By William Malcomson
This is the second part of the two part blog dealing with Is There Life After Death?
A lot of literature has appeared in the past few years about near death experiences. One of the most interesting of the recent books was PROOF OF HEAVEN. My concern about the recalling of near death experiences is that it seems to be fairly easy for persons who write about these experiences to jump to certain conclusions, such as proving that there is life after death or that such life is of a certain kind. My take on such experiences (I have never had a near death experience) is that there are explanations that do not lead to proving life after death. A near death experience can be similar to entering into a kind of dream state which often includes connecting with dead relatives, feeling warm, seeing a light, and so on. Our minds are capable of a lot of multidimensional experiences when allowed to wander. It could also be possible that when real death occurs that it takes longer for the mind to shut off than we thought. THE TIBETAN BOOK OF THE DEAD has interesting insights into this possible phenomenon. Indigenous people have stories about this occurrence. Another possibility, of course, is that we have no idea of what is proven or not proven by such an experience. We do know that many persons who have had these experiences come out of them with little or no fear of dying. I am all for that outcome.
The plain fact is that we humans agonize a great deal about our mortality. And with good reason. Premature deaths--the deaths of children, of young people, of anyone who dies before living a long life seems incredibly unfair and often tragic. It is agonizing to see persons slowly waste away with dementia or Parkinson's or ALS or any of a number of diseases which entail a "long goodby." It is often experienced as tragic when life ends too soon or when death does not come soon enough. I have had friends who have taken charge of their own mortality through suicide, or refusing to eat, or deciding to die "with dignity." For the most part, we do not take kindly to death. Throughout history death has often been called "the enemy." We want it to be done away with or overcome or for it to be a mere "transition," or for mortality to be "swallowed up" in immortality. Religious traditions have offered a myriad of ways to avoid death or overcome its effects or open up new possibilities for life of some kind after death. Belief systems, commitments to certain ways of living are put forth as ways to move beyond mortality. If you truly believe in Jesus Christ as Son of God and follow him in ways that are laid out for you, you will live eternally. Or if you move along the path to enlightenment, in this life or in a number of lives to come, you will enter Nirvana and mortality is overcome.
Let me be very honest. I do not think that we can overcome mortality. If there is a life after death, I do not believe that it is a repeat or a re-doing of this life. This life is an embodied one. And bodies die. As far as we know, minds die as minds are embodied. What we think of as "me" dies when death comes. At least it seems so to me. This is extremely hard to take if someone whom we love has died. It is very difficult to deal with what one of our blogees recently called his "hole in my heart" when his wife died. My faith tells me that when Jesus died on a cross he really died. Not only that, but when he died a real death, he identified with all of humankind. He knew what we know and he died as we die.
Finally, I think there are certain life after death options that are worth looking at.
We live after death in other people: In our descendants, in those whom we have influenced, in our contributions to institutions, causes, communities, those whom we have loved and who continue to remember us.
Is it possible that we could come back to this earth in another form? In other words, re-incarnation. My problem with this idea, shared by many and an important tenet of much of Eastern religion, is that the new form would not really be "me." It would be another life-form. Some holy persons have said that they remember their past lives and see a connection with previous lives. The assumption in this view is that there is hope in each incarnation that one will have the opportunity for an even better life. This is hard for me to affirm.
Here is where I am on this issue: I do believe that in this embodied life we can connect with what is more than the five senses. I believe that I and many others throughout history have felt that there is an "energy," a Spirit, a force that we cannot explain but which we have experienced that is operative in all of life--not only human life. We are not all that there is. We do not know everything. Many of us have felt that we are connected, in touch with, have been opened up to an energizing spirit that is particularly real in the experience of creativity, in our deep identification with animated life (in humans, animals, all life forms), in our moments when we feel at one with all that is and even what could be. We believe that somehow, in some mysterious and indescribable way, we are not alone. I have trouble calling this energy God, because that term carries too much baggage. I usually call it Spirit, but that does not always help. There is no name that names the fullness of this experience. Somehow, and this is where it gets tricky, this energizing spirit within and among us, seems not to be mortal as we are mortal.
The apostle Paul was trying to get at this, I think, in talking about a "spiritual body." His view of the resurrection of Jesus was not that Jesus died and walked around after his death in some bodily form, but that Jesus somehow lived in Paul. I think that what I call the energizing Spirit is like what Paul was experiencing. He used the terminology of his time. He used terms that made sense two thousand years ago. But we do not live in his time. But is it possible that when we die some kind of connection with this Spirit can and will go on? Maybe there are no separate identities after death, maybe there is nothing we could call a body, even a spiritual body, but maybe there is a possibility of something new, of something we cannot begin to comprehend. Maybe there is a communal life, maybe there is a "coming home" into nothing that you or I could conceive of as home now.
I believe that we know far less than we think we know. I believe that as we think of life after death, we have to be open to new possibilities, to so far undreamed of dreams. Perhaps, instead of knowing, we shall be known.
