Death, Dying and Grief (#6)

If there exists one experience that, throughout history and around the world, binds humankind together, it is death. Death is something we must all face – no exercise or diet regimen, no meditation techniques, no amount of money can avoid it. It is the great equalizer.

Fear of death is no simple response with simple causes. It has many components and has a different reaction for each one of us. The fear of death is shaped by:

·      Age, Family, Psychological maturity, State of physical health, Social and religious backgrounds

Events of the day may also influence the degree of our fear. There is, however, one basic fear I choose to focus upon because I do not believe it is death for which we have greatest fear.

Based on my observation and analysis I believe greater than the fear of death is actually our fear of life. The finality of death, coupled with the uncertainty of an afterlife, results in fear, for many. We see it all around us as we try to stop the aging process. We hope that the next pill, the next surgery, or the next genetic discovery will be the key to extending our lives.

Think about it.
If we are alive, then death does not exist and we have no reason to be concerned about it. When we are dead, then we no longer exist and are unable to be concerned.

Death is the ultimate mystery. Death makes an excellent screen on which to project all our concern about life. I am contending that our fear of death is a projection of our most basic fear. Fear of death is really our fear of life. If our fears of death were rational, they would not prevent us from looking at the inevitability of our own deaths and learning about ourselves and our lives. But our fears of death are – for the most part – irrational. We run away from death but what we flee is our own life. Death is a problem because daily living is a problem.

I believe it is as simple as that. If it is not that simple, at least it is clear-cut. In recognizing those who flee death will also flee life, we have an opportunity to recognize the face of hope. For those who fully welcome life will welcome death as well. Norman O. Brown says only a person with an unlived life is afraid to die. A person who feels he has lived his life the way that he or she wanted – is not afraid. The fear of dying is tied to reach the goals of who you believe you have to be rather than who you are (Keleman, Living Your Dying, p. 102).

The truth is that those who are not fulfilling life are those who fear death and do not want to die. So, part of working out this conflict is to begin to construct those conditions in which we are able to accept the inevitability of death as a joyful conclusion to the experience of life.

1.    Let me point to some suggestions about how those conditions might be created; that is to say, how we can take our basic response to the crisis of death, which is a resounding NO, and transform that into a YES to death. Such a YES is a YES to life. All this is done with the recognition of what can be so easily said cannot be so easily accomplished.

One way to approach death creatively is to cultivate a delight in change. There is a line in the Old Testament that promises life to us new every morning. That sounds fine. But in reality who wants to deal with anything new in the morning? We want the security of our routine: orange juice, toast, cup of coffee, and the morning paper. Careening around the curves of this treacherous era, fearful of what accidents might happen or what new things might be around the corner, we clutch nostalgia as our savior. Novelty or surprise frightens us and we have developed all sorts of methods for ignoring or modifying an event so that we can maintain the status quo (which is Latin for “the mess we are in”). Unfamiliar events make us anxious. Consequently, you can understand what death – our own or someone else’s – does to us. Since death is the biggest change we have to deal with, (although many events in life have aspects of un-knowableness and mystery about them), we fear death most of all. We die and we face death in much the same way we live, with the fear we will, because of the change, suffer an irreplaceable loss. Since life is in process, we should be participating in life as it is. In such a way we shall be more fully alive.

[continued in blog #7]


Good Friday, and then Easter.

But a day is missing in that story. To move from Friday to Sunday we must walk through Saturday.

Saturday, however, is a lonely day. Death has won. Hope is lost. Jesus of Nazareth in a tomb. His disciples are afraid, hiding, and deeply depressed. Everything they had invested in for the past three years seems pointless now. They forsook their Master; they lost faith in that moment. They are leaderless, hopeless, and aimless.

On Holy Saturday we sit by the grave to feel the gloom of the grave, to face the reality of death itself. It is a day to weep, fast, and mourn. The late second century church (e.g. Irenaeus) fasted from all food on this day because it was a day of mourning. They did not break the fast until Easter morning.

