adults (diagnosed with a terminal illness that will lead to death within six months) to obtain and use prescriptions from their physicians for self-administered lethal doses of medications. The patient must do this voluntarily and be determined to have “sound judgment.” From 1998-2013, a total of 1,173 Oregon residents have had prescriptions written for end of life use but only 752 have used them. The majority of these people were between the ages of 65-84, married, white, and having a baccalaureate degree or higher.
I think it is time for us to have an important conversation in Amador County about “The Right to Die: Expanding End of Life Options.” To that end, Trinity Church is sponsoring a public forum on August 28, 6-8pm at the Amador Senior Center, 229 New York Ranch Rd., Jackson. Our guest speaker is Marlene Tumlin from Compassion and Choices and Dr. Bob Hartmann from Amador County. During this forum/conversation, we will be discussing the ethics (religious, medical, secular), pros & cons, options, and the history of this controversial but important topic. Please come and invite your friends or other interested parties. See www.trinitysuttercreek.org for more information.
Let's make the Golden Rule a Golden Reality in Amador Co.
The kick off in preparing for the upcoming Compassion Games( 9/11-9/221) began Sunday with a bang. Pastor Karen gave a wonderful sermon on the Kingdom of Heaven using as one of her examples "The Kingdom of Heaven is like a congregation who has great empathy for the hungry and the homeless. And in its passion for a just world, goes out and buys a bunch of food and makes care packages for the homeless. And then when spotted, offers those who are in need of food, a package made with love." (7-27 sermon)
Twent five+ bags were packed and are ready to be handed out to those who need some food.
The challenge was issued to begin training for the games by recording the acts of compassion preformed on links to be made into a paper chain with the goal being to have enough links in our chain to circle Trinity Church prior to the beginning of the games. The chain will become a visual sign of our efforts to make our world a more compassionate place.
The Compassion Games are designed to help, heal and inspire, making our community a safer, kinder, more just and better place to Live. They being on 9/11 each year and end on 9/21, the International Day of Peace.
The 4 Principles of Compassion
To cultivate a disposition of loving-kindness and respect in ourselves
To exhibit that in how we approach each human we interact with.
To commit to the service of others-in our neighborhood, in our country, even across the world.
To adopt an open-mindedness-and generative, generous spirt-that leads to a creativity in solving the world’s challenges
To find out more about the games: http://compassiongames.org/
Published in the Ledger Dispatch Newspaper on January 3, 2014
Subj: The Charter for Compassion goes to Washington
The Rev. Karen Siegfriedt, rector of Trinity Episcopal Church in Sutter Creek, was a recent guest at the White House’s annual Christmas gathering for the media. Pastor Karen accompanied her niece (a long-time member of the White House Press Corp) to the festive gathering at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. “It was quite an honor to meet President Obama and his wife, in addition to those who determine what is publicized in the media.”
While in D.C., Pastor Karen delivered a letter written by a local Amador High School Junior and Trinity member, Alexis Lewis. The letter requested the President’s support of the Charter for Compassion. The Charter for Compassion is a worldwide initiative to restore not only compassionate thinking, but more importantly, compassionate action to the center of religious, moral and political life. The Charter for Compassion is a dream of theologian Karen Armstrong, who was awarded $100,000 in 2008 to make her dream a reality. The time to move in the direction of this reality has now come! (www.charterforcompassion.org).
In the five years following her award, over 103,000 people from around the world have signed the Charter (written by great thinkers from many traditions). In addition to individuals; businesses, faith communities, cities, and counties are committing themselves to this Charter, which embodies the Golden Rule. Sharing the vision that compassion must be restored to the center of morality, Trinity Episcopal Church has signed onto the Charter. The goal of Trinity Church for 2014 is to bring the Charter for Compassion to life in Amador County.
Alexis Lewis is an active member of the committee within Trinity. Their vision for the yearlong campaign is to seek audiences at various community, civic, government, and other organization in hopes of spreading the message of compassion. Lewis says, “My personal hope is that eventually local cities and perhaps even the board of supervisors will sign on to support the Charter. I recently learned that several surrounding cities are in the midst of similar campaigns, including El Dorado Hills and Sacramento. As a life-long resident I have faith in the hearts of the people of Amador County and believe that we too can come together in this positive and important way.”
