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Death by Living: Life Is Meant to Be Spent Hardcover – August 6, 2013
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Top Customer Reviews
This is one of N.D. Wilson's best works of non-fiction. I'd highly recommend it.
On one level, the book is just a bunch of stories. Stories stolen from Wilson's past and present. Stories about raising multiple kids. Stories about a father who fought in the war. Stories about family trips that never went as expected. At first-read, they seem disconnected. But just like a good movie which sneaks up on you days after you saw it to make a profound point, these unrelated stories eventually come together in an inspiring and surprising way.
Each story is ultimately a commentary on what it means for our lives to be a story. "Life is a story" is one of the most popular cliches in contemporary literature, especially Christian literature. But Wilson doesn't seek to just add more sentimentality to a notion already overloaded with sentimentality. He seeks to clarify it and correct it. Wilson's primary goal is to dismantle the myths associated with this popular philosophy.
Wilson rejects the common belief that, as story, our lives feature us in the starring role. He writes, "Yes, your life is a story, but you are carpet-dwelling, dust-mite teensy on the scale of this stage, and only one in the multitude of His cast." God is the central character of our story and of all stories. The sooner we recognize this, the better. The more quickly we take the spotlight off of ourselves and place it on God, the more authentic our story will be.
Still, God cares deeply for us and wishes to employ us in his plot: "You have the Creator God’s full attention, as much attention as He ever gave Napoleon. Or Churchill. Or even Moses. Or billions of others who lived and died unknown. Or a grain of sand. Or one spike on one snowflake. You are spoken. You are seen. It is your turn to participate in creation."
And participation is the primary call of Wilson's book. He urges us to live fully--all the way to our deaths. He weaves intriguing stories of family members who "reached their deaths by living" (hence the book's title) and calls us to live and die similarly. Lay your life down, " he urges. "Your heartbeats cannot be hoarded. Your reservoir of breaths is draining away. You have hands, blister them while you can. You have bones, make them strain—they can carry nothing in the grave. You have lungs, let them spill with laughter."
Wilson excels in creating memorable lines. For example, he remarks, "You cannot throw a diva fit backstage in this production and force the understudy to take your place. You are in every scene. You are on the field for every play."
Perhaps these eight words are the book's best summary: "In the ground, we all have empty hands." The one thing all human stories have in common is their end. We all die. And when we die, we take nothing with us. So, Wilson argues, we may as well spend all we can while we live (hence the book's subtitle). Most importantly, we should spend it touching the stories of others. We have the opportunity to enter into the lives of others. We may not know how their stories started or how they will end. But while we can, we can bless and better their stories.
And all the while, we live and die in partnership with God. "The God who looked on you with joy when you were small and racing across His gift of green grass on His gift of feet beneath His gift of sky watched by His gift of a mother with His gift of love in His gift of her eyes, is the same God who will look on you as that race finally ends."
If you're looking for a list, move on. If you're hoping for 1-2-3 or A-B-C, this isn't the book for you. But if you're intrigued by well-written short stories which covertly sneak past your defenses and explode with mirth and meaning, pick up a copy of "Death by Living." Your story will be the better for it.
He takes you on an adventure. He tells the story of his grandfather who fought in World War II, almost died on multiple occasions, and loved evangelism. He shows how living always leads to death, and death is a gift for the living.
Within the framework of his grandfather's life, he encourages, admonitions, and prods us to be grateful for everything we have. He points out how God acts providentially on our behalf and how we have a thousand things daily to be grateful for. He recommends slowing down and considering each of these when we're tempted to feel sorry for ourself.
In the same vein, he joyful embraces God's sovereignty over all of life. He shows how God is sovereign when he saved his grandfather from being killed by a bomb in WWII, and, also, when a friend died when taking a post in the military unexpectedly from a friend. God gives and He takes away. Bless him. He also aptly notes how often "God calls our bluffs and makes narrative hypocrites of us all" (40).
What I appreciated most was the way Wilson took something that's emphasized ad nauseum (life as story. I frequently talk this way) today and makes it fresh. We often tire of truth because it's told so poorly. Wilson thrives as storyteller, but also has the chops to deliver on the theology, worldview, and philosophy behind it all. That's what makes this book enjoyable. It's not your average philosophy book. It's not your average theology book. And it's not your average story-telling book. It's the delightful cocktail of an expert mixologist.