Book Review: Living Thoughtfully, Dying Well by Glen E. Miller, MD (Reviewed by Renee Hart)

As a healthcare worker and more importantly as part of humanity, I was struck by Glen E. Miller MD’s very personal and powerful book entitled Living Thoughtfully, Dying Well: A Doctor Explains How To Make Death A Natural Part Of Life. A book that is written particularly for the elderly or chronically ill and their families, it is full of helpful advice and practical steps to prepare for a “good death”.[1]  In an age where “70 % of patients say they want to die at home, yet only 40% do so”,[2] the author places a lot of emphasis on the importance of intentionality in preparing for a successful transition to the next life.[3] Within the book the author includes thought provoking exercises for reflection, links to on line resources, and other helpful charts and checklists; including the one he himself created and used in order to be well prepared for his own good death.

As the book begins, the author describes his qualifications for writing such a book:

(1) As a physician, I cared for dying patients. (2) As a hospital administrator and author of a book on the subject, I understand the workings of the healthcare system. (3) As a patient, I experienced the need to make far-reaching and urgent medical decisions under the stress of uncertainty and time limitations. (4) With a degree in theology, I recognize dying as a spiritual event- more so than a physical, emotional, social or psychological one.[4]

This book addresses practical concerns, such as creating Advanced Directives and appointing a Power of Attorney for Health Care Decisions, without neglecting the essentials of being spiritually and relationally prepared for a good death.  Personal reflections of the author, who himself is anticipating the end of his life due to his failing cardiac health, as well as numerous stories and conversations that he relays throughout the book, make it a honest and intimate reading experience.  It is a resource which is equally as useful for personal reflection as it would be for group teaching and discussion. I highly recommend this book as essential reading for all who have come to an awareness of their own mortality.[5]

 

(As full disclosure, I was given this review copy of Living Thoughtfully, Dying Well with the purpose of having it reviewed publicly on my blog. I am not receiving any funds and there is no expectation of necessarily receiving a positive review. These are the honest thoughts of the reviewer.)

[1] Miller, Living Thoughtfully, Dying Well, 135.

[2] Ibid., 57.

[3] Ibid., 137.

[4] Ibid., 14.

[5] Ibid., 19.

In It For the Long Haul: Gracialized Vision & The New Black Panther $10,000 Bounty

Well, whether some like it or not, we have been thrust into a national dialogue on race, violence, and the legal system. I can’t lie, I can often get very frustrated by the same old story being played out over and over again. How many more young black males have to die? Since slavery has ended thousands and thousands of black men have been killed, being seen as disposable, in contrast very few black killings happened during slavery because we were seen as valuable property. Ida B. Wells, a brave and courageous black woman, spoke up and brought national attention to the lynching crisis that exploded after slavery and went well into the 1900’s (Last recorded tree lynching took place in the 1980’s). In the 1950’s, Emmit Till’s murder became a national symbol after the country reacted to the images of Emmit Till’s 14 year old deformed dead body that was placed on the cover of black magazines. Originally from Chicago, Till was visiting family down south when he was dragged from his uncle’s home, beaten, and had an eye gouged out. He was eventually shot in the head, and had barbed wire and a heavy cotton gin tied around his neck as his body was disposed of in a river. His crime, supposedly whistling at a white woman.

There is a long legacy of black life being disposable and unvalued in American life. While there have been tons of senseless murders that have taken black life, some particular names have continued to shape Black American historical memory, probably because of the details surrounding each situation. Let’s remember some folks who have had their lives abruptly ended because of America’s pathological racism. Michael Donald, lynched in the 1981, James Byrd’s dragged to death behind a truck for 3 miles in 1998. Amadou Diallo shot at 41 times (hit 19 times) while unarmed and pulling out his wallet in 1999. Sean Bell was shot 50 times and killed the night before his wedding in the Bronx in 2006. Oscar Grant’s murder while handcuffed and on his stomach by a cop in Oakland was recorded by several camera phones and uploaded online in 2009. And more recently of course we have been mourning the death of Trayvon Martin while also dealing with the unarmed shooting of Ramarley Graham last month. There are so many other folks who have lost their lives similarly, but these names for most are familiar and recognizable names which remind us how vulnerable it is to be a black male in America, and also how the legal system often fails to uphold justice for ALL.

How should we (Black Christians) respond to such a legacy of racism or to the apathy towards black life? The New Black Panther Party supposedly has put out a $10,000 bounty for Zimmerman. While I can sympathize with their frustration with our legal system and the reality of how many black people never find justice in it, I continue to believe that we can not utilize the same violent tactics imposed on us if we desire to see a new humanity usher into our world. That said, I find the legacy of the Black Panther Party and the spirit of Nat Turner and his violent slave rebellion as very natural and normal responses to injustice and oppression. While I reject the use of violence, I do share that same spirit of frustration with racial injustice in America. In fact, sometimes, that same natural response emerges in me in greater amounts than other times. I hate the negative ways black people are treated and the apathetic and cold responses that come from some in the dominant culture. And it is hard not to project those feelings onto all people who participate in the dominant culture.