Those of us who have spent time at graves - in my case the graves of parents, numerous dear friends and relatives – understand this grief, the despair of the grave. I have spent much of my life running away from graves, and I have rarely spent much time thinking about Holy Saturday.

It is much easier to skip from Friday to Easter than to dwell on Holy Saturday. As what happened in my life, we skip grief as much as possible. It is easier to run from grief. We prefer to escape it rather than face it or endure it.

Holy Saturday reminds me to grieve, to lament. It reminds me to rail against death, the enemy of both God and humanity. It reminds me to protest death and renew my hatred for it. It reminds me to feel again and sit with the disciples in their despair.

Indeed, to sit with the disciples is to sit with humanity in the face of death. When we sit at the grave we recognize our powerlessness. We cannot reverse death; we cannot defeat this enemy. Holy Saturday creates a yearning for Easter. We need Easter for without if we are dead.

But Easter is a faint victory if we do not fully recognize the horror of death. Death threatens us with non-being and it dismantles life so that there is no meaning, purpose, or joy that lasts. Easter is God’s gift; it is God’s “Yes” to Death’s “No.”

Yesterday we remembered the death of Jesus on Good Friday, today we sit at the grave, but tomorrow, Sunday, we are renewed by the hope of the resurrection.

Jesus walked that path, and we follow him. We, too, will have our Friday; one day we will be entombed and loved ones will mourn at our graves. However – by the grace and mercy of God – on that great day we will rise again to walk with Jesus upon the new heaven and new earth.

That is the meaning of Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter.


[Death, dying and grief, 5]

Aye, but to die, and go we know not where,

To lie in cold obstruction and to rot.

This sensible warm motion to become

A kneaded clot and the delightful spirit

To bathe in fiery floods, or to reside

In thrilling region of thick-ribbed ice-

To be imprisoned in the viewless winds,

And blown with restless violence round about

The pendent world, or to be worse than worst

Of those that lawless and uncertain thought

Imagine howling – ‘tis too horrible!

The weariest and the most loathed worldly life

That age, ache, penury, and imprisonment

Can lay on nature is a paradise

To what we fear of death – William Shakespeare

The Great Fear. The fear of death. All living things must die, but humans know it, must live with that knowledge daily, and must bear its mystery, its unacceptability, and its certainty. Is it any wonder that the subject of death is taboo in polite company that copious human energy goes into “schemes of amnesia,” which strive to push The Great Fear into the Siberias of consciousness – only to have some poet-playwright, imitating life, spoil the party?

Aristotle, writing in his Ethics about courage, shows us why Shakespeare has “spoiled the party:”

With what sort of terrible things, then, is

the brave man concerned? Surely with the

greatest; for no one is more likely than he

to stand his ground against what is awe-inspiring.

Now death is the most terrible of things; for

it is the end, and nothing is thought to be any

longer either good or bad for the dead.

Yet why blame Shakespeare or anyone else for ruining things for us? Such writers only tell us the truth about life. If the Bard of Avon is a great dramatist, it is because life itself presented him with its own Great Drama, something which he only partly captured, despite his genius. He is great, but the Natural Spectacle of Life and Death is immeasurably greater.

Such a natural spectacle strikes the undistracted human consciousness with enormous force. On what he supposes is his last night on earth Claudio gives vent to his fear: “…to die, and go we know not where … to rot … this sensible warm notion to become a kneaded clot … ‘tis too horrible!” Almost cruelly, Shakespeare here gives us a taste of what our real death will be like when, like poor Claudio, we must finally live it: it has at last come for us (or someone we love). True it is a mere taste of death, vicariously served up in Shakespeare’s theater, but if we are closely attending, it rips away our euphemisms and makes us say in our deepest soul, “Yes. This is what it will be like!”

The fear of death is the Great Fear not only because death is “the most terrible of all things,” but because every other fear, whether of failure or of rejection or of illness or of going crazy or of disgrace or of old age or of heights and of flying, or whatever, is a species or variant of it. This means that if we succeed in understanding the fear of death, we will know much about other fears and perhaps something about life itself.

