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Death Changed Me

I think a lot about death. Can't help it. I've been on hundreds of chaplain calls over the years where a death has occurred. Almost every kind of death: cardiac arrest, aneurysms, cancer, suicide, accidents, drownings, SIDS, homicide and numerous unknown causes. Deaths that occur in homes, on roadways and freeways, hiking trails, hospitals, parks, and businesses. All of us deal with death now and then when a friend or a loved one passes away. For me, death has become a part of my life. Just yesterday, I was on scene of two separate deaths. I even had to inform a wife and son that the husband/father died on a hike. It is hard to explain, and I won't try here, how horrible it is to utter words to someone that will forever change their life and words that send them into a hysteria of disbelief and utter despair.

So much death has changed me. Many of you already know this about me as you've read some of my blogs or if you have read my book, Used to Go to Church. You might think that being around death so much, a paralyzing fear of death might develop in one's life, eh? I'd be lying if I said some fear doesn't pop it's head up in my mind now and then. At my age, let's admit it, I'm in the check out line and for once I don't mind if the line is long. But I don't want to live the rest of my life as if in a real check out line in a grocery store, just standing, waiting, thinking about nothing important.

I think about my 86 year old mother who, I swear, is 86 going on 16. Despite becoming somewhat frail in her later years, she's a gamer. She had a knee replacement a few months ago just so she can keep playing pickleball. Last week she flew up to Oregon to spend a week with her cousin and they gallivanted around sightseeing, eating and maybe dancing here and there. If there is a party or get together happening in the family, she wouldn't miss it for nothing. And she's a talker, story teller, inquirer extraordinaire. She is a Jesus follower and loves as He would love. I want to be like her at 86 or heck, even now more often. But death has changed me. It has changed my thinking. It has changed my faith.

The changes have been and still are hard. But deep down I feel the torquing of my heart, mind and soul has been like a refining fire burning away the things that don't matter as much in life and even in my faith. This process is raw and real but brings with it a deeper awareness of what is important in life. On one hand, exposure to death has exposed me. My bad habits, shortcomings, insecurities and narcissistic tendencies. But death also drives me to be real, take risks and to be honest with myself about myself. Death has also driven me to reassess and challenge my faith and subsequently move away from some of that which makes Christianity NOT good news to most of the world.

We Christians have become micro-Gods judging the world and those around us using the fear of death and the threat of an eternity in torment as leverage to present the good news, which unfortunately for most hearers is mostly salvation from hell, though most often subtly hidden in a message of behavior modification. Thank God for the communities of faith who exhibit the way of Jesus by simply getting down and dirty with those around them who are suffering, bestowing the gift of God's unconditional love.

Hundreds of times and from only a few feet away, I have looked deeply into the eyes of those who suffer the tremendous heartache and grief of losing someone they love very much. Those experiences have changed me. More than any other time, I receive a brief moment of what Jesus must of felt when he looked upon the suffering masses that came to him (or who he came to) for whom he had nothing but compassion and a deep love. Not the kind of compassion that felt sorry for them because they were all going to hell unless the raised their hand, accepted him, changed their behavior, tithed 10%, evangelized their neighbors, served on Sundays or went on a mission trip. No. He had great compassion because they were hungry, thirsty, sick, tired, grieving, spiritually depleted and were in great need of a tangible expression of God's love.

I say that death has changed me. But I so want to move more deeply into how love can change me. Me thinks love can bring about a deeper, more meaningful and beautiful change in one's life than even death. Yes? God is love.

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