Thursday, February 19, 2009

Pet Funeral

One of my pushy fans reminded me that I never posted the pet funeral pictures. Did I say pushy? I meant adoring. Did I say fans? Well, that's what I pay all five of them for...

In case you are a sixth random soul who stumbled on this blog, my two dogs died within three weeks of each other in October. They were 15 and 16 and in love until the day they died. The 16 year old stopped eating after the other one died, and died of heartbreak. We also had the ashes of the cats on the front porch for a couple of years because I could not bear to bury them and they loved the porch in life. My husband laid down the law: give all pets a proper burial or no other animals enter the domicile.

I do funerals for a living, so this became a BIG event. First we have the prep which took all afternoon. We had balloons to fill for the balloon release, cookies to bake for the reception, four graves to dig...As you can see, I did none of these things. Let me also point out that my pushy/adoring fans can see my beautiful, renovated kitchen if they look past my beautiful, baking cousin. I would also like to note that one of the many benefits of having one's own personal funeral director is that he will dig a grave for your pets.

I wrote the names and life dates for all of the pets on the sidewalk in front of the house and a nice epitaph.
This is the altar for the service with the ashes of our four pets and their photos. Each family member put something in the grave along with their ashes. I gave tearful but funny eulogies. And our sweet pet sitter said a few words.

Afterwards we lit candles and had the balloon release. Most everyone has lost a pet at some point, so the balloon release was for all of their beloved pets, too. We all said the names of our pets as we let the balloons go and said together, "We love you!"
Then the children enjoyed the family grief meal: ribs. They make a heart less healthy, but they can lift their share of mourning.

I must say that this greatly helped my grief. It was nice to be joined ny friends, neighbors, and family. And I feel like I was able to give my dear animals a loving sendoff as we had given them a loving home in life.

Oh, and yes. That is a Snow White costume.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

My Buddhist Pet Peeves

"Pet peeve" is such a strong, negative way of putting it. Let's think more along the lines of ironies and the elements that make me laugh.

Most people know how ridiculous I find Buddhist advertising and catalogues selling... junk. Pretty junk. Cool junk. Sometimes even useful junk, but by my understanding of Buddhist beliefs, it is all still junk.

Junk to keep us tethered to the same old way of seeing life. Junk to collect dust in the house and dust in the mind. More junk to get attached to.

The other element I find ridiculous in these ads is the dependence upon hotties. I just got one on Facebook. A VERY attractive man grinning at me with a knowing look from the margins of my computer screen beckoned me to "Enlightenment Bliss."

I didn't think nirvana. I didn't think escape from the cycles of suffering. I looked at that guy and, to be perfectly honest I thought, YUM.

And YUM gets me no closer to enlightenment. Last time I checked, cutie quotient wasn't on the Buddha's lists of requirements for sages. I told the Facebook hottie that "No, I will not drink the kool aid, thank you very much." And then I mumbled, "Even though you are VERY cute." You know, just to be nice.

And to end my tongue in cheek tirade - my last Buddhist Pet Peeve - telling people not to swallow in meditation groups. Silly. Silly. Silly. The sounds of other humans in the room are part of the reason we meditate together. You might be a Buddha mind genius in the quiet, undisturbed nook in your attic. So what, if you can't pass the life in the world test.

At least that's what I am thinking. If I am wrong about all of this, I'll be getting my enlightenment bliss soon from a dude that looks like a cross between Patrick Swayze and Tom Selleck. And I'll be wearing some sweet purple meditation pants I saw in a catalogue, but I'll be very, very quiet.

Monday, February 16, 2009


I. At Lunch

Me: As an atheist, you...

Lunch Guest: I am NOT an atheist.

Me: Well, you used to be an atheist. You gave me all those great atheist articles over the years.

Lunch Guest: Yes... I used to be an atheist, but... I... well...

My Husband: But then you found doubt! My brother, welcome!

II. At Breakfast

: I like your shiny basketball pants, Mama.

Me: Thank you, sweetie.

Daughter: I want a pair of shiny basketball pants. Will you buy me some?

Me: Hmmmm... I don't know. What am I going to use for money?

Daughter: You could use those coins with the chocolate in them we had at Hanukkah.

III. At Supper

Friend: So how is it going talking to church members about your departure?

Me: They have been mostly understanding. We talk about the changes in the congregation over the past five years...