Fear is natural, Necessary and Functional

Being afraid is natural to living creatures: without it there would be no drawing away from danger, no flight from the fatal consequences of some foolhardy action and therefore no survival. What is natural may also be necessary. Thus the creature – whether human or brute – which is afraid of water is protecting itself from death by drowning. The absolutely fearless person – Aristotle calls him “rash” – is a very poor insurance risk, someone who will surely in time, given the hazards even of ordinary life, get himself killed. Living beings keep themselves alive by responding by responding with fear to threats against their lives in ways that prevent mortal trauma. Fear is functional. It serves a truly vital function – for what is more vital than preserving one’s life? Such fear may be called healthy fear: it is simple, spontaneous, useful, and necessary, and it vanishes with the removal of the threat.

[This look at “fear” continues next in  #6]




We can hardly take death in any form. Not just death in its final shape when the body dies. We protest it in its disguised forms too. Everything that puts limits around us, or takes opportunities from us, or handicaps our search for self-realization, is a manifestation of what we call death. From how many directions then does death loom upon us! From our heredity! Our environment! Fate! The age in which we live! Everything designed to tell us that we are bound by flesh and blood, mind and emotion. No matter what we do to ward it off, ultimately we are bound. Bound by our humanness! And we don’t like that. So we reject what it means to be human. The fear of death kills us and causes us to reject our humanness. I believe that if we can accept our essential humanness, which includes death, we will be able to live as free, loving, responsible, growing human beings.

Let me give a disclaimer clause. Since death is somewhat final?? – no one can talk about it from the standpoint of personal experience. In many ways death is beyond knowing. This seems obvious. I want to say it because I might give the impression that I know what I’m talking about when I talk about death. The plain fact is that I have not been there. No matter how sensitively I observe what the person seems to be experiencing, I myself do no not know what it is like. In writing, speaking, and teaching about death I am trying to educate myself and you about the unknowable. (There are some Thanatologists who argue that one cannot even experience his or her own death since one can never be certain that it is the process of dying that one is experiencing).

Nevertheless we still need to get in touch with the whole issue of death and dying. I particularly like the lyrics of George Harrison, written before his diagnosis:

          There’ll come a time when all your hopes are fading.

          When things that seemed so very plain become an awful pain.

          Searching for the truth among the dying.

          And answered when you have learned the art of dying.

When do we be begin learning the “art of dying”? We begin by acknowledging that we do not want to do what we are doing now – Dealing with the subject of death.

Most of us are not familiar with the dying process. The dying usually reside in hospitals, not visited at all by casual acquaintances, and only rarely by friends. The final moments of life are seldom observed by the family. The body quickly disappears to be handled by a funeral director. It usually appears, not in a church for the whole community, but in a funeral home for family and selected friends. All of this has separated us from the dying and the dead.

And yet, we are more aware of death today. Maybe more than ever. Our newspapers are one large obituary column containing reports of death on every conceivable scale by every possible means. Books, articles, television, and radio programs inundate us with the reality, as well as sanitized versions, of death.

And yet, we are caught up by our culture in systems that deny we are going to die. Indeed, we have gone to great lengths and devised elaborate means convincing ourselves this is so. Generally, our first question when someone dies is, “What killed him?” What did he die of?” We purchase “life” insurance in case of “premature” death. We seem to think that by naming the specific cause or somehow reducing death from the inevitable lot of all humans to the accidental or the unfortunate few we can avoid dying at any moment in time by any possible means. In spite of the fact that we know that all people are mortals, most of us have not internalized: “I’m going to die!”

Some of the Ways we deny Death

One of the ways we deny death is that we shroud death in euphemisms like “passed on,” “left us,” or “went to their eternal reward.” Another is our society relegates the dying to somber and often emotionally careless hospital wards with code words like “oncology, carcinoma, and myocardial infarction.” Here are some more ways we deny death.

1.    We ignore it. Most insurance salesmen don’t say, “How will your family be taken care of should you die tomorrow?” That raises too many fears. They say, “How would your family be taken care of if you had died yesterday?” They offer a comfortable impossibility.

