Death
From The Mockingbird: What Are the Side Effects of the Modern Hospital?

From The Mockingbird: What Are the Side Effects of the Modern Hospital?

We have been delighted (and humbled) to hear all the encouraging words about the first issue of The Mockingbird. If you’re without a copy, it’s not too late to place an order. We’re not biased, but we think you’ll be glad you did. In the following weeks, we’ll be publishing some of the essays from that issue on our magazine’s page, beginning with this one, from R-J Heijmen, on the art of dying in the era of the modern hospital.

While there’s no good way to enjoy a long-form read online–and as far as the look and feel of the magazine,…

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D.G. Myers on the Art of Dying

A powerful (and very Holy Week-appropriate) reflection on death came from literary critic D.G. Myers, who faces his own mortality in the throes of prostate cancer. This was originally uncovered by our friends over at The Dish.

tumblr_kvtcvdVG4q1qzkyblo1_500Dying is the problem, not death. As an Orthodox Jew, I believe with perfect faith in the resurrection of the dead, but until that happens, death is the termination of consciousness. No peeking back into life. I won’t get to keep a scorecard of who is crying at my funeral, who is dry-eyed, who never bothered to show up. If I want someone to cry at my funeral, I need to patch things up with him before the last weak images flicker out.

In the past few weeks I have been approaching ex-friends whom I have damaged to ask their forgiveness. I’ve been behaving, in short, as if dying were a twelve-step program. Step 8: “Made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.” Step 9: “Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.” Not that I mind having enemies. One person whom I approached recently accused me of “basking in self-importance,” which is one possible way, I suppose, of describing the tireless knowledge that death is near. But there are other persons, including some with whom I have had very public fallings-out, whom I don’t want as enemies when I pass away. To die without accepting responsibility for the damage I have done to relationships that were once meaningful to me would be shameful and undeniably self-important.

What We Want/What We Get: Imagination and Holy Week

What We Want/What We Get: Imagination and Holy Week

The friendly overtures of a person whom we no longer love, overtures which strike us, in our indifference to her, as excessive, would perhaps have fallen a long way short of satisfying our love. Those tender speeches, that invitation or acceptance, we think only of the pleasure which they would have given us, and not of all those speeches and meetings by which we would have wished to see them immediately followed, which we should, as likely as not, simply by our avidity for them, have precluded from ever happening. So that we can never be certain that the good…

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Hopelessly Devoted: Matthew Chapter Twenty Seven Verse Forty Six

Hopelessly Devoted: Matthew Chapter Twenty Seven Verse Forty Six

This Holy Week-inspired devotion comes from Jeff Hual.

About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”—which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46, NIV)

When these sorts of questions are asked, the asker is calling out from a deep place of hurt in the heart, not the head. Unfortunately, those of us who try to help answer such questions often make the mistake of trying to answer questions of suffering from the head rather than the heart.

My grandfather dying was my first experience with these sorts of questions. I was 22…

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Philip Seymour Hoffman Was Right: A Belated Memorial

Philip Seymour Hoffman Was Right: A Belated Memorial

When you work too much, you don’t experience events of life so much as you pass them by.  The dry cleaning piles up.  I need to take those shirts in; I do when I’m down to my last shirt.  Without realizing it, the only thing in my refrigerator is a carton of curdled half-and-half and some rotted vegetables.  I have some friends, I remember; I’ll catch up with them when work dies down (which it never does).  I need to refresh myself on the current events; yesterday I heard something about a lost airliner.  At the coffee shop, at two…

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“He loved them all…”  James Rebhorn and the Unanxious Life

“He loved them all…” James Rebhorn and the Unanxious Life

It appears that, before he died on Friday, actor James Rebhorn (Homeland, The Game, Seinfeld) wrote his own obituary. Saint Paul’s Lutheran Church of Jersey City, New Jersey has posted a letter entitled “His Life, According to Jim” which is dated March 2014 and signed by the actor.

This is a rare opportunity for a person who is dying: to have enough notice of one’s impending death in order to make final arrangements, including in this case the crafting of one’s own obituary. Most obituaries, in my honest opinion, are just dreadful–they’re usually written for the distraught family by a close friend, and…

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Francis Spufford on Christianity’s Attention to Waste

Francis Spufford on Christianity’s Attention to Waste

In reading the gospels, it is difficult to separate the person Jesus from the images and stories that have been built up in our own memories and readings. It is hard to shell, to un-husk, the historical account from the gloss that our re-readings and re-tellings have rendered. It is impossible not to heroize with story the death and resurrection of a man who is also God’s son. To make His crucifixion the Crucifixion.

