Tag Archives: death

Emailing Beyond the Grave

medium_15612803237I’m a big fan of David Eagleman, author, neuroscientist, and fellow Rice grad (peck ’em Owls!). His book Sum: Forty Tales of the Afterlives is one of the most imaginative, dare I say spirit-filled books I’ve read in recent years. And he’s a mainstay on Radiolab.

Eagleman has a startup venture (a few years old by now) called Deathswitch, which lets people schedule various technological actions that occur in the event of their deaths. You set the system to contact you every so often and ask for a password in reply. If you do not answer, the system assumes you have died, which triggers whatever actions you designate—sending password and bank information to your executor, say, or emailing crucial files to co-workers. But the beauty of the system is, you can set any action or message you want. So you can write a note to your spouse that gets sent on your 50th anniversary, for example—or get the last word in an argument. (Or both: Happy anniversary, my darling. You’ll always be my lobster. And we WERE on a break.)

One of my favorite chapters in this tech book I’m writing (Lord will it ever get done?) is the one on death, and how technology impacts the way we grieve. I find the idea of a deathswitch fascinating. And Eagleman’s jovial optimism is appealing: he “likes to imagine the many sensational messages, waiting to be delivered: unexpected declarations of love, confessions of secrets or crimes, or the location of buried cash.”

It also raises some compelling questions.
What would it be like to receive love notes from a long-deceased spouse who remains frozen in time, as the recipient ages and changes?
Would these messages become a burden?
If this technology takes off and someone declines to participate, will the absence of a message at key moments cause further sadness?
How does a continued “relationship” help or hinder the grieving process?

On a positive note, what a gift it would be to think about what you’d like to say to your children and loved ones in the future. You can do this “legacy” work regardless of technology, to be sure, and many people do… but knowing that these messages will be delivered (rather than forgotten in a desk drawer somewhere) gives the task an increased sense of purpose and urgency.

What do you think? Would you partake of this technology? What would your deathswitches be?

photo credit: StencilArchive.org via photopin cc

Death and Dying on the Internet

I’m back from Collegeville and a fruitful week of writing. I’ve now got a very (very) rough draft for book two, currently titled Spirituality in the Smartphone Age.  It’s a shorter book than Sabbath in the Suburbs, and I’m still planning to publish it via e-book, though a print option will be available. I’ve been in touch with an editor and a friend who does e-book production for a living. This thing will happen.

The final chapter will be about how the Internet has impacted the way we think about death and dying. It’s turning out to be one of my favorite chapters to research and write. Here’s some of the conversation about the topic on Facebook.

One of the cool things about writing a book is that people send you things. Today Dave True, a friend and professor at Wilson College, sent along this post from the Religion and American History blog by Laura Arnold Leibman. Key quote:

In The Hour of Our Death (1987), Philippe Ariès argues that an “invisible death model” has dominated twentieth-century American life.  In this model,

Death’s medicalization distanced the community from the dying and the deceased.  Individualism ruled, nature was conquered, social solidarity waned, and not the afterworld but family ties mattered.  Western society surrounded death with so much shame, discomfort, and revulsion that Gorer (1965) even spoke of a pornography of death.  Death became concealed in hospitals, nursing homes, and trailer parks.  Yet, the death of death remained, a fear corresponding more to people’s social than biological death. 

Accompanying this dispossession of the dying person is a “denial of mourning” and the subsequent invention of new funerary rituals in the United States (Philippe Ariès, “The Reversal of Death,” Death in America, ed. Stannard [1975], 136).  Excessive displays of emotion both by the person dying and those they leave behind are considered taboo and “embarrassments.”  …

What interested my students, however, was the impact of the internet on the “invisible death model.”  Have we entered a new era regarding death and loss?  They noticed in particular three results of the internet.

Check out the post for Leibman’s observations.

And in case you missed it, Katherine Willis Pershey also sent this along–a beautiful expression of solidarity and care for bereaved parents. Their little one spent her entire life in the NICU and they wanted to see her pretty face without the tubes. Members of the Reddit community responded:

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I like the middle one, but they are all haunting. And they are all an offering to total strangers, which makes them beautiful.

Make It Secure: A Post for Good Friday

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Matthew 27: The chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate and said, ‘Sir, we remember what that impostor said while he was still alive, “After three days I will rise again.” Therefore command that the tomb be made secure until the third day.” …Pilate said to them, ‘You have a guard of soldiers; go, make it as secure as you can.’ So they went with the guard and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone.

