When I tell people I’ve written a book about death, hands down, the most common response I receive is laughter.
I take no offense, though. It’s not a cruel, mocking sort of laughter. We joke about death by instinct, the way an eight year old laughs when someone passes gas. It’s socially unacceptable, therefore hilarious.
I know better than to say that I’m a Springsteen fan. It’s not because I don’t listen to Springsteen. I do. I have most of his catalog in my iTunes folder. Nebraska is one of my favorite albums, and thank goodness for The Rising and Devils and Dust, albums that did some justice to the experience of 9/11 and the second Gulf War. So, I’m plenty familiar with Springsteen and enjoy his music immensely.
I first “met” her in a book I’d pulled from my school’s closet-sized library.
Jewish refugees and resistance workers streamed through the welcoming doors of an old Dutch house, and a tiny, secret space was built into the uppermost bedroom to hide them. No needful face was turned away. The Ten Boom family prepared beds for frightened new residents and doled out cream puffs to make raid drills feel more like a game, all the while entrusting themselves and the people under their roof to God.
Hello, old friends. I feel a little shy jumping straight back into the jollity of the Rabbit Room after such a long absence, but I’ve missed this place too much to delay any longer.
Assuming that artists are to be visionary prophets, what might that look like? I think it means pursuing at least three separate (though not mutually exclusive) goals.
I remember when I had no imagination for how ugly the process of redemption can look. It seems like that change in the landscape of my mind marks the point in life when I could say with certainty that I had grown up. In that moment, whatever or whenever it was, hope suddenly meant something different, something heavy and precious. It wasn’t pretty—not in the traditional sense of the word anyway. Learning to carry it hurt me, and I had to get used to the weight of something so worth holding, so demanding of a firm grip.
Every summer when I was a kid I was given the amazing freedom to walk down Elm Road to the neighborhood pool about a mile away. There I spent most of my summer days practicing my dives, playing 500 with Dave the ice cream man, and frolicking barefoot with my friends.
Rise and walk. He was saying this to a man who had lain there begging in dirt and filth for years. It was ridiculous to expect any action at all. To require such a man to rise, and even walk, was beyond any sense of decency. It was pointless and cruel.
For nine years, I was on the senior staff of All Souls, Langham Place in London. Many in the USA will know it as the church where John Stott attended throughout his long life (he joined as a toddler and only at 86 moved to his retirement home). But in the UK, if people are aware of it at all, All Souls is more likely to be known as “the BBC church.” This is because Broadcasting House is our immediate neighbor, literally a few paces away, and for many years, it was the church from which BBC Radio’s Daily Service was broadcast every morning.
I was standing in the parking lot of our little Valrico, Florida church when a man from the congregation came up to shake my hand. His expression was earnest, his voice impassioned, when he said, “I pray that one day millions of people will hear your voice.” It was an extravagant compliment, and kindly meant, but it was a dangerous thing for a teenager to hear.
Two scenes stand out in memory: one a place of beginning, the other a place of understanding. In the first, a nineteen-year-old girl sits alone in her car on a summer afternoon, while the boy she loved walks away. She is hurting, and the feeling of rejection is intolerable. She is disgusted with herself, so she uses her pain as a catalyst for change—she will finally take control of her health.