But to do so, as (our conference speaker!) Francis Spufford says here, is to miss the point of Christianity’s unique position on the everyday tragedies of life,…

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Bible Tuesdays: The Serpent in the Wilderness

Bible Tuesdays: The Serpent in the Wilderness

It’s become fashionable in some Protestant circles to talk about inspiring virtue not through dry rules or frustrated self-discipline, but through a vision of the moral life. ‘Living into the Kingdom’, or looking at a beautiful vision of God’s restoration in the eschaton and ‘mapping backwards’ (see Ethan’s TFA piece in The Mockingbird) to see how we act in light of God’s redemption are ideas and phrases enjoying broad use in American Christianity. Even those who haven’t read the intellectual mainstays of this idea (Wright, Smith, etc) still implicitly think this way. I know I’d rather show my children Caillou’s…

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Another Week Ends: Lenten Anthropology Meets Carl Rogers, New Community, Charlie Kaufman, Oscars Morality, Auden (Again), and Katims on Crying

Another Week Ends: Lenten Anthropology Meets Carl Rogers, New Community, Charlie Kaufman, Oscars Morality, Auden (Again), and Katims on Crying

1) A particularly Lenten roundup this week, starting with this very beautiful, concise reflection from Will Willimon over at OnFaith, called “Good News! You’re a Sinner and Lent Is Here,” which deals primarily with the deep relief that comes in knowing yourself as a sinner. (Reminds us a little of someone we get to meet in NYC this spring, who has spoken quite frankly about the “cruel optimism” of our contemporary world.) The truth is, more often than not, the scandal of the Christian faith is not merely the nature or existence of God, but the sin of humankind—and the…

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Sleeping on Mortality: An Ash Wednesday Reflection

We continue our tradition of anonymous Ash Wednesday reflections on rest:

…the night cometh, when no man can work.

-John 9:4, KJV

TrueDetective_4Four hours last week, followed by a full day of breakneck productivity. Those of us who pride ourselves on working without sleep find solace in our indefatigable nocturnal spirits, sustained by too many cigarettes and too much caffeine. Sleep is the last frontier, someone once said. Humans only have to transcend our embarrassingly creaturely need for sleep, and we can double our productivity. As Roger Ekirch discusses in his recent At Day’s Close: Night in Times Past, people used to see night as a time for vital rest and leisure, more than a mere “dormant interlude between working hours”, as he puts it, night in various times past was divided into ‘watches’, structured with an quasi-liturgical respect. I’m proud to need little sleep sometimes. It allows me to function outside the limits of the dead zone, an eight-hour interval which seems to shrink as the demand for productivity rises.

Sometimes it’s something productive, like a book or article. Other times, it’s one more beer, another cigarette on the porch, another episode of How I Met Your Mother. It’s as if leisure is some active salve that must be applied to a day’s work, and going to bed earlier can make you miss out on leisure, too. It’s effectively a fear of missing out. We’re overwhelmed by a bevvy of experiences during the day, and even more activity has to heal the stress. We procure this healing for ourselves with TV or other activities. Leaving things be is difficult. And if the day has been unfulfilling, we can delay going to sleep, admitting defeat; instead I want to re-raise the stakes with a losing hand, salvage the miniscule ante.

Sleep is a daily brush with death. It’s the closest we come to death’s passivity, that total negation of experience and selfhood. And yet death seems more inevitable so sleep, for now, is the last frontier: vanquish that and we have more time to fulfill ourselves, to develop into those ideal, actualized men and women we yearn to be. But it catches up: even if science finds some way to solve the lack of energy after a bad night’s sleep (or a full string of them), it will not be able to address the anxiety and grumpiness. That burden of selfhood and fulfillment-chasing does catch up, eventually.

Buy stock in Sleepytime® tea. We find it harder to sleep than ever now, and the aids we need progressively more of are selling, cropping up in new stores every day. With all our activity, the efficiency provided by computers and modeling and instruments and machinery, the one thing we’re getting worse at is sleep. It feels too much like death, because it sort of is. So much missing out, so many opportunities for achievement or leisure or self-fulfillment we are missing. On Ash Wednesday, we receive the imposition of ashes: “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Life “imposes” sleep on us as a daily reminder of mortality. And that involuntary and unchosen imposition relieves us, above all, from our restless and irrepressible daily justifications. May we remember we are dust, and there find God’s rest.

