What I am Thinking About
I read an article years ago that stuck with me entitled, “The Pornography of Death.” (if you want to read it, email me at email@example.com and I’ll send you a copy). Set in the foundational understanding that every culture has it’s taboo subjects, it’s rules of seemliness, the (mostly unspoken) parameters of what are acceptable matters for discussion, the author writes of sex as one such subject from our recent past. And anyone over the age of about 30 can attest to this: human sexuality was (and often still is) a subject that, when broached, breaks the invisible barrier and provokes a particular kind of laughter, shock, or embarrassment. Gorer suggests that there are two sides to this: prudery and pornography, and that pornography was a response to prudery, sending a certain distortion of sexuality underground.
Now, for us walking around in 2018, we can hardly say that sex is any longer an underground affair – human sexuality, in Western culture, is very often provocative and public. So what then is the equivalent of our prudery around sexuality in this time and place? Gorer argues that it is death. That we are experiencing the pornographication of death; that is, death has become more and more the “unmentionable” in conversation.
This is evident in the way we speak about these topics. My parents generation was raised with code words for body parts, if they were to be spoken about at all, and death was a regular and natural part of life. I, in contrast, grew up knowing scientific anatomic names and processes from an early age, but, death was spoken of in euphemisms and equivalent code words. We went from describing female anatomy as a garden to explaining that our beloved family pets were now on a farm in the country.
In the same way that we pressed sex to the edges and underground of society in the past, we are now pressing death to the margins. Most deaths happen in institutions, away from children, the ugly facts and realities relentlessly hidden. Gorer writes, “the natural processes of corruption and decay have become disgusting, as disgusting as the natural processes of birth and copulation were a century ago.” He goes on to say that evidence of this can be seen in the violent deaths and zombie infiltration of popular culture produced for mass audiences.
All of this to say, I have been thinking of death and how little room there is for the realities of death, dying, and grieving in our culture.
What I am Grateful For
This week was Halloween, plus the ancient Christian days of All Saints and All Souls – days where we hold wide space for those who have died: figures through the ages known to millions, as well as our Nanas. People whose lives were lost in unspeakable tragedy and those who left gently and tenderly.
Church is one of the last places where we talk about death all the time. Death is present in our ancient stories, in the realities of inter-generational community life, honoured and recognized for the realities of it. We know when one of us is suffering, we enter homes and hospitals and hospices to sit at messy, awkward, painful bedsides.
I am so grateful that death is not taboo in communities of faith. It is not something we recoil from, not something we avoid with replacement words or empty platitudes. Perhaps we feel safe to do that because of the confidence that death is not the final place, but rather love is.
What Inspires Me
As I write this, I am sitting surrounded by Christian artists, musicians, pastors, activists – mostly folks on the margins of their denominations or who have stepped outside of institutions altogether to more faithfully follow this Jew from Nazareth named Jesus. We are sharing in a conference in Victoria about new ways to be church in the world. There are so many stories of love and generosity and community and healing and ingenuity. But let me tell you, the music. Ohhhhh the music. It is an immersion in the incredible creativity and vulnerability of original music created in love and prayer, in sorrow and lament, in jubilation and celebration. Music stirs the soul and makes space for stillness and reflection in a way that I cannot get to on my own. I feel so very privileged to be sitting here amongst this incredible talent - live! In person!
How I am Practicing my Faith
This Sunday, November 4th at 4 pm I will be hosting an All Souls service – a place where we can hold wide space for death, grief, remembering, and whatever else comes. This is a piece of my tradition that I want to open up for the community to participate in. A safe space for anyone – anyone – to come and be still, holding loved ones in their hearts and minds.
The rituals, the safety, the space holding associated with my faith is borne out of this time of year – as living things die and we pause to mark the lives that have gone before us. These are relevant regardless of the faith tradition you walk in, or don’t.
Come and be my guest. Enter into the sacred community of broken, hurting, healing people and let yourself be loved.