2.    Another way we deny death is we use a lot of euphemisms to smooth death’s harshness. We don’t die: we expire, we depart, we pass on. We don’t “fill in a death certificate”; we complete a “vital statistics form.” We don’t “buy a grave” – we invest in a “pre-need memorial estate.” We attempt to prettify the corpse and then observe that it looks “very natural.” Then we put it into the ground in a hermetically sealed box so that nothing will happen to it. I once had a salesmen trying to sell me a hermetically sealed vault he guaranteed would not leak for fifty years. Being one-half Scots I wanted to be sure of how I was spending my money, so I inquired, “Who’s going to check?!”

3.    Another way we deny death doesn’t look like denial at all. But it is. It is the bizarreness, fantastic preoccupation we have with death. The newspapers and non-fiction books are full of numerous and detailed presentations of violent death. Geoffrey Gorer, a social anthropologist, says our fascination with death is pornographic (Death, Grief, and Mourning, 1967). Pornography is something offensive to the taste. Usually, it refers to those pictures or writings that excite us sexually and give rise to private sexual fantasies. With pornography the thing viewed is not responded to as a person. When we say that sex is disgusting and not to be talked about, the sexual need is not destroyed but only forced into non-human paths. Death is pornographic in the same sense that sex was in the 19th century. Just as women covered their bodies with voluminous skirts, so today we cover the reality of death with unrealistic funeral practices in accouterments and words to deny the reality that each one of us is going to die. The pornography of death follows the same pattern. Too often the way we confront dying and death does not call forth our normal feelings of sorrow, guilt, and love. We emphasize death’s harshness and deny our tenderness. If we are prudish about death – that is, see it as disgusting, obscene, not to be talked about – we have not come to terms with all the elements of real and authentic life, and the end result is pornographic diversion.

4.    We ridicule the elderly and costume ourselves in garish hair dyes, make-up, and expensive surgical procedures, all in hopes we might fool death into passing us by.

5.    When we discuss death, it is usually in sympathy cards which dare not even use the words death or dying.

6.    Death is romanticized in literature and the media by deathbed scenes where good-looking actors say good and sweet things and die nobly, emotionally stable, and articulate moments before their death, still looking good. They are not portrayed coughing up blood, gasping for breath, and causing the rest of us to feel imposed upon, awkward or inconvenienced.


*Discover GriefShare if you are experiencing death in your life of a significant other. Meetings at Norway Avenue weekly, call for further information.




[This is the third in a series of blogs on death, dying, and grief. These blogs are presented with a focus on our GriefShare ministry for those suffering death and loss. The blogs in general are educational for those who face life and death - that is all of us.]

          “There’ll come a time when all your hopes are fading

When things that seemed so very plain become an awful pain

          Searching for the truth among the dying

          And answered when you have learned the art of dying.” 

                                                   -George Harrison

The last I heard there were about six billion people living on Mother Earth. About one hundred million of these die every year. That’s about 275,000 deaths a day. Some succumb at home, some in accidents, some in war. And tomorrow another 275,000 will meet their fate. Over 75%, however, will be processed out of existence through the crowded corridors of our busy institutions.

Wherever, however death comes, we try to handle it with calm, efficient dispatch. Death in America is no longer a metaphysical mystery of summons from the Divine. Rather, it is an engineering problem for death’s managers – the physicians, morticians, statisticians, charged in supervising nature’s planned obsolescence. For the nation that designed the disposable diaper and the no-deposit beer bottle, the dead are only a bit more troublesome than other forms of human waste.

Such a description as that above may be so for those who are in daily proximity with death. But, for the most of us, NOT SO. Death is not a routine event to be followed through in the proper sequence with mimeographed form in hand. Death is tremendously significant for us. It is amazing how our lives are literally focused on the death of our physical bodies.

To live is to wonder about life. And life includes death and dying. What does death mean to you? and why even raise such a question?

·      Why deal with our experience/awareness (or lack of it) of death and dying?

·      What is the value in brushing shoulders with the Grim Reaper, and hearing the swish of his scythe, feeling the chill of his breath?

