Life

After I am Dead

walking by graveyard

As soon as Christian fundamentalists read this headline they will shout at their screen:

  • You will be burning in hell!
  • You will know there is a God!
  • You will know I was right!

They will see my death as vindication of their belief system. I wonder how many of them will say to themselves, I bet Bruce wishes he had listened to me!  I can hear a Calvinist saying, now we know Bruce was not one of the elect!  They will speak of the preacher turned atheist who now knows the TRUTH. (please read Christopher Hitchens is in Hell)

If they bother to read beyond the title of this post they will see this post is not about my e-t-e-r-n-a-l destiny. I have no concern over God, judgment, or hell. I am confident that hell is the creation of those who want to control people through fear. Fear God! Fear Judgment! Fear Hell! Since Christianity and the Bible no longer have any power over me, I no longer fear God or hell. I am reasonably certain that ãthis is the only life I will ever have, and once I die I will be…drum roll please, d-e-a-d.

Here’s what I want to happens after I draw my last breath.

First, I do not want a funeral service. Waste of time, effort, and money. No need for fake friends or distant family members to show up and weep fake tears. No need for flowers. I want Polly to spend as little as possible on disposing of my dead carcass. Trust me, I won’t care.

plus size cremation

Second, I want to be cremated. No special urn. A cardboard box will work just fine. If Polly wants to show her love for me, a Hostess cupcake box would be sweet.  As I jokingly told my children, when I am cremated I will go from ass to ashes.

Third, I want my ashes to be spread along the eastern shore of Lake Michigan. Polly knows the place. I hope my children, daughter-in-laws, grandchildren, and close family will be there. I want no prayers said and as few tears as possible. Perhaps those who are gathered will share a funny story, one of their many Butch/Bruce/Dad/Grandpa stories. I hope they will remember me for the good I have done and forgive me for those moments when I was less than I could or should have been.

And that’s it.

Life is not about dying, it’s about living. Since I am on the short side of life, I dare not waste the time I have left. When death comes, the battery in my life clock will be depleted. Like the Big Ben clock beside our bed, the one I listen to late at night as it clicks off the seconds, I know there is coming a day when I will hear CLICK and that will be it.

How about you? As an atheist or non-Christian, what do you want to happen after you die? Have you made funeral plans? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

The Mighty Maple and Pine Tree

house 2014

House 2014

Sometime in the latter part of the 19th century, someone built a small farmhouse on the edge of the small, bustling community of Williamstown. In time, Williamstown became Ney and these farmers planted a maple tree and pine tree in their front yard, near the dirt road local residents used to travel  between the communities of Defiance, Bryan, Farmer, Sherwood, Williams Center, and Mark Center. Over time, these tree grew and by 2015 they became two of the largest trees in Ney.

pine tree 2012

Pine tree 2012

The pine tree, eight feet in diameter at its base, towers above the south side of the farmhouse, providing shade for the new family who lives there. Throughout the year, the pine tree drops cones that litter the ground and plug the gutters.  The tree seems healthy, year after year producing buds that turn into cones. Its fallen cones and needles require frequent removal to the compost pile, but the shade provided by this majestic tree makes this work of little importance.

The maple tree, now seven feet in diameter, sits to the west of the pine tree, near the edge  of US Hwy 15. Its vast branches provide plenty of shade on a warm Ohio summer day, and every morning the songbirds sit in its branches serenading anyone who takes time to listen.   Every year, save one, since the new owners have lived in the farmhouse, the maple tree has thrown its seeds to the wind, plugging gutters and taking root in the gravel parking lot around its base. And every year, its seeds find out-of-the-way spots to take up root, hoping the new owners will let it live.