And then I am reminded of the Oppressed and Crucified One being made a public spectacle and shamed on the cross. Jesus, like many other vulnerable Jews at that time, experienced the weight of an unjust and violent system that didn’t value Jewish life. According to all the gospels, Jesus was a threat to the Jewish-Roman power system in Jerusalem. In response, they employed their technique of public torture and humiliation, which was always just as much about intimidating the masses as it was to punish the individual. James Cone in his most recent book, rightly compares Roman crucifixion to American lynchings of black men. This offers us a helpful glimpse culturally into the horrendous nature and role of crucifixion in 1st century Palestine. Yet it is there hanging on the Cross that Jesus cried out…

 Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34)

He didn’t demonize them, he didn’t call for a violent revolution like Peter or Barabbas. He graciously asked the Father to extend his forgiveness to them. The vision of Christ was a gracialized vision, in that those that his eyes laid on, burdened him, in that even those who were oppressors in the traditional sense, were ultimately enslaved and broken people needing to be shown the way back to the humanity originally intended by God. It’s as though his gaze continually made distinctions between the horrendous acts that he opposed, and the people who were enticed and enslaved by those systems which temporarily benefited them. His ability to see oppressive dominant peoples through gracialized gazes allowed him to make the root of the problem opaque and highly visible, that is he saw the evil systems and forces that enslave humanity rise to the surface, while graciously seeing the transparency of all humanity which desperately is in need of a Victor and Liberator. This doesn’t mean that Jesus responds the same way to all people, it is very evident in the Gospels that Jesus takes sides with and extends extra compassion towards the socially marginalized. However, folks like the young ruler and Zaccheus, who both hoard wealth, are both given the opportunity to accept the grace being extended towards them which would liberate them from the grips of this world. Just like then, some now will accept and some will not accept such grace, but that is not our issue to worry about, that is between them and God. Our responsibility is to hold firm to that same gracialized vision Jesus did, in that we see EVERYONE as needing liberation from invisible yet powerful forces.

I am not sure how much longer this national dialogue will go on. We continue to be the United States of Amnesia, quickly forgetting recent history, or as Dr. King called it, “a 10 day nation”, which moves on to the next big thing after 10 days. But for me, I am in it for the long haul. I will be like a persistent poor widow demanding justice from an unjust judge (Luke 18:1-8). And as I confront empires, systems, and forces that enslave people and oppose God’s Kingdom, my prayer is that God would help me have Christ’s gracialized vision towards others, especially for those in the dominant culture who participate in oppressive practices and who are blind in their ability to see Jesus in those they harm (Matthew 25:31-46).

I’m Back and Blacker than Ever!

Well, since I have not blogged for aeons, I will follow the mandatory blog procedure of apologizing for being gone, while reassuring my readers to continue journeying with me as we reflect faith, politics, culture, and whatever else randomly falls into my mind. All this is done with a tone of repentance yet hopeful optimism for what my blog promises to be in the future. Here goes…

My bad.

Well I think that about covers it. Look forward to new stuff from me…. and I would love to hear back from u as well. Peace.

Common’s Freestyle – 16 bars

Check out Common as he flows 16 bars… one of the finest emcees and Hip Hop prophets out there today.

Now how can we begin to break away from classical theology and do freestyle theology? What I mean is how can we break from merely memorizing and studying other people’s theology from Europe in the 1500’s and do some theology and studying of our own for our time and our context. Join the cypha…

It’s Friday… But Sundays Coming

A true freestyle theologian does not merely observe Good Friday and Ressurection Sunday, but rather they also seek to find out what practical implications there are from these biblical principles for their communities.  Freestyle with me, are there areas of despair in your life and in society that just seem hopeless?  How can Sunday invade those areas of life and community?  How might Sunday be coming for you?

An Itch…


I must be honest, I have an ever growing itch to live truly shaped by the life of Christ and within His Kingdom. I know some think of me as radically living out my faith, and probably because of american christian complacency it may sometimes appear that way. However, when I step into reality and allow the Word of God to search me and measure me up to what we as a church have been called to, I am deeply humbled. I guess we all get to that place where we see that God is desiring much more from us in our lives. I know I am there, and have an ever growing itch that I have been ignoring for a while now. However, there are real choices to be made. Faithfulness to me, requires that I choose between the things of this world and God. Everyone is always quick to say that they have chosen God over this world, but we nonetheless make all our decisions based on consumerism, comfort, and security. Those things have enculturated our thinking so much, that we do not always recognize how impacted we are by main stream thought and culture. We are like a fish in water, that is all we know.

I have this itch… but I have been scared to scratch it. It means a complete letting go of the things I have been taught to trust. It is literally putting on a funeral for an empty system and recognizing that it is truly dead, letting it go. I think that at the point that you let go, you find a whole new freedom never experienced before. The whole system and the world and all its promises needs to be let go of. Deep down in my core I have an itch to let go completely.

I want to be able to be like the apostle Paul who said “Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.”

I don’t know about you, but comfortable Christianity is just not cutting it for me. It promises a lot, but in the end seems empty and watered down. I have this itch, and like any other itch, as I/you try to ignore it, it only grows in intensity. I have this itch and I believe that the time to scratch it has always been now.

Another perspective on Obama’s reforming of Health Care

Just wanted to share this article I read about Obama’s  failure to follow through on his original promises for Health Care that he got elected for.  And it leaves me thinking, when it comes to Health Care, are we our brothers keeper?  I have health care coverage, but should I fight to make sure that everyone has access to fair and quality coverage? We pursue right relationship with our creator, but are we also called to pursue right relationship with God’s creation as well?

Freestyle with me, how has your awareness of God impacted your views on access to health care for the poor and marginalized?

Flash back to Lauryn Hill’s call for true Hip Hop

I love this song, and obviously Lauryn Hill is one of Hip Hip’s finest artists.  I love the line “”music is supposed to inspire, so how come we ain’t gettin no higher”.  There have always been mainly two main streams of hip hop… why are the stereotypical performers the most popular, and what effect is music having on the psyche of the next generation? Freestyle with me…