As I write, I realize I am on the back side of a pilgrimage that began back in 1967. That’s when I really started to encounter the reality of finitude. I had pneumonia and was confined to bed for a month. The first week of that was great. I slept. The second week was – super: I read a lot. The third week was – eh? The fourth week – really bad! But during the last two weeks I had one of the first original theological insights I had ever had. (This insight had already been realized by Soren Kierkegaard, the Apostle Paul and others, but I only thought of them later). What can I say? Great minds think alike! My insight that focuses on death is as follows:

We are meant to enjoy life. This is not selfish – to want to live a happier, fuller life. In fact, when we embrace ourselves in a loving manner there is the possibility of lovingly embracing others in our lives and in our society. It has been rightly said that a world of peace, love, and harmony begins first within each of us. We are meant to be individuals who are involved in the process of becoming creators of freedom, love, and acceptance. When we are not involved in this process, we are rejecting our humanity. Psychologically we may speak of that rejection as avoidance. Rudolf Bultmann, a famous theologian, said that the things that people have the most problem in the New Testament Scriptures is the call to “Authentic Existence” – being genuinely human. What is that tends to make us reject our humanness – our authenticity? The answer: DEATH.


Discover GriefShare if you are experiencing a death in your life of a significant other.

Humanizing our Life


Humanizing our Life

We are created in God’s image. This tells us that God has a purpose for all of humankind. To be fully human is really to discover who I am. And who am I? I'm a member of the huge human family where we're all brothers and sisters wherever we come from, whatever our culture or color, whatever our religion. We were born in weakness. We will grow. And we will die. So the story of each one of us is a story of accepting that we are fragile.

Our last blog ended “could not a healthy wrestling with our own mortality lead us along to road to a more human understanding of life and death?” By humanizing our attitudes toward death and dying we can also humanize our approaches to life and living. Perhaps our culture’s dehumanization of death is the result of our subhuman level of life. The one thing that impresses me most in the writings of those who have been able to humanly share their journey to death is their awareness of life. They know the meaning and preciousness of life. Nothing is any longer taken for granted – not family, friends, not flowers or the sky or poetry. There is in the awareness of death the awareness of life. False values begin to fade, illusions are discarded, pretensions are abandoned, and life is accepted and joined.

To humanize our attitudes toward death, therefore, is not to deny it, or reduce it to pornography, or glorify it, or hide it. It is somehow to wrestle with it, to come to human terms as best as we can with it with all our human emotions. The acceptance that there is a conclusion to life can become the commencement to living. We often speak of death as being universal – we all die- but that must not cloud the fact that it is really individual. The words of John Donne, English poet and cleric, seem apropos:

No man is an island, entire of itself: every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main: if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friends or of thine were: any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind: and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls: it tolls for thee.

How we first learn about death follows us through life. So any study and exploration of death and dying should begin with us. To enjoy life, to live a fuller more meaningful life, requires that we accept our mortality.

So, what were your first encounters with death? What are your fears, doubts, concerns, anxieties, hopes, questions about death? How did you first learn to have these thoughts, values, beliefs, and attitudes about death?

The challenge to examine issues surrounding death are:

·      You will seriously examine your relationship with God.

·      You will have a more effective life.

·      You will better be able to plan your future.

·      You will be able to complete a will.

·      You will be able to make a decision about being an organ donor.

·      You will discuss with your significant other issues of your funeral.

In other words you will become better able to engage in the business of living. Carpe diem.


*Discover GriefShare if you are experiencing a death in your life of a significant other.


Death, Dying and Grief



Beginning March 2018 we will begin an additional ministry at Norway Avenue Church of Christ – GriefShare. GriefShare is a network of thousands of grief recovery support groups meeting worldwide. Our purpose is to use their resources to help us in offering ongoing, weekly GriefShare support groups here at Norway.  This life-changing material will minister to grieving people in our church and throughout our community.

Along with our new ministry of GriefShare we want to educate us all in better understanding and coping with death and grief. For that reason I will write an extended series of blogs on death, dying, and grief for a good part of this year. These blogs will focus on issues of understanding the death process and grief.

