Tag Archives: God

On Death and Dying … a Conversation

18 May

 

 

 

 

On Death and Dying … a Conversation

By L. Stewart Marsden

“Are you afraid?”

“Of dying, or death?”

“Of either.”

“Of dying — well I’m a little wary of that part. I have a low threshold for pain, you know.”

“What about death?”

“That’s the easy part. Everybody before me, and everybody after me has and will do it. I think we have it wrong, though.”

“How’s that?”

“Most are convinced it’s a final destination. Like the beach.”

“The beach?”

“Sure. You think about your trip for months on end. You imagine the warm sun and the calming surf and the lack of hurry or care. All of that anticipation.”

“Ok.”

“You pack your car with everything you’ll need, and map out your route, then jump in and start the engine.”

“Right.”

“Along the way you might hit traffic, or a detour — maybe even a wreck or two along the way.”

“Uh-huh.”

“At some point you begin to smell it in the air. The salt. That first indication you are very near. And you get impatient to get there. Or to be the first person in your car to see the ocean.”

“Yes.”

“You arrive, and you get together with your family, who’ve all arrived from different places, traveling different routes, and you mill about and greet one another. Then the inevitable question: how long did it take you to get here?”

“I see.”

“Yeah. So in a way dying is like your trip to the beach, and death is arriving at the beach.”

“Does everyone make it to the beach? You mentioned wrecks along the way.”

“You mean the heaven or hell thing?”

“If you like.”

“Kind of where the metaphor breaks down. So the way I see it, the beach isn’t the destination.”

“No?”

“The better metaphor –– at least the way I see it –– is labor and birth.”

“Why?”

“Labor is what we conceive as our life. In labor, we ease down the birth canal, and there are trying times along the way. We are distorted and pushed on every side. It’s cramped, dark, and –– frankly, uncomfortable most of the journey.

“Then, towards the end, we begin to see a little daylight ahead, and that daylight gets brighter and brighter. So does the pain and the difficulty. Again, maybe we get stuck. But you see we aren’t with anyone else. It’s just us. Just me. Just you. Our individual gauntlet to face and bear. Finally, we emerge –– to the applause of those waiting our arrival. We are swept up and held close and cradled in the arms of Someone who has been patiently anticipating us.”

“And who is that Someone?”

“You want me to say God, right?”

“I want to know what you think. You can say whatever you like.”

“I don’t know the answer to that, only that I’m excited to find out.”

“So you aren’t afraid you’re going to end up in one place or other?”

“Let me ask you something.”

“Okay.”

“You believe in God?”

“I do.”

“And is God male or female?”

“I don’t know.”

“Loving or strict?”

“I’d say both.”

“So there’s room in God’s lexicon for the two to exist juxtaposed?”

“Juxtaposed isn’t a word I would use, but, yes.”

“So a loving and strict God can appoint my afterlife to either a heavenly or hellish eternity?”

“Are you afraid of hell?”

“Do you mean, am I sure of my eternal destination?”

“I suppose.”

“For a complicated and unknowable God, that question seems too simplistic.”

“Well, how do you see it, then?”

“More complicated, of course. I’m not so sure our heavens and hells are after we die, but before it. And I’m not so sure we have only one life and death.”

“You believe in reincarnation?”

“Not in the sense I come here as human, live and die, and come back as a caterpillar.”

“Then how?”

“Have you lived a perfect life?”

“Of course not.”

“But a good life?”

“I try.”

“Why?”

“Why try? I suppose it’s in my nature to do the best I can.”

“Is it enough?”

“Enough for what?”

“To get into heaven.”

“To get into heaven you must be born …”

“Again! Exactly!”

“It’s a spiritual rebirth. Not a physical one.”

“Are you sure?”

“I –– we’re talking about you, not me.”

“I’m absolutely fine with the rebirth thing. It makes sense to me. I was, I am, and I will be. Even the Bible says ‘you are gods.’”

“That’s not what it means.”

“No? Are you sure? When Christ said, ‘It is finished,’ what did he mean by that?”

“He meant that the battle between good and evil was finished. That his death –– his blood and his body –– were the atonement for the sins of Man.”

“And you believe that?”

“I do.”

