Yesterday, I went to the memorial service for a man that I knew who died of cancer. I didn’t know him well. He attended the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship that I frequent, and he always seemed to me to be a very nice person. Always friendly and warm, always a smile on his face. My wife’s service, sixteen months ago now, was held in the same church. I hadn’t been there since. This church, The United Church of Christ, is the very church I attended as a child. It is a very liberal leaning church, an open and affirming church, meaning, they don’t judge you for being Gay, or for being anything else. It’s sanctuary has a sweeping arched ceiling, beautiful stained glass windows, and lots of dark woodwork. And rows of old wooden pews, the same pews I reluctantly sat in as a captive of my parents, being forced to sit still (stop fidgeting!) with hands in lap (don’t touch that!) and listen to a man talk about things I had no interest in. Of what use was any of this to a child who’s head was in the sky and who’s body could hardly be kept still (don’t they know what it’s like to be a kid?) Little did I know that I would be sitting there so many years later, mourning the loss of my wife. Or a friend.
I don’t like funerals. I don’t care how much they say that this is a celebration of the person’s life. When you sit, in rows, with a coffin or an urn full of ashes and people are weeping, it’s not a celebration. And yes, we should mourn. We should cry, for our loss. But it’s not a celebration. I remember vividly, the day of my wife’s funeral. I went through the motions, shook hands, hugged, said thank you hundreds of times, wept tears. I was not celebrating.
My mother died the same month as my wife. 27 days before her. We had her funeral there, also. 2017 was a lousy year. The United Church of Christ in Northfield Minnesota started Carleton College (actually it was the Minnesota Conference of Congregational Churches) in 1866 and my Grandfather and my mother spent their careers working for the college. So I guess it seemed natural to them to attend the church so closely connected to it. I am thankful that they chose a liberal church to attend. It is the basis for my liberal outlook today.
While I’m not comfortable with labels, (liberal, conservative, etc.) Liberal most closely explains how I feel about things. I don’t believe you should be judged for who you are. The content of your character (Thank you, Martin Luther King Jr.) should be the basis of another’s judgement of you. What kind of human being are you? That is what should matter.
As I sat, mourning the loss of my friend from the fellowship, I thought about his character. Our pastor told of his kindness, his generosity, his smile and quick wit. He had a wonderful wife, and a loving family. And nothing else matters. Just that. He was a good human being. A good man. And we mourned his loss. And we will continue to do so. Nothing else matters.