Ladies and gentlemen, lovers and leavers, killers and killed, the time has arrived: The Love & Death Issue is at the printers and death is lovelier than ever. You are going to love it to death!

If you want to order a copy for yourself and all the people you love, go here. They will be shipping out late next week! Check out the magazine site for a look inside. And, as always, a subscription is always an option.

Until then, here’s the Table of Contents and Opener from Ethan.

 

Contents

When You Marry the Wrong Person by David Zahl

The Confessional

Memento Mori: Architects, Madmen, and Ernest Becker’s The Denial of Death by Ethan Richardson

Inside the Transhumanist Wager: An Interview with Mark O’Connell

A Poem by Robert Cording

One Day at a Time Is No Way to Live: Love, Death, and Parenting Teenagers by Emily Skelding

A Eulogy for My Mother by Luke Stone

The End of Ambition: Grief and the Pastor by Bill Borror

The Crucified One: A Q&A with Fleming Rutledge

For the Record: Love and Death on the Bookshelf (and the Big Screen)

Caine: A Story by Michael Sansbury

The Dream Sequence: A Love Note on the Little Deaths in Marriage by CJ Green

A Poem by Robert Cording

Gethsemane Hospital: An Interview with Ray Barfield

My Darkest Hour by Mary Cail

Wendell Berry’s Children of Forgiveness by Larry Parsley

A Poem by Robert Cording

Time Is a Fire in Which We Burn by Michael Nicholson

Life and Death and Death and Life: A Sermon by Nick Lannon

 

The Final Rose Ceremony

Sometimes, in the dark winter months and after a long day, you just need a Monday night viewing party. While many of our friends are football fans, no one has the endurance to stay up past 1 AM with Al Michaels. And besides, the greatest modern gladiatorial spectacle has already happened, between 8 and 10 PM, and it’s perfect for our purposes. It is, judge all you like, ABC’s matchmaking staple, The Bachelor.

Bachelor viewing parties are kind of our thing. I would be lying if I didn’t say they aren’t semi-religious. Sure, they’re fun, but they’re also expiation. We laugh at our scapegoat contestants in the Bahamas, swimming with pigs, at the shameless Neil Lane ring selection, at the always-hopeless hometown visits. We also laugh when they cry, when they’re sent home—by bedtime, this gaggle of fragile women has absorbed our collective workweek spite. It ain’t church but, hey, it’s Monday.

In the last episodes leading up to the “Final Rose Ceremony,” the ante is upped: like lemmings over the cliff’s edge, each woman summons the courage to say those crucial four words which will make or break her chances: “I’m falling for you.” Typically, they each say it on the same day, and we howl with laughter. What a charade, we think. What could she even mean?! The only time they’ve been together was the group-date pig swim! Does he even know her name?

The feeling of superiority, I’ve come to believe, is why we watch. The “rose ceremony” is like a parody; it makes a simple game of the emotional freight train that is love. The Bachelor is still running because it bolsters, with little nuance, the one myth about love and romance that we still hope to be true: that our “true love” will give us our happily-ever-after, our longed-for self-realization, and maybe even some B-level fame.

Sadly, history begs to differ with this equation. As long as we have put pen to paper—from Greek mythology to Shakespeare to Seinfeld—love has been a killing power, not a life-giving one. Love and death are as paired as Adam and Eve, Romeo and Juliet, Bonnie and Clyde. You can’t experience one without the other. Which is why the experience, as facile as it may seem on The Bachelor, is called “falling” in love. We get struck by the poisoned arrow and there’s no antidote. Culturally, we may be in love with love, but as Rollo May wrote way back in 1969, we don’t know what that means:

Love is the answer, we sing. Aside from the banality of such reassurances, our Western culture seems to be engaged in a romantic—albeit desperate—conspiracy to enforce the illusion that that is all there is to eros. The very strength of the effort to support that illusion betrays the presence of the repressed, opposing pole.

That opposing pole is repressed for good reason. Who wants to think about dying?

But death confronts us everywhere. It’s not just that loving brings us near to dying; the reverse is just as true. Our mortality constitutes much of our love. We all have stories that bear this out—a car accident, an episode of illness, an episode of Sherlock—where the lens on love sharpens. If only for a moment, we cry, we say what we mean, we see our loved ones as if for the first time. As Abraham Maslow wrote while recovering from a heart attack, “Death, and its ever present possibility makes love, passionate love, more possible.”

The same has been true for Kate Bowler. A young academic focusing on the history and theology of the “prosperity gospel,” Bowler recently published a book called Blessed, about this eclectic American church tradition that locates God’s blessings in the hands of those who think positively enough to win them.

The irony came down hard when Bowler was diagnosed with Stage IV cancer just months after publishing the book. In the wake of grief and thousands of miles from family, she wrote this in an op-ed for The New York Times:

Cancer has kicked down the walls of my life…[it] requires that I stumble around in the debris of dreams I thought I was entitled to and plans I didn’t realize I had made. But cancer has also ushered in new ways of being alive…everything feels as if it is painted in bright colors. In my vulnerability, I am seeing my world without the Instagrammed filter of breezy certainties and perfectible moments.

Bowler explains that this nearness to death has given her an unobstructed view into her life. It has also clarified the distinct power of the Christian message, apart from the self-help conditionality of the prosperity gospel.

The prosperity gospel has taken a religion based on the contemplation of a dying man and stripped it of its call to surrender all. Perhaps worse, it has replaced Christian faith with the most painful forms of certainty. The movement has perfected a rarefied form of America’s addiction to self-rule, which denies much of our humanity: our fragile bodies, our finitude, our need to stare down our deaths (at least once in a while) and be filled with dread and wonder.

Christ on the cross, God killed for love. It is not the Bachelor love story we would have written, but it is the central image of the Christian faith, the ultimate marriage of love and death. In the crucifixion, God reveals what love and death look like. Martin Luther once wrote “crux probat omnia,” that the cross tests the mettle of everything, every human endeavor, every theological insight. The cross is a sobering indictment on the limits of our lives and loves. But the cross is also a proclamation of where our real hope lies: in the unlimited (and unconditional) mercy of a God who surrendered all, “who suffered death, even death on a cross.”

This is the running theme for this issue—love, death, and their marriage within our everyday lives. Within these pages you’ll find everything from the little deaths in marriage and parenting, to the actual death of a spouse. We have an essay on grief in the pastor’s life and an essay on Ernest Becker’s classic, The Denial of Death. There are also three phenomenal interviews, one about the transhumanism movement, one about doctors and palliative care, and one on the crucifixion, with Fleming Rutledge. And that’s just the beginning…

So, I invite you in, to stare down your death, and to look upon the One who “fell” for you.

Ethan Richardson, Editor

ORDER THE LOVE & DEATH ISSUE HERE