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Posts from the ‘Death’ Category

When the Queen Dies

It’s been a quiet few weeks here on the blog, I know. There are a number of reasons for this, but chief among them is that it has been a season of dying in our church. Since I’ve returned from holidays in late August, there have been three deaths to mourn, three lives to honour and celebrate, three occasions to proclaim with joy the great Christian hope of a life that swallows up death. I’ve been writing a lot of sermons and planning a lot of services, which doesn’t leave much time for writing here. Read more

On Resonance: A Good Friday Reflection

I was not in the mood for an “I’m spiritual but not religious” conversation this week. I had just buried one of our church’s saints. I had been planning a vigil in honour of a young man who took his own life and processing it with those most affected by this. There was the usual fatigue of Holy Week with its multiple services to prepare. All in all, my appetite was very low for another critique of religion or the church from an earnest and painfully certain twenty-something. Read more

This Shadowed Fog

This afternoon, I received the devastating news that a young man connected to our congregation had taken his own life. I sat stunned, staring at my screen for what felt like an hour. Who can comprehend such things? Who can make sense out of what is ultimately senseless? I thought immediately of all those I know who loved this dear young man, all those who will be shattered by this loss, those whose grief will be immense. Read more

A Brief Pause Before the Fuller Thought

I sat with someone as they took their last breath yesterday. These are simultaneously strange and sacred spaces, where grief and relief and fear and faith weave in and out and among each other. We live and move in a culture that doesn’t really do death well. We mostly avoid it, keep it at arm’s length, outsource it, deny it. Death, even when it comes at the end of a long and faithful life, intrudes.   Read more

Life After (and Before) Death

I’ve been thinking about life after death lately. This is not a very respectable thing to spend one’s time thinking about, at least not in “progressive” theological circles. “The church has too often been too heavenly minded to be of any earthly good” and all that. Well, yes. Certainly, many zealous Christians down through the ages have obsessed about the afterlife to the quite culpable neglect of this one. Locating all one’s hope in an unobservable and undefinable future can have the effect of partitioning it off from empirical scrutiny and absolving those who hold it of any responsibility to pursue God’s justice and peace in the present. Fair enough. Read more

The Last Shall Be First

There are no trees here. There should be trees to keep company with the dead. This was the first thing I thought as I stood beside a hole in the ground in tiny cemetery on the windswept winter prairies. It felt like the middle of nowhere. I guess it kind of was. Plots are more affordable the farther you go from the city, and the family had little money. It was bitterly cold and the few souls who had gathered shuffled nervously and stamped their feet. We were waiting for one more person who was late in arriving. I looked around and saw nothing but flat farmland and blowing snow. Where are the trees? Read more

The Inhuman Kingdom

Like many this morning, I’m fighting the urge to do little more than sit, slack jawed, at my computer, trying to process the news coming out of the Ukraine. It all feels so ominous and heavy and infuriating and sad. So terribly, terribly sad. After an hour or so of impotent doom scrolling, I closed my computer and decided to pray. I had no idea what to pray, so I borrowed better words than I could ever summon on my own.

The following excerpts come from a liturgy called “A Prayer of Intercession Against the Kingdom of Death.” from Every Moment Holy, vol. 2. Perhaps it will give you language appropriate for the sorrow and rage of the day, as it did for me: Read more

A Mighty Warrior

“A pandemic is a cruel time to die,” I mutter to myself under my breath. I am in the foyer of a palliative care home. I have been through security, filled out the barrage of COVID paperwork. I make my way over to another desk, get my temperature checked. All is good, I am told. To the best of anyone’s knowledge, I am not carrying the plague. I walk down a long hallway armed with the two security codes that I will need to finally be granted limited access to a dear old soul whose race looks nearly run. “It was easier to get into the local prison than this fourteen months ago,” I grumble to myself. Read more

What’s the Matter with Death?

Reading a book about the philosophy of the mid-life crisis is comparable to being on the receiving end of targeted advertising for Rogaine. You instinctively resent the fact that you now represent a category of humanity for whom this could even plausibly be relevant. Alas, haughty resentment is about as useful in stalling the clock as it is in stimulating long dormant hair follicles. I have thus far resisted the siren call of Rogaine. Mid-life philosophy books? Evidently not. Read more

What’s the Sky For?

