Thursday, July 31, 2008

"Who gave his life to save a slogan..."

We spent the last few days in suburban Virginia, a land of beefy middle aged men with crewcuts and bulging humps between their collars and the backs of their heads, landscaped plain geometry everywhere you look, theme restaurants with names like R. J. Skillet's Louisiana Grill, and the sizzling drone of crickets all night long. It was good to be back there, especially since it was only for a short visit.

Unfortunately, we were there to attend my grandfather's funeral. He was in his eighties and it was not unexpected; but, of course, it's seldom welcomed. Our grandparents raised me and my sister as much as our parents did. When my grandmother died three years ago, it was a horrible shock: she was still livelier than the rest of us and went in a flash. It seemed very unfair to my grandfather to lose her and I often suspected that he wasn't much in the mood to keep on living. I can't say I blame him. All of his friends and old hangouts were gone, along with his wife and siblings. It must have been like sitting in the cinema alone after the credits have rolled.

My grandparents were not particularly religious people, and neither were their children, with the exception of my Uncle. And so, it was my Uncle's pastor who performed the service. This was very strange to watch- a wisp of a southern preacher telling us about how my atheist/ agnostic grandpa had been given to us by Jesus Christ to win the victory of his glory of the blood of the lamb, blah, blah, blah. It felt like an advertisement for a product that my grandfather had no interest in selling. There was also an annoying piousness to it- at one point, the preacher talked about my grandfather's great dignity (he'd never met my grandpa) and how "dignity is often laughed at in today's world" and then went on to explain how this it is not laughed at by those who know the valor of the glory of the victory of Christ, etc.- Fly United. I think it was the arrogance that chafed at me. I know that Claire and I laugh at dignity all the time. After all, things like love and dignity have very little place in the lives of non-Christians. Thanks for sharing your 2,000 year old middle east resurrection cult with us. Now I can stop kicking puppies.

The worst of all was the fact that this man knew almost nothing about my grandpa, aside from a few things my Uncle had told him, which had no doubt gone onto a checklist. This is what happens if you don't have a priest: you get the eulogy by checklist. "Well, one thing I know about Ralph was that he loved his... let me see here, stamp collecting! Yes, stamp collecting." When I die, I want them to find the oldest, most arrogant preacher they can and give him a checklist of only the most horrid things to eulogize. "Yes, Rufus was a loving man. He loved his pornography and he loved abusing animals. He was also a strong believer in the dark lord Satan. And he touched the lives of so many: from the Indonesian street children that he sold into sex slavery to the local addicts that he kept supplied with their sweet, sweet crack cocaine..."

Anyway, the priest wasn't totally lousy- of course, he was going to plug Jesus when he got the chance; that's his job. And it was mercifully short- praise God. But, the thing is, when you hire a priest for a eulogy, you're hiring a performer, and they had better be convincing. Otherwise, they will come off as a phony. Which he did.

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