Continued from yesterday . . .
When the mystery of where our poop goes is exhausted, I often switch gears to death. Social gatherings seem like natural places to remind us all that we will die and I try not to be Debbie Downer listing all the ways the end will come, but I cut to the chase and marvel at funeral homes. My context is Juneau, Alaska where over 70% of people who die are cremated. Compare this to Mississippi where it is 27%. What to do with death, let alone ashes, is a surprise to many so our middle schoolers get the royal tour at the funeral home, including the crematorium. They walk through the process of what happens to a body from the moment of death on.
Again, it’s remarkable there is no magic. Everything goes somewhere; everything is transformed. When I was first a pastor, “ashes” were small chunks of bones because the pulverizer wasn’t as sophisticated as it is now. That made scattering a very different experience from the movies. “Ashes” are still not as romantic as they appear in film, especially if the wind is blowing.
We got to see the embalming room once, which I’m pretty sure is illegal, but that director ended up in trouble with a lot more than this single violation. There wasn’t a body present, but it’s always a little disconcerting to realize bodily fluids get flushed down the drain and head to the waste water treatment plant. Circle of life.
At this point in the conversation, I normally start juggling bright shiny objects to distract the person who got stuck with me from all the mysteries I just laid bare. Every pastor, or anyone who struggles with small talk, would be complemented with the skill of juggling. When you realize that you could be the most depressing person present, bring on the clown or jester and let people giggle and relax for the moment with the seemingly impossible flight of three objects dodging and dancing.
Juggling helped me love the trinity a little bit more and face the dark mysteries often shrouded in shame with some light and hope. Still, impending doom seems like an appropriate place to start a systematic theology. All that we know ceases to be as it is now, but will be transformed. It can be stinky, painful, and difficult, but hiding or denying doesn’t get us a free pass. However we discuss god must be firmly grounded in the reality of impending doom.