Thursday, September 26, 2013

Ghosts, the Living Dead, and Craving the Taste of Death



Part I : CredentialsThis is going to be a big one and maybe the most important piece I’ve put on the blog; or at least the most ambitious.  Bear with me, what might be perceived as disjointed in this piece is most assuredly going somewhere.

I’m going to outright lie to you with my next words…I sometimes wish that my taste in television, movies, and music was as discerning as my taste in literature.  Sounds good, a little redeeming perhaps; but it’s a lie.  I really don't mind my lack of taste or discernment in these arenas.  I just really couldn’t think of a better way to start what I have to say than to mention my complete and utter lack of sophistication when it comes to entertainment.  I’ll watch most anything depending on my mood.  I suppose such a cavalier attitude towards such things is somehow required to survive more than a few flicks of the channel up or channel down buttons on the remote.  But no, this is not a commentary on television and there is not some deeper theological meaning, at least that I’m wanting to explore at the moment.  I’m simply stating, rather, providing you my credentials for at least a part of this most important piece.

In today’s culture and clime, you cannot watch much television without coming across some paranormally or supernaturally fueled/centered program.  Ghost hunting, mediums, UFO’s; the list goes on and on.  Did you know Barnes and Noble has a section in their stores titled, “Paranormal Teen Romance”…I giggle a little bit every time I pass by it.  Partly because such a crazy notion exists, but mostly because to my recollection I’ve yet to see a teenager in that section.  No, it’s typically occupied by those much older that, oddly enough, you usually also see hovering around the “50 Shades” section.  But I digress, remember, I’m still credentialing.

I mention this because in the increasingly rare moments when I do have time to channel surf, I often find myself parked on one of the ghost hunting shows.  They’re really quite comical.  Grown men running through buildings with electronics screaming like a bunch of teenage girls; and frankly, I sort of find myself wanting to go along for the fun of it.  I live fifteen or so minutes from Waverly Hills Sanatorium…anyone up for an excursion!?!?  Seriously.

I’ve learned a lot from these shows.  Case(s) in point(s)…Did you know ghosts are fascinated with electronics?  And can manipulate them?  Did you that violent or unexpected deaths most often lead to hauntings?  That ghosts most often inhabit places that had special meaning to them?  Which in turn causes me to wonder why cemeteries are so often haunted.  There’s so many intrigues!!!  The reasons most often given for being a ghost?  They don’t know/accept that they’re dead.  Ooh, now we’re getting somewhere, but not yet.

Remember my lack of discernment and taste when it comes to entertainment?  I also unapologetically love zombie movies and television shows.  On this phenomenon I think I could make some pretty powerful theological statements, but I’m not really interested at the moment.  My current favorite?  The Walking Dead.  Great show.  A friend of mine recently preached a sermon using the show as a powerful illustration.  Me?  I’ve got figures of Rick, Daryl, and “Bicycle Girl” in my office.  Why?  I just like them.  You want to know one of the most frightening things about zombies?  They are unthinking, unknowing beings, simply fueled to destroy life.  You get bit by a zombie?  You join them.  Why?  Because they like you?  No.  They bit you because you are alive and they are dead.  In a way, I find zombies to be a decent model for Augustinian and Thomistic explanations of evil (privation of good)…but I digress.

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I feel like I’ve got a pretty powerful relationship with death.  In my first three years as a pastor I performed twenty-one funerals.  Now these weren’t just random people; in all but one case they were people that I had developed relationships with and feelings for.  They were my people, my friends, and my family.  For the vast majority of these folks, I was with them during the process of death, from the moment of finding out to the moment of death.  I always worried that I would become calloused or hardened to this, but I don’t think it is possible for me.

While I dread those phone calls and visits, I can also tell you that as a pastor, one of the greatest privileges is to accompany people on this journey.  Beyond the journey itself; the relationships that are built with the dying and families are incredibly powerful, precious, and I would even argue holy.  They just take place at a level and circumstances that are so far beyond the norm.

Twenty-one funerals in such a short period of time is certainly enough for anyone, but I’m not done.  During that time, I also completed my CPE (clinical pastoral education) at Norton/Kosair Children’s Hospital in Louisville Kentucky, where I dealt with more deaths than I care to remember.  As a matter of fact, my internship is the stuff of legend, but for reasons other than the sheer amount of death.  I’m pretty sure the Child Bereavement Coordinator still gets a nervous tick whenever he hears my name or learns that I’m returning to be on call.

I've dealt with so many child and infant deaths.  But once again, it wasn’t just the sheer numbers, but rather circumstance.  No child or infant death is easy, nor do they ever get easier, they are consistently brutal.  Most of what I have dealt with at Kosair has been extraordinary; very sudden, unexpected, and in one case, a violent deaths.  It is only through grace and experience that you get better at dealing with them but it never becomes routine or easy.  Back in April I was on call at the downtown hospital and I had three children actively dying at once; and that was the one time in any situation in my life that I really believe I could’ve walked away from my post without a second thought.  I actually, for a brief moment, seriously considered leaving and never coming back.

I do not mention these things for your sympathy; remember, we’re credentialing here.  I know death.  I know what its approach looks like, I know what it smells like, and I’ve gotten pretty good at allowing a hospital room tell me how close we are.  I recognize its subtleties.  I know its impact on the living.  I also know death well enough to know only a fool attempts to predict its arrival.  It comes on its terms and on its timing; sometimes with unexpected speed and sometimes it appears to be in no particular hurry at all.  However, what never changes, what is never negotiable, is the eventuality and finality of death.  It comes for us all.

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With the fear of romanticizing for the sake of artistry or at least impact, I think I can say with confidence and sincerity that my relationship with and view of death was deeply influenced by my decade long battle with a disease that I truly believed would take my life (if I didn’t beat it to the punch).  Death was something that was never far from my mind or frankly my body.  I planned my funeral.  I wrote letters to loved ones and friends.  I paid close attention to the changes in my body as well as its functions, as things slowed and stopped working as they should.  I was very mindful of the psychological, emotional, and spiritual changes along the way.  I knew/know what it is to slowly and methodically die.  I know what it is to go into a surgery confident in not waking up and being entirely okay with that.

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I know what it is to be given a second chance.  I know how frightening, as crazy as that sounds, second chances are.  I know how dangerous hope can be.  I know how utterly terrifying the prospect of life can be when death had been expected and accepted.  Through knowing death, I have a new appreciation not only for life, but the absolute power of life.  Through knowing death in the manner and degrees that I do, I have a new and profound appreciation of the power, beauty, and wonder of resurrection.

Part 2…A Closer Look at The Living Dead and Craving the Taste of Death…

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