While we’re eating, let’s talk death

By Gerry Lewis | Published Wednesday, October 16, 2013

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I am writing this week from a hotel room in Nashville, Tenn., where I will be for the next few days attending a conference for church consultants. Sunday morning, I worshiped with a church near the hotel. It was actually a church I have wanted to visit for several years, since reading a couple of books written by the pastor.

It was a great experience from the moment we drove onto the parking lot. We donned our “church consultant lenses” and noticed great directional signage, a friendly and helpful parking lot greeter, more friendly and helpful greeters inside the door and an inviting and welcoming atmosphere.

During the pastor’s excellent sermon, he referenced a recent trend among Baby Boomers to get together over dinner and talk about death and dying. These “Death Dinners,” according to a Bloomberg news article from a few weeks ago, are trending in New York but were inspired by a group of master’s degree students and faculty at the University of Washington.

Their program, “Let’s Have Dinner and Talk About Death,” offers “talking points, reading material on death and how to word a death dinner invitation.” Since starting last month, about 400 people have signed up to host dinners, the group said.

I regularly listen to a podcast called “This is Your Life” by Michael Hyatt. His most recent blog and podcast topic dealt with tips for having better dinner conversations. I can’t remember, “Would you rather be buried or cremated?” being one of his suggested questions.

However, as I read through the Bloomberg article online, it kind of made sense. It seems a little creepy to have a “death” conversation when everyone is healthy, but that really is the point. Medical technology, nutrition and simply a better standard of living have increased our life expectancies, and we have innumerable resources to help us prepare to live well. I like to think of this column as one of those resources. But how do we prepare to die well?

Death is often seen as the great Interloper, the uninvited destroyer of dreams and fearful heartbreaker. I think it is possible, rather, to view death as a commencement exercise or even a birthing chamber into life at its fullest. But just talking about death and funeral arrangements won’t help us make that shift. A will, medical power of attorney or other advanced directives are helpful and advisable but still do not transform our mental models of death and dying.

The fearfulness of a closed door is mitigated when we know what is on the other side. Jesus said, “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.” (John 6:37) Our lives matter so much to God that He wants us to enter the next reality with assurance. That assurance comes by knowing Him personally in this reality.

Now about that “Death Dinner” – home-cooked or carry-out?

Dr. Gerry Lewis, author, blogger, church consultant and leadership coach, serves as executive director of the Harvest Baptist Association headquartered in Decatur.

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