Friday, April 08, 2005

The Powerful Play Goes On…

A great man was buried today. His Holiness, John Paul II has left his earthly throne and now kneels at the throne of He whom he served so well.

And this Protest-ant finds himself strangely and deeply affected by his passing.

The Holy Father’s death has had an almost gravimetric pull on my mind and heart these past days. I find myself devouring any and all news I can get about his life, his service, and the sumptuously elaborate pomp and ritual that surrounds his burial and the selection of his successor.

When Princess Di was killed, I watched in bewilderment as thousands of people mourned her with gregarious displays of passionate emotion. I didn’t get it. I’d never understood why people would allow themselves to become so agonized over the death of one they knew only from TV and magazines. They’d never met her. Most weren’t even British. What could she have possibly meant for them to get so worked up over her? But I missed the point. It didn’t matter that I wasn’t affected. What mattered was that there was something unique about her life that touched them, deeply and personally. And if I didn’t get it, or judged them as slightly off-bubble, well, that was an indictment of my smugness, not their sentiments.

I didn’t understand it until Christopher Reeve was paralyzed in a tragic horse riding accident. It threw me off balance for days. When news reached me that JFK, Jr. had perished in a plane crash, I was morose for weeks. Why? I didn’t know either of them. I never even followed their careers with anything more than a passing interest. But none of that mattered. Something within me called out to something within them…something I never even knew existed until the right circumstance excised it. Something in me saw images of myself in them, or images of who I hoped I might be, or the sort of random, unprocessed, subconscious symbiosis that goes almost totally unidentified let alone unacknowledged in our lives everyday.

My feelings about the Pope’s death live somewhere in that metaphysical world—nebulous and indefinable, yet very tangible and palpable all the same.

It is perhaps odd to some that I find such great sadness in the Pope’s passing. I am not Catholic. In many ways, I was raised to have a deep distrust of all things Catholic. The crucifix was little better than a pagan idol. “Catholics aren’t really Christians,” was a phrase I have heard on more occasions than I can count. Older now, and hopefully a bit wiser, I recognize those views for the well-intentioned but misguided fallacies that they are.

And yet, I still wonder at my own sadness.

It may very well have something to do with the spiritual and practical shifts in my own faith. Raised Pentecostal, I have found myself deeply dissatisfied with my inherited version of Christianity and have begun, over the past two years or so, to explore more traditional forms of Christian spirituality (more on this in upcoming blogs). While it was certainly uncomfortable in the beginning, I no longer feel as if my fellow congregants at the Episcopal church where I attend are staring at me, muttering to themselves and each other, “Look at that one. Did you see the way he genuflected? Obviously one of those Charismatic types out to see how the other half lives. Really! Spectacles, testicles, wallet and watch—how hard is it?”

As the beauty and gracefulness of church liturgy becomes more and more a part of my weekly and even daily worship, I find that I feel as if I am linked to a far larger and greater community. The liturgical calendar binds me even beyond the sacred commonalities of our salvation to the Lutheran worshiping in Sweden, the Methodist in Chicago, the Anglican in Great Britain, and yes, the Roman Catholic in Italy.

Perhaps it is that.

Perhaps that is only part of it.

Perhaps it is something more.

There was another deeply troubling reminder of mortality this week. Peter Jennings, long-time anchor of ABC News and a personal hero of sorts, announced that he has lung cancer and will be leaving the news desk to begin radical treatment to save his life.

Perhaps, that is what is affecting me the most—the idea of fading greatness, or more specifically, fading impact. That lives lived well have both natural and eternal impact but that the greatest of these lives and the greatest of these men will, like me, die and become food for worms one day. Will someone recognize my passing? Will I leave behind a legacy of greatness or service? Will my life touch those on earth and resonate in heaven?

I don’t need the pomp, or the fame, or lines winding to my casket that can be seen from space, but something in me does cry out for the impact. Something in me desperately needs to make a difference. Something in me desperately needs that I leave this world better than I found it. Money and power—what are these? If I cannot point to the lives of those around me having been made better, richer, more significant, and even everlasting because I knew them, what will I have truly done?

While tragic for the individuals themselves and painful to those of us who love and admire them, reminders of mortality are not the harbingers of evil we so readily ascribe to them. They are necessary cues inserted into the velocity of our lives. That our lives are, in fact, finite—they have a beginning and they will have an end—and we have only so long to make an impact on the world around us.

To quote one of my favorite movies, Dead Poet’s Society quoting one of my favorite poets, Walt Whitman, “‘O me! O life!... of the questions of these recurring; of the endless trains of the faithless... of cities filled with the foolish; what good amid these, O me, O life? Answer. That you are here - that life exists, and identity; that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse.’ That the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?”

Today, as the Pope was buried, there was no doubt from any quarter that he contributed an elegant verse.

How will mine read?

And when will I stop talking about service to others and actually begin...


Anonymous Anonymous said...


6:37 PM  
Anonymous Nate said...

Yeah, Brandon, I get you.