Pastor Karen mirrors this sentiment saying: “Given that our county is theologically and politically diverse, the principle of compassion can be the uniting force that strengthens the relationships and health of the various organizations within our county. The purpose of the Charter for Compassion is to encourage ‘civil discourse, tolerance, and compassion,’ a great formula to enhance the vitality and growth of our community here in the foothills.”
Trinity Church will be actively seeking individuals and groups to join in the campaign throughout the year. Community members interested in the Charter are invited to learn more by visiting Compassionate Amador on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/compassionateamador), by emailing (email@example.com), or by attending Compassionate Amador’s first public forum to be held on Saturday, January 25 at 10:00 am at the Jackson Civic Center. All community members are invited to attend.
June 26, 2013
An Editorial: A Pastor’s response to DOMA & Prop 8 Rulings
The Supreme Court recently ruled that married same-sex couples were entitled to federal benefits. And by declining to decide a case from California, effectively will allow same-sex marriages in that state. Like any controversial decision, there were those who celebrated and those who mourned. As a pastor of a local congregation in Sutter Creek, here is my response to these rulings.
The union of two people, in heart, body, and mind is intended by God for their mutual joy; for the help and comfort given one another in prosperity and adversity; and for the procreation of children and their nurture. Therefore, marriage is not to be entered into unadvisedly or lightly, but reverently and deliberately. Some people desire that their union be blessed by the Church, placing God at the center of their relationship. Others prefer a secular union, leaving God out of the equation. Some couples plan to have children while others do not. All of these different situations have been recognized by the state as being “legal marriages.”
No minister of the Church is required to witness the marriage of anyone or sign the marriage certificate. If a minister does sign the certificate, s/he is acting as a civil servant and must follow the laws of the state. Some people question whether the church should be in the civil service business or should focus solely on the blessing of the couple. The separation between church and state is the issue here.
However, when it comes to conducting a wedding in my own church, the criteria I have always used to judge the readiness and character of a couple is as follows: “Fidelity, monogamy, mutual affection and respect, careful & honest communications, and the holy love which enable those in such relationships to see in each other the love of God.” Most of the time, I also require that a couple be in relationship for at least one year and are willing to engage in pre-marital counseling. I will continue to use these same criteria for all couples coming to the church for God’s blessing in marriage once the Church and the State officially approve of same-sex marriage.
Modern day concepts of marriage are so different from Biblical times that it is a challenge to use biblical principles when it comes to 21st century marriages. For instance, polygamy was widespread in ancient biblical times. The patriarchs had multiple wives (Abraham, Jacob, etc). They also took concubines, especially in cases in which the wife had difficulty with conceiving children. The legislation of the Torah takes for granted that a man may have two or more wives. The kings of Israel were known to have large harems and multiple wives and marry for political alliances. Jesus (as far as we know) was single and did not have a biological father. St. Paul was also single but discouraged marriage unless a person was tempted by lust. Marriages were arranged and determined by the patriarch of each family. Marriage was not based on “love” between the man and the woman but was viewed as a property exchange that might enhance wealth, status, and power among the two families.
In the Greco-Roman world of biblical times, this is what it meant to be married: “To have sons one can introduce to the family and the neighbors, and to have daughters of one’s own to give to husbands. For we have courtesans for pleasure, concubines to attend to our daily bodily needs, and wives to bear children legitimately and to be faithful wards of our homes.” Fortunately in the United States, we have witnessed the changing nature of marriage since biblical times. Equality and mutuality are now considered important.
So how can we best deal with the recent Supreme Court rulings? It is my opinion that religious institutions need to spend their time and energy on trying to help couples create healthy and life-long relationships that are able to withstand the difficult times. We need to focus on strengthening all marriages so that couples learn how to live in “fidelity, monogamy, mutual affection and respect, careful & honest communications, and the holy love which enable those in such relationships to see in each other the love of God.” Trying to prevent same-sex couples from marrying based on biblical principles seems dishonest and a misdirection of precious energy.
It seems to me that what we all seek (whether straight or gay) is to love and to be loved. Any movement, any ruling, any opening of the heart which moves in the direction of authentic love, has my support. For love is the greatest gift of all.