Death, in Music and in Church

Lutheran Forum via the wise Pastor Andy

“It is a strange world where heavy metal bands are brave and truthful and churches are escapist and irrelevant. It hasn’t always been so. The liturgical and hymnic inheritance the church has bequeathed to us is full of forthright, strong expressions of what it means to live in the midst of death…

Dying people are hungry to live. This is the beauty and the secret of the church’s worship. While death is its ultimate subject, the church’s worship teaches victory over death quietly, subliminally, week after week after week so that a culture of eternity is inculcated in the hearts and minds and, yes, the bodies of those who attend. We are prepared incessantly to die while we live. And though we are dying, everyday in the church, we live in the presence of the eternal God.”

I have often maintained this line of thinking as a way to excuse my very dark musical and liturgical tastes: that we should be in the business not of hiding away death from our congregations and our own thoughts, but rather wrestling and grappling with the hurts and realities of loss, of time, and of death… our own finitude. That’s the only way the Christian message makes a whole bunch of sense to me, as a way to slowly make sense of the losses that we experience in the passage of time and each other. Our message cannot mean anything if we try to make faith about cheery ignorance of our real world experiences… Faith comes from a hope that stands in full recognition of pain, and in expectation of a place or state of being that may lay beyond it.

Ebert and Eating

I have, in recent years, become a big fan of Roger Ebert. Not so much because of movie reviews, though he does still post them from home, and they are still well written and biting, but rather his personal writing.

A series of surgeries to prolong his life have left Ebert unable to talk, eat, or drink. He has responded by creating a blog in which he… gets it all out anyway. By reading him, I’ve come to be in conversation with a very funny, nuanced lover of life, art, and culture. A spiritual man, I might say, though he has had – and published – long debates with himself about the possibility of God and what God might be for him (if he believed in the same.) He’s a gift.

A reader recently wrote in to ask if he missed eating and drinking. What came as a response is sort of a love song to memory, which when paired with food makes a minister spin and dance. (We mean it when we say: “We remember… Jesus broke bread… Poured the wine.” Memory and meal are our business!)

Look for the line in which he talks about the society of eating, the way we meet, and talk… “feel god together.” That could be a typo! He might have meant to feel “good,” but I hope not, because he has it right!

Eating, as Ebert puts forward, is not so important. Dining, being together, talking, bumping hands over a dish, sharing our experiences around a table… may be a matter of life and death. It is in our communion, I know. And, as he says… through his blog now, he is creating a dining room table: a place to talk, and share, and be together with so many.

Nil By Mouth [By R. Ebert]