It’s an understatement to say Nate Wilson can string a few words together fairly well.
That’s one of the things that comes across pretty quickly when reading his book Death By Living. But it’s not the main thing you’re left with.
To put it one way, Wilson is passionate about life. He wants to show us a way of doing life that faces up to the reality of our mortality and yet responds not in despondent defeatism or opulent indulgence, but in joyful wonder and lavish sacrifice. He has name for it: it’s death by living. (I’m sure he wouldn’t mind us calling it ‘the Christian life’, but hey, if he called it that then we’d probably think we didn’t need to read it!).
The subtitle, which rings out throughout the book, is that “Life is meant to be spent”. Christians live standing in the light of their Creator’s saving love, shown in the cross of Jesus Christ, with each very breath a gift, sustained by their Maker. That means life is purposeful and weighty but also fleeting and humbling. So make the most of it, by spending yourself on others.
Now I’ve just had a go at summarising something of what stayed with me in a few simple sentences, as if Wilson was merely providing information to collect. But that’s so far from what this book is about. Wilson’s writing leaves you feeling like you’re not just reading but experiencing. As someone else put it, Death by Living is “a hybrid of memoir, apologetics, theology, philosophy, and lyrical prose, at once irreverent and worshipful, comical and elegiac.” His abrupt sentences and conversational tone might jar with some people’s natural tastes, but it feels fresh and evocative. He captures and captivates, inspires and urges. The theology is strong but it is theology that laughs and cries and is fleshed out in the reality of life.
Take for example his hilarious description of arriving on a transatlantic flight at Heathrow Airport with a handful of kids in tow, including a very travel-sick toddler who promptly decides to ‘come up with the goods’ on the walkway off the plane, before Wilson then discovers Heathrow Passport Control has no rubbish bins. I won’t give away how Wilson responds, but it left me barely able to read.
And then there’s the recurring reflections on his grandparents’ lives and deaths. Men and women who felt the fragility of life and yet lived it still. Life comes and goes. But it’s to be lived gratefully, sacrificially, in awe and in joy, knowing the One behind it, spinning it, holding us. As Wilson puts it, “We march from page to page and it is our living that takes us toward the end”.
Page by page the effect of Death by Living is cumulative. He paints a picture of living that is truly compelling, wholesome, and attractive. I’m up for giving it a go.
Here’s a book trailer to give you a taste: