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January 09, 2009

Death, the Great Attention Grabber

Swayze_narrowweb__300x4460 "I don't know what is on the other side. It tests everything I believe in, that there is something unique in all of us that does not die."

"There is a lot of fear here, there is a lot of stuff going on, yeah, I'm scared, yeah, I'm angry, yeah I'm 'why me,' yeah I'm all this stuff. My bull monitor tolerance level does not exist for me or anybody else."

~ Patrick Swayze, singer, dancer, and actor, who has stage four pancreatic cancer

Our impending death brings tremendous clarity to ultimate issues, does it not?

Patrick Swayze, who is now 56, became a recognized star after his role in the 1987 film Dirty Dancing. His biggest hit was the 1990 film, Ghost, in which he co-starred with Demi Moore. In late January of 2008, Swayze was diagnosed with stage four pancreatic cancer, an especially aggressive type. Less than five percent of those diagnosed with pancreatic cancer are still alive five years after diagnosis.

The Entertainment Weekly blog (profanity alert) links to a short YouTube clip of the Barbara Walters interview with Patrick Swayze. Watch it (it is less than two minutes).

I love his honesty. I was struck by his comment that his bull monitor tolerance level is gone. He wants it straight, and he intends to deliver it straight.

It reminded me of the talk I heard last night on the first concert stop for the Winter Jam 2009 tour. I took my sons to see Hawk Nelson, Toby Mac and a host of others. It was an outstanding show, by the way, and I heartily recommend it (don't forget to bring ear plugs for your own protection :-) ).

An evangelist named Tony Nolan delivered a powerful gospel presentation that focused almost entirely on death, why we fear it, and what to do about that. He reminded the packed civic center, whose average age was heavily weighted toward the youth group crowd, that we don’t need someone to tell us jokes. We need people to tell us straight up what is ahead. The truth is, we all are going to die and face judgment. Everyone will die ... and it may be tonight. Nolan gave several examples of teenagers who left a Winter Jam concert in years past and died in an accident on the way home.

That kind of presentation used to strike me as tacky at best and manipulative at worst. After seeing Swayze’s interview, though, I don’t think so any more. Death brings with it a level of clarity, a desire to know what is truly true about reality, and it blows away our tolerance for "bull." Is it an uncomfortable topic? Absolutely. But, like Swayze's, my tolerance level for bull is gone. Isn’t yours?

I pray for God’s grace and mercy to rain down on Patrick Swayze and his family in his battle against an aggressive killer. I thank him for the reminder to think clearly about these things now, and not wait until we have a diagnosis of stage four pancreatic cancer.

(Image courtesy of ABC)

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Steve (SBK)

Great post. I agree that Death is an important, highly ignored topic. (And I, too, pray Patrick Swayze finds truth and peace).

Our culture is geared (machine reference) toward avoiding the thought of death. That's why this is a good reminder. Is it the best platform? I bet most of the kids would go away highly motivated for a few days - carpe diem - and then, because the message was given in an emotional atmosphere, forget all about it and plug in their iPods. Or worse, feel manipulated by 'a Christian'.

True, they need to hear the message, but our excuse tends to be "they've heard the message, now they are responsible" is poor discipleship. (Yes, I'm blending the message of imminent death and the gospel).

All I can really do, though, is be an example to my children and those near me... (Reminded of 1 John 2:15-17 and Matthew 6:19-34).

We cannot be lulled to sleep by Satan's wiles. (John Donne, addressing Death: 'rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be')

Some scattered thoughts.


Jeff wrote: "His biggest hit was the 1990 film, Ghost, in which he co-starred with Demi Moore."

My irony monitor tolerance level is pegged, but I'll let someone else rant about whether or not "Ghost"'s view of the afterlife is really as comforting as it was intended to be. Patrick is one of my wife's alltime favorite actors, so I'd get in big trouble if I wrote what I'm thinking (although I have tremendous sympathy for anyone struggling with stage 4 anything).


As a cancer survivor I can assure that hearing that word from your doctor can really focus your attention on what is important. Twelve years ago I came to realize that I didn't want to live one second more or one second less than God wanted me to. Just realizing that was incredibly comforting! It is sad to think of those who suffer and don't have the assurance that we enjoy as believers. I have never been a fan of Swayze but my heart goes out to him.

