My grandmother told me more than once (and your grandmother might have told you too), it is impolite to discuss religion, politics and money in public. In her mind, these subjects tended to divide people rather than bring people together. Of course, I would eventually choose a profession where these three subjects cannot be avoided. With her words echoing in my memory, I have been determined to create safe and sacred space for people to share their diversity of opinions toward a shared wisdom. Since none of us have a monopoly on ‘right thinking,’ it is healthy to have these conversations.
The only topic more hidden—more avoided—than money, religion or politics is…death. In days past, death was a visible, tactile entity. In a multitude of cultures, families participated in the care of the dying, the cleansing and preparation of the dead for burial, and watching over the dead body in the home or public settings. Some cultures have retained elements of these practices, but our western culture has move death to more private spaces. ICU’s are embedded in private central areas of the hospital. Bodies are prepared for burial in unseen rooms of mortuaries. Burials are often held in private ceremonies around the ground of columbarium. Much of this insulation is a necessary outcome of our scientific knowledge, while much more of it may be a result of our emotional and spiritual discomfort with death. The death toll of COVID-19 has put this subject back in the center of our conversations and awareness.
I used to fear death. A turning point for me came during a conversation with a colleague. She observed, “You face every avenue of life with a sense of curiosity and adventure. I wonder why you don’t feel the same way about death?” That observation was the personal insight I needed. Today, I want to live as long as possible, so I take care of myself. I also want my influence to live on as long as possible, so I’ve taken care of my ‘end of life planning.’ My will is written. A portion of my meager assets will extend my life through my children. A portion of my meager assets will extend my life through my church.
Oh, by the way, this Sunday is Foundation Sunday. It’s our annual reminder to live well now…and allow your influence to live on through the life and work of the church.