Today’s Thought — Have we truly become so pagan?
By Lee Hemen
July 3, 2010
I watched the evening news and was dumbfounded by the outpouring of emotion by those who had absolutely nothing to do with a young boy who disappeared here locally. Here’s what I mean: I understand his classmates making cards, drawings, and placing flowers, but complete and utter strangers? I found it rather creepy. But then, I also find it creepy when folks set up roadside shrines to people who get hit by drunk drivers. I have even seen them put up roadside crosses for their pet who got hit by a passing car. I am not trying to be insensitive to people healing in their own way, but this kind of smacks of paganism to me, or at very least a real self-absorption by our society.
In Hinduism they will put up a shrine for almost anything or anyone, place flowers, burn incense, and even give gifts – but why in the world do we do this? I believe it is because as a society we have lost the true meaning of our own spiritual roots. We no longer know how to handle death or tragedy, are embarrassed by it, and then make it all about ourselves! Many folks do not know what they believe about life, death, or any kind of coherent faith practice. Many have simply mashed together a kind of feel good New Age Native American paganistic mumbo-jumbo. I remember a mother who had her daughters buy these huge lilies every year, place them near the pulpit of the church, so they could “remember their father” whom they did not know. When I asked her why, she finally admitted it was because of her own guilt. In fact, she had given her daughters the “gift’ of that guilt and they had now made it their own! Both girls have suffered from it.
My Dad was a dyed-in-the-wool Catholic who hated funerals. I can understand why. Catholics, I was raised one, can really give you a huge heapin’ helpin’ of guilt when it comes to dying. The Last Rites, before you die; the incense after you pass; the votive candles and prayers you pay for so the dead person can get out of purgatory quicker; the prayer vigil and the saying of the rosary over and over and over; the open casket – don’t get me started about that; and then the wearing of black.
I understand that folks need to work through their grief in their own way. I have counseled many people through tough times. And, yes, I was sensitive and compassionate. But for perfect strangers to make a little boy’s disappearance into their own morbid shrine, I find it almost repulsive. One woman said, “I am here to support the family in their time of grief.” This woman does not know the family and they do not know her. Wouldn’t it therefore be better if she found some other folks and prayed for the family or gave a gift to a local children’s charity instead of showing up outside of the little boy’s school to put plastic flowers on a chain-link fence? I know, I know, people are really touched by the loss of a little boy. That I can understand. My church is praying for his safe return and for the family as well. And here is the truth: We need to return to God in order to understand tragedy and death in life.
How a society handles these things says a lot about that society. The Psalmist wrote, “We wait in hope for the LORD; he is our help and our shield. In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name. May your unfailing love rest upon us, O LORD, even as we put our hope in you.” (Psalms 33:20-22) When God is our focus in life, we find courage, strength, and comfort in all circumstances. We do not need to make other people’s tragedies into our own in order to discover our own guilt. Proverbs reminds us that “If you falter in times of trouble, how small is your strength!” (Proverbs 24:10) King David would sing, “But I will sing of your strength, in the morning I will sing of your love; for you are my fortress, my refuge in times of trouble. O my Strength, I sing praise to you; you, O God, are my fortress, my loving God.” (Psalms 59:16-17)
Pastor Lee Hemen has been the outspoken pastor of the same church for 25 years in Vancouver, WA. He writes regularly on spirituality and conservative causes and maintains several web blogs. This article is copyrighted © 2010 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission. You now have my permission…