Tuesday, January 28, 2003

The man is most certainly dead. Like a stone. He is layed out in a rather inexpensive casket with an American flag on a pole embroidered into the fabric of the inner lid. He is wearing the dress uniform of a Master Sergeant in the United States Army. Good thing... he's going to be facing that flag for a very long time. Let's call him... Gary. Gary died too young. He was 64. I hope to be driving a Mustang at 64 and letting the air blow over my hairless scalp. I'll probably still be a youth pastor. I hope so anyway. But Gary died of Alzheimers. 64 is definately too young to forget your life. I never met Gary when he was alive, which turns out to be just as well because he would have forgotten me anyway. Nobody introduced us until he was dead. All of a sudden, Sunday afternoon, a local funeral home is calling me up trying to ruin my Tuesday. They pulled it off. It seems that not only was Gary dead, he was dead without a pastor, a church, or anything but a totally clueless family. They wanted to know if I would say some nice things about him... over him... and then give the signal to drop him into the ground. I said, "Sure." What are you suppose to say? "No thanks. I'd rather sit around and hope a tele-marketer calls?" So tomorrow at 11am I'm going to bury Gary. So today I thought I should go by the funeral home and meet with the family as they go in to view his body for the first time. Nobody should have to go in and see their husband or father or grandfather or uncle dead without having a representative of the Almight present. Some guys sell used cars. Some guys make pipes fit together. Some guys write newspapers. I go in with families to see dead guys. What can I say? It isn't particularly fun but God told me to do it.

So I went. Sure enough, he is dead. The funny thing is... nobody seemed very upset. You see, Gary's wife was present. Actually she was his double wife... he married her. He divorced her. He married her. He died on her. She went by the casket but didn't seem to upset. He had three sons and a daughter there as well. I didn't see anybody cry. There were some grandkids. They were more interested in the flowers. I don't get it. So I gathered them around what's left of Gary and I prayed for them. I had been scoping out the family, trying to figure out who is in charge now that dad/grandpa/hubby is gone. It seemed to be Randy, his oldest son. So I asked Randy to sit and talk to me for a few minutes about his dad. I asked him for some memories. It seems that his dad was a 20 year army vet that majored on tanks. He drove 'em. He fixed 'em. He shot their guns. And then he taught others to do the same. When he retired from active duty he kept on doing the same thing as a civilian employee. He moved all of the way to Kansas so that he could drive 'em, fix 'em, and shoot 'em at Fort Riley. Then he got sick and he came home. He remarried his former wife. And the family hunted, camped, and fished with him for a few years until he died. And now we are pretty much up to speed.

That's when Randy said it. He just came out and said it. He said, "If it weren't for going to prison there wouldn't be no funeral attal." He stared across the room toward the windows. It became obvious he wasn't going to say anything else and there was no way I could let that go. So I asked him what he meant. Randy said, "If it weren't for getting sent to prison I'd do what daddy wanted me to do. I'd take him out and lay him in the woods and let the animals eat off him." Selah. Pause and reflect. This was new. This was interesting. I had never heard this one before. I'd like to go on record at this point as saying that I had no reply. If Randy and I were still sitting in those chairs I still would not have said anything. I still haven't figured out what an appropriate response is to that statement.

After a few quiet moments Randy broke the silence. He told me there would only be one song at the service. He said they have it on CD but that the family would be singing alone with it. I admit that the theme song for "Deliverence" began playing in my head. But no, I could not be that fortunate. Randy again needed prompting and so I asked him the name of the song. He said that he suspected that I, as a man of the cloth, would not appreciate the song but that they were going to sing it for daddy anyway. He said, "The song is called, 'Prop me up beside the jukebox when I die.'" We sat in silence. He said it was his daddy's favorite song. I thanked Randy for his help and told him I would see him in the morning. I went into Jason's office. Jason is the funeral director. I asked him if he knew what we were singing at the funeral tomorrow. He looked down at his desk and mumbled. I asked him if he had a copy of the song. He handed me a CD. It was by a country gentleman by the name of Joe Diffy. He personally penned these words...

Well I ain't afraid of dying, its the thought of being dead
I wanna go on being me once my eulogy's been read
Don't spread my ashes out to sea, don't lay me down to rest
You can put my mind at ease if you fill my last request

Prop me up beside the jukebox if I die
Lord I wanna go to heaven, but I don't wanna go tonight
Fill my boot up with sand, put a stiff drink in my hand
Prop me up beside the jukebox if I die

Verse 2
Just let my headstone be a neon sign
Just let it burn in memory of all of my good times
Fix me up with a mannequin, just remember I like blondes
I'll be the life of the party even when I'm dead and gone

Repeat Chorus

Just make your next selection and while you're still in line
You can pay your last respects one quarter at a time

When I was young I wanted to be a policeman. I went to school to study criminology. Then I changed my major to photography. Then I studied journalism. Finally, I gave up and became the pastor God was telling me to be. I went to school for 9 years. 9 years. I graduated with enough credits for you and I both to have a degree. But never... never... did ANYBODY tell me that I would get to minister to people that wanted to feed their daddy's body to squirrels and possums. NOBODY told me what to do when they want to sing drinken songs about propping their daddy's cold stiff body up against the juke box right after I tell 'em about Jesus. And you know what scares me? There was this look in Randy's eyes. It tonight it occurs to me... there just might be a juke box at the funeral home when I get there tomorrow...