Death is a level playing field

"Death is the great leveler," writes Rob Johnston in Useless Beauty, his study on contemporary film and the book of Ecclesiastes (with a title taken from Elvis Costello."

Johnston told Ethics Daily that many Christians are uncomfortable with Ecclesiastes, and with some of the movies he writes about-such as Monster's Ball and American Beauty--because they show the messy and unpleasant side of life.

“Not all of us want to look within such messiness,” he writes. “Some in the Christian community, for example, are eager to jump quickly ahead, to look to the end of the story—to the empty tomb and life in Christ. We want doxology without lament. We have, for this reason, tended to avoid these troubling movies while thinking that Ecclesiastes is a dangerous book.”

Unfortunately, though we hate to admit it, Ecclesiastes is right. "To everything there is a season and a time to every purpose under heaven. A time to be born and a time to die." I'm in no rush for the season of dying, thank you very much, but the end will come for me, like everyone else.

It's a sobering thought, as the Wittenberg Gate points out:

Using the figures published by the CIA, found here, for world population and the annual death rate, I calculated that approximately 56.5 million people die every year, 4.7 million every month, and almost 155 thousand every day. The figures are staggering. Every minute 108 people meet the Maker in whose image they were made.

Day in and day out we go on with our lives hardly noticing the death and destruction all around us. Then something like this happens and we pause and take notice. Even if the one-day death toll from the tsunami should reach 150 thousand, as many suggest it will, it will still be only a blip on the statistical screen of the march of death. But we are not talking about numbers here. We are talking about people. Individual people with hopes and dreams, with other people who loved them, each with a unique blend of talents, desires, and personality

Hopefully, when my times comes, I'll get a good obituary.

Too bad Bart Barnes, formerly of the Washington Post, won't be around to write it.

Here's a sample of Barnes, from a reflection on his career as an obit writer that ran in the Post.

You have to love humor and irony, pathos and mystery, tragedy and romance. You have to be reverent and irreverent. You have to laugh a little or you'll go crazy.

I know. For 20 years I wrote obituaries at The Washington Post, at least 15,000 by the time I retired in March.

I loved that work. It taught me that even in the monotony of the daily grind, life could be funny and beautiful, surprising and strange. Death is no big deal if you don't love life. I only wish I could have met more of the people I wrote about

That last line stuck with me. I write a couple obits a month, and there's always a suprise. The pastor from Kansas whose lifelong passion was ballroom dancing. Thewoman whose parents narrowly escaped from China, sailing down the Yangze River and ducking from bullets in the early 1900s. The 108 year old man who could remember when cars were a new invention and airplanes of figment of people's imaginations. The young college student, a son of missionaries, who died in an accident at his summer factory job.

The person I'd most like to have met was Carl Einar Gustafson, truck driver and potato farmer from New Sweden, Maine, and honorary chairman of the Jimmy Fund . Diagnosed with cancer at age 12, he appeared on "Truth or Consequences" in 1948 with members of the Boston Braves and Dr. Dana Farber, a pioneer in treating childhood cancer. He was nicknamed "Jimmy"on the broadcast to protect his privacy.
Thousands of people heard the broadcast and sent in donations, hoping to cure kids like Jimmy. Since then, The Jimmy Fund has raised more than $160 million to
fight childhood cancer.

Most children with cancer in the 1940s that time did not survive, and over the years the staff at the Jimmy Fund assumed the original Jimmy had not made it. But Einar,was one of Dr. Farber's sucess stories. He went home to Maine, where he lived quietly for 50 years until his sister phoned the Jimmy Fund and told them he was still alive.

I never did meet Einar Gustafson, a lifelong member of the Covenant Church in New Sweden. But I was proud to write his obituary.

Barnes paid tribute to other unsung, quiet heroes, in his twenty years on the obit page:

We wrote the obligatory obituaries of world leaders and celebrities. But mainly we wrote about ordinary people, the rank-and-file bureaucrats and businessmen, doctors, nurses, teachers, letter carriers, plumbers, taxi drivers, soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines, most of whom had never had their name in a newspaper. They were the people who kept the social machinery running. Without them, there would be no civilization. I liked to call them the real people. They deserved an obituary in The Washington Post. There were gems and treasures among them, and real heroes who survived hell-on-earth experiences, recovered and returned to society, wanting no more than the love of family and friends and the chance to make a quiet contribution.


A Humbler Reggie White

"Sometimes when I look back on my life, there are a lot of things I said God said.
I realize he didn't say nothing. It was what Reggie wanted to do. I do
feel the Father ... gave me some signals ... but you won't hear me
anymore saying God spoke to me about something -- unless I read
something in scripture and I know."