Son: Mama...

Me: I see my call as more of a community ministry...

Son: Psst... Mama...

Me: ... elements of polity and the calling of the next...

Son: MAMA!

Me: What?!

Son: You can't do that. That's fibbing. You can't tell lies. Just tell them the truth. You are leaving to hang out with me and my sister and dada.

IV. A Monologue

Daughter to new dog as she rubs his ears and looks into his face: You are a good doggie. What a pretty doggie you are. You are a cute doggie. I love you. You are so cute. And when you die we are going to get another pretty doggie who is as cute as you are. Good boy!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Good-bye leads to I Love You

Three funerals, all men, one week.

Bill's Memorial Service, Life Celebration, Party of Honor was a huge shindig last week. It was a total bummer because he wasn't there. It was his kind of party. There was a military presentation, a bagpiper, an open bar, musicians, food, tons of people, and then there was that open bar.

An endless stream of women stood up, many of them wearing stick 'em mustaches in his honor. The comments all were of a theme: Intro - "Bill, that bastard"; Middle - some crazy Bill story involving wanting to kill him; Second Verse - some crazy Bill story involving him doing something sweet and selfless; Closing - "I love you, Bill, and I will miss you."

The carpenter shared Bill's feeding of salami and gorgonzola to his dog. I kept mum. I was feeling a little full emotionally. I was also wearing heels as I do about once a year. That meant I was about 6' 3" and the air is really thin up there, so I just yelled "Here Here!" and "Amen" and even once "Huzzah!"

The next funeral was for "the Boat" who also died too darn young, whom I adored, and who, imagine this - was also a character. One of his buddies said it best when he said, "The Boat was complex." Absolutely.

A few factoids about the Boat which I am glad were included in the service... he was gutsy. He practiced law with courage and conviction, defending those that most lawyers do not or can not defend. He was also known to warm a bar stool every now and again. He felt that the "Emotional Rescue" LP by the Rolling Stones was one of the truly great accomplishments of modern society. He was ornery, argumentative, and over the brim with brains. In short, the Boat was an unconventional, non-conformist bad ass. AMEN! HUZZAH!

I knew the last man the least. His was one of those funerals you attend out of respect for who he was and what he did. This one was a funeral director. His funeral home helped out my family on a few occasions. They did a good job, were thoughtful, and didn't do anything stupid. I greatly appreciated it. He was not a cutting edge funeral director, did not think outside the box much, and we were not more than acquaintances. But I did not want to miss his service.

Funerals are not just for the people who knew them best, loved them the most, owed them some money. Funerals are an opportunity to honor another human being and what they lived for. It is a chance to show the people who mourn them that their loved one made a difference to others too. I hear too often, "I'm not going to the funeral. He's gone and I won't know anyone there." SO WHAT? You knew him and if he meant anything to you, don't you have one last hour to give him?

The thing about funerals for me is that, when I am lucky enough to not have to conduct them, I always get something out of them. I think about the people who showed up. I remember something about the person that I had forgotten. I think about others with whom I'd like to reconnect. Even if the service is the pits I can get something out of it. I think what I would have said, how I think they should be honored, what I want to remember about them.

I grieve at funerals and it helps; helps me to remember what I hold dear and why. After this week I should really have a good grip on that, I guess.

Maybe that's why I overdid it on Valentine's Day. The husband got tons of chocolate and a CD from a favorite band. (He already had "Emotional Rescue.") The kids got toys and candy. The best friend got bacon. (He's on the all meat diet.) The carpenter got pop rocks. The dogs got belly rubs... it goes on.

It's a good week. It's a good life.


Thursday, February 12, 2009

I Am Amos

This past Sunday I announced that I am leaving my position at the church as of September 1.

Here is an excerpt from the sermon. At this point I was talking about sacred stories of unexpected personalities in ministerial roles...

What I love about these stories is the strange cast of characters all playing holy roles. There are bandits and gamblers, fishermen and farmers, mothers and nuns and they all have these risky attributes. They are the Huckleberry Finns of Scripture. Imagine Nicholas Cage, Parker Posey and Kanye West playing them in the movie versions.

The prophet Amos of Hebrew Scriptures is my favorite example. Amos is not on the greatest hits list of Hebrew prophets. His is a short book of prophecy. Dated to the era 786-746 BCE, the action of Amos takes place during the reign of Jeroboam II who was king of Israel.