It’s downright comical. Pontius Pilate and his men actually think that sealing the stone and stationing guards at the door are all it will take to keep the body safely inside the tomb. Pilate’s power is considerable, as far as it goes. But he has no idea what kind of power is at work.

Some folks have convinced themselves that might makes right, that the ones with the money and the status run the show. But they’re wrong. Desmond Tutu used to say to the apartheid government, “You may have the guns, you may have all this power, but you have already lost. Come: join the winning side.”

It was forty-six years ago this month when a bullet pierced the cheek, jaw, and spine of a man standing on the balcony of his Memphis hotel room. He was pronounced dead an hour later, and in that moment, the civil rights movement lost its most visible and captivating leader. The days following Martin Luther King’s assassination were bleak. Riots broke out in a hundred cities. More militant voices urged their followers to take up arms against white America. And the Pontius Pilates of the world chuckled.

And yet here we are, decades later, and King’s words pierce our hearts as much as they ever did. His dream still endures. His vision of non-violence has deepened and expanded to guide every social movement from Cape Town to Tiananmen to Tahrir Square. Meanwhile, the powers that be continue to insist that sealing the stone will tamp things down, that a bullet will silence a voice and a movement for justice.

They honestly think that death will have the last word.

I feel a little sorry for them.

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photo credit: Demmer S via photopin cc

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The message above was adapted from The Fellowship of Prayer, a Lent devotional I wrote for Chalice Press in 2012. A few copies are still available.

Friday Link Love: Doubt, Virginia Woolf, and a Real-Life Lord of the Flies

A couple of quick me-links:

Last minute, preachers, I’m at The Hardest Question this week with pieces on the gospel and Acts.

I also did a webinar on Sabbath for the Presbyterian Outlook this week. I covered some stuff that’s in the book but a lot that’s not, including how to get congregations thinking about and practicing Sabbath. You can order a DVD here.

Enough about me. Here we go!

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The Politics of Play — Orion

A plea for a little more free-range parenting:

Some schools forbid children to play in the snow for fear of legal action in the event of an accident. We live in a litigious age, but this is about far more than that: it is about the kind of children we are creating.

By insidiously demanding that children always seek permission for the most trivial of actions, that they must obey the commands of others at every turn, we ensure that children today are not so much beaten into obedience as eroded into it. A risk-averse society creates a docility and loss of autonomy that has a horrible political shadow: a populace malleable, commandable, and blindly obedient.

The author also talks about a real-life Lord of the Flies incident… that didn’t end like Lord of the Flies:

One day, in 1977, six boys set out from Tonga on a fishing trip. They left safe harbor, and fate befell them. Badly. Caught in a huge storm, the boys were shipwrecked on a deserted island. What do they do, this little tribe?

They made a pact never to quarrel, because they could see that arguing could lead to mutually assured destruction. They promised each other that wherever they went on the island, they would go in twos, in case they got lost or had an accident. They agreed to have a rotation of being on guard, night and day, to watch out for anything that might harm them or anything that might help. And they kept their promises—for a day that became a week, a month, a year. After fifteen months, two boys, on watch as they had agreed, saw a speck of a boat on the horizon. The boys were found and rescued, all of them, grace intact and promises held.

If anyone knows more about this story, please let me know. I would love to read more. Google didn’t turn up much.

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Principal Fires Security Guards to Hire Art Teachers–and Transforms Elementary School — NBC

Thanks to Marci Glass, who said, “This is what it means to live the future you envision.” Yes:

In a school notorious for its lack of discipline, where backpacks were prohibited for fear the students would use them to carry weapons, Bott’s bold decision to replace the security guards with art teachers was met with skepticism by those who also questioned why he would choose to lead the troubled school.

“A lot of my colleagues really questioned the decision,” he said. “A lot of people actually would say to me, ‘You realize that Orchard Gardens is a career killer? You know, you don’t want to go to Orchard Gardens.’”

But now, three years later, the school is almost unrecognizable. Brightly colored paintings, essays of achievement, and motivational posters line the halls. The dance studio has been resurrected, along with the band room, and an artists’ studio.

Swords into ploughshares.

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How Not to Die — Atlantic

My friend Shala linked to this article on her Caterpickles blog. Not a happy topic, but an important one.

