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|My mother passed away February 7, 2008 at the age of 80. Not to worry, she had a good life and a mercifully swift death. Very much an "old school" wife and mother, she stayed home to raise my older brother and me and taught piano lessons in our home during the school year. She also served as organist for 30 years at our Lutheran church before retiring. As you can guess, she and my father made sure I underwent the entire infancy to adulthood training program concomitant with that environment -- baptism, Sunday School, youth choir, catechism, Boy Scouts, etc.|
When not busy with all those varied activities, she also spent a great deal of time preparing meals in our kitchen and fabricating many of our clothes in her sewing room. She also engaged in traditional crafts such as embroidery, crocheting, and knitting. Despite their modest means, my parents managed through thrift to save enough money to travel across the country and world, including such memorable sites as Alaska, Hawaii, Australia, and New Zealand. So by the time the end came, she had accumulated a great many handmade items in our house as well as numerous photograph albums. The immediate family placed these on display in the lobby of the church where we conducted the funeral as part of the memorial service.
Because both of my parents came from large families, the memorial service packed the church with my many cousins. I never really discussed my loss of religious faith with any of them -- or my immediate family for that matter -- after I left home simply because I saw no point to the effort. However, evidently someone somewhere must have gotten wind of it because of what happened after the service. As my wife and I packed the display items in the lobby, the husband of one of my cousins -- a man I barely know -- came to me. I noticed he wore a tie with holy buzzwords such as Jesus, Savior, etc. written all over it.
"Luke, are you comfortable being here?" he asked.
"What do you mean?" I responded.
"Are you comfortable being in a church environment?" he continued.
"I didn't burst into flames, if that's what you mean," I snickered.
"Well, that's not how it works, but I just wanted to know where you stood spiritually."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean I wanted to know if you have accepted Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior."
"Oh, good grief," I snapped. "We will not discuss theology today!"
"Well, I didn't want to do that, I just ..."
"I said we will not discuss theology today!" I repeated firmly.
"That's fine. I just wanted to let you know that you are family and I love you, but God loves you even more," he said kindly, then left.
My wife overheard none of this because she remained focused on packing, so I shared the tale later in the car.
"You just had to say that smart remark about 'bursting into flames,' didn't you?" she giggled.
"Well, it's true," I defended.
"Oh, honey ..." she trailed, "you could have just let it go. He meant well. You could have just said you felt quite secure in church."
"Well, the guy really caught me off guard so of course I got smarmy."
"Oh, I totally agree, Luke. I mean, what kind of thing is that to ask a man at his own mother's funeral?"
"It just gives me another validation for moving away from here," I concluded.
Some people will say I ought not to look the gift of kindness in the mouth. I really have to ask what price people demand of me for their "kindness." In any case, I have some time to chew on this episode before the next family reunion. So if readers have strategies for the best way to handle uncomfortable situations like this, by all means share them.