By William Malcomson
Is there life after death?
Of course there is in the sense that the dead live among us. Our ancestors, our grandparents and our parents live in us in our genes, our personality characteristics, and in our memories. How many of us often think about what our father or mother or uncle or aunt might do in a situation we are facing? How many of us, in our dreams, sense the presence of those who have left but seem to be still able to return? I tend to identify with my paternal ancestry. There are historical reasons for this, which I will not go into, but as I observe my sons and daughter, my grandchildren, I see my grandfather, my father, my uncles and aunt in them. There seem to be certain Malcomson characteristics, that, for good and ill, continue from generation to generation.
In our culture, I think we tend to think of life after death in terms of individuals. Do we, you or I, live after death? Does or will a person whom we care about, live after death? We tend not to think communally. In the Bible the general view was that when persons died they went to "sleep." When the world as we know it would come to an end, then those who were sleeping in death would rise together. Resurrection would be a communal event. As it says in Revelation, there would be a new heaven and a new earth, for all beings. But in our culture, there is a tendency to think of each person dying alone and becoming immortal alone. And we usually think of it as more or less instantaneous. That is, we die and then we are or are not in some kind of new state of being.
One of the really difficult facts to think about in terms of life after death is that we only experience embodied life. We live in bodies. There you are, and there am I. I can deal with you, because I can see, hear, sense you as a distinct person, separate from me. If we were disembodied, or somehow out of a body, would we be you and me? I only know me as an embodied distinct individual. So to think about an after death existence is hard, because it is rather obvious that my body will no longer be around. It will be in a grave, deteriorating, or it will be burned up in cremation. The only "I" I know will not be in existence.
Thus the question that is often raised is whether or not there is a soul or spirit or consciousness within our bodies which can have a life without a body such as we know. The body dies, but the soul lives one, as it were. But do we experience a soul or its equivalent without it being embodied? Aren't brains which think, contemplate, required for us even to experience what we may call soul? Contemplatives talk of moving down deep into their spirit or soul and feeling one with it. But they contemplate as a being with a brain, emotions, blood, personality characteristics, etc. Some of us may think we sense being in our soul without a sense of also being in our body, but do we? We are capable of thinking about a lot of possibilities that might be, but our ability to think of a soul apart from a body, does not make it so.
The possibility of life after death raises a lot of questions, does it not?
In my next blog, I am going to talk about near death experiences, our agonizing about mortality, and some options for how to think about life after death.
By Jim Segaar
Producing and transporting a single bottle of water:
[ thewaterproject.org ]
What does my sister’s 70th birthday have to do with climate change? More than I ever expected.
I spent the past four days near Minneapolis celebrating my sister Dorothy’s birthday. I joined her and 17 other relatives to eat too much, take walks in the pleasant spring weather, sit in the sun on her deck, fall asleep on the couch mid-sentence, and then stay up until midnight catching up.
It was thirsty business, and water was our drink of choice. One of my sisters thoughtfully bought a case of bottled water at the grocery store – it was only $2 after all. Late that first evening after most people had gone off to bed, four of us siblings sat talking, and my sister offered us each a bottle. I declined, opting instead to refill my glass from the tap in the kitchen sink. And then I did something very unusual; I told my siblings why I made that choice.
In characteristic fashion, especially when I’ve avoided expressing an opinion on the topic for years, I blurted out that I thought bottled water was a silly waste of resources. Then I calmed down and recited some of the facts listed above. And I talked about our conversations at Seattle First Baptist, and about our conviction that each of us can do something and must do something about climate change.
I confessed that I believe the bottled water business is 99% marketing and 1% necessity. Sure, if I were staying in a fleabag hotel in Flint, Michigan, I’d prefer to buy my water at the corner store. When disaster strikes and sewage floods some municipal water system we need to fly in potable liquid. But when I am sitting in my sister’s living room with plentiful, good-tasting, safe water a few steps away, why should I reach for a bottle instead? Why drink water that has been processed, bottled, and shipped all over the planet first?
My siblings were surprisingly tolerant of my outburst, and even supportive. Our bottle-buying sister refilled hers in the kitchen the rest of the time we were together, and as I left for the airport I saw her case of water sitting in the corner of the kitchen with only a single bottle missing. Collectively over a long weekend we saved at least 163 gallons of water, 6 gallons of fossil fuels, and 28 pounds of greenhouse gases.
Did my outburst reverse climate change? No. But it helped. For me, it was a radical departure from past occasions when I remained silent about my distaste for bottled water. It also provided an opportunity for my family to talk seriously about climate change and its impact on the children and grandchildren looking down on us from the photos on the walls.
So what can we do? When we have a choice, just say “no” to bottled water. Talk about climate change with those we love. Work together to make decisions that are better for our planet. It makes a difference.
And check back on this website in the coming weeks for more ways that we can all make a difference regarding climate change, one decision at a time.
“I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything; but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.” ~ Edward Everett Hale
This blog includes thoughts from various contributors at Seattle First Baptist