The maple tree is not as healthy as the pine tree. Its age is evident, and every thunderstorm drops a dead branch from its vast expanse. Towering twenty feet above the peak of the farmhouse, the maple tree has seen ten or so decades come and go. People in the farmhouse have lived, moved, and died, and its current residents expect the mighty maple tree will outlive them too.

house 2013

House 2013

Five years ago, knowing that someday the inevitable will happen and the maple tree will die, the new owners of the farmhouse planted a new maple tree, just like the unknown owners did a century ago. This wisp of a tree, now twelve feet tall and seven inches in diameter, will one day tower over the northeast corner of the property. That is, if the future owners of the farmhouse see beyond the present and let it plug their gutters too. The current farmhouse dwellers think like this: enjoy the present by planting bushes and flowers, but don’t forget the children of children of children.  Plant trees that future generations will admire and enjoy. They will be a living reminder to all who dare to pay attention; that a man and woman and their mentally handicapped daughter cared about the world they lived in.

maple tree 2014

Like the maple tree, someday, sooner than later, the man and woman in the farmhouse, will die. Like the maple tree, there’s a rot growing slowly inside of them. It will one day consume them, returning them to the earth from whence they came.

Focusing on What Really Matters

focus on what matters

As a Christian, I viewed life this way:

  1. Life is given to us by God.
  2. Life is a preparatory time for life after death.
  3. Troubles, trials, and adversity will certainly come our way but these things are part of God plan for us. He is testing us, trying us, and developing a longing in us for Heaven.
  4. While pleasure and happiness have their place in the human experience, it is far more important to know the joy of the Lord, and if need be deny oneself pleasure and happiness for the sake of God’s Kingdom and the eternal reward that awaits those who run the race God has set before them.
  5. While there is nothing wrong with material things, they do have the power to corrupt and distract us from that which really matters. As the Westminster Catechism says : What is the chief end of man? Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.
  6. Life is to be lived with God, his will, and eternity always in the foreground.
  7. Death is a promotion from this life to the next. While we will leave our loved ones behind for a time, we know that if they are followers of Jesus we will see them again in Heaven.

As an atheist, I view life this way:

  1. Life is given to us by our parents.
  2. This life is all we have. There is no life after death, no second chances, no do-overs. This is it.
  3. Troubles, trials, and adversity will certainly come our way. These things happen to most everyone, and it is the price we pay for being among the living.  Sometimes these things happen due to our bad choices or rash, foolish decisions. However, many things befall us simply due to luck. Wrong place. Wrong time. Wrong circumstance. Bad genetics.
  4. Pleasure and happiness are to be sought after since this life is all we have. In seeking pleasure and happiness, we should consider how seeking these things affects others,  but we should not allow others to stand in the way of our pursuit of pleasure and happiness. Life is too short to allow others to dictate the parameters by which we live our lives.
  5. We should seek after those things which give our life meaning and purpose. While there is a place in the human experience for living for the sake of others, this should not be at the expense of our own meaning and purpose. While narcissism is not a trait most humans value, neither is living a life that belongs to everyone but the person living it.
  6. Since life is defined by the space between birth and death, it is important for us to live each day to its fullest. Every day we live means we are one day closer to death. While death may provide a release from pain and sickness, it is bittersweet. Bittersweet because we are leaving behind those things which mattered to us. Above all, we are leaving behind those we love.

A year or so ago, I watched the final show of the acclaimed HBO series Six Feet Under. (created by True Blood creator, Alan Ball)  The show is about the Fisher Family and their funeral home business. For five seasons viewers are taken on a journey with the Fisher family and death. I found Six Feet Under to be one of the best dramas I have ever viewed. In the final show the writers tried to tie together all the loose ends. A few episodes back Nate Fisher had a brain aneurism and died at age 40. He left a wife, two children, and a complicated life. The last several shows focused on Nate, his contradictory life, and its effect on everyone his life touched.

The last few moments of the show were the most powerful moments I have ever experienced while watching TV. I wept as the show moved through the lives of all the Fisher family as they aged and one by one died. All of them dead. No one escaped. While it would be easy to say “how sad”, I found it to a reminder of how important it is to value and cherish the life we have. We spend so much time doing things that are meaningless or add nothing to our life. I know it is very easy to get sucked into normalcy, to just go with the flow. We tell ourselves, Tomorrow. Perhaps a Bible verse is appropriate here:

Boast not thyself of to morrow; for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth. (Proverbs 27:1)

Perhaps each of us need to ask ourselves:

  • Am I happy?
  • What is it I want to do with my life?
  • What brings me pleasure and happiness?
  • What do I want to do that I have not yet done?