I have discovered, among other things, the only point where one can start to talk about anything, including death, is where one finds oneself. For a long time now – I do not know when it began – I have been challenged to incorporate the awareness of death into my daily living. It isn’t primarily a practice of thinking of one’s last hour, or of death as a physical phenomenon; it is a seeing of every moment of life against the horizon of death, and a challenge to incorporate that awareness of dying into every moment so as to become more fully alive.

For over thirty years I taught about death, dying and grief in a university course entitled “Death and Dying.” It sounds like a morbid course but as my students suggested it was not but should rather be double-titled “Life and Living.” Over that time I thought and re-thought my own philosophy, beliefs and doubts, hope and fears and biblical knowledge about the big “D.  Understanding death from a Biblical, historical, sociological, and psychological perspective is paramount in our total approach to understanding our Christian journey.

Death is a universal Experience

Death is a universal experience shared by each one of us. Until the “Death Enlightenment” period of a few years ago, death in our society has been a subject of great taboo. While death is all around us, there has often been a conspiracy of silence. Death is not talked about except in hushed tones.

A young boy wrote a letter to God. He said:

“Dear God,

What is like when you die? Nobody will tell me. I want to know. I don’t want to do it.” -  Mike

There are two concepts of importance here.

1.    “Nobody will tell me” – the reluctance of discussing death.

2.    “I don’t want to do it” – an expression of fear (the fear of death in a death denying society).

Let me assure you that discussing death will not invite it. In fact you invite not death, but rather invite life!

Several years ago I participated in a seminar on death and grief in which participants handed in their reflections on death. One student handed in the following:

“I am fully aware that I will die, and in some ways I am dying now. I look forward to the event, because I am curious about how I will feel when it happens and if there will be anything at all on the other side. I accept the fact of my death as an integral part of my having lived. I can say I have fully come to terms with my death.”

And then he added, “I can also walk on water and fly like a bird!”

And so it is when we come to think of our own deaths. It’s hard to imagine, isn’t it? The dynamics of our death denying attitudes are revealed in a comment made by a man to his wife. He said, “When one of us dies, I’ll go to Paris.” We deny the reality of death: by costuming it, by cosmetics, by avoiding discussions of it, and by institutionalizing it – putting it out of sight, and hopefully out of mind.

We are all terminal. The understanding of death, dying and grief are integral to our living our life to the fullest and to the glory of God. When the eighty year old Plato was asked to sum up his sixty years of work in a few sentences, he is supposed to have looked down from that awesome level and have said, “Practice dying.” The whole of religion and philosophy seem aimed at preparing for the moment of death. In medieval literature there was a manuscript called in fact, “The Art of Dying” (ideas about dying).

Robert Jay Lifton, M.D., said, “It is important to talk about death, because death is so integral to life.” He further said, “Suppressing our relationship to death is a form of numbing which spreads to other areas and tends to limit our capacity for feeling in general, and therefore, our vitality.”

Perhaps it is because of our fear and our guilt or our life instinct or any number of other reasons that death became the great cultural “taboo” or even the last obscenity. Thanatologists (scientific study of death) who speak of the pornography of death in our society point to the obsession with violent death in so much of our television and movie viewing as evidence of a way of way of coming to terms with the harshness of death without any of the normal, and especially the tender emotions which surround death. The tragedy is that too often the human element is removed from everything surrounding dying, death, and grief so that this ultimate and final experience is totally dehumanized.

However, one of the premises of our blogs is that our denial of death is caused not so much by the fear of death but by our anxiety and uncertainty about living. Or, to put it another way, we are afraid of death in the future because we are afraid to live in the present.

I read an essay written by a terminally ill patient who was exploring her own death and the effect it would have on others. She asked, “Are you who are alive so uncertain of your life that you cannot help another die?” Could not a healthy wrestling with our own mortality lead us along the road to a more human understanding of life and death?





