Death & Dying: Wisdom for End-of-Life Planning & Care with John Alsdorf

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Show Notes

On this episode of Nuance, Case interviews retired HR executive and lay theologian John Alsdorf on the importance of integrating faith into the way we approach death and the need for open conversations about end-of-life decisions. John emphasizes the importance of living well and reconciling relationships in light of death and dying, demonstrating compassion towards others, just as Christ has shown us.

Episode Resources:
Holy Trinity Anglican Church in Raleigh: https://htcraleigh.org/ and recommended reading: https://htcraleigh.org/livinganddyingwell/  
I Want to Burden My Loved Ones by Gilbert Meilaender: https://www.firstthings.com/article/2010/03/i-want-to-burden-my-loved-ones  
The Lost Art of Dying: Reviving Forgotten Wisdom by Lydia Dugdale: https://www.amazon.com/dp/0062932632  
Between Life and Death: A Gospel-Centered Guide to End-of-Life Medical Care by Kathryn Butler: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07K52CS91
Here to Honor website: https://heretohonor.com/  
End-of-Life Doula Organization: https://inelda.org/

Nuance is a podcast of The Collaborative where we wrestle together about living our Christian faith in the public square. Nuance invites Christians to pursue the cultural and economic renewal by living out faith through work every facet of public life, including work, political engagement, the arts, philanthropy, and more.

Each episode, Dr. Case Thorp hosts conversations with Christian thinkers and leaders at the forefront of some of today’s most pressing issues around living a public faith.

Our hope is that Nuance will equip our viewers with knowledge and wisdom to engage our co-workers, neighbors, and the public square in a way that reflects the beauty and grace of the Gospel.

Learn more about The Collaborative:
Website: https://collaborativeorlando.com/  
Get to know Case: https://collaborativeorlando.com/team/

Episode Transcript

Case Thorp 

And here we are again, friends, with an episode of Nuance, Being Faithful in the Public Square. My name is Case Thorp, and I’m grateful that you are with me again. Please like, subscribe, and share this podcast. It helps us in a tremendous way. So at The Collaborative, we create discipleship resources and experiences for Christian professionals in the public square. Just this deep conviction that matters and it makes a difference, and we’ve got to equip our top leaders for the world in which they live, seeking to shine the light of Christ. So this podcast, Nuance, is one of our two with the Collaborative. On this episode, on this show format, we do a bi-weekly conversation with a thought leader on an issue in the public square. And then our other little podcast is called Formed for Faithfulness. We drop a 10-minute devotional, if you will.

And it pairs with the Christian liturgical calendar and deals with themes of public life and our faith. So check that out. Well, I’m excited today to speak to a friend, John Alsdorf. John is a man of faith accomplished in many ways. But also what I love is he is a theologian, even though he hasn’t served formally in the pastoral or theology professor role.

He is a man who deeply integrates his faith in his work. And he’s done a lot of recent work on the topic of death and dying. And that is something that I’ve noticed in my journey. Our society doesn’t do so well. And a lot of Christian practices have been forgotten, pushed aside. And the way we deal with death and dying is so very different than I think our God would have us to do. So John. Welcome. Thanks for being here. John, how are you?

John Alsdorf

I’m doing well other than a cold that I’m just getting over, but doing well.

Case Thorp 

Well, I got to thinking, I don’t know how many years we’ve been friends. Uh, probably eight, nine or 10 or so. Yeah.

John Alsdorf

It’s around that, yes. And I should have worn my Collaborative shirt today.

Case Thorp 

Oh, yes. Well, yes, we’re very proud of this. So that would be a good thing. Well, John had a career in management development, first with IBM and then 29 years with Pfizer, three children, four grandchildren. He went originally to Carleton College in Minnesota, and then a master’s in Asian studies at the University of Hawaii. John, I did not know that before now.

Got to know why, but also a masters of divinity from Union Theological Seminary in New York City. And so, uh, John is a man I greatly respect. He has been at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City for a number of years. And it’s actually there that he met Katherine Leary Alsdorf. And so John, um, how often are you known more as the husband of KLA?

John Alsdorf

Oh, constantly, constantly. I’m the trailing spouse.

Case Thorp 

Yeah. That’s right. That’s right. I call myself Arm Candy to my wife.

