Life, Death, and Beyond


God does hear us. Chrstphr/Shutterstock

I’ve been thinking about what it means to be chosen, and conversely how we choose to be chosen. I’ve also been thinking about life, death, choices, and what happens to us after our earthly body dies. Do we remember who we are here? Do we remember our friends, lovers, enemies, acquaintances? Do we remember events, important moments, unimportant moments, or forgotten moments? I believe we do. The problem is that all we know and have experienced about the Divine is limited by our own thoughts and words.

Stop Comparing Mandela to Jesus, British Journalist Says

Mandela photo, left, courtesy, Jesus statue, right, court. Onderwijsgek. Both via Wikimedia Commons/RNS

Few would deny Nelson Mandela’s greatness, but one of Britain’s best-known journalists, Dominic Lawson, has taken the media to task for comparing South Africa’s first black president to Jesus.

Writing on the eve of the departure of world leaders to Johannesburg to attend a memorial service for Mandela, who died last week, Lawson wrote in the Daily Mail: “He was a giant — but how absurd for the BBC to compare Mandela to Christ.”

Lawson singled out BBC presenter Evan Davis who told listeners on a Dec. 7 radio program that Mandela should be ranked alongside Jesus in “the pantheon of virtue.”

The BBC radio program included former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, who emphatically dismissed the notion of Mandela being on par with the founder of Christianity.

Nelson Mandela and the Power of Elders

Republic of South Africa postage stamp. Circa 2008. catwalker/Shutterstock

The world lost a hero yesterday.  Nelson Mandela, 95, died at his home in Johannesburg, South Africa, after a long illness. 

From prisoner of 27 years to President of his country, Mandela exhibited courage and vision for a country that had feared a bloodbath in its transition to a post-apartheid society. Mandela united the country through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission

A less-noted aspect of Mandela’s work was his founding of The Elders on his 89th birthday. With a mission of “offer[ing] their collective influence and experience to support peace building, help address major causes of human suffering and promote the shared interests of humanity.” Mandela gathered Jimmy Carter, Kofi Annan, Mary Robinson, Desmond Tutu, Muhammed Yunus, and others to harvest the wisdom of their years for the good of the planet. Founding member Peter Gabriel further explained: “In traditional societies, the elders always had a role in conflict resolution, long-term thinking, and applying wisdom wherever it was needed. We are moving to this global village and yet we don’t have our global elders. The Elders can be a group who have the trust of the world, who can speak freely, be fiercely independent, and respond fast and flexibly in conflict situations.”

Americans Divided on Facing Death: Fight It, Choose It, or Let It Come

“Personal Preference by Religion and Race/Ethnicity” chart courtesy of Pew Research Center. Via RNS

Death may be inevitable, but one in three Americans – including most blacks and Hispanics – want doctors to never quit fighting it.

And that number has nearly doubled in 23 years, a new survey finds.

In 1990, 15 percent of U.S. adults said doctors should do everything possible for a patient, even in the face of incurable illness and pain. Today, 31 percent hold that view, according to a report released Thursday by the Pew Research Center’s Religion & Public Life Project.

The majority of U.S. adults (66 percent) still say there are circumstances when a patient should be allowed to die. At the same time, however, the never-say-die view calling for nonstop aggressive treatment has increased across every religion, race, ethnicity, and level of education.

What Happens When We Accept Our Own Mortality?

Experienced as the Butlers were in suffering and loss, they were not prepared for the technologically enhanced torments of old age.

Knocking on Heaven's Door tells what can happen when a person's mind and body endure a series of shocks that would naturally lead to decline and death — except that, through various technological interventions, the body is not allowed to decline along with the mind.

In Professor Butler's case, a major stroke wiped out most of his ability to function independently and set him on the road to dementia. At the same time, his heart was slowing down. A year after his stroke, over the opposition of his primary care physician, Butler was fitted with a pacemaker. His cardiologist strongly recommended it. He needed hernia surgery, the doctor said, and his heart was not likely strong enough to survive the operation. So he had the pacemaker installed, he had the surgery, and he was rewarded with another six years of increasingly hellish existence — not only for himself, but also for his wife and his daughter. His mind was shot. His body would not do what he wanted it to do. But his artificially assisted heart kept relentlessly ticking away.

Supreme Court Affirms Monks’ Right to Sell Caskets

Novices Joseph Eichorn, left and Dustin Bernard move a handmade wooden casket. Photo via RNS, by Ted Jackson/The Times-Picayune.

A group of Catholic monks can continue selling their handmade caskets after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal from Louisiana funeral directors.

“We really can now move forward without worrying about being shut down,” said Deacon Mark Coudrain, manager of St. Joseph Woodworks in Covington, La. “This is going to affect a lot of other people. A lot of people are going to have opportunities to do things that are their legal right to generate revenue.”

In a little-noticed ruling on Oct. 15, the Supreme Court declined to hear the case between the brothers of St. Joseph Abbey and the Louisiana State Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors.

Bringing America Back to Life

Photo courtesy of Shane Claiborne

A mother who lost her child to gun violence beats on the barrel of a handgun from the streets. Photo courtesy of Shane Claiborne

Yesterday, I read about the 2-year old child who shot herself by accident in North Carolina over the weekend. Then I read about the horror of another school shooting in Nevada. Only hours later — shots rang out again on our block in North Philadelphia, for the second time this week.  This time a bullet went through the window of one of the houses owned by our non-profit.

I was talking to a friend about my anger over the 300 lives lost in our city this year to gun violence. With the most sincere intentions, my friend said in an attempt to console me:  “It’s just the way the world is.” 

I’m not willing to give up that easy. It may be the way the world is today, but it doesn’t have to be the way the world is tomorrow.

Why Do Condolence Notes Never Get Easier to Write?

Robert Kneschke/Shutterstock

Hands expressing symbolic sympathies while holding each other. Robert Kneschke/Shutterstock

As we go through life, most of us manage to acquire some small measure of expertise about daily living. In general, the more times we’ve had to undertake a task, the better we get at it.

Yet in this one area, we are all fumbling newbies, approaching every funeral as if it were our first. We think about what we could possibly say at the funeral home, or what we’ll write on the Facebook tribute page — and words fail us.

I’ve gradually learned to fight the urge to try to make those in pain feel better.