A few nights ago, my wife and I watched a quirky Irish romantic comedy called Wild Mountain Thyme. The film itself was fine, nothing spectacular, but an interesting story if only because it strayed a bit off the beaten path as far as rom coms go. Two eccentric single farmers struggling to find each other in the midst of navigating a land dispute in the middle of Ireland doesn’t exactly scream “blockbuster” or “financial windfall.” Not caring much about these things is a feather in any film’s cap, in my books. Read more

The Scourge that Lays Waste

There are times when it seems like the Psalms are trying to talk themselves into something. Into a certain view of the world and how it works. Into a formula for avoiding suffering and attaining blessing. I know the right answer on the theology test is that the Psalms are the prayer book of the church and that they give us a language of prayer for the life of faith, but sometimes the Psalms just sound tone-deaf, at best, and utterly false and misleading at worst. Read more

Nihil Nisi Bonum

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to listen in on the eulogy at your own funeral? What would people say? What memories would surface? Would your praises be sung naturally and easily or would the truth have to be massaged a little? Would there be tears of sorrow or would genuine grief be an uncomfortably rare commodity? Would the officiant struggle to weave your story into a broader narrative of hope and redemption or would your life fit like a glove? Read more

Fix the System, Fix the Problem?

I spent Monday morning in a packed hotel conference room full of community leaders who had been summoned to hear a presentation on a plan initiated by our city called the “Community Wellbeing and Safety Strategy.” Like many cities, ours is facing significant challenges. Poverty, homelessness, crime, lack of affordable housing, and, of course, the scourges of addiction, mental health issues, and racism that bleed into all of the others. The opioid crisis is hitting our city hard. It is hitting the indigenous population particularly hard. And this spins out into all kinds of social realities that heighten suspicions and diminish good will in our community. The picture of the reality on the ground we were presented with was bleak. “We can’t fix these problems on our own,” the city representatives said. “We need your help.” Read more

And Yet, Once More

To be a pastor is to regularly encounter people who find faith difficult. (It’s also to regularly encounter people who you suspect might find faith too easy, but that’s another post). There are all kinds of people in the post-Christian West whose faith kind of hangs by a thread. It retains a bit of nostalgic affection for Christian ethics, perhaps, and it craves the community embodied and offered, however imperfectly, by the church. It might even have an appreciation for mystery and a dim recognition that this life can’t be all there is. But it can often seem like not much more than a kind of half-hearted and undemanding openness to possibility. It’s a long way from deep conviction and bold faith in the great creeds of orthodox Christian faith. All that talk of virgin births and resurrection from the dead and judgment is too much to stomach. And so, faith often coasts along on the fumes of memory and vague longing, coughing and sputtering until it stalls on the side of the road. Read more

The One Whose Mark We Bear

Last night, I conducted my eight Ash Wednesday service. I still feel like an utter novice at it. It feels like I am playing make believe, engaging in rites and rituals that I have no business attempting. Last night, incredibly, I forgot my lines (“Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return… except, when you forget, evidently!). Each year, I make a mess of producing the ashes. I dutifully save last year’s branches from Palm Sunday, but in the process of burning and oiling them I usually end up with a chunky mess filled with inconvenient strands of palm branch. One year, on a particularly windy Ash Wednesday, I almost burned my back deck down. I’m only half-joking. All in all, not the most impressive Ash Wednesday record. Read more

We Die as Those Being Born

Some further thoughts on death…

At the conference I attended last week, our attention was drawn to an article from a few years back where Thomas Lynch, an undertaker, was interviewed about changing funeral practices in the postmodern West. We are increasingly uncomfortable with actual bodies at funerals—too morbid, too grim a reminder of our own inevitable fate—so we deal with them before the service, often in private ceremonies attended only by close family and friends. That’s if we even have a service. Many don’t anymore, preferring to slip away quietly, not wanting to burden people (financially or existentially) with their death. Others prefer a “celebration of life,” which often amounts to an extended eulogy with only saccharine references to God and the afterlife or none at all. This is how, increasingly, we are choosing to die and to deal with death, both inside and outside of the church. Read more

Rest in Peace

Death has been on my mind a lot lately. Not my own, necessarily, although I do think about that more than I probably ought to. But just death as a phenomenon. Both of my grandmothers have died in the last six months. Several people in my orbit could well be approaching this threshold. I just returned from a pastors conference about death, funerals and the Christian hope. Death has been a hard thing to avoid lately. Read more

On Nostalgia

Funerals often produce interesting conversations. Especially when the funeral follows the tragic and unexpected death of the matriarch of a massive family with deep history in and connection to the local community. This was the case with the funeral for my grandmother last week. There were so many interesting conversation topics—everything from the ethics of assisted dying to eccentricities of family history to Trump to atheism to, of course, the life that my grandmother lived. But one theme that popped up over and over again, indeed seemed to weave its way through most of the others in some form or another, was a deep sense of nostalgia. Read more