Bush eulogizing a soldier who died in a war Bush started.
When people die, that’s one thing — a phenomenon, a fact, a mark of time and place. The ceremony that marks their death is far more problematic. It might be a matter of significance to an institution and certainly work that will go on in life-altering ways for the family. But our culture, in its Christian aspect, wants to think that death resolves everything, saves those only marginally wicked and removes those who are a pain in the butt, or possibly saves us all at last from irredeemable evil. That’s the point of assassination, isn’t it? And capital punishment.
When the good die and we’re called upon to say something in praise, that’s easy, only a matter of telling the truth and avoiding the clichés. When the bad die, that’s not so hard in some ways and problematic in others. For instance, when an art dealer who stole, lied, cheated, and swindled died and I used this blog to note that. Immediately I got blowback from family who believed he was like an artist himself, doing “great” work which nicely produced profit for them. The Western Canada First Nations would understand if I said this man was like a “settler” who praised Indians while making a living off them. The Dems in Washington DC could easily see him as a Trump Repub, going along to get rich because that’s the only real highest value.
How long does it have to be before the Statute of Limitations allows the truth to be told? Another former minister just told me something obscene or possibly only pathological about another former minister, saying that he thought after thirty years the Statute of Limitations had expired. But those involved are still alive. There are secrets and then there is information that needs to be withheld to protect the wicked. In professions this is particularly true, even though the idea of doctors, lawyers, and politicians enforcing their own standards has become laughable. Even then the hypocrisy of ministers is most offensive of all.
Because it destroys their own purported deepest beliefs. We’ve all grown used to the ultra-right tight-asses who turn out to have been taking it from strangers “back there”. Ministry can seem like the ultimate coverup. But in fact it can be bending over for Satan. A position of authority can be corrupted for sex but also for money. An authority in a religious institution can rake in the gold, IF they can play politics or are adept enough at ministry to rise through the ranks. One can step over actual service to congregations and become an institutional administrator, which is simply a corporate job. Then it’s money and membership-based income, tithing, that becomes the stock market indicators — nothing to do with the spiritual or honorable at all. Victimizing the members. Scamming.
There used to be a guy called The Emerson Avenger who attacked UU ministers for sexual misbehavior. If he’s still out there, he must be loving #metoo. But sex is just sex. I mean, it’s not Valentine’s Day yet, the day when cardinals (the birds) change their songs to courtship, but already the cats in my nabe are in the throes of erotomania and wailing and thrashing abounds even in the snow. (The real original offense against the Avenger was not sexual but rather intolerance of personal faith. He had a vision and his minister labeled him nuts. Not so nuts that he couldn’t see that sexual offenses are a vulnerability in a changing society.)
There’s been so much of this kind of stuff that there’s coming up a workshop on sex for ministers who can’t figure out what to think for themselves. It’s understandable in a way because the sexual revolution has swept away the previous rules but dependable new ones haven’t formed yet. But I’ve been personally shocked by both sexes. People I thought were dignified and disciplined turned out to be horn dogs. Unrepentant except that being caught is an inconvenience.
Sometimes it’s ridiculous. In the Seventies a UU ordained minister functioned as a counselor/therapist and, in the spirit of the times, was a practicing member of the Venusian Church which offered as a serious ceremony in celebration of life the lying on tables nude while pretty girls stroked them with peacock feathers. He was outed by the newspaper and moved far far away. Actually, he was a pretty good counselor. Another, more direct, simply took frustrated women to bed in their own marital beds to teach them what "good sex" could be like. Husbands found out because of the money, the “counseling” bill. Luckily the church had malpractice insurance because the husband sued.
The real offenses are usually to do with money, ministers who siphon off church funds or who do a little footsy with big shots. Wealthy people, who like the supposed non-morality of UU settings, give big gifts to ministers and congregations, something like moguls who buy buildings for academia. I’ve heard rumors, unconfirmed, that one minister was gifted a sports car from one of his golfing buddies. Trumpism abounds.
Luckily no-one asks me to do memorials anymore. I refuse to do weddings. I did a baptism once for a quasi-sane woman whose very wealthy father demanded a full-out gowns-and-candles ceremony for his new grandchild who had no father. The “regular” minister was out of town that day. He referred them to me because he knew I needed the money. At the time I was uncomfortable because of the Christian idea of baptism taking the baby into heaven. Now I’d just do it, but I’d refuse the rather generous check. I guess I’ve gotten far more particular about money as bribes and whitewashing of sin than I have about sex, often used in lieu of cash. Both are getting edged aside by drugs these days. (I don’t have any of the three. Some would accuse me of sour grapes.)
Maybe I was influenced early by the Browning Methodist minister in the Sixties, the Rev. Jim Bell. I used to be able to find him by googling but now all I get is my own blog entries. Anyway, my mother-in-law’s best friend was an old maid who — as death approached — labeled all her belongings with bits of tape saying where each should go. (I’m almost at that stage myself.) She had a sister who tortured her all her life, but when she died, the sister showed up with a U-Haul and ignored the tape. At the funeral, while the U-Haul puttered at the curb, warming up to leave, she sat in the middle of the front pew, alone. She was wearing a red hat.
Without naming names, Bell preached about the cruelty of people towards others who were still alive and their vulpine morality in looting those same people in death. This sister had ears that stuck out and as we sat behind her watching, her ears got closer and closer to the color of that hat. Still, she stayed to the end. Then drove off with the loot. Anyway, it showed me that clergy actually CAN tell the truth and shame the devil.