John Alsdorf

Well, I would be flattering myself.

Case Thorp 

Yeah.

John Alsdorf

So just to go back very quickly, my parents were missionaries in Japan, and that’s partly why I ended up going to the East-West Center at the University of Hawaii, is I decided I should do something more with that Asian background, but ended up meeting my first wife there. And she asked me such questions that made me start thinking about theology, so that’s why I went to the Union Seminary.

Case Thorp 

And then you told me it was at Union that you became a Christian.

John Alsdorf

No, it was several years after Union. Um, I went to Union thinking and studying Christian ethics because I thought that ethics was what Christian faith was all about being good, being a good boy. And it wasn’t until three or four years later that a person who became a good friend, uh, snuck under my anti evangelical radar and confronted me with the truth claims of the gospel.

Case Thorp 

Sure. So, I’m going to go ahead and start the presentation.

John Alsdorf

You know, the question basically was, was Jesus who he said he was and did he really rise from the dead? And I had just never met an intelligent person that believed that. And it made me stop and reconsider and ultimately come to the conviction that the historical evidence, although it’s not scientific, you can’t prove it in a recreating kind of way, is convincing that there really was a resurrection.

Case Thorp 

Right, because your anti-evangelical radar was so strong. I love that.

John Alsdorf

And that makes all the difference.

Case Thorp 

Sure. Well, it certainly does. And we affirm that as well. John and I, for our listeners to know, have journeyed mostly together, known each other because of the Center for Faith and Work at Redeemer Church, and particularly the Gotham Fellowship. So we get to see each other a lot and hang out because of those overlapping networks. And so I’ve grown to appreciate his voice and his wisdom in a variety of settings. Like I said, he is a theologian in the sense that he thinks deeply and seeks to apply his faith to the world. So, um, death and dying. I mean, that is probably not a topic you expected to hear today. And it’s not really one that a lot of people talk about. It can be a turnoff for sure. So John, I’m curious, like what got you to thinking about this topic?

John Alsdorf

Thank you. Well, I mentioned already a first wife. My first wife coughed up some blood one week to the day after I retired from Pfizer at the age of 62. And that began six years of declining health until ultimately in 2008 she passed away. In that same year, 2008, my mother died earlier in the year and my mother-in-law died just a few weeks after my late wife Joelle. And it was those three deaths and the fact that only my wife had, if you will, a good death that convinced me to be, well, it started me becoming passionate about what are called advanced directives. And that’s the, those are the instructions you leave in case you become incapacitated in the ICU and so on. So that was, you know, that experience, that personal experience with death on the part of the three women that were most significant in my life in many ways showed me that it’s important that we start thinking about it.

Case Thorp 

Yeah, I’ve got mine.

John Alsdorf

And start thinking about it before we need to start thinking about it. That’s part of the challenge here is you really need to think about these things well in advance of declining health.

Case Thorp

Well, I’ve noticed as I, in my late 40s now, look at my peers, and a number of my peers just have not been as exposed to death as I have, partly by being a pastor. I’m in funeral homes, I’m in hospitals, I’m there as people transition. And then I think back as a kid, my grandmother lived with us for eight years, and she was diagnosed Memorial Day and she was gone Labor Day. And it was a beautiful summer of caring for her and loving for her and having her pass in her home. And that’s just so unusual for today.

John Alsdorf

Yes. And yet it’s what almost everybody says they want given a choice. We’d rather die at home, which my wife did. My father did. He was in hospice care as was my wife, Joel. But both of those, my mother and my mother-in-law did not. And for a variety of reasons, because they hadn’t given the adequate thought to it, even though they were in their nineties.

Case Thorp 

Yeah. Well, and you say the home, that’s actually our terminology. It’s called a funeral home. The mortician used to have a home and you would come into his living room and we’ve lost that sense of home in so many ways.

John Alsdorf

Well, the other thing though that has changed is it wasn’t uncommon back in those days of the more rural economy and agricultural small towns, that people would actually be laid out in their own home. The casket could be brought in there and the visit hours of visitation would be in the home itself. And some of the other things that were true 150 years ago was that people in the family would help prepare the body for burial. We have professionalized so much of that. We’ve outsourced it. You know, when I know when, when my wife died, it never occurred to me that we could play a role in brushing her hair and fixing her nails and so on. Uh, and yet that is a practice that some faith traditions, the Jewish tradition, especially the more conservative, um, people in the synagogue help prepare a body that’s a beautiful it’s a way of honoring and remembering and also realizing i’m going to be there someday

Case Thorp 

Yeah, for sure. Now you’ve been working on a project. Tell us about this project related to death and dying.