“So it was a done deal?”

“A done deal.”

“Then why hell?”

“Beg your pardon?”

“That’s why I’m not afraid of death. God has something far more wonderful for me than I can ever imagine. IF what you say is true.”

“So you do believe in God?”

“What I believe … will it change anything?”

“In what way?”

“In terms of me living or dying. This body of mine is going to wear out. Built-in obsolescence.”

“It won’t change whether you will die or not. It might change how you live, however.”

“But, everything I’ve done up to this point in my life –– none of that will be undone? I can’t take the bad things back, right?”

“Right.”

“What if I could? What if this life of mine is like a slinky toy, and it spirals slowly, each circumnavigation a lifetime?”

“A slinky is analogous to reincarnation?”

“Crude, I know –– but it serves my purpose. Let’s add another element. Do you believe in the laws of physics?”

“What I understand of them.”

“Well, gravity is the easiest, I suppose. The apple from the tree thing. Are you familiar with the Law of Conservation of Energy?”

“That energy always exists in some form or fashion, never diminishing?”

“Close enough.”

“It’s a theory, I believe.”

“Ah, like heaven and hell? But you understand heaven and hell to be spiritual absolutes, and Conservation of Energy is an absolute scientific law.”

“What’s your point?”

“My point is that I –– me –– the energy of who I am –– will not dissipate nor diminish. Not ever. Not one iota. It may transfer to a different form, but it won’t be lost.”

“So you think you are eternal?”

“Have been for a very long time now.”

“And by that you are equal to the god who created you?”

“Didn’t say that. I am the product of whatever caused me to be created. I am energy. Like everything around us. By virtue of that, I –– or my energy –– will be forever.”

“Namaste.”

“Don’t be sarcastic. If you think about it, it’s hard to argue against.”

“So it’s black and white with you, then?”

“Explain, please.”

“Science and what you call incontrovertible fact or theory, versus the existence of an all-knowing, supreme being.”

“I didn’t say that. I’m certainly open to an omniscient being. But I’m also open to the thought we could be in the bedroom of a four-year-old who is controlling all of this! Which is less absurd?”

“You compare God to a four-year-old?”

“It’s the Old Testament/New Testament contrast. To me, after all of the stuff in the Old Testament, God grew up a bit. Like that bit with Abraham and Isaac. He didn’t know Abraham was going to be obedient and would actually kill his own son? How’s that possible? Was that for Abraham’s sake? Or did he figure The paparazzi was going to start showing up at these events? So he learned from his own creation, and looked over and chose his son to come down and make things right.”

“Hush your mouth!”

“Sorry. I didn’t mean to offend. I mean, how could God ever learn something from his own creation? Is that outside the scope of possibility? I thought all things are possible with God.

“Seems to me there’s enough evidence –– especially over the millennia –– that humankind has been going through this very slow slinky toy evolution process. We are learning that our impulses for power and dominance over each other and the world we live in are not the ones to guide us –– especially if one rejects the concept of survival of the fittest –– which has usually meant the most physically powerful and aggressive.

“What if survival of the fittest meant mentally and emotionally and spiritually fit? What then?More and more of us are rejecting how things have been, learning from the results of those base and instinctive primitive impulses. Fear and hate of those different from us. Clear-cutting and ravaging the land and its resources.

“So you asked am I afraid of death? Just the dying part. Mostly because I’m a wimp. But to me, being dead is either going to be mental oblivion, or rebirth, and a chance to continue that progressive evolution trend towards something bigger and better and kinder and more satisfying. I can die with that.

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What Rodney Dangerfield and God have in Common

16 Mar

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What Rodney Dangerfield and God have in Common

by L. Stewart Marsden

The iconic sad-sack comedian was a fountainhead of one-liners, prefaced always by “I don’t get no respect,” or a reasonable facsimile thereof.

Dangerfield: I tell ya, my wife doesn’t respect me. With sex my wife thinks twice before she turns me down. Yeah, once in the morning, and once at night.

Even the bartender doesn’t respect me. I was tired one night and I went to the bar to have a few drinks. The bartender asked, “What’ll you have?” and I said, “Surprise me.” He showed me a naked picture of my wife.

Budda-bum.

