September 4th, 2012

cheese

Something to think about

Someone on FB posted this news item that caught my eye: http://www.examiner.com/article/family-sued-over-offensive-tombstone-decides-to-remove-it

I want to do a little riff off this item, but I'm probably not going where you think I am.

First, let me say that objecting to inappropriate or unaesthetic cemetery art is probably a lost cause. We, as a society, have lost connection with whatever roots we had, artistic or liturgical, when it comes to death, funerals, etc. I can understand the family's incomprehension that anybody could object to their putting whatever they want on a tombstone they paid for over a grave plot they own.

I can understand the church that owns the cemetery objecting to the tombstone, although I think this a rather tame memorial as these things go. Still, whether they win their point or not, they wind up looking like prudes -- and worse, bullies -- because the society as a whole does not agree with their standards any more.

I also imagine that the church in question -- if it's like most churches I know -- probably didn't do a very good job of setting and publishing their standards until they were confronted with something they didn't like. The Church as a whole has a problem with telling people up front what they're in for and what is expected of them when they deal with the Church, whether it's weddings or funerals or cemetery art, not to mention the vows of membership. We want to be helpful and agreeable and get people to include us, which makes it hard for us to then draw lines in the sand and snort about standards later on.

But let that go. That's not what I want to talk about.

Have you ever dealt with a for-profit cemetery? They often have far more restrictive standards. Some will tell you that all stones must be flat to the ground, the easier to mow over them. Others may not care how gaudy the stone you put up is, but they'll tell you what you can place around it, or what time of year you can place it there -- especially cut flowers. They may require you to buy a vault to place your casket in -- even if that is not required by local ordinance or State law -- because it prevents the ground from sinking in and keeps the landscaping pretty (and all that crap about keeping moisture out is just hoo-hah and who cares, anyway). The point is, a modern cemetery is a stone-cold corporation about these matters, and they will enforce the contract you signed with them when you bought your plot, don't think they won't.

Anyway, I can understand people getting riled up and saying, "I wouldn't put up with that kind of interference from some stupid retail business and I'm sure as hell not going to put up with it from a church," except they don't. They put up with all kinds of impertinent crap from businesses that tell them how they must buy, when they must buy, when they can get service and under what conditions, etc. We act like we're afraid of bloody Walmart, for heaven's sake. But our full anti-authoritarian, "I'm mad as hell and not going to take it anymore" attitude comes to the fore when we deal with -- the Church. The one institution that probably is embarrassed to enforce its own standards, because they want to be part of your life more than they want your money.

I don't know what this says about our society. I don't know what it says about the Church. But it shows that you can't win for losing, so you might as well stand for something and if people get mad, at least they were fully informed before they decided to do business with you.