No Cause for Celebration: Question One of Ten

 

  Taking The Dave Test during the Holidays

  Question One: “Can I say life sucks?”

 

 

Introduction to the series

Much of the last year was thread through with considerable loss.  My brother, Dave, battled a fatal brain cancer for nearly eight years and he died this last January as the result of a fall that was due in large part to his disease.  He would have been 58 years old in October.

In reaction to Dave’s quest to find a durable faith and supportive friends, I wrote a book called The Dave Test,  which was just released by Abingdon Press and featured at the Patheos Book Club The book distills Dave’s quest into ten questions that any of us can ask ourselves, when we are in one of life’s hard places or when we are trying to support those we love.  Whether that hard place revolves around divorce, death, unemployment, abuse, illness, or some other misfortune, I hope that the questions I ask and the answers the book offers will help us all sit a bit more easily with life’s ragged edges.

Over ten weeks I plan to apply the questions in The Dave Test to our preparation for the holidays.  At this time of year for many there is — as the expression goes — “no cause for celebration.”  But I am convinced that there is reason for hope and I don’t believe that we need to navigate the holidays alone.  I hope that the book and this application of The Dave Test’s  principles to the holidays will help ease the sense of isolation that is so much a part of life for many of us at this time of year.

This week’s Dave Test question: “Can I say life sucks?”

Illness, job loss, the anniversary of a loved one’s death — these and other experiences are, by nature, isolating.  They cut us off from the life-affirming possibilities that are typically part of life (assuming, of course, that we haven’t lived with lifelong struggles of the same kind).

That sense of isolation can be acute during the holidays, because at special times of the year we assume that everyone is caught up in the same life-affirming celebration: the spirit of thanksgiving, peace on earth good will to all, a Hanukkah filled with light, happy new year.  But what if you or someone you love is not in a position to celebrate?

If you are, then those greetings don’t ring true.  The truth is, life’s ragged edges don’t honor the calendar and there are a lot of people in the same situation.  Rather than struggle with the disparity between our own lives and the tension that we feel with the “holiday spirit,” we need the freedom that comes from being able to say, “Right now, life sucks.”  When someone in our lives witnesses to that fact on our behalf, or when we can admit it to someone else, the very act of admitting it can ease the sense of loneliness we experience.

Witnessing to the fact that life can suck — especially during the holidays — can also free us from misplaced guilt.  To “suffer in silence” shouldn’t be forced upon us.  But the collective “don’t worry, be happy” mindset that pervades the holidays leaves many of us asking, “What’s wrong with me?”

The answer?  “Nothing.  People take holidays, suffering doesn’t.”

It isn’t surprising, then, that many of our holidays were first commemorated in the shadow of tragedy, suffering, and struggle.  That’s true of Thanksgiving and the efforts of the early colonists to survive on a new frontier.  That’s true of the birth of Jesus in the shadow of Herod’s raging paranoia.  That’s true of the early days in Jerusalem’s defiled Temple following the rule of Antiochus IV Epiphanes.

Holiday celebrations that pass The Dave Test are honest about those realities and people who can say, “life sucks” are among the best to celebrate with on those holidays.  There is nothing wrong with you.  What is wrong is an approach to celebrating the holidays that ignores life’s realities.  That’s part of the reason that far too many of our celebrations lack the gravity, significance, and nurturing wisdom they were meant to impart.  When we acknowledge that holidays can be hard, we open up the possibility for them to nurture us in the hope and wisdom that marked their original celebration.  They witness to the fact that others have found themselves in hard places and have found reason to hope.  Share your life and your holidays with people who have had that experience.