What are your answers telling you? What are your thoughts on what I have shared here?

The Battler

the battler

The Battler

When he battled liberal churches and preachers they loved him.

When he battled Democrats they loved him.

And then he became too liberal for them.

When he battled Fundamentalists they loved him.

When he battled those who preached cheap grace they loved him.

And then he became too liberal for them.

When he battled the institutional church they loved him.

When he battled the mega-churches and TV preachers they loved him.

And then he became too liberal for them.

One day he realized that he had spent his entire life battling, and to what end?

No one stood by him.

The great battler stood alone.

Along the way he had changed.

And when he changed, they walked away.

He learned a hard lesson.

They never really did love him.

They loved his smart writing.

They loved his stand for truth.

They loved his personality.

They loved everything about him except what mattered.

When he needed them the most they were nowhere to be found.

He made them uncomfortable, they said,

He had changed.

He wasn’t what or who he used to be.

What happened to him, they asked?

Perhaps the real question is, what happened to them?

He often feels like a one night stand.

Used.

He still fights the battle.

But now the battle is within.

He battles the demons of the past,

He battles the reality of the present.

And he battles fear of tomorrow.

He is forced to forge new relationships.

Why does he feel the closest to people he has never met?

He used to laugh at the very notion of internet friends, yet where would he be without them?

They read what he writes and offer their opinion.

They agree, they disagree, but they let him be who he is.

They require no fidelity or obedience.

What’s a battling old preacher to do?

The fires still burns.

Passion still stirs in his being.

But the old battles provide no fight.

So he looks for a new battle to fight.

Maybe he will fight for those scarred and damaged by the gods.

Maybe he will fight for those who can not, or fearfully will not, fight for themselves.

Maybe he will fight for those whose lives have been ruined by People of the Way.

Maybe he will fight for a better world for his children and grandchildren.

There are still battles to fight.

Choose who and what you will fight for.

And forget those who only loved you for the battles you fought.

Written 2010

Wanting to Die


There are good days.

So so days.

Not good, but will make until tomorrow days.

Then there are I want to die days.

Not really die.

Well, some days I really do.

Sometimes wanting to die is a state of mind.

Other times the desire is as palpable as the heart beating in my chest.

Am I my mother’s son?

Will her suicidal path be mine?

Will a day come when I can no longer bear to endure another sunrise having not known the relief of sleep?

There are times that thoughts of suicide are a dark passenger, one that lurks in the shadows making itself known when the pain becomes unbearable.

Two of my sons are helping put in a gas line for our new stove.

Not really ours.

Polly’s dream stove.

I have a plan, but five hours later I tap out, admitting that the planned path from meter to stove will not work.

I wonder, do my sons think I am stupid, a feeble man who can no longer see every obstacle and a way to get around them and reach the objective?

I am no longer THAT man.

Gone is the man who could have his way with world.

Gone is the man who could work night and day until the project is completed.

Gone is the muscle, the brawn, the mental and physical wherewithal to have my way with whatever I set my hands or mind to.

I am left with the shell of the man I once was.

Pain, from the muscle bands attached to my skull to the joints in my feet and every place in between.

At best, narcotics provide a brief respite from the pain.

At worst, they are like taking aspirin for a migraine, like pissing into the wind of a hurricane.

As my oldest son finds a new route for the gas line, I go to the garage.

I am alone.

Really, really alone.

My sons don’t need me.

Without or without me the gas line will be finished and Polly will be in cooking heaven.

I bend over the bench in the garage and I weep.

Why won’t the pain stop?

Dumb question, I know the answer.

Do I want to live like this for another day?

I find this question hard to answer.

As I type this my entire body screams for deliverance, but I know only death will quell the screams.

Am I ready to die?

Today?

Now?

No, not today.

Not now.

I want to eat what Polly cooks on her new stove.