Two Portions of T.S. Eliot’s “Choruses From ‘The Rock’”

sings-jacques-brel-b0000075yf-lО weariness of men who turn from God
To the grandeur of your mind and the glory of your action,
To arts and inventions and daring enterprises.
To schemes of human greatness thoroughly discredited.
Binding the earth and the water to your service,
Exploiting the seas and developing the mountains,
Dividing the stars into common and preferred.
Engaged in devising the perfect refrigerator,
Engaged in working out a rational morality,
Engaged in printing as many books as possible,
Plotting of happiness and flinging empty bottles,
Turning from your vacancy to fevered enthusiasm
For nation or race or what you call humanity;
Though you forget the way to the Temple,
There is one who remembers the way to your door:
Life you may evade, but Death you shall not.
You shall not deny the Stranger…

Why should men love the Church? Why should they love her laws?
She tells them of Life and Death, and of all that they would forget.
She is tender where they would be hard, and hard where they would like to be soft.
She tells them of Evil and Sin, and other unpleasant facts.
They constantly try to escape
From the darkness outside and within
By dreaming of systems so perfect that no one will need to be good.
But the man that is will shadow
The man that pretends to be.

P.S. If you missed our “Possibly Insane Thoughts on Ash Wednesday” or “God Bless the Insomniacs”, they might be worth looking at today.

Dying to Live: An Ash Wednesday Magazine Sneak Peek

Dying to Live: An Ash Wednesday Magazine Sneak Peek

Just in time for Ash Wednesday, we are getting word that copies of the first issue of The Mockingbird are (finally) making their way into your mailboxes. If you are on our mailing list, and yours has not made its way to you yet, fear not, it should be there by week’s end.

And what better way to honor the holiday of our ashes than take a look into R-J Heijmen’s essay on, yes, death? It appears on page 100 of the first issue.

If you have not signed up to receive The Mockingbird, it’s not too late. Come one,…

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PZ’s Podcast: Deetour and Happy Clappy

PZ’s Podcast: Deetour and Happy Clappy

EPISODE 163: Deetour

The Contraption just keeps getting bigger. And I sort of wish He’d stop.

This podcast shows Him widening His sphere of influence. Is the “widening” welcome? Well, yes, if you believe that Karen Young, in her magnificent song “Deetour”, speaks the truth. (How can what she sings be denied?)

I also talk about job searches in the parish ministry, and rector search committees. (How could one have been so blind?) Blame it on the Contraption!

Episode 163 is dedicated to JAZ, the Minister of Edits.

EPISODE 164: Happy Clappy

I feel like in order to begin, you have to come to the end….

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Another Week Ends: Doctor Death, The Yoga Righteous, Performance Reviews, Child’s Play, and Luther vs. Calvin Super Bowl Barbarism

Another Week Ends: Doctor Death, The Yoga Righteous, Performance Reviews, Child’s Play, and Luther vs. Calvin Super Bowl Barbarism

1) A head resident at Stanford University, aged 36, just found out he has inoperable lung cancer, and wrote about in the New York Times. In the recognition of his own (near) mortality, Dr. Paul Kalanithi talks about crossing the line from doctor to patient, and what that’s done to his perspective on the statistics of his condition. He knows that, as a doctor, what one must do is instill or summon hope in patients–tell them they’ve got a vague sense of possibility to go further, tell them what they need to focus on (their families, their own well-being) to…

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Mining Netflix: Welcome to Pine Hill, Who Are You?

Mining Netflix: Welcome to Pine Hill, Who Are You?

Another issue from Joe Nooft.

“I’m from where people get shot on a regular basis, and it’s nothing.” That place is not Pine Hill. No, Pine Hill is tranquil, painted with gold beams of sunlight that singe through a thick forest canopy, and where the bluebird song saturates the crisp air. In Pine Hill the pace of life is stripped down to pure existence, life and death. No, Pine Hill is not where Abu, the 300+ pound African American protagonist, is from, but it is where he is going.

I was initially skeptical about picking Welcome…

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