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.


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

Václav Havel during his speech at the Freedom and its adversaries conference held in Prague 2009. Via

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!"

BREAKING NEWS: Georgia Parole Board Denies Davis' Plea for Clemency

troy-davi-amnest-intl-photoDavis is set to die on Wednesday for the killing of off-duty Savannah officer Mark MacPhail, who was slain while rushing to help a homeless man being attacked. It is the fourth time in four years his execution has been scheduled by Georgia officials...The decision appeared to leave Davis with little chance of avoiding the execution date. Defense attorney Jason Ewart has said that the pardons board was likely Davis' last option.

Turning Mourning into Voyeurism

I'm sure it will end on September 12 when the news media go back to reporting the most urgent question of our time -- which GOP candidate will win the tea party debate on Monday night? -- but this past weekend's coverage of the 10th anniversary of 9/11 was relentless. (I know I could just turn off the TV, but when you write a blog on religion, culture, and politics, you gotta do the research).

The packaging of the 9/11 narrative, with its stunning visuals, has been masterful these last 10 years -- compelling, emotional, inspiring. And ratings gold.

But it strikes me that grieving-through-media does not serve us well, individually or collectively.

A Tribute to Mark O. Hatfield

1100808-markhatfieldMark O. Hatfield's political witness shaped a whole generation of students, teachers, pastors, and social activists in the evangelical community and beyond. The voice of Christians today who plead for social justice and peaceful alternatives to war would not have emerged with its strength and clarity in the 1970s without his leadership. His death underscores the vacuum of such spiritually rooted voices uncompromising in their commitments to peace and justice within the cacophony political rhetoric today.

One of my life's greatest privileges and joys was to work as an assistant to Senator Mark O. Hatfield for nearly a decade, from 1968 to 1977. I saw first-hand what courageous leadership, combined with unswerving compassion and civility, looked like within the political life of that turbulent and formative era. Those experiences are shared in my book, Unexpected Destinations (Eerdmans).

The Harry Potter Prayer

oh yes I amphoto © 2007 Laura Askelin | more info (via: Wylio)Though I like a rousing round of ave maria's as much as the next person, the past few centuries of church prayer trends have eschewed Latin in favor of the vernacular -- that is, the language of the people. And to the tune of 450 million copies in more than 70 translations (and counting), it's clear that people the world around speak the language of Harry Potter. Or rather, the story of Harry Potter speaks to them.

So as I watched the final Hogwarts Express depart from Platform 9¾ in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part II this past weekend (slightly teary-eyed, I confess), I started to wonder: What might it sound like to pray in the language of Harry Potter -- language that clearly resonates with folks around the world? Would it be cheesy? Probably. Profane? Perhaps. But I figured the God who relied on earthly parables about wineskins and fig trees to explain the Kingdom would understand.