Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Cremation Vs. Burial

Before I write to my topic, I want to put forth that it is my sincere plan to post on this blog daily, (weekdays only--my husband has requested my undivided attention on the weekends)! There may be occasions where I cannot make that work, but since everything I have read on, "how to write a successful blog," says to write daily when seeking committed readers, I am going to work diligently to stick to that goal. I will try to make today's post more concise since my recent posts have been so lengthy. I was the kid in high school English that never winced about assignments of 500 words or more. In fact, my teachers wanted to give me word limits to save themselves all the extra grading time.  Some things don't change!

I want to apologize right now for the morbidity of my topic today.  Let me also state that my thoughts and opinions on this subject are in no way meant to be judgmental, critical, rude or condemning. They are just feelings.  So here goes...

In thinking about death lately, it has become clear to me why I have always disliked the idea of cremation.  First, I don't like the violent, destructive nature of it.  In 1 Corinthians 3:16-17, Paul says to the church in Corinth, "Don't you know that you yourselves are God's temple and that God's Spirit lives in you? If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy him; for God's temple is sacred and you are that temple."  In 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, Paul goes on to say again, "Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price.  Therefore, honor God with your body."  Now I realize that taking Scripture out of context is risky-business.  We can make Scripture say whatever we want it to say when we do that, and it isn't a good or wise idea.  We don't want to be like bad journalists who hack quotes to fit their needs, completely changing the true content of the remark.  We are meant to look at the complete, contextual, accurate meaning, and here Paul is not talking about postmortem destruction.  He is talking about doing harm to your body (and thus, by the associative property, to your soul), or to others while living.  But I still cannot help but think of these passages and hence, think of our physical bodies as somewhat sacred in the eyes of God. He did design us in His image (Genesis 1:27).  Though our body is just a shell of our soul, which is the real temple of God, I still shudder at casting someone I love into the flame.  To me it is like putting them through hell.  We don't burn our pets when we lay them to rest, so why do we burn our loved ones?  I just don't "get" it.  Setting a body to flame doesn't feel like we are wishing our loved one to, "rest in peace."  I do realize that there are people who suffer death by the flame, so of course, I do not think it is some "sin" to do this to a loved one (nor do I believe that anyone who dies by flame cannot be risen again, as the Bible says we all will one day).  Obviously, those who die by fire didn't do so on purpose, so God isn't going to exercise exclusivity on who can and cannot be raised again based on the type of death they suffered. But I still don't like the idea of burning a loved one.  I have a relative who desires cremation because she wants her body to be donated for the cause of science.  Therefore, she feels that cremation after usage of her corpse is the best idea.  I understand that to a degree, but we could still put her remains in a lovely, peaceful casket.  Of course, we'll be happy to carry out her wishes.   

Secondly, I dislike cremation due to the fact that it is more difficult for those left behind to have a central place to go for paying their respects.  When someone is gone, what matters most is the well-being of those remaining and grieving.  When someone's ashes are cast about in random places, placed in an urn in someone's house, or locked in some vault, it makes this much more difficult and so much less personal.  

Thirdly, I despise cremation because it makes me think of how murderers try to dispose of their victim's evidence by burning them.  There is this connotation of "getting rid of" your loved one that repels me.

Fourth, I dislike cremation because of its "cost-effective" way of handling a loved one's body.  The idea of taking the cheap way out of dealing with a death sickens me.  I have also noticed that this idea of cremation seems to go hand-in-hand with having a short service.  I feel that after someone has lived their life, loved others, worked hard, and given so much to those around them, they deserve to be given a proper burial and service.  Logically speaking, since the person is gone, the amount of money spent on the funeral doesn't really matter, (and probably shouldn't).  Some people request to be cremated because they'd rather the money be used for more important things, and I fully understand the selflessness of that request.  But to me, paying proper tribute to a life well-lived does matter.  We celebrate a lot of things with flare and at great cost and planning here on earth--championship sporting events (i.e. the Olympics), weddings (boy, do I know the cost of those after planning a huge one for my daughter last year), birthdays, graduations, etc.  To me, it follows then that we shouldn't revoke our willingness to splurge on the celebration of someone's life at the end of it.  I'd rather show my love lavishly to a loved one who's passed and relish their memory at a beautiful service, than take the inexpensive road to save myself trouble.  Personally, I think this is a greater witness and testimony to others that leading a good life leaves a glorious legacy to those remaining.  Everyone wants good things said about them and desires to leave a mark on those they loved after they are gone.  Quickie, cheap funerals just aren't conducive to that, in my view. 

My daughter, Allie, lost a dear music friend from high school in the fall of 2008.  He passed away of a massive seizure in his sleep.  Being African-American, his funeral was literally 6-hours long.  I had never attended a funeral like this before and it truly impressed me.  The immense celebration and sharing of his life at this service was unforgettable.  The plethora of stunning flowers...the gorgeous, shiny casket...the loving, welcoming people who greeted us and made us feel like we belonged there...the powerful, soaring music that evoked passionate tears...the hostesses in white gloves that brought bottled water and tissue to everyone in the church throughout the entire service...it was all just completely unreal.  Upon entering that church, it was clear to everyone there that we were not only going to be there a while, but we were going to be changed--and I was changed.  I would make the strong deduction that everyone there was changed!  They offered for anyone to feel free to leave early if needed, but laughingly declared that the rest of us were going to "have church!"  The Spirit of God and the unity felt there that day were palpable. I will never forget the way numerous family members and friends shared openly and prolifically from their hearts about this person they devoutly loved.  Now that's a funeral.  That is the celebration of a life.

How sad after all a person does in their life, that we should conclude it by "cutting costs" and "keeping it short."  I was so convicted about how horribly, shamefully, impatient and selfish we can be when it comes to other people--even in death.  But that service was so amazing, we didn't even realize how long we'd been there until we got to the car! Six hours was a drop in the bucket for the life this young man led. He was a dynamic believer and made a huge difference in the climate at Allie's school.  He was never afraid to tell anyone and everyone about Jesus and share his life genuinely with others.  I was honored and privileged to sit and listen to all the stories and things he had done in his life.  I still think about things people said about him.  Even though I found myself completely drained at the benediction, I didn't want it to end.  I couldn't help thinking that we have much to learn from the African-American culture when it comes to funerals and how to truly celebrate and relish the lives of our beloved dead.