20 July 2023

A repost from the Conversation Cafe: Death

Soon it will be twenty years since I began my Ferguson Fellowship year at Woodbrooke Quaker Study Centre in Birmingham, England. Shortly after I arrived at Woobrooke, Dan McCracken and Ron Woodward of Barclay Press asked me to contribute to a new feature on the Barclay Press Web site of that era—each contributor would write a brief essay every weekday for two weeks, followed by the next contributor, and so on.

On September 26, 2003, I found myself, reluctantly, writing about death.

This essay came back to me today as I thought about this coming Saturday's memorial meeting for Eden Grace, which I plan to attend online. 

As I re-read my essay, I was startled to see these words again: 

One of my personal friends is facing death. She said yesterday, "I've lost some of my buoyancy. I'm facing the fact that the odds are against me."

I was writing about Amy Heil, who lived seventeen more medically fragile years and still died much too young.

Thanks to archive.org, here's that original post:

Sometimes it is hard not to think about death. That’s okay. Many ancient teachers of Christian spirituality urged contemplation of one’s own death as an important exercise. Right now, my own is not what’s on my mind, just noticing other people pass out of my present—people I know, people I don’t know, and people I probably would not have wanted to know.

Johnny Cash, may he rest in peace, has always been somewhere in the background music of my mind. I have a recording of him singing “Folsom Prison Blues” with Willie Nelson, a version that is musically wonderful … but even more wonderful is the interaction between the two men.

The song itself evokes a world I would never want to be part of (“I shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die”) but I need to know that that world exists. My own sister did not survive her encounter with that world, shot by a kidnapper, left to die on a Chicago street. That was the first death that rocked my world, and propelled me into a nearly fatal trajectory of despair. It took me fifteen years after becoming a Christian to forgive myself for surviving her. As for her murderer, if he’s alive, that would mean he is living a very different life.

Yesterday we lost Edward Said. The obituary says he was an Episcopalian married to a Quaker—a combination I am familiar with! I can’t remember when I first encountered his writings, but I knew I wanted to meet him, find out what made him tick—academically, politically, spiritually. It never happened. He leaves behind incredible essays of honest, precisely aimed anger: he demands accountability for the shoddy way the world has treated Palestinians and allowed them to become the objects of the only apartheid system still supported (not just tolerated, supported, by our tax dollars) in the Western world; he equally demands accountability for Palestine’s enemies within, who sabotage the cause of Palestinian nation-building through corruption, egotism, lack of focus, and lazy self-deception.

One of my personal friends is facing death. She said yesterday, “I’ve lost some of my buoyancy. I’m facing the fact that the odds are against me.” I told her that she would never have to put on a front with me. Later, she said, “I know it will be all right. Really, it will.”

Those are the words I’m taking with me into the night.

Back to 2023....

Reposting these links relating to Eden Grace: an appreciation from the World Council of Churches, and Eden's own account of her WCC work. More recently, "Telling the Truth about Whiteness." And Eden's 2019 Michener Lecture at Southeastern Yearly Meeting.

Greg Morgan introduces a guest writer to his blog readers: Jack, a fellow chaplain until just recently, a man whom Greg considers "courage and grace incarnate."

Robert Mugge's book Notes from the Road: A Filmmaker's Journey through American Music is getting noticed. Kirkus Reviews. National Public Radio. I'm hoping to post a review of my own soon. Robert's Vimeo channel has lots of great clips.

Heather Cox Richardson comments on the plans our former president apparently has to recreate the USA in the pattern of "illiberal democracy," should he return to power. And these ideas are not his alone:

The [Republican] party appears to have fully embraced the antidemocratic ideology advanced by authoritarian leaders like Russia’s president Vladimir Putin and Hungary’s prime minister Viktor Orbán, who argue that the post–World War II era, in which democracy seemed to triumph, is over. They claim that the tenets of democracy—equality before the law, free speech, academic freedom, a market-based economy, immigration, and so on—weaken a nation by destroying a “traditional” society based in patriarchy and Christianity.

For those hijacking Christianity on behalf of authoritarianism (and for those who reject Christianity on the same basis!), here again is Robert Woodberry's study of links between the spread of democratic values and the global influence of mission-oriented Christianity.

How does corruption undermine democracy? A case study from the European Parliament. While we're on this theme, here's an uncomfortable link I posted 13 years ago: Lawrence Rosen's "Understanding Corruption." It still seems very relevant.

"Why should the church be so comfortable?" (A question from Micah Bales at Berkeley Friends Church.) 

Christone "Kingfish" Ingram, Chris Cain, "My Dog and Me."

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