John Alsdorf 

Well, in part, as I said, because of that passion for advanced directives, I was having some conversations with a friend who, uh, thinking about putting together a workshop for a Christian organization on which I was the, uh, I was a board member and he said, Oh, you need to talk to Lydia Dugdale and arrange to introduce us. Lydia is a Christian, devout Christian here in New York City, she works actually walking distance from where I’m sitting right now. She had written a book called The Lost Art of Dying. And I said, if you have show notes, we can put some links into some of these things. And so he introduced us. It turns out she has long had an interest in helping people think through the art of dying. Um, and we combined our interests and put together a workshop that we held last October in Raleigh, North Carolina, and involving another medical doctor that was a local young woman, as well as a member of the church who was a funeral director. So we could talk through the different aspects of approaching death.

The objective of the whole workshop was actually to help senior people, those of us in our seventies and eighties, sixties, seventies and eighties, talk with our children who are in their thirties, forties and fifties perhaps. And just open up this otherwise often thought of as taboo topic to say, here’s what I’d like, A, if I end up in the emergency room or in the ICU, but also thinking about my funeral or thinking about final days and, you know, I want to make sure that, you know, I love you, et cetera. 

So the goal was to have conversations that healed where that was necessary, broken or strained relationships. Uh, but also just clear the air. What we’ve discovered is that both the younger generation and the older generation wants to talk about it, but they all think that the other person doesn’t want to, so it’s actually when you start the topic going.

I’m thinking about the fact that I’m 82 now. I’m thinking about the fact that I might well not live, you know, more than, well, certainly not, I’m not gonna live 20 more years. So I need to be able to talk to my children about that and about my fears, my hopes, my expectations as a Christian and my love for them. So, and they, I mean, the reality is that anyone of my children or my grandchildren could actually die before I do. So, you know, that’s part of the, that’s why I say, and we all do, anybody that’s involved in this, you need to think about this and talk about it before you need to think about it and talk about it.

Case Thorp 

Right. Why do you think death and the conversation is so taboo for us?

John Alsdorf

Well, part of it is because as you said also, you know, most of us don’t experience it in the same way that 150 years ago we would you had that. Well, yes, that’s right. Exactly. The other things that have happened though, that make it harder. 

Case Thorp 

For most of human history.

John Alsdorf 

We live in a culture that is increasingly oriented toward entertainment. Blaise Pascal, the French philosopher slash theologian, I’ve seen a quote from him where he talked about entertainment as being a way that we avoid dealing with death. And that, he was saying that back in the days when to be entertained, you had to dress up and go to the theater or to the concert hall.

Now we carry a theater and a concert hall in our pockets. It is hard not to just be entertained in this day and age. But the other is it’s just increasingly impersonal. We don’t, we become urbanized, we become professionalized. We talked about that in terms of the, just outsourcing the care of the body to the funeral home. Not thinking about.

John Alsdorf 

The fact that I don’t know if you did with your grandmother when she died, but it wasn’t uncommon. It isn’t, it still is possible. Funeral directors will accommodate wishes to prepare grandma’s hair and the like. We don’t think about it though because of the professionalization.

Case Thorp 

Wow. Now we know. Well, something I did not ever think about until I did a particular kind of funeral is embalming. So, I assumed embalming was for cosmetic purposes. So that grandma looked like grandma. And one time I had a funeral where the individual had chosen not to be embalmed. And the funeral director was adamant about the timing and wanted to know how long is the service? How long is your homily? Because I’ve got to have this individual in the ground within a two-hour time allotment by law. And I did not understand this. And so that was surprising. And I said, well, I thought everybody got embalmed. And he said, no, actually, embalming is the right of your medical examiner by law to require in case disease breaks out. It was invented for disease control, and it’s turned into a cosmetic practice with folks. And I had no idea.