Making an impact is constantly on my mind, and I feel the days and years slide away.

About the deaths of strangers though: I can relate, because just last week I learned that Dave Eggers' sister, Beth, had killed herself several years ago with an overdose of antidepressants. Not only was I shocked, but I was shocked at being shocked, at how much it threw my day off. I sat dumbfounded reading the several-years-old article on the computer. Shocked because, how had I missed this? I read everything Eggers. You know this. I’m not unique: For me and millions he’s a bit of a literary and publishing hero. This is not some smalltime cult.
Shocked that I was so off-kilter because, hell, Dave Eggers himself is lot more below the radar than JFK Jr. or Princess Di, but his sister?? She's completely OFF the radar. A Berkely law student who never asked to be in the public eye and who pretty much never was, why did her death bother me so much?
Maybe because I loved A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius so much, with its ad-hoc family living in San Francisco, and Beth had been a part of that. In my imagination they were still living out there. In the intervening years I didn't give it any thought, obviously, but Beth, with Toph and Dave, had still been buried somewhere in some synapse of my imagination.

And then last Tuesday it turns out that she didn’t actually exist, since I’d known of her anyway. She had been deeply unhappy and had decided to kill herself over it, and this was all before I had even read the damned book. I had no idea about this: ME, who pushed the book on everyone I knew, and I'm not entirely sure why it bothered me so much, but it had something to do with my world, (even just a tiny, imagined fragment of my world), being utterly wrong.

Hey, how’s tricks?

7:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love anonymous contributors who are not only too cowardly to name themselves, but also feel the need to DECLARE THEIR IGNORANCE AT THE TOP OF THEIR LUNGS.

By the way, Anon, where does the Holy Bible ever refer to itself as the Holy Bible? Where in the bible does it say anything about Protestants? Where does the bible say that religious leaders should be fat and preoccupied with wealth and political power? METHINKS THOU ART HOISTED ON THINE OWN PETARD.

Very nice thoughts Brandon and Nate. It is has always troubled me that I can be reduced to tears at the death of a well-known stranger, but I am disturbingly untouched by the death of the nobody in my neighborhood. I'm not proud of it, but there it is. I suspect it has something to do with my healthy appreciation for transcendence blended with my pathetic attraction to celebrity. We learn to live vicariously through others; their mortality reminds us of our own.

The papal moment I have appreciated the most was the reading of his will. When it came to the dispersing of his worldly possessions, he wrote, "I have none." Wow.

9:39 AM  
Anonymous Mason Young said...

Hi Brandon,
I think you are right on point when you questioned money and power. It is definitely the influence on others. I sat stupified watching the new show "grey's anatomy last night. The narrator spoke of life as a competition and addressed ways to win the competition. In the end, however; she pointed out that winning was really about the lives each of us has affected. Iwas caught off guard that I would be surprised by a tv show. I love to read what you are thinking. Keep it up.

2:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well Mr Know Nothing "reacher",
I just came across this through a serach, and the only options for me was "anonymous", I am not an "other" or do I have a Blogger name. so it left me with anonymous. Now for your rude comments to me, I asked a intelligent question,but you couldn't give me one. You had to attack me instead. I asked why do catholics call a human a holy fahter? and where in the bible does it say we are to worship a Pope. I have never read anywhere in the bible where it says any thing about a pope. I do not understand why they feel they should kiss this Humans ring? Its strange. Do you have the answer Mr. reacher, or do you only do attacks? The Bible is Holy if you didn't know that Mr.Reacher?
Signed Proudly
Kendyl Kalkhoven II

7:42 PM  
Anonymous Nate said...

Actually, I think he answered you with a fairly intelligent, but succinct, response.

By pointing out what else the Bible lacks, reacher is making a valid and insightful point about denominations in general, and he did it in two or three sentences.
Maybe you read as fast as you apparently type and blew right past his argument on your way to fanning the next set of flames on the next blog.

Reacher's response seems particularly necessary since you seem to have misread the original post, a simple eulogy, as validation of the legitimacy of the Papacy itself, instead of just praise in how the Pope conducted himself. You are what make me so tire of the internet in the first place.

Furthermore, "Reacher" did all this without a single typo or misspelling! And that is no small achievement, relatively speaking if you know what I mean.


9:48 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow- I just read a good portion of your website/blog and was very impressed by your passionate appraoch to sharing the core values of Christianity and the importance of having a heart that seeks intimately after Jesus. You talked about exemplifying His character rather than constantly pointing out the differences between Christianity and other religions. You gently, yet assertively, reminded people that Jesus made the greatest impact not only be speaking the truth, but by living it out and caring for and showing compassion the those with whom He came in contact with every


11:15 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


First off, thanks for posting your AMAZING pictures. Boy, they take me places I know I'll never get to. They are amazing, you have a beautiful eye!

Second, I'm with you on the passing on a legacy thing. I think about what will or or have I already passed on? And I want my life to count for Jesus and most of the time I am so unsure that it does. I totally relate man. I'm right there with you!


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