COLLEGE STREET UNITED CHURCH

People helping people in the name of Jesus

The New Fifth Season

STAY CONNECTED WITH EXPRESSIONS...click here

This is Chris Levan, the author of the Lift and the minister of College Street United Church.   To e-mail him directly, click here

Chris ia a minister of the United Church of Canada (ordained in 1977), holds degrees in theology from Emmanuel College (M.Div.) and McGill University (Ph.D.) and is a writer and educator.  He has taught in universities across the country: Queens, McGill, St. Thomas, University of Alberta, Laurentian University.

Chris has been a minister in churches in Gaspe, Saint John, Montreal, Sudbury and Fredericton.

Chris has written 8 books and been a regular syndicated journalist with national journals and CBC radio.

As a writer his books are:

 
Downhill from Vimy, Manitoba: friesen Press, 2016 

Ethical Preference Inventory and Guide, with Thomas Maddix, Toronto: International Thomson  Publishing, 1999.

Give us this Day, Lenten reflections on baking bread and discipleship, Toronto: UCC, 2002.

 God Hates Religion, Toronto: United Church Publishing House, 1995.

 Knowing your Ethical Preferences: A working Guide, with Tom Maddix, Toronto: ITP Nelson, 2000.

 Living in the Maybe, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1998.


 

Sin Boldly, Edmonton:  Rowan Books, 1997.

 

Thanks Giving,  Toronto: UCPH …awaiting publication.

 

The Dancing Steward. Toronto: United Church Publishing House, 1993.

 His current writing project is entitled: Having Jesus for Dinner, How feasting with Jesus became feasting on Jesus.

Here's an example of a Lift article

Lift 4.30


Surprises

 

            I love my daughter-in-law, Tia. She never fails to surprise me with her wit and wisdom.  For years now, I have been a guest at her table. Always welcoming and gracious, she treats me like an equal. No condescending, “all-right dear” talking down to an old man! No false flattery for the father-in-law. Straight goods.

Thank heavens.

So you will not be surprised by the fact that this past Sunday while we sat around Sunday dinner she said in no uncertain terms: “You’re wrong!”

            (Those who know Tia can hear here voice clearly. She has never been shy about making her views known---for which we love her dearly.)

“I’m wrong?” I reply.

“Yes…I read your Lift on death with dignity and you are wrong to oppose it.”

Tia is not alone in expressing her dismay at what I wrote a month ago when the topic first hit the news. Here’s what I said then: I was opposed to doctor assisted death because it seemed too presumptuous…as if we “owned” our lives like we own a car or television set. Or that we can decide to terminate our existence, like we do a legal contract or a restaurant reservation.  Okay, I’m being a bit flippant, but the point is our life is not “ours” in the same sense we might count our books or bicycles as “our” possessions.  Life is of an entirely different order. It was a gift from our parents, loving parents we hope, from God if we are religious. But it wasn’t “ours” at the start.  We hold it in trust.

From that perspective it is a shame if we close off our lives and don’t risk them for the sake of others. To be so self-absorbed that we cannot or will not reach beyond our own personal desires and presumptions…what a pity.  Of course we all are selfish…it’s built into as a survival mechanism. But to take everything we are given as our “right,” and not give back …that is a tragedy.

Now if Tia and Rob have taught me anything, it is this: that our lives are best enjoyed when we do share them with a wide circle of family and friends. So it didn’t surprise me when Rob put his finger on my disquiet over doctor assisted death. He understood how I was opposed to a “culture of entitlement.”

And that’s the first objection I wish to highlight. We feel “entitled” to too much—even our right to decide how we die. We presume too much control—even to the extent that I will manage my own ending.

I find myself strangely out of step with my world…wanting to hold out hope for the possibility of “surprise” or “mystery.” There are elements to this life and this world that are beyond our understanding and control.  Theologians call it “divine providence.” Scientist might label it “cosmic anomalies.” Mystics say “transcendent contingency.”  The point is that life does things to us we don’t expect, some bad, many good. Often that which gives us deep pleasure and meaning is found at right angles to what we expressly tell ourselves we wanted.  

So let’s hear it for “surprises.”  May they ever confound us.

I have a second objection. It’s to language surrounding the “right” to die.  I sense a  devaluation of the meaning of “human rights” when we apply the vocabulary to many human endeavours and desires which are clearly not “rights.”  A human right is something foundational: the right to life, the right to freedom of speech and expression, the right to freedom from prejudice, bigotry, racism, homophobia, misogyny, the right to freedom from fear or oppression.   Many human activities are a privilege, a serious concern, an option or an expectation, but they are not “rights.”  I can buy a computer, but I don’t have a “right” to it. I can go to India, but I don’t have a “right” to travel.  When so things become a “right,” including the “choice to die,” then we risk devaluating or diluting the previously stated fundamental rights.  I would rather expand the language of “rights” to include social rights like affordable housing and food security rather than going down the path of enshrining more individual human activities as “rights” under the rule of law.

My objections notwithstanding, I decided I needed to know more about medically assisted dying. So I went to the source: the proposed legislation, Bill C-14. And upon closer examination I feel bit more inclined to agree. (See Tia …you have helped me change my mind!) 

My initial fears around the legislation were that people who suffered from depression or who fell prey to bouts of serious anxiety would be able to use the new openness to death as a way to exit from life prematurely on the whim of a particularly bad day.

And the proposed legislation precludes any such use when it states: that to be eligible for medical assistance in dying (241.2 c ) people must “…have a grievous and irremediable medical condition.”  On further inspection it stated that the “illness, disease or disability” must cause patients “enduring physical and psychological suffering that is intolerable to them and cannot be relieved under conditions that they consider acceptable” and that “their natural death has become reasonably foreseeable…”

So far so good.

One concern raised by many which is not addressed  is that  Since the petition for medical assistance in dying can only be made as “a voluntary request,” what do we do if our loved-one is comatose, unconscious or unable to communicate? Currently Bill C-14 does not help us. And in many instances this is precisely the dilemma we will face as we care for aging parents and loved ones.  Living wills, and advanced directives will still need to be put in place.

I began with the love of a daughter-in-law and that’s where I’ll end. Love.  Whatever we do, or desire when it comes to our ending, we do it with love and compassion. We trust those who know us best and love us most to act with us and for us in love on this pathway of living and dying.

And Bill C-14 does help us on that journey.