Not Yet the Death Rattle by Marcia Mount Shoop

Marcia Mount ShoopI have had the honor of sitting vigil with dying people. And I have prayed through the coming of the death rattle. It can be painful to witness, especially for those witnessing death for the first time. Sometimes the person can hang on, seemingly fighting the inevitable final step of their transition into death.

In those times, I have encouraged families to share affirming words with their loved one, to tell them that it’s ok for them to go, that they are going to miss them, but that they will be ok.

I have listened as wives tell husbands thank you for all the years, for all the love, for the life they have lived together. I have been there with parents forcing themselves to say the excruciating goodbye to a child passing too soon, so the child won’t have to suffer anymore—telling them it is ok to rest, it’s ok to stop fighting. And I have listened as adult children find the courage to release the parent who has so deeply formed them.  “I love you, dad. You have taken good care of me. Thank you for loving me. It’s ok for you to go now.”

It is a sacred passage. These are Holy moments.

So when I hear people say that we are witnessing in our time is the death rattle of patriarchy and white supremacy, that image takes me to those sacred spaces of release.  And I have to confess I just don’t think that’s where we are, at least not yet.

When the death rattle comes, the person dying may have some fight left in them, but they aren’t going to get up and punch you in the face. Every ounce of what they have left goes into breathing in spite of the fluid filling their lungs. Their extremities are no longer receiving much blood flow. The small amount of oxygen they are taking in leaves their skin pallid. Their eyes, if open at all, are beginning to be vacant. They are fading away.

Having the wherewithal to shoot eleven people while they are worshipping in their Pittsburgh synagogue is not a death rattle. Having the power to suggest legislation to erase the legal existence of people who are transgender is not a last gasp.  Throwing a temper tantrum in front of the whole world about your sexual aggression and excessive alcohol use and still getting confirmed to the Supreme Court is not patriarchy fading away.  Going hunting for black people in a black church, finding the doors locked, and then finding two black people to kill at a Kroger instead is not the action of atrophied extremities. 953 hate groups operating in this country is not something suffocating from a body shutting down—when we look in the eyes of these groups, they are not vacant. They are laser focused. They see a world that mandates their violent ways—they are fighting for their lives, yes, but they are not fading away.

So, the death rattle imagery is not working for me. If it was truly the death rattle for white supremacy and patriarchy, we could release them from their labors. “Please go. We need you to stop hurting people now.” But those words don’t fit the situation. The aggression, the violence, the brutality, the brazenness, the hostility, and the hatred—they are too strong for this to be the death rattle. It is more like a wounded animal, cornered and out of options.  The adrenaline is flowing, and the mind has switched into survival mode. In this hyper vigilant state, the animal is acting out of their pain and in spite of their pain. All systems are focused on defend and protect.


Wounded animals who are cornered are dangerous.  Everyone is foe. Even someone there to help relieve their misery is the enemy. Everything about them says, “don’t touch me or I will do everything in my power to destroy you.”  Wounded animals will bite, they will scratch, and they will get up even with broken limbs and go for the jugular.

Patriarchy and white supremacy are lashing out in a pain-induced rage, fighting for their lives, and ready to destroy those they believe have wounded them and backed them into a corner.  Even if we can muster up some compassion for these aggressive, angry, violent carriers of patriarchy and white supremacy, they are not able to constructively receive such human connection at this point.

When an animal is wounded and you want to help stop the pain they are feeling and/or the pain that they are causing, you have to find someway to sedate it or contain it or put it out of its misery from a safe distance.  What are the corollary actions for us as a culture in this phase of the death of patriarchy and white supremacy? How do we neutralize them when they still have the power to wound and to kill? How do we give them the space they need to die when they are so aggressively fighting their demise?

These are not rhetorical questions? I’m actually open to suggestions.

I’ve seen death rattles. We’re not there. We’re dealing with something much more powerful, much more destructive. If we truly want to “be” the change we yearn for in the world, we must not mistaken our current posture for vigil sitting. It is going to take all of us awake and aware to keep this wounded, aggressive animal contained while its systems finally start to shut down.

For any of us still around to hear it when the rattle comes, we can then say our parting words of release. “It’s time for you to go. We need you to go so you can stop hurting us. It’s time for you to have the peace you’ve never known in this life. God, have mercy on your soul.”