Even my own mother didn’t respect me. She breastfed me through a straw.

I could tell my parents hated me. My bath toys were an electric toaster and radio.

I remember when I was kidnapped they sent a piece of my finger to my father. He said he wanted more proof.

Budda-bum.

With girls I don’t get no respect. When I was a kid I waited two hours at the corner for a blind date. A girl came by and I asked her, “Are you Laurie?” She said, “Are you Rodney?” And when I said yes, she said “I’m not Laurie.”

I’m so ugly the nurse stuck the rectal thermometer in my mouth.

* * * * *

It’s hard to imagine God doing stand up, but if he did, he’d probably have a routine like Dangerfield’s, don’t you think?

Think about it. In the US, we’ve swung 180 degrees from a nation that was the refuge of thousands who experienced religious persecution in Europe and other parts of the world to one that is bent on bending over backwards when anyone complains about God.

Actually, I’m not convinced the complaints are about God per se, but certainly over what is taken as heavy-handed, intolerant religion. And those perceptions seem to emanate from the followers of God. After all, Gandhi is reported to have said something like “I don’t have a problem with Christ, but with Christians.”

At the moment, I can’t think of any one-liners for God a la Dangerfield.

Maybe you can.

But I hope you get the point. By the way, my own creative cracks at God and religion are not assaults on him, but pretty much on those who say they speak for him. In my opinion, God takes criticism much better than most of his followers.

I’ll take the position that the priest in the film “Rudy” took where God is concerned: I believe there is one; and, I’m not him (her).

To appreciate more of Dangerfield’s classic and very funny one-liners: click here.

Three Pinnacle Moments: When the movies and TV got God right

12 Mar

Three Pinnacle Moments:

When the movies and TV got God right

by L. Stewart Marsden

As always, I disclaim that the below opinion is anything but that: my opinion.

Over the years Hollywood has depicted characters from the Bible as well as followers of God in very stereotypical patterns. Charlton Heston depicts Moses and Ben-Hur and many other OT/NT guys with rugged masculinity. George Burns and Morgan Freeman present different takes on The Almighty respectively. Nearly every television series has at some time portrayed religious leaders or followers in less than complimentary light. Not that some religious leaders/followers aren’t a bit edgy, whacked or other,  but — c’mon!

For me, there are three — actually more — but three instances in filmdary (my own word) that have done a better-than-average job of portraying either God or followers in a reasonable fashion. Those are:

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Hook (movie)

A continuation of the Peter Pan saga, we catch up with a grown Peter Pan, now married to the granddaughter of Wendy and hopelessly lost in his advertising career.

Played by Robin Williams, Peter is estranged from his young son, who jumps at the chance to go back to Neverland and bask in the feigned adoration of Pan’s nemesis, Captain Hook, played by Dustin Hoffman.

The most poignant scene in the movie is when the Lost Boys argue whether the grown up Peter is their Peter Pan or not. One of the youngest boys goes to Peter and massages his face this way and that, peering deeply into Peter’s eyes. “Oh, there you are, Peter!” he says with enlightenment.

I believe that’s what God does.

Oh, there you are, ______________! (insert your name here)

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Forrest Gump

Lieutenant Dan and Forrest Gump are forever intertwined in this guaranteed movie classic.

Toward the ending of the film, when Dan has reluctantly come to work with Forrest on the shrimp boat, one of the most compelling scenes is the nighttime approach of a major storm.

Dan has crawled to the top of one of the boat’s masts, and shakes his fist angrily in the air. He shouts “I’m right here! Come and get me!”

Next day the storm has subsided, and Dan is a changed man.

Forrest says, “He never actually said so, but I think he made his peace with God.”

One of the more honest scenes of a man battling it out with his maker, and coming to terms. Others might call it a conversion. I choose to call it a discovery.

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Dexter

Okay, I know you’re wondering about this choice.

Brother Sam appeared in five episodes toward the end of the series. When he was first introduced, I thought, “Oh no — another stereotypical Christian who has feet of clay and is as shady as all Christian ministers are portrayed on television.”

Wrong.

A felon convicted of murder and who served time in prison, Sam is under scrutiny by the Miami homicide unit as a suspect of a series of murders. He is now born again, and runs an auto body shop where he takes other felons and tries to help them straighten out their lives.

