The speculation about what happened to Malaysian Airlines flight 370 to Beijing has covered almost all possibilities, some plausible, some straight out of the jostled heads of conspiracy theorists.
I know only that much of our unease about this mystery is not about the 200-plus passengers (though at least this blogger has thought about them). To most of us, those people are essentially stick figures, numbers, nobodies. Rather, our unease is about us.
We the living are the ones who so often are uncomfortable with mystery, with ambiguity, with uncertainty.
When the 227 passengers (not counting crew) who boarded an international flight with every intention of being set down at their destination simply disappear, we begin to imagine what disappearing might be like for us. And how vulnerable we are. And how we must once again face our own mortality, over which we have precious little control.
In the end, it turns out, it matters to us how we die even if we are loathe to think about it -- and, oh, brother, are many Americans loathe to think about it. We prefer, of course, to imagine that we will not end at all, not suffer the indignity of ceasing to be, whether by natural causes (whatever that might mean) or violence of one kind or another. And even people of faith who believe in an afterlife, will die and cease to be -- at least in the only way we the living can understand by experience.
But it makes us nervous, queasy to think of getting on an airplane and simply vanishing, extinguished like some weak flame atop a candle in the wind.
We wonder where, if anywhere, we would go when we go pffftt. We speculate about whether we would be missed or mourned. And sometimes we dislike the conclusions we come to.
The families of the missing care deeply about those passengers who've never returned, of course. And we can have both sympathy and empathy for those left behind. Indeed, I hope we do.
But the truth is that the discomfort in our bellies, our hearts, our spirits isn't really about the missing. It's narcissistically about us. And we would do well simply to confess it and seek to forgive ourselves.
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The missing Malaysian plane has spurred interfaith cooperation in the country, this report says. Good. But how sad that it took a disaster of this magnitude for that to happen.
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THE BOOK CORNER
The Long Road Home: And Other Short Stories from the Silences in the Gospel of Mark, by James S. Lowry. In Christian history there is an honored tradition, approached with caution, of making up enlightning and entertaining stories about Jesus. Sometimes it's done for fun. The best book in this category that I've ever read is Jesus Tales, by Romulus Linney. That book is an inventive, creative, fabulous read. But sometimes the creative writing about Jesus has a more serious purpose -- to understand the biblical witness more deeply. That's a fair description of why Lowry, a retired Presbyterian pastor, wrote this book. He's using his lively imagination to fill in some of the empty spaces in Mark's gospel -- and there are plenty of them there. Mark, indeed, is the clipped, to-the-point, no-frills gospel. Lowry believes that "Mark deliberately left strategically placed silences so his readers would have to wonder what was in them. In the act of wondering, we just might discover ultimate truth. . ." In the spirit of inventiveness you will find in this book about Jesus a 1950 Chevrolet, St. Peter telling Jesus he felt "mad as hell," a Methobapterian and more. This book is fun and insightful. It may not be as engaging as Linney's but it's still worth a read.
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P.S.: I had my say about Fred Phelps earlier this week here. In light of his death yesterday, I'll say no more, but, rather, share with you this well-put blog entry by Caleb Wilde at his "Confessions of a Funeral Director" site.