On November 23, 1963, sixty-three people died in a fire at the Golden Age Nursing Home near Fitchville, Ohio. The tragedy was small news to most of the world because of the death of one man the day before. Half a century has passed, but those who were alive then can remember where they were when they heard that President Kennedy had been assassinated. My good friend, Toby Anderson, recalls vividly what he was doing as a fourth grader when he heard the news (I am much too young to remember anything that happened so long ago).
Other events occurred around that time, particularly the first episode ever of Doctor Who and the release of the Beatles second album. Important? Not really, though Doctor Who is still living new adventures traveling through time and space and at least one of the Beatles is still churning out new songs.
But the murder of a President changes history. Most of the articles over the past week explore the assassination event: did Lee Harvey Oswald act alone? Was there a Russian conspiracy that needed to eliminate the anti-communist Kennedy? Was it the mob? Was it the CIA? Was it Vice-President LBJ?
Oliver Stone aside, we’ve watched enough seasons of 24, MI-5, and Homeland to believe just about anything. But back in the winter of 1963, a somber mood enveloped a country that had been brought to the gates of hope and turned away when their leader was taken from them. Vietnam loomed over us. We felt we were heading into a terrifying fog.
Less than three months later, pop culture slapped America in the face when the Beatles appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show. Most of the country was watching. We haven’t been the same since. Until that moment, the older generation was unaware of the wedge that had been slowly driven between them and their young.
We are now a nation that craves distractions and diversions from the most important questions in life. This is nothing new. Blaise Pascal warned seventeenth century France of the same dangers (Pensees). Only now, our distractions are more ubiquitous and accessible (Do you go anywhere without at least one of your “devices?”). They are not add-ons to our culture; they are our culture.
Don’t get me wrong, I like good entertainment and digital communication; but there comes a time when we must shut off the technology and engage life; living as Jesus calls us to live. That means face to face, not site to site; showing love, not clicking “like;” taking time to care, not selfies to post. We are called to find our lives not on-line but by giving ourselves away.
If there is anything that the last 50 years have taught us is that we really are salt and light to an unsavory and ever-darkening world. What an incredible privilege and responsibility.
And now for something completely different . . .
What an tragically remarkable day November 22, 1963 was! On the day that President Kennedy was assassinated, two other well-known, influential men died: C. S. Lewis and Aldous Huxley. Lewis is the well-known atheist becomes Christian whose popularity and influence grow each year. His Mere Christianity, Narnia Series, BBC radio talks and other works remain the standard for cultural engagement. Huxley, known as a humanist and pacifist, was most well-known for his dystopic novel, Brave New World. He was active in his support for numerous pantheistic religions while referring to himself as an agnostic.
Imagine if these three men – John F. Kennedy, C.S. Lewis and Aldous Huxley – met after they died and discussed their views of life and death?
That’s exactly what theologian Peter Kreeft imagined when he wrote Beyond Heaven and Hell: A Dialog Somewhere Beyond Death. First published in 1982, Kreeft envisions a discussion among these three important men post-mortem while their families were grieving, the Tardis was grinding and the Beatles were playing. It is a lively read on a day that reminds us all that most of the questions we have will only be answered on the other side of the resurrection.