"I'm what the world considers to be a phenomenally successful man. And I've failed much more than I've succeeded. And each time I fail, I get my people together, and I say, "Where are we going?" And it starts to get better." - Calvin Trager
A friend of mine on my Gen X clergy listserv sent us this website -- the Boomer DeathCounter -- which is great in its own way. But mostly, I'm writing about it because it made me think of another one -- The Death Clock -- which, after entering some very basic information, gives you your own personal day of death (mine is Thursday, Oct. 27, 2067) and then has a ticking counter of how many seconds you have to live.
I preached on this once -- perhaps it was the passage about "all the hairs on your head being numbered" or something like that. But I think it's a powerful spiritual reminder in this culture that is so much into denying death that even though the DeathClock probably isn't getting it exactly right, every one of us has a personal day of death, and every one of us has that ticking clock.
My mentor, the Rev. Jim Fallis, who died a couple summers back, talked with me once about "living as if you believe." I think about that all the time. There are all sorts of things I believe with varying degrees of doubt and certitude ... but the key question is "Do I live AS IF I believe them?" Do I live as if I believe my life is a precious gift and is at once the scarce resource of the ticking clock and the eternal abundance of eternal life in Christ? Do I live as if I am aware of that clock and yet not afraid of it? Do I live as if I trust God to take care of all who and that really matters to me and not feel like the weight of the world is on my shoulders and that everything would fall apart if I were not there? What if I get hit by a bus on the way to the Thai Cafe in 20 minutes? What if my death clock is ticking down to zero right now? (By the way, if that happens, someone please direct to this site whomever preaches my funeral homily -- it will at least be kind of cool and exceptionally spooky to be that prescient!) Do I live as if I believe God will take care of everything just fine without me?
I remember the morning after Jim died. I was driving around and started thinking that, for all appearances, it was a day like any other day. Only it wasn't. For the first time in 75-odd years -- and for the first day in my life, Jim Fallis wasn't drawing breath on this earth. The world seemed a little poorer. Mostly, it just seemed weird. Even more, I just felt small. Like there was a whole universe out there that I didn't have a clue about. That the comings and goings of life were a small part of that and I was only a small part of that small part. But that somehow, God was there and it didn't really matter if I had a clue about it -- only that I lived as if I believed God was there.
I think that's why I love All Souls day. Even more than Ash Wednesday every year, All Souls reminds me that in the end we're all worm food -- that the Death Clock ticks for us all. That's weird -- and it's a weird that I just need to sit with. As much as I love my life. And even more, as much as I love the lives of my wife, my kids, my family, the ECM students I've had the past 10 years, my friends -- they're all this weird combination of incredibly precious and incredibly fragile ... embodiments all at once of the scarcity of life and the abundance of eternity.
Jim Fallis and Julia McNeely. Grace Bush and my maternal grandmother. Scott Barker's brother and the four-month old child Dahn Gandell buried last month. The nameless (to us) legions killed in Iraq and Darfur this day. The child who died of malaria while I type this sentence. All Souls. All precious. All somehow connected in ways I can't even begin to fathom.
And someday I will join them. And when I do, I believe I'll find they were never really that far away -- and that my journey to meet them is a journey from scarcity into a greater abundance than this feeble mind can imagine.
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"Christ's example is being
demeaned by the church if they ignore the new leprosy,
which is AIDS. The church is the sleeping giant here.
If it wakes up to what's really going on in the rest
of the world, it has a real role to play. If it doesn't,
it will be irrelevant."