Friday, September 24, 2010

One of the Three Forbidden Subjects

There are three subjects which we tend to not want to talk about in the context of church: money, sex and death.

We recently started a series of studies at my church on death and dying from a Christian perspective. It's a mid-week study; one session at noon for the "lunch bunch" and another in the evening after a shared supper. The study is being facilitated by the Pastor and I.

The one thing that really stood out in this past Wednesday's sessions (it was our first of nine) was the level of emotion that rose to the surface among the participants. That's understandable, I'm inclined to think, if for no other reason than that for the last 100 years or so, we've done everything we can, it seems, as a culture and as church, to remove death as far away from us as possible.

I remember when, a few months prior to his death, my father called me into his study, told me to sit down and write down a list he was going to give me. "What's the list for?" I asked. "It's a list of things to do when I die," he replied. It was a conversation I did not want to have; not at all. But yet, my father, in his wisdom, knew that it was a conversation that we had to have.

Yes, we've tried to banish death from our thoughts. A hundred years ago, the vast majority of people died at home. Now the overwhelming majority die in some sort of institution: hospitals, nursing homes, etc. And when a loved one dies, we're immediately (or pretty quick) shuffled out of the room, not to see our loved one again until they appear in a casket at the funeral home, or in the case of cremation, not until we're handing a small container holding their ashes.

According to Rob Moll, in his wonderful little book, The Art of Dying: Living Fully Into the Life to Come, we've lost the Christian practice of dying well. There are a number of reasons for that, cultural ones for the most part, due to shifts from agrarian to urban life, the incredible advances in medicine, and so forth. But regardless of the reasons, we as Christians have lost something when it comes to death.

In his book, Moll writes:
"There is an untapped reservoir of Christian belief about dying. Christians are people who claim to worship and have the life of the risen Son of God. A renewed practice of Christian dying should affect not just the dying and those caring for them, but will fundamentally affect church life and individual spiritual lives from beginning to end."
The beginning point for recapturing a Christian view of death and dying is simply this: that we start talking about it openly and without fear of showing some emotion. That conversation will inevitably involve seeing how the biblical material might inform our views of death and dying. That conversation will recognize the central importance of death for Christian faith: that is, the death, and resurrection, of Jesus who is the Christ.

So let's start the conversation. Let's recover the spiritual practice of dying.


Kara Root said...

Thank you for this. We are in this place right now as a congregation, trying to live honestly with each other in joy and suffering, and last week had a worship service designed to celebrate our gratitude for someone who would not be with us much longer. It was an incredibly powerful experience to share as a congregation. The sadness was there, certainly, but the fear disappeared and was replaced by thankfulness and a feeling of connection.
(I shared it here:

Doug Hagler said...

The idea that we don't talk about death, money and sex in church is something I eagerly and energetically reject. This very Sunday, in fact, I will be talking about both money and death. I'd work sex in there if I could, but it's just too much.

I hate the sanitized concept of what church is about - as if we spend an hour on Sunday on fluffy imaginary clouds and the rest of our lives actually contending with things that matter. I don't know where exactly I inherited that false view from, but it has gone right out the window, and good riddance.

Want to talk about death, money and sex? You're always welcome at my church, wherever that happens to be.

I have a new Bible study starting in October - I am now tempted to entitle it "Death, Money and Sex". If anyone dares to attend, that could be one heck of a Bible study.

Why is it that the things we are supposedly not supposed to talk about - the trifecta you mentioned plus politics - are some of the only things that are really interesting to talk about? That's just crazy.

Robin said...

We certainly talk about all three at my home church. And there's, sadly, plenty on my blogs about death -- go to the links for "ashes" if you need some material about experiences and reflections, others' as well as mine, ~ and email me if you'd like a copy of the liturgy I wrote for cremations after my own stark experience at a crematorium.

Kara, your service sounds incredible.