16 April, 2017

Death And Life

Last week, I officially became a member of Grand River Unitarian Congregation.

Whatever else that place becomes for me in the future, I am sufficiently aware it is a community that shares my ideals, many of my modes of thought, and above all my empathy.

As is said every week in the introductory announcements for the benefit of any guests in attendance, they are a community bound not by shared beliefs, but by shared values and a desire to support one another in the search for truth and meaning.

Anybody who is interested to look further into what could convince a staunchly irreligious person to take this step (and lament not taking it twenty years ago!) should go here and have a look around.

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Today's sermon was, as befits Easter, about death and what comes after.

I have often been accused of being morbid. This comes, I think, from my complete lack of hesitation in discussing death.

I won't say death fascinates me. That sounds too much like I long for it, and I don't. At all. I have far too much to live for; the past year has reinforced that immeasurably.

But it interests me, death. More specifically, what may or may not come after. Of course, we can't be sure if something does...or doesn't. Personally, paraphrasing Jodie Foster in Contact,  Time is a very big place. So big that if this is all there is...it seems like a waste of Time.  To me.

Then again, there are spiritual and scientific postulates that Time is an illusion, that everything which has ever happened or will ever happen is actually happening in the Eternal Moment of Now. It's hard to wrap your head around that when you live in a world as governed by Time as we have allowed ours to be. But perhaps it's true.

Rev. Jess today told a secondhand story about Oral Roberts, the fundamentalist televangelist. In his faith, and in the faiths of many Christians, death is -- for the righteous, of course -- a "calling Home", a gateway to eternal life with God. And yet Roberts told his viewers in 1987 that if they didn't raise $8 million in three months (over and above their usual tithe), he, Roberts, would be "called Home".
His viewers raised $9.1 million. Oral Roberts lived another 22 years.

Which is...perplexing. Surely being "called Home" is a good thing? If you're a Christian?  Why is "God" trying to extort people (for money, no less, the love of which is supposed to be the root of all evil) by dangling something that any self-respecting Christian ought to see as a reward? I leave those answers as an exercise for my readers.

For me, the Christian version of heaven holds less than zero appeal. Not that their hell is any better, mind you, but it doesn't seem much worse to me.

I have thought a lot about this over the years and while I lack for anything definitive to buttress my beliefs, I nonetheless feel quite strongly that

  • death is a transition, not an ending;
  • death is nothing to be afraid of (although dying may well be);
  • whatever comes after is at least to some degree up to us...much as our lives are. 
Perhaps we are reincarnated, as the Buddhists and Hindus believe. I live with a man who believes very passionately in past lives. Speaking for myself, I prefer to concentrate on this life; what's past is prologue. In fact, it seems to me that no matter what you believe about the hereafter, concentrating on this life, this world, is the prudent course of action. If you are in fact to be reincarnated, it's supposedly based on your actions and beliefs in this reality. If heaven or hell awaits, your final destination is predicated on your actions and beliefs in the here and now. And if there's nothing after death, well, then, this life is all you get and it's up to you to make the most of it. 

I learned today that Christians in the first millennium of their faith had a much more prominent belief in bringing 'heaven on earth' about. Their focus wasn't on death and eternal reward or punishment; it was on acting in love to create a paradise in the world they knew. That, to me, seems a much more reasonable and attractive goal than hoping you were born into the right time and place to run across and adopt Christianity so you could be "saved" after death. 

At any rate, death doesn't frighten me. It never has. If there is a next life, I look forward to loving the people I didn't get to this time around. If there's a heaven, I would visualize it as a state of absolute, all-encompassing love. And if there's nothing, if this is all we get...then I will love as many, as much, for as long, as I can. 

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