Thursday, September 18, 2003

I've just attended a funeral service for Ben Machnik, one of my lawn customers. I wrote about them in an earlier entry because they are two of my favorite customers. Mary always came out and gave me a jug of Gatorade midway through the mowing job (they have a large lot) and after I finished I'd go inside and visit with them both for a little while. Ben would always be in the living room in his favorite chair listening to local talk radio (WNTA 1330), but would push his walker into the kitchen and join us for a few minutes. He always asked me how I was doing. Ben lived a long life, 88 years. I don't mourn his passing, but I worry about Mary. Will she be able to continue to live independently? Who will look out for her? They had no children. All her surviving relatives live in Wisconsin.

The funeral service was quite short, 20 minutes, conducted by a doddering priest who muttered contrite and obvious phrases about Ben and Mary. When he had everybody repeat the Lord's Prayer, he didn't give us enough time to actually utter it ourselves before he went on to the next verse. He left me with the impression that he was just going through the motions, that he'd done this kind of service, said these verses, went through this ritual, so many times that he was unconscious of his actions or their meaning. That left me more depressed than Ben's passing.

About 15-20 people attended. Most family. I was the youngest one there. I helped Mary back to her seat and then took a seat in the back.

It's the second religious-like ceremony I've attended in the last week. Sunday Esther and I attended an open-air church service with Esther's grandmother, aunt, uncle and cousins at the Evangelical Free Church of Sandstone. There a more metaphysical death was celebrated as parishioners baptized earlier that morning gave their testimonies.

Most were children who said they'd been led to the Lord through a television program or the example of their parents. One middle-aged lady with long, stringy hair, a Minnie Mouse sweatshirt and a hawkish, hollow backwoods face, wept as she thanked the congregation for accepting her. She became baptized to join a community of believers. A larger walrus of a man who wore a leather vest over a gray t-shirt, gave the funniest testimony. He said he grew interested in God again when the country/western radio station he listened to on the way to work switched over to a christian rock format over the course of the day, and the first song he heard when he got back in his truck was D.C. Talk's "I'm into Jesus." He said he liked the tune, so kept the dial tuned to that station, "Even though I found out where the country/western one moved to."

Jesus saved him from a life of recreational drug abuse and also gave him a sense of purpose and direction, he said.

Which gets me thinking about my own "spiritual" life or lack thereof. The only thing I belief in is the permanence of my material being and my paradoxical insignificance and all-importance in the grand scheme of things. I make no claims to know about the hereafter, and if my consciousness, my spirit, or whatever, ceases to exist when my flesh fades, so be it... I'll be none the wiser. And if there's a heaven or hell, I've committed no crime so severe as to warrant banishment to the latter.

Strange that I lead a more "Christian" life now than I did when I was a churchgoing believer, whatever that means. I like to keep it simple, remove all the dogma, all the faith, because I lack it, because I'm too skeptical.

Do unto others, etc., follow the dictates of your own consciousness. Do the right thing. You know what it is. Take care of your environment. Don't waste. Live simply. That's my testament and creed. It was Jesus' too. He didn't need to go to church every Sunday to learn it either.

Church is a valuable social construct that provides a vehicle for people to serve others and be served. It provides accountability for the morally fragile, company for the lonely, and reinforces the belief system of those with a common morality. I have no need in my life right now for any of the benefits church provides, and I'm busy enough with other volunteer labors I could not devote the time or energy to a church.

And now my time is running out... my cup runneth over... I've got to end this because my half hour's up.

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