Why Dead People Matter

Around the world on October 31, men, women and children don costumes ranging from cute to creepy. Halloween is now the second largest holiday after Christmas, and, whatever your beliefs, whatever your perspective on this day, you will be hard-pressed not to encounter one or more costumed undoubtedly darling tot asking you for a “trick or treat!”

While there are a variety of valid reasons for both participating and choosing not to participate in the more popular Halloween traditions (wearing costumes, trick-or-treating), there is one thing that I think the day helps me to remember: the importance of dead people.

When I say ‘dead people’, I’m not talking about zombies, vampires or any other versions of the undead that you’ll see in costume and on the screen (TV or movie) today. It may be easy to get fascinated with the macabre or frightening—and there is some sociological evidence that zombies are tapping into a certain post-modern angst that we all feel —but I think there something uplifting to be found in focusing on dead people, without the gore and guts.

You see, most of us are addicted to the new, the current, the popular. If you’ve ever been overcome by a desire for the newest device, the latest fashion or even a desire to visit the new restaurant in town despite the fact that you hate Mexican, you know what I mean. Popular culture pushes us toward what’s “this minute”, relegating yesterday’s experiences into the place of the passé, the uncool. If you own an Apple product of any kind, you’ve felt the dejection of having whatever your newest thing is surpassed by the next-newest.

And that’s why I like dead people. Dead people aren’t interested in keeping up appearances, aren’t up on the latest trends, and really don’t care if you have the most recent do-dad. On top of that, most of the dead people who have written things down have lots of really wise things to say about the spiritual life and how to live well with God (before and after you die.)

If you’d like a primer, Renovaré just came out with a wonderful compilation of writings by dead people—being dead was, in fact, one of the criteria for being included in the book. It’s called 25 Books Every Christian Should Read, and despite its somewhat intimidating title it is a great entrée into the spiritual classics. There are 25 entries, each with a small excerpt of important writings of really smart (you guessed it) dead people. There’s some history of what the person did before they were dead, and some helpful thoughts and questions for reflection.

Alternately, you can do what I did which was slog, ahem, suffer, ahem, swing through a semester’s worth of the spiritual classics in seminary. Personally, I think picking up 25 Books and learning which of the dead people you’re most drawn to is a better idea. Then pick up a full-length version of their works and get to know them a little more deeply. Dead people can be a lot of fun.