death

Crossing the Racial Divide

Christians and Social Justice, a Sojourners discussion guide.

Christians and Social Justice, a Sojourners discussion guide.

Trayvon Martin's slaying has ignited a national discussion on race and privilege.

Many of us recognize that Trayvon’s untimely death is not an isolated incident.

Racial profiling. Discrimination. Enmity. Suspicion. Intimidation. Fear. Hate.

For far too many Americans, these are everyday realities. 

As Christians, we are called to fight injustice and work to heal the broken systems — and broken relationships — of the world. We act, with Jesus Christ, to bring about reconciliations — between people, people groups, communities; within (and between) organizations, institutions, and social systems.

The Heart of All Anxiety: Fear of Loss

Photo by GSPhotography/Shutterstock.com.

Photo by GSPhotography/Shutterstock.com.

I got emails from my mom and uncle about Nana, my last living grandparent. The news isn’t great. She’s struggled with dementia for some years now and hasn’t recognized me the last several times I’ve seen her. But while her mind has been betraying her for a while, it’s her health now that seems to hang in the balance.

Not that it’s a surprise at ninety years old. And it’s also not like we’re particularly close anymore. Aside from living 700 milers away, it’s hard to have much of a relationship with someone who has no idea who you are. But there’s something about knowing she’s close to the end of her life that really freaked me out last night.

When I was a little guy, I had three great grandparents that I remember visiting. They all smelled funny and talked constantly about stuff I didn’t understand, but I got that they were family. I’d visit Pappy and Sweetie, who lived in a trailer home on the Mississippi River; Granny Hagen had her own house for a few years, and then she got moved into one of those silos where people wait to die. Yes, there are some retirement facilities that actually have signs of life in them, but this wasn’t one of them. My mom’s family was pretty poor, and things like retirement and end-of-life planning weren’t a particularly high priority.

Their deaths didn’t bother me too much. I didn’t like seeing my parents sad, but that was about it. I’d miss the candy corns and balloons Pappy always gave me (he called candy corns “duck butters” because when he’d feed them to the ducks, their butts would stick up in the air when they reached down to eat them). But my grandparents were the ones I actually knew as people.

In Memory of Whitney Houston

Whitney Houston performs onstage during the 2011 Pre-Grammy Gala. Photo by Getty

Whitney Houston performs onstage during the 2011 Pre-Grammy Gala. Photo by Getty Images.

The Bible teaches us: “A good name is better than precious ointment and the day of death, than the day of birth.” (Ecclesiastes 7:1)

On this day, as the world morns the unexpected passing of legendary singer Whitney Houston, this wisdom reminds us that when we grieve death, we grieve our own loss.

Ms. Houston has passed from time into eternity, from this veil of tears to a place where there is no more pain and no more tears, where the only relevant judgment is the judgment of God Almighty.

As a girl, Ms. Houston sang in church, and in her last public performance she sang, “Yes, Jesus Loves Me.” In the time and space between, she lived a life of wealth and fame, of joy and pain.

The Red Phone

Butler with a red telepfone on a silver tray. Photo via Getty Images.

Butler with a red telepfone on a silver tray. Photo via Getty Images.

How many people wanted to be President of the United States when they were younger? I’d imagine quite a few. I certainly did, although I now realize that such an attempt would have resulted in something of a "birther" controversy.

As a kid, what made me want to be in such a position of authority wasn’t necessarily the power and prestige of the president. It wasn’t the White House, or Air Force One. It wasn’t even having the authority to pardon a turkey once a year.

It was the red phone.

You know the one. Commissioner Gordon has one for Batman. President Merkin Muffley has one in Dr. Strangelove (I’m pretty sure it’s red, even though it is shot in black and white). It was the phone you used to fix things. To call the superhero, or patch things up with an inebriated Soviet leader (what, you didn’t play Cold War when you were growing up?) That red phone was your hot line to solving whatever problem you were confronted with.

Today, I still want that red phone.

Attending Your Own Funeral

Grim Reaper by Getty Images

Grim Reaper by Getty Images

I’ve been writing this week about inspired vision and embracing radical change even in the face of the death of present systems. But the experience is different when applying the same principles to our own lives. The following is taken from my upcoming memoir, PregMANcy, due out in a few weeks. The setting is about four years ago, when my son, Mattias, decided his latest obsession would be death.

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I’ve noticed that Mattias has been more fearful in general lately, which concerns me. Part of it, I think, has to do simply with the fact that he’s smart enough to think through possible scenarios. As I’ve observed with him a number of times before in the last two years, he’s able to process a whole lot more intellectually than he can process emotionally. Eventually, his emotional wisdom should have plenty of opportunity to catch up, but for a four-year-old, any gap in development is more pronounced.

Two years ago, when he was only a year and a half old, Mattias was jumping from the side of the pool into my arms and going underwater. Last summer, he and his cousin spent most of every waking hour in their grandmothers’ pool, diving to the bottom for toys and to do tricks. Now, with floaties on both arms, a mask and a snorkel, it’s all I can to do get him off of the top step in the shallow end.

What the hell happened?

The Gospel According to Charles Dickens: The Horizon of Death

Illustration from Dickens' "Christmas Carol." Photo by Tim King.

Illustration from Dickens' "Christmas Carol." Photo by Tim King.

It is with death that Dickens begins his story and it is with death that Scrooge completes his journey with the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come.

Scrooge hears other businessman saying that they wouldn’t attend the funeral unless there was sure to be lunch served. Men for whom he had great business esteem gave no more thought to his death than they did the weather. There were thieves who stripped the clothes off his dead body and the curtains from around his bed.

He begged the Spirit to show him a scene in which some person, any person, was moved to emotion at his death.  The Spirit brought him to the house of a debtor who rejoiced with his wife at the death of Scrooge because now they might have time enough to pay back their loan. When he was shown the Cratchit household there was no mention of Scrooge at all, only mourning for the passing of Tiny Tim.

They Called Him a Dissident: Vaclav Havel (1936-2011)

Václav Havel  Prague 2009. Via Via http://bit.ly/tTEMqp

Václav Havel during his speech at the Freedom and its adversaries conference held in Prague 2009. Via http://bit.ly/tTEMqp

Dissident has been defined as “one who challenges the established doctrine, a person who openly defies what has been set as standard or defined policy.”

Many would say that a dissident is the one who is the loudly clanging gong in a world already clamoring with dissonance, another voice we would simply like to be rid of or ignore.

For Vaclav Havel, it most certainly was not this way.

Yes, his words marked the world by challenging its mores. Moving people. Altering lives. Changing the world's map. All this was done with the engaging smoothness of a velvet approach. And this, among a host of many other attributes, will be why he will be so deeply missed and the loss of his life so greatly mourned.

The nation of Czechoslovakia has instated three days of national mourning for the man with the engaging smile. This time of imposed sadness – while a fitting tribute – does not seem nearly enough for a man who made it his purpose to reform hearts.

Did Someone Say "Class Warfare"?

When President Barack Obama laid out his deficit plan Monday, he wasn't just trying to sell a policy. When he pressed for tax hikes on the rich and announced, "This is not class warfare," he was trying to exorcise a demon that has bedeviled the Democratic Party for decades and in the process deprive the Republicans of one of their trustiest weapons. The reaction from the right was swift and sure: "Class warfare!"

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