Death is a universal life experience.
Yet, Christian churches often go out of their way to avoid addressing it, clearly and frankly.
At McPherson College’s Religious Heritage Lecture on Nov. 6, Dr. Dale Goldsmith and Dr. Joy Goldsmith will critically examine this tendency.
“Death has become a topic that has been ignored,” Dale Goldsmith said. “One of our main concerns is that in ignoring it, we’re not being very helpful. The church has basically outsourced the end of life to various establishments – including that of health care.”
Dale and Joy will present “Speaking of Dying” beginning at 4 p.m. in the McPherson Church of the Brethren at 200 N. Carrie St. – just off the McPherson College campus.
They will handle the lecture – based on their book “Speaking of Dying: Recovering the Church’s Voice in the Face of Death” – as a “tag-team” between father and daughter. The book was inspired by events surrounding the death of the Rev. Janet Forts Goldsmith, who died of cancer.
Janet was Dale’s daughter, Joy’s sister, and the student of co-author Dr. Fred Craddock at Candler Theological Seminary. The book, published in 2012, critically looks at the challenges of talking about dying within the Christian church.
Dale is a New Testament scholar, whose career includes 27 years as professor of philosophy and religion at McPherson College – eight of those as dean of the faculty. He is the author of “New Testament Ethics,” “Growing in Wisdom: Called to the Adventure of College,” and “Look – I Am With You: Daily Devotions for the College Year.”
For the lecture, Dale will focus on the narrative history of how Christianity viewed dying in the past, as well as how that view has changed in modern times to something more complicated and incoherent.
“Everybody’s dying,” he said. “As a Christian, you confront dying at your baptism, which is a baptism into the death and resurrection of Christ. And it initiates a new life in which dying is fully and meaningfully integrated.”
Joy is an associate professor of communication at the University of Memphis, examining in particular how communication can benefit patients, families, and heath care providers when dealing with chronic and terminal illnesses. She has co-authored on five books and is an editor of the “Oxford Textbook of Communication in Palliative Care.”
In the lecture, she will cover issues of communication and society as it relates to dying – including the techniques people use to avoid the topic.
“We’re masterful at it,” she said. “If stuff makes us uncomfortable and we don’t want to talk or think about it, we don’t.”
Joy said she hopes the lecture encourages people to "hold up a mirror" to their own communication habits in responding to dying and how they might improve those habits in the future. After all, people will deal with death for the rest of their life.
“Research tells us that the psychosocial part of us is what establishes our desire to live, the quality of life, and even the length of life,” she said. “Death is an inevitability. It’s a part of life.”
Every person must confront dying, Dale Goldsmith said, and faith communities could offer a narrative about it that helps people to discover meaning in the dying process.
“There are some problems with the secular story… that medicine will cure you,” he said. “That works until you die, and then the story fails. All of life should be meaningful and have significance - including dying.”
Dale said he hopes that those who come to the lecture gain a greater appreciation for the power of Christianity’s story about dying – both for those who need to hear it and for overall welfare and effectiveness of the church itself.
“I hope they have one of those ‘lightbulb moments’ that, yeah, we are avoiding this event that’s going to happen to everyone,” he said. “Perhaps we do have something in our tradition that we can take out, dust off, and put to good use.”
The public is invited and encouraged to attend this free lecture. The Religious Heritage Lecture was established at McPherson College through the generosity of three former faculty members. This endowed lecture series was founded to provide opportunity for presentation, analysis, and discussion of important issues within the Christian traditions represented by the faculty, staff, and students at McPherson College.
It was the intention of the contributors that this endowment should annually bring speakers of note to the McPherson College campus to address contemporary issues from diverse Christian perspectives, with a particular emphasis on the Church of the Brethren. It was also intended that this series impact persons beyond the immediate McPherson College Community.
In June 1998, Dr. Waldo Newberg established the Nelson Memorial Chair of Christian Education to honor John Emil Nelson and Olive Octavia Nelson, in gratitude for their contributions to Dr. Newberg’s life. Earnings from this endowed fund support the Religious Heritage Lecture.
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McPherson College, located in central Kansas, is a four-year private liberal arts college offering more than 20 bachelor’s and pre-professional programs. Throughout the curriculum, students are encouraged to explore their ideas, to learn through doing and to make a difference in the world. McPherson College, affiliated with the Church of the Brethren, is committed to the ideals of scholarship, participation, and service – developing whole persons, prepared for fulfilling life vocations.
Visitwww.mcpherson.edufor more information about McPherson College.