Few in the department trust he is running anything but a drug operation, and is not to be trusted. And Dexter has a bead on him — and is ready to dispatch the man.

I won’t spoil the plot if you have not watched those episodes (they are available for viewing on Netflix, by the way). But, I’ll say that despite Brother Sam’s unconventional mission, and his spicy language, he is the real deal. In my book.

So, Hollywood — thanks for at least three honest and genuinely spiritual scenes out of how many that have been shot? I know there are more. Like in “Rudy,” when the priest replies to Rudy at one point in the movie, “I know two things: one, there is a God; and, two, I’m not him.” Bravo!

Now, perhaps you have some TV/movie examples to add to my three?

Or, perhaps you don’t agree.

Are You the God?

12 Mar

 

Are You the God?

by L. Stewart Marsden

As I lay me down to sleep
and pray “Are you the god who keeps
the lonely and the broken-hearted
close and safe?”

Forgive me — I’m a bit confused
o’er how we win and how we lose
this game of love that
you continue to vouchsafe.

As I lay across the stone,
the altar where you stand, alone,
with knife raised high
in clench-ed fists

I wonder why it’s come to this —
the edge of an unplumbed abyss
where all who fall
will go unmissed.

It was a part of what you made —
and sprang to life the day you bade it
to only spiral down
from its inception.

Why you trusted such a pearl
to those of us whom you knew were
completely filled with
failings and deception.

Are you the god who rips out hearts
to raise them pulsing in the air
until at last the beating stops —
the blood no longer flows?

Are you the god who turns, departs
and leaves behind the life he started,
sadly shaking head and heart
who once, forever goes?

Cassandra – The story of Casey and Alexandra — Chapter Three

17 Mar

Cassandra

Casey

 

Scene:
The hospital. An ICU room. A window on one wall is obscured by plastic vertical blinds. Another window on the opposite wall looks outside, and the tops of green trees can be seen. It is cloudy outside. A large mobile cart with various monitors and screens, dials and switches, tubes and leads is positioned by the head of a hospital bed, upon which CASEY lies. The head of the bed is slightly inclined. Numerous wires extend from various places on Casey’s body to the cart. Two IVs are hung from a post extending from the head of the bed, and a bag of clear liquid as well as one filled with plasma drip contents into tubes that wind down to bandaged insertion points on Casey’s arm. She lies on her back, her arms extended to her sides. Her eyes are closed.

A crinkled tube is fastened to a plastic portal on the front of her neck, and leads back to a machine that pumps air into Casey at a regular rate. The noise is constant, clicking and wheezing air into her motionless body.

Other machines create a cacophony of sounds — various beeping sounds — and a heart monitor is like a metronome, with its  regular, constant beep-beep-beep.

Casey’s MOM and DAD are seated on one side of the still girl. Her mom is closer, and her father sits a bit back, convulsing with sobs that he attempts to mute, but to no avail. Periodically in the background are off-stage intercom calls for various doctors to go to various places in the hospital. They are flat and without emotion.

VOICE OFFSTAGE
Paging Dr. Welstrom. Paging Dr. Welstrom. Line four. Dr. Welstrom, line four.

Casey’s MOM
(Looking up in response to a question, speaking to the Audience)
Are you kidding? My Casey was – is — beautiful – inside and out! There isn’t anything about her that anyone dislikes.

Casey’s DAD
(Wiping his eyes with a damp handkerchief)
Nothing they didn’t like.

Casey’s MOM
Even now – even in her hospital bed – she’s a beautiful angel!

Casey’s dad:
(Blowing his nose)
An angel.

Casey’s MOM
My Casey has everything going for her! Beauty, athleticism, out-going personality . . . she is the perfect daughter . . .
she has a smile that brightens everyone’s day . . . an innocence that is unmatchable – untouchable!

Casey’s DAD
(Continuing to weep in a high-pitched, hiccuppy sound)
Untouchable.

VOICE OFFSTAGE
Mrs. Meriam Shaw, you are wanted at the nurse’s station in ICU immediately. Mrs. Shaw,
you are wanted at the nurse’s station in ICU immediately.