John Alsdorf 

Yeah, I don’t, I think the laws vary by location. My understanding was that it’s not in many cases, it’s not legally required at all. That two hour limitation you’re talking about is, I’ve never heard that before.

Case Thorp 

Oh, oh, oh. Well, separate from the limitation, I was hearing him say that it’s your medical examiner who has the power to require it, and if you’re fine on disease, then they don’t. Well, I think back to the early Christian church practices and how we read that in Rome and other places, death was a celebration that you had been freed from this world. And often the body was prepared by being wrapped in white clothing and a processional, a parade of sorts of the Christian community led out to the grave site with singing and Psalms. And it was joyful. It wasn’t sad and dark and heavy. And, um, today I am not such a fan of these dark, heavy funerals. 

And so for that reason, I do not use the word funeral in my services and I won’t let it be on the bulletin and I will say up front, you’ll notice the word funeral is not on here at all. It is a service of witness to the resurrection of Christ. And yes, there is space for lament and mourning and we do focus on that, but I feel like we’ve got to reclaim and leave with this overall message of hope.

John Alsdorf 

Yes, through the resurrection, through the promise. Yes, absolutely. And not so much of a memorial service to the person. Not that, you know, having those memories is a wonderful thing to be shared at a different time. You know, the family gets together to do to sit Shiva if Shiva if you’re Jewish but you know there’s no reason why Christians can’t get together and do the same kind of memory sharing but the service itself should be as you said a proclamation of the gospel.

Case Thorp 

Well, and most folks I encounter think of weddings as performance and funerals as memory sharing, and they don’t have a theological orientation or a biblical perspective. And so I partner with folks to incorporate those things they’re expecting, but also to remind, this is a worship service and Christ is our focus. And then we reflect in our reflection on Him about the other meanings going on here.

John Alsdorf

Right. Yes.

Case Thorp

Well, John, what, um, in your research, do you think are the keys to dying well?

John Alsdorf

I, the, my research, which is a lot of it is through the book that Lydia Dugdale wrote, The Lost Art of Dying, I tend to emphasize the healing of relationships where those are strained. I mean, it’s, it’s a very biblical thing. We have been forgiven through Christ’s death on the cross.

Our relationship with God has been restored. And the letter of Ephesians in particular, although many of Paul’s letters have this same pattern, but the first three chapters of the letter of Ephesians talk about how we are new creatures in Christ. And then the last three chapters say, so live like it. And the living like it involves being tender-hearted, I guess I want to go to that. The verse that just has popped out to me and meant so much is Ephesians 4.32, which in the ESV reads, be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another as God in Christ forgave you. That idea of being tender-hearted, he contrasted, it is contrasted in that same chapter with a reference to the Gentiles who are hard-hearted. 

But this tenderhearted forgiving one another as God and Christ forgave you to remember. There’s a humility there that I have been forgiven and it’s not because I deserve it, it’s because of what Christ sacrificed. And that enables me, the more I think about it, the more I think about what Christ did on the cross, to be forgiving of others. You know, there is, to recognize the magnitude of my need for forgiveness allows me, enables me, to forgive others who’ve done terrible things to me or who’ve hurt me greatly, let’s say.

And that’s how we are called to live. That word tenderhearted, by the way, only appears that particular, the Greek word there, only appears one other place in the entire New Testament. Many of the other NIV I have here too says be compassionate. And that’s the way it’s translated, but it’s actually a more unique word and talks about a visceral response. The reference would be to Christ.

When the woman touched his robe, you know, and he felt the power go out of him, but it’s that visceral pouring out of himself when he sees suffering. It’s that kind of tender heartedness we’re supposed to offer to one another because we have been, we’ve received it. So that to me is the very hard of living well. Elsewhere in that chapter, he talks about being angry, but don’t let the sun go down on your sin. But when you start applying it across the board, this kind of forgiving involves asking for forgiveness, where I’ve been the offender, but it also involves going to somebody who’s offended me, as Matthew 18 talks about, and confronting them for the purpose of restoration.

Case Thorp

Yeah, not for revenge.

John Alsdorf 

Not for absolutely you have to have forgiven them in order to be confronting them without vengeance in your heart because otherwise we’re gonna get even, we’re gonna get even, you know, and that’s just not the way to do it.

Case Thorp 

Yeah. And it’s so hard. It’s so hard. Emotions get in the way being vulnerable. It takes risk.