Dr. Angelo Volandes is making a film that he believes will change the way you die. The studio is his living room in Newton, Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston; the control panel is his laptop; the camera crew is a 24-year-old guy named Jake; the star is his wife, Aretha Delight Davis. Volandes, a thickening mesomorph with straight brown hair that is graying at his temples, is wearing a T-shirt and shorts and looks like he belongs at a football game. Davis, a beautiful woman of Guyanese extraction with richly braided hair, is dressed in a white lab coat over a black shirt and stands before a plain gray backdrop.

“Remember: always slow,” Volandes says.

“Sure, hon,” Davis says, annoyed. She has done this many times.

Volandes claps to sync the sound. “Take one: Goals of Care, Dementia.”

As a pastor I would love to get my hands on the video series Dr. Volandes is creating.

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A Prayer for Children of All Ages — Ashley-Anne Masters

Mother’s Day is coming up, and then Father’s Day. Both of these days can be very hard for folks; Ashley-Anne offers a prayer for use in worship:

God our perfect parent, we pray:

For those who will send flowers to their mom and those who will put flowers on their mom’s grave

For those who wish their children could have met their grandparents and those who will tell their parents that they will soon be grandparents

For those who will make new memories and those who will carry on old traditions

For sons named after their fathers and for those who don’t know their father’s name . . .

More at the link.

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On Craftsmanship: The Only Surviving Recording of Virginia Woolf’s Voice — Brain Pickings

True confession: I didn’t listen to the whole thing. But it’s very moving to hear her voice.

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Speaking of writing:

A Backwards Pitch — Ruth Everhart

I highlighted Ruth’s book, Chasing the Divine in the Holy Land, a few weeks ago on Link Love; I like how she puts into practice Seth Godin’s advice to “say it backwards”:

 My book about pilgrimage is not for everyone.

~ If you venerate icons you may find this book to be irreverent, even off-putting.

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And a few things I posted on social media earlier this week, but they bear repeating:

9 Questions to Ask about Social Media — 99U

  • Is it necessary to share this? Will it add value to my life and for other people?
  • Can I share this experience later so I can focus on living it now?
  • Am I looking for validation? Is there something I could do to validate myself?

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The Pain When Children Fly the Nest — Adam Gopnik, the Guardian

I’ll read just about any topic, so long as Gopnik writes it. And we are years away from kids leaving the nest, but this still spoke to me.

I suspect he will return one Christmas soon with an icy, exquisite, intelligent young woman in black clothes, with a single odd piercing somewhere elegant – ear or nose or lip – who will, when I am almost out of earshot, issue a gentle warning: “Listen, with the wedding toasts – could you make sure your father doesn’t get, you know, all boozy and damp and weepy?” My son will nod at the warning.

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And this one was posted to the church’s Facebook page:

To Doubt Is Christian — The Dish

The Dish quotes Christopher Hutton:

Doubt is a thing which many Christians see as opposing their faith. Many have fought it and its prevalence in the modern minds of man. 19th century pastor Robert Turnbull once  stated that “Doubt, indeed, is the disease of this inquisitive, restless age.” Many people react negatively towards any feelings of doubt that they may have, fearing that this doubt means that they aren’t fully committed to God.

However, this fear of doubt is dreadfully dangerous. Not every man who doubts his faith loses it. And if they look at most human lives, they’ll find that if one doesn’t doubt, then one isn’t human. It is a necessary idea for any believer, for it acts as the catalyst and tool for a man or woman to grow.

Then a quote from Tim Keller:

A faith without some doubts is like a human body without any antibodies in it. People who blithely go through life too busy or indifferent to ask hard questions about why they believe as they do will find themselves defenseless against either the experience of tragedy or the probing questions of a smart skeptic. A person’s faith can collapse almost overnight if she has failed over the years to listen to her own doubts, which should only be discarded after long reflection. Believers should acknowledge and wrestle with doubts—not only their own but their friends’ and neighbors’.

Would be interesting to have a church group study on doubt.

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And finally… there’s this!

rundisney 2013 2013 Walt Disney World Marathon Female Winner Renee High_0

M-I-C… see you in January!

K-E-Y… why? Because I’m running the Disney Marathon!

I’m sure there will be much weeping and consternation on this blog over the next several months, but for now… yeah. Inhale. Exhale.

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Have a great weekend, everyone.