You don’t have to know biblical history for this one. Let me just say that there were two kingdoms – Israel in the north, Judah in the South. Jeroboam was king in the north and Amos is a prophet from Judah the South, but his prophecies are all about Israel. You can imagine how well this went down. People always enjoy it when someone from another country comes rolling in to tell them how to do things, don't they? So it was for Amos.

Amos has all kinds of dire prophecies for Israel he sets forth (strange ministry, but there it is.) What I love about Amos is not these acts of his ministry, but his call to ministry, how he got that strange job. Amos reveals this call when he is verbally attacked and told to head on home by Jeroboam’s priest, Amaziah.

This is the response of Amos: I am not a prophet, nor the son of a prophet, but I was a herdsman and a trimmer of sycamore figs. Yet God took me out from behind the herd and said to me, “Go. Prophesy to my people Israel.”

I can see you are underwhelmed. Remember I had to pore over these words for hours in seminary as they were an assignment we translated from the Hebrew. They made a huge impression on me. Let me rephrase in case they are not having the same effect on you. Imagine Amos saying this:

Look, Amaziah – you are chaplain to the king. Got your fancy robes, your world class degrees, your snazzy mustache. You look like a priest, you talk like a priest, all the world recognizes your power.

That is not me. I… I am not this. This is who I am now, because I am called to do it, but I did not seek it out. I’m not trying to get power or riches or fame. I work on a farm. I used to nap in a warm field after lunch before I had to lead the flock home. In Spring, I climbed trees to trim the blossoms so the figs would be fatter in the Fall. Up in the trees I would daydream, but in all my dreams never did I imagine myself here.

I have come because I had to come. There was something deep inside of me that was called to be here and I will do my job, am honored to speak this prophesy. But that is not all of me. I am not comfortable in this skin. I have things I have been called to say, but once said, I will move on. I will go back home. I can never be just a farmer or a tree trimmer again, but so too, I will not remain the prophet to Israel.

My reasons for sharing Amos and his story with you are two-fold. (I have edited out part 1 for space reasons here.)

...My other reason for telling you his story is because it is my story, has always been my story.
I seem to keep finding myself the farmer strolling into the royal court.

Now after a long time, I find that the flock and the sycamore figs have called me back.

That is not me. I… I am not this. This is who I am now, because I am called to do it, but I did not seek it out. I’m not trying to get power or riches or fame. I was sitting on my warm front porch in 2003 playing with my toddler son when I was called, in my case it was on a phone, by this church. “We need you. Just for six months, we really need YOU,” you told me.

I have come because I had to come. There was something deep inside of me that was called to be here and I have done my job, am honored to be your minister. But that is not all of me. I am not comfortable in this skin. I have things I have been called to say, a ministry that I treasure… but I am not Amaziah.

I am Amos.

I hope you will understand how I can love you and still leave.

They teach you a lot in seminary including how to live with being hated. No one ever taught me how to live with being loved. How can I say no to love? How can I give just 25 hours a week to the love of hundreds of people, some of whom I have known all of my life? How can I say – this job description, what my role has become... is not what I do; am called to do?

I don’t know. I don’t know how to say these things and my greatest regret is that I have not known how to accept the breadth of your love without driving myself into the ground with work.

So, like Amos, before me, I will head back to a place that is not here. I do not know what my next role will be.

But I do know this – when I came this congregation was smaller, was hurting, was wary of strangers. I was brought in because you knew me. You trusted me. And although I did not want to be the minister of a church, I didn’t mind being your minister.

That mutual trust has served us both well. Now we are healthier, and friendlier, and you let me bring all kinds of people in here to talk to you, to play music for you, to do all kinds of worship with you. You are good ministers: to Richmond, to each other, to me, to our children.

You will continue our ministry after I leave in September. Trust one another. Bring your best intentions and your hopes for making sense out of life. Please don’t turn any of the Huckleberry Finns, Eddie Haskells, Oscar the Grouches, or Billie Hollidays away at the door. They’re friends of mine. I told them they could trust you.

And know that for every day of ministry I give, I receive two in return.

May you be so blessed in your ministry, as well.

I love you. Peace be with you always.

I will continue blogging, but I have no idea what direction it will take. I have six and a half months of work left, so more of the same for now. (Whatever "the same" has ever been for me...)