John Alsdorf 

Right. And yet it’s clear that’s what we’re called to, uh, to do. Uh, it’s not being soft hearted. It’s not saying, ah, it doesn’t matter. Um, uh, and, and letting things roll over you and so on and so forth. There’s a, there’s a strength in this tender heartedness that, um, is easily missed if we think it just means be, be nice because it does involve confronting where that’s called for.

It involves blessing one another, just saying, I love you, I’m praying for you, may God bless you. It’s the kind of thing that you see in the Old Testament with the patriarchs, blessing their children, for example, but blessing one another.

Case Thorp 

So John, are there people you still need to get to reconcile?

John Alsdorf

I have tried, I’m sure there are. Some of them are no longer with us. For one example, my mother-in-law, my first mother-in-law was a very difficult person. And so I have had to forgive her without having had the benefit of being able to go and do the kind of in-person healing which is involved humbling myself and realizing she was who she was and she was sometimes very hard to deal with. But she did love her children and her grandchildren, even though she was giving them a very hard time at times.

Case Thorp

Sure, sure. I’m curious before you did this project and then after the project, what were some views on death and dying that changed for you?

John Alsdorf 

I think one of the biggest was this, the idea of caring for a person as they are in the process of dying and wanting to be cared for.

There’s a fascinating article and we can put a link into it, to it in your show notes. Christian bioethicist named Gilbert Meilaneder wrote an article responding to what he often would hear people saying, I don’t want to burden anybody. And we say that with all the best intentions. And his article was entitled, I want to burden my loved ones. And he went on to say,

This is what we are meant in the family and in the body of Christ, in the church, to bear one another’s burdens. So if you disallow, if you don’t let people care for you when you are needing care, you’re actually denying them a chance to practice Christian charity. So he says, I want to burden others. That was just such a beautiful thought.

And then the flip side of that is doing that caring. I was blessed during my father’s, what turned out to be his last week. To be able to care for him to the extent that I was doing things that he did for me when I was a baby. I was changing his diaper, you know, as he as he was failing. And it’s the kind of thing you sort of think, wow, is that it was a wonderful experience and brought us together in ways that would not have happened had I not been there and able to do that.

Case Thorp 

Why do you say wonderful?

John Alsdorf 

Because it was a, in the case with my father, we were never, we had a good relationship, but not a great one. It was a way of being tender with him that otherwise wouldn’t have happened. That’s why.

Case Thorp 

Yeah. And he was in a place to receive it.

John Alsdorf 

Yes, yes, yes. We, and then, you know, I mean, the whole, the whole death scene itself, we were as a family together, showing some pictures of where we had, where we’d grown up in Japan at my, my father had been a missionary in Japan and saying a hymn and we’re saying good night. And he breathes his last. It was like, he’d gotten permission to breathe his last. And that too, that’s the way it should be. That’s not, that is unavoidable. And it should somehow take place in a setting like that where you’ve said hymns, some prayers, and okay, dad, you can go now.

Case Thorp

John, as a student and one who appreciates reform theology, and your answer doesn’t have to be particularly reformed in that direction, but I’m just curious, as you’ve thought about this, what are some of the deeper theological doctrines or perspectives that we’ve just got wrong that lead us to today’s practices? And how might we need to reclaim some understandings about God or ourselves to get to a more beautiful understanding of death and dying?

John Alsdorf 

The fact that we are in fact that Christ had to die. Why did he have to die? I mean, that is what, the debt that we owed was death. The debt for sin. Our sin was really bad. I mean, I love the Doctrine of Total Depravity because it basically says, I could not, back to my reason for going to seminary, was to study Christian ethics to be good. I can’t be good. I can’t be good enough. Part of the good news of the gospel is, I can’t be good enough. That’s why Christ died. And he had to die. He had to pay my debt. Part of what’s, I can’t remember, I can’t put my finger on the verse immediately here, but Paul talks about how in baptism we are actually united with Christ’s death.

And then in some of the ancient churches, we saw one in Tunisia last year, you actually went down, and it was called the door of death to the baptismal font, and then came out the door of life. So they physically enacted that, being baptized into the death. So taking seriously though, that the Christian gospel is one of Christ’s assuming, taking on that debt that I owed, and then his righteousness is what’s attributed to me. That frees me from needing to earn that righteousness, and this is all that’s in those first three chapters of Ephesians. He chose us, he blessed us, he adopted us, therefore live, and it’s all through his righteousness so that none of us can boast.

