March 30, 2011

Die and Live?

People who live in Boulder are going to die.

Yep, even the uber healthy, death denying, bodywork-receiving, herb taking, life-prolonging, spirituality seeking people who flock to Boulder, CO to escape the Budweiser guzzling, all-you-can-eat-buffet-gorging, cigarette smoking, non-exercising, non-organic-food-eating, spiritually oblivious dullards in towns in the Midwest …. are all going to kick the bucket

…. and then after the funeral services, folks will gather to talk about the weather, catch up on gossip, and eat deviled eggs and potato salad.

Sorry if this bursts some bubbles or ruffles any feathers, but it’s true.

We’re smack in the middle of Lent –– the 40 day season of preparation before the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection at Easter.  Lent is a time for heightened discipleship and intentionality in following the Jesus’ radical “way” -– the way of sacrificial love, the way of the cross, the way of life that leads to death that leads to life.

One of the opportunities of a healthy Lenten practice is to remember that we are mortal and to remember that “it is from dust that we came, and to dust that we shall return.”  Pondering our certain deaths can allow us to come to accept and even embrace them.  Coming to a place of realizing that the more that we pour ourselves out and live for the sake of others — even if that results in our own deaths — is the only thing that actually allows us to truly live.

One of the things that I like to do during Lent is to cut a sheet of paper

into 10 thin slips and to write a sentence on each one stating some piece of my identity.  I write down the things that make me, “me.”  This often includes things like: Roger (my name); Pastor/Chaplain (my profession/vocation); Father (one of my roles in life); Writer; Runner; Trumpeter; Reader; NPR listener; Dancer; Yogi; Motorcyclist (things I like to do); Twin brother; Progressive United Methodist; Christian; Monotheist; Spiritual; Political liberal; White; Heterosexual, being physically fit (other parts of my identity); etc.

I then organize them into order of most importance to me.  I place the thing that is most important to me on the very top of the pile, then place behind it the one that is 2nd most important, and so on.  Once completed, the one that is 1st most important to me is what I can read on top of the pile.  I then turn the stack upside down and then look at the backside of the slip that was on the bottom of the pile (my 10th most important one) and then remove that slip from the stack, turn it over, read it, and ponder how that thing/action is part of my identity.  I ponder what it means to me, why I value it, etc.  I then crumple it up and drop it on the floor between my legs and ponder what it would mean to give that thing up and have it no longer be part of who I am.

I then do the same with the next slip, and proceed to do this to all but the last one (the one that I had tagged as most important and essential).  This exercise, if done well, takes several minutes… and often involves a few tears.

I then gather up all of the discarded slips and rearrange them into order from most important to least important.  There are often a few shifts and re-orderings that take place due to the experience of the past few minutes.  This rearranging helps me reassess my priorities and what matters most to me.  Who I really want to be … and am.

I encourage others to do this to.  Sure, you could click past this article and go play Angry Birds or look up episodes of Lost to watch on Youtube or something, but… you could do worse than to try this exercise.

Another thing I like to do during Lent is to revisit my plans for my funeral service.

I tweak and adjust the scriptures and poems that I’d like read, the hymns and songs I’d like people to sing, who I’d like to give the eulogy and sermon, where I’d like my ashes scattered, etc.  I usually have one or two contemporary “secular” songs in the mix, and those often change from year to year.

Then, I make sure to indicate that I don’t want to micromanage the service and that my family and friends are totally free to disregard my particular requests as the service is really more for them and their needs than for mine (I’m pretty sure I won’t have any needs at that point).

I invite others to do this too.  Seems sorta creepy at first.  But, it is oh so very liberating.

This year, I’m adding another practice to my Lenten journey.  To help me grieve the loss of my life, and to say good-bye to life, I’m going to make a list of the things that I will miss most about living life as we know it. Here’s my first crack at it:

Things I’ll Miss About Life:

  • The distinctive creaking and shutting of old screened doors on wooden porches
  • Seeing my breath in cold morning air
  • The purring of cats
  • The excited wagging of my dog’s tail before supper time
  • Guessing where people are from by listening to their accents
  • The sounds of thunderstorms at night
  • Getting my passport stamped
  • Live music
  • Seeing baby cows frolicking in pastures in the spring
  • The cooing of doves
  • Kissing
  • Dancing
  • Good food that’s been made with love
  • The sound of my son giggling in his sleep on nights that I have him
  • Runner’s highs from running long distances
  • The sound of cicadas
  • Seeing women in sundresses …. on bikes
  • Playing my trumpet as a form of prayer
  • The exhilaration of a Spirit-filled Gospel choir
  • The passion of talented performers
  • Pan-fried chicken
  • Sangiovese and Chianti
  • The slightly ozoneish/sulfury smell right before it rains
  • Sounds of ecstasy
  • The scent of a woman who is happy to see me
  • The smell of vanilla
  • Did I mention pan-fried chicken?
  • The thrill of twisting the throttle of a motorcycle or taking a horse to full speed
  • Laughing until it hurts
  • Deep tissue massage
  • poetry
  • A successful nose pick
  • Watching a cut heal
  • Gargling
  • Camping
  • Deep discussions that roam all over
  • Sunrises and sunsets
  • Being tickled
  • Running my fingers through someone’s hair
  • Kissing someone who has recently smoked a clove cigarette (God help me)
  • Finding money in the pockets of clothing I haven’t worn in a long time
  • The feeling of warm beach sand slipping through the cracks between my fingers
  • Butterflies landing on or near me
  • Knowing about the latest cool gadgets and technological developments
  • NPR
  • Glassy smooth water on a lake in the morning
  • Visiting a well stocked hardware store
  • Dancing in the aisles of grocery stores
  • Inspiring sermons and speeches
  • Singing my heart out
  • The dull ache in my pecs 2 days after lifting weights
  • Running into friends in unusual places
  • Receiving someone’s hospitality
  • Hosting house concerts
  • Seeing people help people in need
  • Forgiving and being forgiven
  • The instant “before and after” reward and satisfaction of mowing lawns or shoveling snow
  • People confiding in me and sharing their secrets
  • Seeing “light bulbs” of enlightenment going off in young people’s minds
  • Watching a plastic bag get caught up in a whirlwind and dancing through the air down the street
  • Ironically, the feeling of savasana, corpse pose, after a decent yoga practice
  • I might say, “being in love,” but I have a hunch that when I die, I’ll be deeper in Love than I’ve ever been before.

If you make such a list, you might consider how many of the things on your list are things that cost money.  If most of the things on your list don’t cost money, you might consider shifting away from jobs that focus on earning a lot of money.

Happy Lent y’all.

May we die, and live, well.



Elephant: Wolsey is the author of the recently published book, Kissing Fish: christianity for people who don’t like christianity.

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