Friday Link Love: Death with Dignity, a Real-Live Forrest Gump… and a Cross-Dressing Mayor

(Koshyk/flickr/CC-BY-2.0) — from the Radiolab page for the “New Normal” episode mentioned below

And they’re off! Lots of video today:

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Cross-Dressing for the Gospel — David Lose

I’m on a big David Lose kick right now. I posted this one last week to Twitter but saw it too late for last week’s Link Love. Stu Rasmussen is a man in Silverton, Oregon who is a cross-dresser. He was also elected mayor of the town:

Don’t get me wrong, not everyone was wild about this development. The election was very close and his doubters didn’t stop doubting. Some because of their religious convictions, some simply because cross-dressing just goes against their sensibilities.

But then something else amazing happened. After his election, and before his inauguration, a group from the Westbro Baptist Church came to town. (A quick side-note: this isn’t your typical Baptist church. In fact, this is an extremist group not affiliated with any major Christian tradition.) They came with signs – “God hates Silverton,” “God hates your mayor” (and these were the more polite signs!) – and with their slurs, determined to protest Stu as an abomination.

And although Stu encouraged people not to give them the time of day, folks in the town staged a counter-protest…where lots and lots of ordinary, everyday folks cross-dressed. Men dressed as women, grandmas dressed as men. Kids joined in. Liberals, conservatives, young, old, on this day in Silverton it just didn’t matter. They were determined to stand with Stu, to identify with him, to stand up for him.

That’ll preach.

BTW, the story originally aired on Radiolab, which is my favorite podcast bar none.

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I also got this video from David:

Bus Station Sonata — Arts Council of England (video)

From the site: “The work was created with commuters and passers-by from the Haymarket Bus Station in Newcastle UK. Most of the participants are non players, many had never touched a piano before, we just convinced them to donate a note or two.”

The delight on some of the faces is palpable… and I love the end.

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How Not to Spend Your Whole Day on Facebook — BigThink (video)

An important tip for procrastination:

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12 Guidelines for Deciding When to Persist, When to Quit — Harvard Business Review

When to hold ’em, when to fold ’em:

  1. Are the initial reasons for the effort still valid, with no consequential external changes?
  2. Do the needs for which this [is] a solution remain unmet, or are competing solutions still unproven or inadequate?
  3. Would the situation get worse if this effort stopped?

Etc.

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Massachusetts Vote May Change How the Nation Dies — Slate

Oregon’s Death With Dignity Act has been in effect for the past 14 years, and the state of Washington followed suit with a similar law in 2008. Despite concerns of skeptics, the sky has not fallen; civilization in the Northwest remains intact; the poor, disenfranchised, elderly, and vulnerable have not been victimized; and Oregon has become a leader in the provision of excellent palliative medicine services.

But the Massachusetts ballot question has the potential to turn death with dignity from a legislative experiment into the new national norm.

I support so-called Death with Dignity statutes. When properly defined and carried out, they are sane and compassionate.

This article profiles some of the physicians involved in this movement:

Perhaps it takes the dramatic actions of a flawed advocate like Dr. Jack Kevorkian to catalyze change that leads to the appearance of more reasonable and likable physician reformers. Physicians of this new generation do not seek out or necessarily welcome the role, but, having accepted it, they are irreversibly changed. Most are modest, highly intellectual, and intensely private professionals who are drawn to medicine because it offers a challenge and an opportunity to help relieve distress.

…After her patient’s death, Dr. Kate concluded, “I think Cody taught me that ‘first, do no harm,’ is different for every patient. Harm for her would have meant taking away the control and saying, ‘No, no, no! You have got to do this the way your body decides, as opposed to the way you as the person decides.’”

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Real-Life Forrest Gump Walks Across America in 178 Days — Oddity Central

A friend sent this to me and wondered: “Sabbathy? He talks about taking the trip because he had stopped appreciating things and wanted to slow down his life.” Could be…

He left only with the clothes on his back, a sleeping bag, his backpack and a few thing in it, determined to survive only on the goodness of the people he met on the road. He depended on them for the most basic needs, like food, water and a place to sleep, and whenever he got money and gift cards he didn’t actually need to survive, he just gave them away to the homeless. He said the point was always to give away more than he took, and added that the biggest takeaway from this epic experience is to have realized that “mankind is better than I ever dreamed.”

This is one of those “it takes all kinds” stories. And I don’t mean that disparagingly—it really does take all kinds.

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Does Brainstorming Work? — RSA (video)

No, but you should watch this anyway because it’s entertaining:

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Peace be with you…