The emphasis on that, that is really good news. And it’s not good advice. It’s, you know, that’s all been done, which frees us to do that loving of one another.

Case Thorp

Really good news. Yeah, I think in your example there, we don’t fully appreciate the incarnation and to your point about that Christ had to die. And so, if a shallow understanding of the incarnation leads us then to not fully understand our recreation, our potential for new life and hope in the next age so many folks I’ve been with understandably have fear. And then I’m with other Christians who don’t at all. And I’m always asking myself, OK, what’s the difference? And is one more mature in their faith or the other? Is one more this or that? And I haven’t landed yet and don’t know. And I don’t know where I will be at that point either. But it’s a lot to process and see happen.

John Alsdorf 

Tim Keller used to say, I think he was citing some British pastor theologian in this, I don’t remember that reference, but if you ask somebody, are you a Christian? And they say, of course. Then you knew they didn’t really get it. That if they said, can you believe it? I, you know, that’s the recognition. I, this is not something that I earned that I deserve. It’s a gift of grace. Full stop.

Case Thorp 

And so my desire to see funerals be appropriately celebratory. I’m curious for your death and dying process, perhaps for your funeral service. Have you made plans?

John Alsdorf 

I have not yet, except in my head. I know that one of the most meaningful memorial services that I went to, it was of a man who died prematurely in his forties, I think of a massive heart attack. And the, so a number of the people that were there, which is probably always going to be true at a service like this, were non-believers and the pastor got up to say, and said at the beginning.

Case Thorp (34:52.654)

Okay. Yeah.

John Alsdorf

I want you to know the gospel that Joe believed. And it’s a gospel that he would not have believed in the gospel that you think he believed or something to that effect. But it was challenging the notions that so many of us do have until the light of grace really hits us, that God is just rewarding people who’ve been good.

Case Thorp (35:43.298)

Right.

John Alsdorf 

And that he’s a demanding God, a gracious God.

Case Thorp 

At our church, our pastoral care department will sit with you and plan your funeral. And you can pick the hymns, you can pick the scriptures, and we put it in a file and we hold onto it. And when that time comes, we’ll pull it out and share it with family.

John Alsdorf

No, no. The workbook that we created for the workshop in Raleigh last October has that worksheet, workbook that they have there. It’s an Anglican church and that’s available for people to do that kind of planning and it’s the same sort of thing. But they also make a point that the service is a proclamation of the gospel.

Case Thorp 

In very, very traditional reformed settings, there won’t even be a mention of the deceased name. I attended one once where the entire service was focused on Christ and the gospel, and the last word after the benediction was, for the life and witness of Mrs. so-a thanks be to God. And I don’t know if I would go to that extreme.

John Alsdorf 

Right. Yes. And right. That’s, that’s a bit extreme. Could we talk, the one thing that, that I did want to talk about a little bit here and it’s, um, I don’t know, I mean, you can do some editing here, but, uh, the, the notion that the advanced directives that I said was my initial passion, because I think that’s

One of the important topics that people often, Christians often, I’ve been told both by Lydia Dugdale and another doctor that I’ll mention, Katherine Butler, Christian, Christians often are the poorest, least prepared for advanced directives when they, and for the various medical interventions that are possible.

Because life is sacred, they will think we ought to do everything we can to keep life going and allow God time to work a miracle. And one of the things that Katherine Butler emphasizes in her book, Between Life and Death, a gospel-centered guide to end-of-life medical decisions, one of the things she emphasizes is that God is also sovereign. And he will choose the time.

He wants to call you home. And we need to allow for that. We need to put those different principles. One, yes, life is sacred. So you don’t take life. But there is a time when you bow your knee and accept the fact that death is coming. So there’s more we could talk about. But one of the things you asked a while ago, what’s changed? One of the big changes that’s made it harder to talk about death and dying is the medical miracles that are available. 