About Frederick Schmidt

The Reverend Dr. Frederick W. Schmidt, Jr. holds the Rueben P. Job Chair in Spiritual Formation at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, IL, and directs the Job Institute for Spiritual formation. He is an Episcopal Priest, spiritual director, retreat facilitator, conference leader, writer, and Consulting Editor at Church Publishing in New York. He is the author of numerous published articles and reviews, including forty-four entries in Doubleday’s Anchor Bible Dictionary, as well as articles in Feminist Theology and The Scottish Journal of Theology. He is author of A Still Small Voice: Women, Ordination and the Church (Syracuse University Press, 1998), The Changing Face of God (Morehouse, 2000), When Suffering Persists (Morehouse, 2001), in Italian translation: Sofferenza, All ricerca di una riposta (Torino: Claudiana, 2004), What God Wants for Your Life (Harper, 2005), Conversations with Scripture: Revelation (Morehouse, 2005) and Conversations with Scripture: Luke (Morehouse, 2009). His latest work, The Dave Test (Abingdon Press) will appear in the autumn of 2013. He is also the series editor for the new Anglican Association of Biblical Scholars Study Series.

From 2000-2012, he worked as Director of Spiritual Life and Formation and Associate Professor of Christian Spirituality at Southern Methodist University, Perkins School of Theology in Dallas, Texas. As one of Perkins’ senior administrators, Dr. Schmidt was responsible for programs in formation, serving over 500 students. He developed the School's program in Spiritual Direction which has thus far served over 150 students from across the country; the program in Anglican and Episcopal studies; and the spiritual formation track in the Doctor of Ministry program. Prior to his arrival at SMU, he served as Canon Educator, Director of Programs in Spirituality and Religious Education, and Acting Program Area Manager at Washington National Cathedral. In this capacity Dr. Schmidt was responsible for the development of a program of religious education and spirituality that annually provided resources for broad-based audiences of over 5000 adults. He also designed and produced workshops and seminars for ecumenical and interfaith constituencies; hosted foreign dignitaries from the Middle East and the former Soviet Union on behalf of the Meridian Institute; and developed the programmatic work and daily operations of the Cathedral Center for Prayer and Pilgrimage. Before going to the Cathedral, Dr. Schmidt served as special assistant to the President and Provost of La Salle University in Philadelphia and as a Fellow of the American Council on Education. From 1994 to 1995, he resided in Jerusalem, where he was Dean of St. George’s College and Residentiary Canon of the Cathedral Church of St. George the Martyr. He has also served in numerous parishes, including St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, All Saints Episcopal Church in Hershey, Pennsylvania and St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Dallas, Texas.

His work in higher education includes service as associate professor of New Testament Studies, as a lecturer in New Testament studies at Oxford University, and as a tutor at Keble College, Oxford. He has been a guest lecturer at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, DC, at the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Maryland and the Southwestern Medical Center at the University of Texas, Dallas.

Dr. Schmidt holds a bachelor’s degree from Asbury College, the Masters of Divinity from Asbury Theological Seminary and the Doctor of Philosophy from Oxford University. His honors include a Fellowship in administrative leadership with the American Council on Education; a Senior Fellowship with the W.F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research; the Young Scholars Fellowship presented by the Catholic Biblical Association; nomination to Class XI of the Clergy Leadership Project, sponsored by Trinity Church, Wall Street; the Angus Dun Fellowship (Episcopal Diocese of Washington); and an Ecumenical Service Award given by Christian Churches United (an ecumenical organization covering a tri-county area and based in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania). He is a recipient of the F. W. Dillstone Scholarship awarded by Oriel College, Oxford; the Hall Houghton Studentship awarded by the Theology Faculty of Oxford University; and an Overseas Research Student Award, presented by the Committee of Vice Chancellors and Principals of the Universities of the United Kingdom. Dr. Schmidt is a member of the American Academy of Religion, the Society of Biblical Literature, the Catholic Biblical Association, the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion, and the Society for the Study of Christian Spirituality. From 1998 to 2000 he served as a member of the Institutional Review Board for Heart, Lung and Blood Research at the National Institutes of Health and he currently serves on two Data Safety Monitoring Boards for NIH. He is Secretary-Treasurer of the Anglican Association of Biblical Scholars and a member of the Board of Examining Chaplains for the Episcopal Church, USA.

In addition to his work in the academy and the church Dr. Schmidt currently serves as a patient safety and ethics consultant on Data Safety Monitoring Boards for the National Institutes of Health and Allergan, Inc.

He lives with his wife, Natalie (who is also an academic and an Episcopal priest), and Hilda of Whitby, their Gordon Setter.


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