Thomas LynchCritically acclaimed American poet, essayist, and undertaker Thomas Lynch joins Candler this semester as the McDonald Family Chair on the Life and Teachings of Jesus and their Impact on Culture.

In this role, Lynch will offer two public lectures. On March 19, Lynch will address “The Good Funeral and the Empty Tomb” at 5:00 p.m. in Candler School of Theology’s room 252. On April 17, he will present “The Feast of Language” at 7:00 p.m. at Peachtree Road United Methodist Church in Atlanta. The lectures are free and open to the public, but registration is required. [Register for the March 19 event; Register for the April 17 event]

In "The Good Funeral and the Empty Tomb," Lynch will look at ways to measure the worth of the funeral. How do we separate the essential elements from the accessories, the fashions from the fundamentals, and the stuff from the substance, when it comes to arranging "good" funerals? Because it takes place in the midst of Lent, this conversation will also examine how death and burial figure in the narratives of Easter and how the mysteries surrounding mortality inform what Candler professor Thomas G. Long has called the "sacred community theater" of ritual, community, and religious responses to a death in the family.

At his April 17 lecture, Lynch will discuss the feast of language, the search for our own voices, our own callings, and the voice of God. “The power of language to transform the common table into the sacred feast is never more evident than it is in prayer and poetry,” says Lynch. He draws upon fellow poets to illumine the relationships between language, prayer, and feasting. “If, as Beckett believed, ‘all poetry is prayer,’ then the language arts are among our most precious gifts. If Auden is correct that ‘art is what we do to break bread with the dead,’ then Heaney is on to something when he claims ‘rhyme and meter are the table manners,’” he explains. 

Lynch’s work has been the subject of two award-winning film documentaries—PBS Frontline’s The Undertaking (2007) and the BBC’s Learning Gravity (2008)—and provided creative inspiration for the popular HBO series Six Feet Under.

His essays, poems and stories have appeared in The Atlantic, The New York Times,TheTimes of London, The New Yorker, The Paris Review and elsewhere. He lives in Milford, Michigan, where he has been the funeral director since 1974, and in Moveen, County Clare, Ireland, where he keeps an ancestral cottage.

About the McDonald Chair

The Alonzo L. McDonald Family Chair in the Study of Jesus and Culture was established at Emory in 1998 by the McDonald Agape Foundation, chaired by Alonzo L. McDonald, a longtime trustee of Emory. The McDonald Agape Foundation “supports lectures and other public presentations that deal creatively and imaginatively with the person and teachings of Jesus as they shape and form culture.” The foundation has established McDonald chairs at Emory and at Harvard University.

Past holders of the McDonald chair include Judge John T. Noonan of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit; composer Alice Parker; art historian Herbert Kessler; historian and documentary filmmaker Randall Balmer; and author James Carroll, among others.