And I use the term advisedly, I guess, but they are wonderful. And most of those have come about in my lifetime and yours since the 50s and 60s. And they can sustain life, but artificial breathing, artificial feeding, kidney dialysis and so on, can be used to give the body a chance to cure from an infection in the lungs, let’s say, or from surgery but they don’t themselves have curative properties. So to use them indefinitely is only to prolong dying rather than to give the body time to heal. The body that God has given us is wonderful in terms of its healing properties, its ability to withstand infection and to heal and cure from an operation, let’s say. 

But those artificial means of sustaining life in themselves are not curative. And it’s a mistake to, they also have deleterious side effects, you know, being intubated can harm your, uh, your vocal cords, et cetera. So I, I just think it’s important for people to realize and for Christians in particular, uh, to realize that. We definitely want to be able to take advantage of, of the medical interventions that are possible.

But you don’t want to use them in a vain hope to sustain life in terminably, if you will.

Case Thorp 

Yeah, I’ve heard a doctor frame it before as, oh, we can do that. The question is, should we? And pastorally, I’m often with family processing and coming to the point that it’s okay to die. It’s okay to let go. And that is not mean. It is not cruel. It is not unloving. And those are.

John Alsdorf 

Yes. But that’s also why it’s so important to talk about that before you need to talk about it. And that I think, I mean, that’s, that’s again, our purpose in the, in the whole workshop that we did last October and in any kind of meeting we would have is to get people talking about these things in advance of the need to talk about it. Because at that point it’s too late. At that point you’ve got family that Aaron’s son who says, no, you can’t let my mom go. I haven’t, I need to ask her to forgive me. And it often is the person who’s estranged who has the most difficult time letting go, which is again, back to the, the idea of living and dying. Well, is you do what you can in advance to heal relationships, but also talking.

Case Thorp

So those are two great takeaways. Reconcile, heal your relationships, to talk about your advanced directives and such. In closing, any last one or two bits of advice you’d give a listener on how to live their faith well and their transition to glory?

John Alsdorf 

I mean, I think as we all age, working on our relationships with one another, but also absolutely with God, recognizing what he has done through Christ’s life and death and resurrection, and rejoicing in that, reminding… I mean…you go through the Old Testament and it’s so clear again and again and again the people forgot and they walked their own way. God says, remember, remember. And we’re to do that, too, with remembering what Christ has done and rejoicing in that gift of grace, because that does enable us to live freely, joyfully. Yes, through difficulty too, and it’s not that it does away with any suffering or anything like that, but to remind ourselves of what God did in Christ, His death on the cross and then His resurrection, to bring us back, to bring us home, is the way to come home.

Case Thorp

Beautiful, beautiful. Now, do you see any more of the workshops coming up or if somebody wanted to reach out? Would you be open to doing more of these? Yeah.

John Alsdorf 

Yes. None are scheduled at this point. There are some people I said to my friends, we had a, there’s a group of us here in New York that are working on things like this. Um, and I mentioned Lydia Dugdale already, but there’s, there, um, there’s a woman who was on the staff of Redeemer, uh, who during COVID realized there was a need for people to start thinking about, um, mortality. 

She started a website called heretohonor.org. And there she and a friend who is an end of life doula are doing workshops. Lydia and I have talked about doing more. So there definitely is an interest. There are a lot of people that are doing things like this, not only in the Christian community, but I’m aware of a Jewish organization here in New York City, for example, that is spending quite a bit of energy and again on helping people talk about it.

Case Thorp 

Well, end of life doula, that’s a new term for me. I love what that entails. Yeah, sure.

John Alsdorf 

It is, okay. You know what a birth doula does? End of life, end of death doula, there’s an international organization of them that come alongside and help individuals, but also families as they’re approaching end of life.

Case Thorp 

Wow. John, thank you so much. I really appreciate your time. If you would let the notorious KLA say we send our greetings. Well, friends and listeners, thank you for joining us again. Please like and share, leave a comment. It helps us get the word out. Leave a review wherever you get your podcasts. You can go to collaborativeorlando.com for all sorts of content. Find us across the social media platforms.

John Alsdorf 

Thank you.

Case Thorp 

And check out Formed for Faithfulness, that weekly 10-minute devotional for the working Christian and as it patterns with the liturgical calendar. So I want to thank our sponsor for today, the V3 Foundation and the Trawick family. I’m Case Thorp, and God’s blessing is on you.