Reggie White

Tom Krattenmaker reports on a contemplative Reggie White which ran on the NFL network a few days before White's death.

These quotes didn't run in White's obituary but maybe they should have. They say perhaps more about the health of parts of American Christianity that most would like to admit--especially about being less of preacher and more of a motivational speaker.

"Really, in many respects I've been prostituted. Most people who
wanted me to speak at their churches only asked me to speak because I
played football, not because I was this great religious guy or this
theologian ... I got caught up in some of that until I got older and I
got sick of it.

"I've been a preacher for 21 years, preaching what somebody wrote or
what I heard somebody else say. I was not a student of scripture. I
came to the realization I'd become more of a motivational speaker than
a teacher of the word."



Orphan Disasters

The UN official overseeing relief efforts for Tsunami victims says that American response to the disaster is "ideal" but worries about 19 other orphan disasters that have received little attention or aid.

Jan Englund told reporters at the UN that "We have 20 parallel catastrophes unfolding.

"I am now as afraid for the situation in Darfur as I was at the peak, nearly, in the summer," he said in reference to the turbulent region in Sudan.

"I am just desperate to get attention to the 'tsunami' coming in Congo every four months," he added, arguing that there are as many preventable deaths in that time as the number who died in the tsunami disaster.

"In eastern Congo we believe that there are in the millions of preventable deaths in the last decade," he said.

"And here is my criticism of the rich world: Could we wake up please to those 20 forgotten emergencies, as we have woken up so generously to this enormous tsunami that has hit 5 million people and killed more than 150,000?"

Those disasters are "not on the headlines, they are not on TV, and they are ignored and overlooked," said Kofi Anan.


Disaster Aid Unconstitutional

On May 16, 1998, fifteen year old Christopher Sercye was playing basketball with some friends in a Chicago park, when some gang members approached them and opened fire. Terrified, Sercye's friends helped him to a nearby hospital, where he collapsed about 30 feet from the emergency room entrance.

But for nearly half a hour he lay bleeding to death while his friends, onlookers, and police pleaded with hospital workers to help Sercye. They refused.

Their rationale? It was against hospital policy.

As CNN reported at the time, "Sercye was still alive when, 25 minutes after the shooting, a police officer finally commandeered a wheelchair and took him inside. It was too late. A bullet had perforated his aorta, and Sercye died about an hour after being brought inside."

Ironically the hospital's policy, which was intended to protect them from liability, doomed Ravenswood. The fiscally troubled hospital never recovered from the incident and eventually closed down.

"This gruesome incident says a great deal about the coarsening of human relations and the general devaluation of human life that have become ever more pervasive features of American society," wote the World Socialist web site .

In 2004, both the Ayn Rand Institute and Covenant News (a prolife site offering "Today's news for today's church") would rather leave tsumani victims bleeding outside their doors than approve of the US offering disaster relief. Their rationale:
It's unconstitutional.

Here's what they said, first from the Covenant News, which posted this http://www.covenantnews.com/peroutka050103.htm"> Covenant News
"> press release from Michaea Peroutka
of the Constitution Party .

The real issue here is whether such so-called Federally-funded disaster “relief” is Constitutional. And the answer is very clear: No, it is not. There isn’t the slightest Constitutional authority for Federal tax dollars to be spent for disaster “relief.” Thus, any such expenditure of Federal tax dollars for disaster “relief” --- foreign or domestic --- is illegal, unlawful. . . .

President Bush has said what he said and is doing what he’s doing. Mr. Bush, however, is wrong and Rep. Crockett was right. To spend Federal tax dollars on disaster “relief” is the grossest corruption because it is blatantly un-Constitutional. It has not the semblance of any Constitutional authority. We must pray that God raises up more Davy Crocketts to serve in our Congress and all other branches of all our civil governments.

Here's almost the same thing from Peter Schwartz of the Ayn Rand Institute:

The United States government, however, should not give any money to help the tsunami victims. Why? Because the money is not the government's to give.

...This is why Americans--the wealthiest people on earth--are expected to sacrifice (voluntarily or by force) the wealth they have earned to provide for the needs of those who did not earn it. It is Americans' acceptance of altruism that renders them morally impotent to protest against the confiscation and distribution of their wealth. It is past time to question--and to reject--such a vicious morality that demands that we sacrifice our values instead of holding on to them.

There is nothing moral or prolife about this kind of nit-picking.

I wouldn't want to be the one trying to explain this sort of behavior to Jesus on judgement day, no thank you.


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