Casey’s MOM
Look at her!
(motions to the still, unmoving form of her daughter)
She’s asleep, is all! Her skin is pink and vibrant still! Look! See her chest rise? She is breathing, by God!

Casey’s DAD
Breathing.

(A nurse in blue scrubs, mask and hair cover enters and crosses to the bed. She pulls out a blood pressure cuff and wraps it around the girl’s arm, then inserts the end of her stethoscope under the cuff and adjusts the earpieces, pumping the black bulb several times. She quickly scans the various monitors that are attached to Casey by dozens of leads, and notates the values of each in a chart, which she hooks back on the life-support cart next to the bed. She turns to leave and makes eye contact with Casey’s mom, and then looks down and exits DR)

Casey’s MOM
In and out. On the hour. Take her blood pressure and look at the monitors. Then write something down.
They think she’s dead. They think we’re crazy to keep her hooked up. They think we should let her go.

Casey’s DAD
(Softly, weeping)
Let her go.

Casey’s MOM
But it’s not up to us, is it? I mean, we’re not in control, are we? God is in control.
And until I hear God tell me to let Casey go – to turn life support off –
we will believe that everything is possible when God is honored and His will is obeyed.

Casey’s DAD
His will.

Casey’s MOM
Amen! Jesus said if you have faith the size of a mustard seed – a mustard seed!
Know how big a mustard seed is? You can hardly see it, by God! It’s tiny!

Casey’s DAD
Tiny.

Casey’s MOM
I’ve got that kind of faith! I can believe that one day – like Lazarus – my Casey is going to
open her eyes and sit up and shake these monitors from her arms and legs and head and jump onto
the floor and walk out of this place! And it won’t matter that the doctors and nurses and
administrators and anybody else here didn’t believe! It is the power of God to work and act
in the spiritual world and do things no doctor could ever accomplish!

Casey’s DAD
No doctor.

Casey’s MOM
So, they can think what they want. It doesn’t make any difference. It does not matter.
Because my tiny faith is going to release the Power of the Universe!
The One who flung everything that is into being is capable and able to do wondrous things!
HE is able! It does not matter that no one else believes! Jehovah God will prevail!

Casey’s DAD
It does not matter.

Casey’s DAD
Yes, it does not matter.

VOICE OFFSTAGE
Security, code gray in the front lobby, stat. Security, code gray in the front lobby, stat. Code blue, ICU. Repeat, code blue, ICU.

Lights fade as last VOICE OFFSTAGE repeats several times, fading in volume.

© Lawrence S. Marsden, 17 March, 2013

What did NOT happen in Newtown, CT

15 Dec

The response to the events in Newtown, CT are predictable.

Disbelief.

Shock.

Outrage.

Fear that it could happen in my child’s school.

And it’s everywhere: TV, radio, Facebook, Twitter.

Everywhere.

This morning, as I scrolled down through Facebook posts, I came upon this photo, and had to respond.

[I linked a photo from Facebook that was a T-shirt meme. That photo link was broken. I have replaced it.]

violence-in-schools-god

I don’t know if you are a person of faith, and if you are, I don’t know which faith you adhere to.

But the T-shirt is not true.

Yes, organized prayer — of any faith — is not allowed in the public schools. Yes, teaching the creation theory against evolution is not allowed.

But God IS in the schools. You can’t keep Him out. He teaches math or science or Language Arts; He’s a band teacher, or a drama teacher. He comforts and loves and freely gives to every student, every staff and faculty member that walks the hallways in every school.

If it is true, then God was not in Vietnam; is not in Afghanistan; was not in Japan when the tsunami hit; fled when the planes hit the Twin Towers in New York on 9/11.

If it is true, he abandoned the beaches of Dover, fled from Manassas and Gettysburg.

He has left countless hospitals.

And we should all become Deists.

There are no quick nor easy answers to tragedies like Newtown or Columbine.

But I can tell you, when the Principal and vice principal and guidance counselor confronted the shooter, God was with them.

When he sprayed the hallways and hit numerous children, God was with them, also.

God never left that elementary school.

So, I’m going to advise you, if you have the slightest unction to buy and wear that T-shirt — don’t.

It’s a lie.