Marcia Mount Shoop is an author, theologian, and minister. She is the Pastor/Head of Staff at Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church, Asheville, NC. Her newest book, released from Cascade Books in October 2015, is A Body Broken, A Body Betrayed: Race, Memory, and Eucharist in White-Dominant Churches, co-authored with Mary McClintock Fulkerson. Marcia is also the author of Let the Bones Dance: Embodiment and the Body of Christ (WJKP, 2010) and Touchdowns for Jesus and Other Signs of Apocalypse: Lifting the Veil on Big-Time Sports (Cascade, 2014).  Find out more at

Categories: Abuse of Power, civil rights, General, Patriarchy, Racism, Social Justice, trauma, Violence

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13 replies

  1. “How do we neutralize them when they still have the power to wound and to kill? How do we give them the space they need to die when they are so aggressively fighting their demise?” These are questions worthy of our contemplation, Marcia. Thank you for writing. I will offer a specific on what I believe one does NOT do. One doesn’t compromise by “meeting them in the middle,” giving them space to articulate their hate and intention to kill. I think well-meaning people do this, tapping into our (usually women’s) socialization that demands us to “be nice” and co-operate with our abusers. Patriarchy is filled with bullies. Bullies aren’t interested in dialogue or being “reasonable.” It’s all about getting to the top (however that’s imagined) at the expense of whoever is in their way.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Thank you, Esther. Your points are extremely important right now for everyone to hear. As someone who works in a church, I have to say amen to the way “being nice” props ups bullying behavior. I truly believe that the habit of privileged white people being nice to those with power and to those who abuse their power is part of what has put us in the position we are in right now as a country. Thank you for raising this important point.

      Liked by 2 people

    • You are so right Esther. This is NOT the time to compromise…This is the time we take our position and stand by it – regardless.


  2. This makes good sense. Horrifying of course, but good sense. Thanks, Mary E. Hunt

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Reblogged this on Thesseli.


  4. What I want to know is if the person who has been shot or died in a hit and run accident or been bombed (with or without poison gas) wakes up on the other side. If they wake up, are they angry about the shooter, the driver that ran them down, the bomber? Are the angry to be so suddenly dead? Or do they wake up in a more peaceful place where they can heal and reflect on the lessons learned in this incarnation they so suddenly left?

    Over the years, I have held half a dozen of my cats as our favorite veterinarian euthanized them. When a cat suffers renal failure and his or her quality of life is so diminished they’re already nearly dead. I’ve had to make the hard decision. I currently have a cat whose kidneys are failing.

    Death is always present in our living world. Thanks for writing this post and giving us more to think about. I still think every gun and every bullet on the planet should be melted down and the metal used to make statues of artists, composers, writers, actors, and other creative people.


  5. Thank you for this stunning post, Marcia. I fear that what you say is all too true. Yes, we cannot sit and watch but must organize and work to contain “this wounded, aggressive animal.”


  6. Powerful images, Marcia. It would be nice if we could be sitting at a death bed saying good-bye, but perhaps the more truthful image is a bloody battlefield and a well armed opponent. We need to fight with wisdom and cunning, not only for equality and justice, but for survival as a species and a planet.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Aho. Powerful writing. Thank you.


  8. It seems to me that we need to keep moving forward toward the egalitarian, generous, loving future we envision, and not let the bigots stop us. What the second half of this sentence entails is dependent on the blocks they put in our way, which, of course, will be different in different situations. And, of course, create more space for that vision to become a reality by voting for allies, who may not get the fullness of our vision, but who will allow us to move forward. And helping them to get elected.


  9. Very helpful metaphors (?), thank you. If we continue with the “wounded animal,” it seems clear to me that compassion needs to remain present even while we also create strong barriers and/or space between the wounded who is lashing out and those who are vulnerable … and create systems (within ourselves, our homes, and our public spaces) that heal smaller wounds. Blessings.


  10. Oh, this is a wonderful essay and frankly I am so relieved to see these ideas in print.

    “I’ve seen death rattles. We’re not there. We’re dealing with something much more powerful, much more destructive.”

    Me too.

    Like you it is clear to me that we are NOT anywhere close to a death rattle in patriarchy…What I see here is wishful thinking… we want this to be over but instead this monster is gaining more power and becoming more threatening each day.

    I am facing the fact that I will die before any genuine change occurs (if it occurs) and asking myself how the hell I can survive the present knowing what I know.

    Thank you.


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