That Thing Called Character

The lithe young student took the pass from out of bounds. He stood there, almost indolently, as if daring his opponent to take the ball from him. His opponent lunged desperately, but he was too fast. He dribbled the ball, effortlessly it seemed, and his opponent tried to keep up with him. He stopped suddenly and jumped. The ball arched over his opponent’s outstretched hand and floated toward the basket. He heard that unmistakable friction sound that a basketball makes when it settles cleanly in the net and drops through.

The young man took for granted the perfectly executed shot he had made. He had all the classic moves and he had all the shots, from hooks to set-ups. He had the grace and economy of movement that distinguishes the superlative basketball player. But he was not a superlative basketball player and chances were that he never would be. He was lax on defense, he considered teammates a ridiculous superfluity, and he only did his best on special occasions. In short, he lacked character.

Whether or not he ever becomes an outstanding athlete is of no moment. What is of more importance is that the doggedness, the dedication, the consideration for others that was missing on the basketball court likely will be missing in his life. It will affect his education, his vocation, his most intimate relationships. Every little area of human activity is a magical microcosm of life itself. It is a sobering reflection to realize that all of our most important qualities are visible in such insignificant actions. Emerson said that all the universe is seen in a single leaf.

If we only knew how quick we are to betray ourselves! The discerning man would easily plot most of our future failures. In the way an adolescent mistreats his mother, or father, or brother or sister, or grandparent, is the seed of future difficulties and sadness. The daily schoolroom, with all the cheating and indifference, is a polygraph of future disappointments and failures. The self-centered conversationalist is setting forth in the most vivid manner the symptoms of his insecurity. In a thousand little ways we shout to others the most important qualities about us, but we ourselves are ignorant of the revelation.

On Being Thankful: Count to Ten

I am indebted to J. Lee Grady for reminding us of what he calls “10 basic blessings that you should be thankful for.” The full account of what he has to say is available at www.charismamag.com. I list here only the ten things, along with some relevant facts.

1.    Clean water – 884 million people lack access to clean water.

2.    A bathroom – 40% of the world’s population does not have a toilet.

3.    Electricity – 1.6 billion people live without any electricity.

4.    Shelter – 2.5 million in America are homeless; 640 million children worldwide do not have shelter.

5.    Food – 28% of people in developing countries are estimated to be under weight or have stunted growth.

6.    Your stove – 2.5 million people use fuel wood, charcoal, or animal dung to meet their energy needs.

7.    Income – Most of humanity has an income of less than $10.00 a day.

8.    Education – Nearly one billion cannot read a book or write their names.

9.    Health – 2.2 million children die each year because they are not immunized. Annually there are 300-500 million cases of malaria, with one million fatalities.

10. Freedom – While freedom to worship according to one’s conscience is widespread, an average of 400 Christians around the world die or are imprisoned for their faith daily.

We can also be thankful for the thousands of charitable organizations – “the points of light” as President Bush I called them – that spend billions annually to alleviate human suffering, a testimony to all the generosity there is in our troubled world. Habitat for Humanity, for example, has surpassed in building one million “decent” homes. Generosity, prized as a noble virtue among all cultures, appears to have a place in the hearts of us all.

And yet when Paul refers to “perilous times” to come he lists “unthankful” among the vices (2 Timothy 3:2). Theologians often esteem generosity as the “queen of the virtues,” and they see ingratitude as among the grossest of sins. Generosity is God’s gift of grace, while gratitude is our response to that grace.

One thing appears evident: gratitude begets generosity, and generosity begets gratitude. A generous person is a thankful person, and a thankful person a generous person.

This Thanksgiving can be special. You can count to ten all around the table!

It Looks Like He May Be Right


“All is Vanity” – Solomon

“It Looks Like He May Be Right” – McDowell

As I have listened for the last several weeks to Jeff and guest Rocky witness in sermon to Ecclesiastes and the subject of the meaning(lessness) of life my mind sometimes drifts. I thought I would share the driftwood ……

When I passed the mid-life passage I began to think differently about death. Thirty years before that I could spit in its eye. I could talk about death, teach it, preach it, make fun of it and yes, God forbid, laugh at it. I was a preacher. I was 22. White shoes, matching belt and tie, leisure suit. Nobody in his right mind ought to be 22. I now tremble at the thought of death, which enters my train of consciousness only a few dozen times each day. Like when I feel a gas pain (heart attack I figure), have a sore back (leukemia for sure), blurred vision (tumor), or shortness of breath (cancer).

