Our culture of death

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Two cultural icons have died: Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain.

I’ve known people who have ended their lives, so I can only imagine the weight on the shoulders of those close to them. The loved ones left behind end up ping-ponging back and forth between tears and anger. A life that ends too soon is an exhausting reality for too many people.

I’m pissed about the numbers of people who are killing themselves. People die every day and no one is immune to death. The death rate still hovers at right around 100%. However, the rate of people dying at their own hands is on an upward march, surpassing death by car accidents and opioids. Someone dies of suicide every 40 seconds. Suicide rates have increased in nearly every state over the past two decades, and half of our states have seen suicide rates go up more than 30%.

What makes Ms. Spade and Mr. Bourdain’s deaths so puzzling is that they seemed to have the world by the tail. They had everything that most Americans long for: money, admiration, and fame. Most of us would have traded lives with them in a heartbeat, and yet they are now tragically lifeless.

While I can’t comment on why these two people ended their own lives, I can comment on why I think that dying at one’s own hands is a growing problem, with untold numbers of us having attempted suicide or currently contemplating suicide. I can’t surmise which or if any of these things were factors for our two latest case studies, but here are some things for us all to ponder…

The life that Americans long for doesn’t work. We value success more than significance. Success is measured by digits. Digits in the bank. Digits of Facebook friends. Digits of followers and likes. None of these things inherently lead to suicide, but believing that these things make us significant does lead to a hopelessness so deep that we eventually feel that we have nothing and we are nothing. The cultural things we strive for don’t bring us life, and in some cases could end in our death absent of deeper, more holistic endeavors like genuine relational connection.

Mental illness is real. As a pastor who personally interacts with thousands of people, I see more than my share of broken arms, cancerous tumors, and neurological chemical deficiencies. I don’t judge anyone who suffers from any of these maladies. We live in a broken world where things are spiraling out of control and nowhere is this more painful than in our own human shell. Our friends who have mental illness need to be supported and given a healthy dose of patience and empathy.

There is a dark spiritual realm which must be recognized and fought. The psychiatrist and best selling author M. Scott Peck wrote a book entitled “People of the Lie” which details his experience with some of his patients who had dark forces that afflicted them. Cultures around the world recognize that there is a spiritual realm that intersects with our physical realm. Scientists increasingly speak of the “4th dimension” as a realm which exists, but of which we are barely aware of. I believe the 4th dimension is the spirit realm. A place that can’t be measured, videotaped, nor chronicled in any way other than by observing what is happening within the dimension we understand.

The most influential person in the history of the world is Jesus of Nazareth—hands down. We date time after him, as he is universally recognized as the most moral and greatest teacher of all time. Over and over he recognized that the problems many people were facing were spiritual in nature, and he took action by praying and casting out demons. Was he and everyone who testified to these acts crazy? Was he dealing with something that only existed in 1st century Palestine? I believe he was engaging in a spiritual battle that still rages today, one that we are unwilling to recognize and unwilling or unequipped to engage with.

Jesus would regularly speak to the demon that was possessing or oppressing an individual and ask their name. One such demon gave the name of “legion” because there were numerous entities afflicting this individual. I know some Christians go off the deep end and see a demon behind every door and under every bush. Most of the time when someone claims to be “under attack” I say, “No. This is called life, where difficult things happen. Stop being so narcissistically melodramatic and suck it up. Hard times and difficulty happens to us all without a spiritual entity to blame.”

That being said, there must be an extended family of demons with the last name of “death” that are reproducing and populating our land in great numbers.

We pay to see people pummel each other in the Octagon. Blockbusters abound with the central theme of violence. There seems to be no end to mass shootings in peaceful settings. It isn’t a great leap to believe that forces and voices are leading more and more of us to be violent to ourselves, if not through suicide, then through cutting and other forms of self-mutilation.

Not everyone who cuts or considers violence to themselves is afflicted by dark entities from the spirit realm, but all of us should embrace that there is a battle going on for our souls. God’s champion is Jesus, who came from the spiritual realm and lived a physical life for 33 years before going back to the spirit realm. The spirit realm is not inherently evil, but it is inherently present in our culture and in our individual lives.

We aren’t just physical people with spiritual properties. We are spiritual people with physical properties.

Let’s start interacting with each other in a spirit of love and understanding. We can’t deal with all of our problems with a trip to the ER or a bottle of meds. We also need to increase our understanding that all of us have needs to belong. Needs to be loved. Needs to overcome issues, even if the physical or digital scorecard says that we’re winning.

There is more to this life than meets the eye. More to each of our lives than what is clinically observable. Let’s spend extra energy looking into each other’s eyes and giving words of affirmation. Let’s look for signs that someone isn’t well and ask probing questions. Instead of ignoring someone’s lethargy or shaking our head at a life we don’t understand, let’s give a full on hug instead.

Jesus believed and taught that you and everyone you know is created in the image of God. You have value. You are like Him. He loves you and he has plans for you. Plans that can only be recognized if you live.

Written by Brian Tome on Jun 8, 2018

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