David Wayne

Amen to all of this - 3 days before Christmas this year I was told I have stage 4 colon cancer. I have experienced all that Patrick Swayze talks about but I do think the fear has less force because the prospect of an early death for me means the prospect of seeing Jesus earlier than I thought I was, which is what I have always hoped for as a Christian. Not that I'm always this spiritual about it, there are times when I cry and wonder "how did this happen." But the Holy Spirit comes through in ways we didn't expect at times like this. The Puritans told us that we need to think often of the day of our death and I was reading Richard Baxter the other day and he said we should not plan on a long life - it distracts us from the weightier things - I think that is a good word for all of us - those with cancer and those in great health.

Rachel Coleman

The prospect of death can be like a brisk auntie who rouses you to action when you are too full of self -- you know, kind of a sudden, down-to-earth, "Hey, snap out of it!"

I thought I had brain cancer three months ago, and was I ever relieved to receive a different diagnosis. The prospect of imminent death made chronic illness seem almost kindly. And the contrast between death and life-but-life-different-than-it-had-been was such that I did not want to lapse into ingratitude.

Through the whole thing, I kept thinking, "I just don't want to miss the main point of this experience." That might be a good issue to contemplate at all times.


"Hallelujah - I have MS!!"???!!?!? I understand what you're saying, Rachel, but you continue to amaze me. I live in a state in the USA where physician-assisted suicide is legal. The newspaper here describes those who opt for it as "heroic" in their decision to end their chronic illnesses. I see a different and more laudable heroism at work in your case.

J. Clinton

I appreciate these comments. David, to your point about Puritans, I am reminded of Jonathan Edwards' Resolutions that touch on life and death ... resolution 9 stands out in particular...

9. Resolved, to think much on all occasions of my own dying, and of the common circumstances which attend death.

I don’t think Edwards was being morbid. I think his point was to bring focus and clarity on what is truly important in how we live and invest the time we are given.

I have a question for David, or Becky, or any of my Christian brothers or sisters who are (or have) suffering with cancer. What are the things that Christians have said to you that have been the greatest encouragement as you face cancer?

I sometimes think we Christians can slip into platitudes and “Christian speak” when we don’t really know what to say to a friend facing cancer. Please help us understand how to better care for those facing this difficult trial.

Rolley Haggard

“I have had to learn, by dint of circumstance, to befriend myself; and if now I weep at the prospect of early death, it is not for myself that I weep, but for this my lifelong friend.

And yet I have hope that he, too, shall attain unto the resurrection of the dead.”

Rachel Coleman

LeeQuod, my friends who are not believers think my response has been a function of denial/delusion -- and this in spite of the fact that I've refrained from actually saying "Hallelujah" to them!

J. Clinton, when the prospect of death loomed, I found the truth that I am a created being, with a maker who knows and loves me, very steadying, even in the face of the worst I could imagine. My mother said, "Nothing comes into your life that hasn't passed through God's filter of love." That helped me hold to the truth. She also read aloud to me from the book "In His Image," by Paul Brand with Phillip Yancey.

I feel so secure when I contemplated the idea that God sees all and knows all, even at the cellular level in my faulty body. Nothing is mysterious or scary to him. And that's who I belong to.

Life verse: My flesh and my heart faileth: but God is the strength of my heart and my portion for ever. Psalm 73:26.

As for Christian-speak -- it helped so much that no one told me to be happy or praise God for the illness. When a friend said "It's OK to be mad, it's OK to grieve," I was finally able to feel those emotions.

Kim Moreland

You all might be interested in reading my commentary about sickness and faith. http://www.breakpoint.org/listingarticle.asp?ID=7684


J Clinton,
It might sound trite but the most comforting thing that my Christian brothers and sisters said to me was, "I'm praying for you." Then instead of trying to say something to make me feel better they showed their love for me by listening to my concerns.
I really think that is the best (and often overlooked)approach.

David Wayne

I think the best thing someone has said to me is to simply ask me "what are you most afraid of?" and then he just sat there and listened. I"m with Becky - I just appreciate people who say they are praying for me and who talk with me, not at me. I also appreciate hearing that people are praying for and concerned for my family because I'm truly more worried for them than for myself. I really don't need any speeches designed to cheer me up, just friends to talk with.

Tony Nolan

I admire you for writing on this topic. Your level headedness is very rare and deeply needed. I did not like talking about the topic of death and was depressed when God gave me the message to preach on Winter Jam. But I have to be faithful. I have gotten a ton of "bad" mail from people who want "bull" instead of "bible". Personally, I have seen way to many students die to let them leave our concert with having an opportunity to be prepared for eternity. My good friend Louie Giglio said, "Life is brief, and our time on earth is short. thats why we need to make sure that we deal with the stuff that last forever."

God bless you for your thoughts.
Tony Nolan
PS: sorry for the typo's, im sick right now and havent slept well on the Tour bus for the last three nights. Rough riding.

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