I’m a faithless coward. And you’re not?

Talk on preacher. Tell us how the victory’s won, and he is better off now, and we shouldn’t cry, and how the Lord called him home … and, all I can hear is “My God!! Why? Why have you left me now?” And it scares the beejeebies out of me.

Death is getting on my nerves. I don’t like it. I don’t pretend to. I’m afraid of it. I think about it. I’m getting paranoid. I have hopes of living at least another year but doubt I’ll see another playoff game. I pretend not to notice but I tremble at night in the still darkness when I am supposed to be asleep. I hear my wife breathing and tuning contentedly in bed. Am I the only one on earth who is awake and scared?

Everything is vain – futility. I find it hard to believe but it is. It is all a very unfunny joke. What good does it do to get born? And go through high school and learn to drive, take immunization shots, learn how to diagram sentences, enroll in college, go through the turmoil of starting a career and getting married and raising children and buying insurance and going to one zillion church services and then … boom! Everybody just dies off.

Another group comes on the scene, a new generation and they have their turn and do the very same thing, fully believing they discovered it for the first time. That generation thinks it was the most important, the worst, or the sinfulest or the best or the lostest or the happiest, ad infinitum. Stupid. Only the earth remains. The sun, the wind, the rivers do their bit, big deal. What difference does it make? None.

Churchill dead! Kennedy dead! Will Rogers dead! C.S. Lewis dead! Babe Ruth dead! Hemingway, Chekhov, Tolstoy, Twain, Joyce, Anderson, all dead! Thurmon Munson dead! Tony Lema dead! Bobby Jones dead! Carl Rogers dead! Virginia dead!

I read on a bathroom wall “Death is nature’s way of telling you to slow down.” Very funny, veeee-re funny. Probably written by a 22 year old preacher with white shoes and matching belt and tie in a leisure suit.

Only a fool can pretend he does not fear and tremble in the face of death. Or maybe someone who has yet to be touched by it. I read in Saroyan’s stuff about his long preoccupation with death and I understand. I read in Ecclesiastes, a book that is making more sense all the time, about death and how we’re all going to turn to dust. I read others who fear it, respect it, fight it, contend it, and I say Amen.

I find that it is the very young, your teen group, who laughs at death, the middle-agers who fear it the most, and then the wise and ancient who say, “Ah, what the heck, I’ve had my share.”

Marilyn Monroe dead! Clark Gable dead! John Wayne dead! Elvis?? Davy Crockett dead! Solomon dead! Einstein dead! Washington dead! Rockwell dead! Dizzy Dean dead!

“For there is no remembrance of the wise more than the fool forever; seeing that which now is in the days to come shall be forgotten. And how dieth the wise man? As the fool. Therefore, I hated life.” Ecclesiastes, chapter three.

Modern translation: “It is a strange thing that God hath wrought upon a man to endure. ‘Tis all vexation and vanity - futility… (then you got your bad news). ‘Tis a burden to be born, ‘tis an unknown-God-forsaken-dead-end street to die, ‘tis some kind of pure hell in between.” Bill McDowell.

If nothing makes sense and all is vanity and vexation and void, there is no wisdom under the sun and so it will be apropos to conclude with a rush of pure folly, or is it pure wisdom?

“To be, is to do!” Nietzsche.

“To do, is to be.” Sartre.

“To be, do be do.” Sinatra.

Is there no one who can answer? Don’t we have one single person among the entire race who will go for us? Is there no one somewhere, sometime, somehow who has borne our kind of miserable sorrow? One, who is fully acquainted with my kind of gut wrenching, insomnia causing, nauseating enraged grief? Is there not one who has broken the vain cycle of nothingness called life?