Wednesday, February 15, 2023

Reflections on the Way to the Crematorium

So I’m on my way to the crematorium the other day …

It occurs to me that line probably requires a bit of backstory. It wasn’t a people crematorium. Technically, it wasn’t even traditional cremation. No fire was involved. This was a “green alternative” process known as aquamation, or water cremation, which uses 90% less energy to produce the same ash residue as intense heat would.

It’s also half the price of regular cremation, and it was for pets, one of which lay in a Walmart bag on my back seat.

Yet Another Institutional Racket

A good friend lost her cat last Friday night, the second of a pair of siblings I picked up from the vet for her as kittens a few years after the new millennium kicked in. Her brother (the cat’s, not my friend’s) had died exactly two months prior … to the day. All told, that pair had a pretty good run. I’ve known cats to live longer, but pets these days have the deck stacked against them. This one made it almost nineteen years without a single return visit to the vet. That sort of independence from the pet industry doesn’t do much for the coffers of the corporate interests, but it’s awfully good for God’s little domesticated creatures and those who love them.

In the last few years, pet food manufacturers have been buying up chains of veterinary clinics through which they flog their edible products, many of which are about as healthy for our furry friends as three meals a day of Frosted Flakes would be for you. This arrangement works out well for the clinics, which require a predictable stream of needy patients to keep them solvent, and equally well for the food manufacturers, which profit from every bowlful of grain, guts and pulverized bone they flog to pet owners while effectively creating patients for the clinics they own by sabotaging their nutritive intake. If your cat is approaching age ten these days, it has a 50% chance of dying of some form of kitty cancer, a phenomenon completely unknown in feral cats. Getting that diagnosis from an emergency clinic will cost you a few grand, fighting the cancer will cost you up to $25,000, giving up and putting your pet down prematurely will cost you a few hundred, and disposing of the remains a few hundred more. And unless you have an independent vet, you’ll effectively be paying it to the people who gave your cat cancer.

In short, like just about everything else in the post-Christianized West, it’s an evil racket.

Music in the Hearse

Anyway, my friend, who doesn’t know the Lord, was devastated by losing another little companion so soon after the first, so I volunteered to take care of things. We lost our dog in September at almost sixteen, so I know to some degree what this feels like, though of course from a Christian perspective. So she manages (barely) to package up her kitty and bring her downstairs, and I load the package into the back seat. Off I go after a few seconds of commiseration and a hug. Between trips to the vet and trips to the crematorium, I’m not sure if my old Toyota is more of an ambulance or a hearse these days.

Anyway, I’m on my way to the crematorium with an old Prefab Sprout album in the CD player. (Yes, old cars still have those, and I’ll be sad when this one is gone.) And here’s what Paddy McAloon is singing as I’m driving across town:

“My poor heart was heavy
My poor heart was stone
Then I heard them — they were angels
And they were singing, ‘You’re not alone.
There is a peace you’ve never known.’ ”

Hey, I can relate. I can’t say my heart was exactly stone at the time — it wasn’t my pet, after all — but except for the music, it was not a fun ride. Bad traffic, concern for my weeping friend who doesn’t have the same spiritual resources to draw on that I do, maybe a little imagined whiff of decay from the back seat (this was Tuesday and the cat died Friday), and an abundance of thoughts about our fallen world, not to mention maybe just a little phantom guilt that my own cat is still relatively healthy.

Sweet Gospel Music

The story I’ve read is that teenage Paddy McAloon was planning to be a priest, then decided to write music instead. A fine choice, in my humble estimation. He’s penned some astoundingly beautiful pop music, though not widely known these days. His later work especially tries to capture the transcendent, meaning that God is much mentioned in his lyrics. I know a little about this peace he references, and I hope he does too.

Here is the third verse of Sweet Gospel Music:

“If your heart is heavy
If your heart is stone
May you hear them — they are angels
They may be singing about a throne
About a peace in the never-known.”

There’s a line you don’t hear often in pop music. Okay, you NEVER hear it in pop music. Nobody on the Top Forty ever sings one word about a throne. If God gets name-checked at all these days on the music sales charts, it’s not with reverence or respect, and nobody is interested in talking about how Heaven rules.

But the gospel is fundamentally about getting Christ enthroned, isn’t it, and the kingdom that is coming as a result. Everything else: the cross, the three days in the tomb, the resurrection and the ascension, was about getting him to the throne he so richly deserves, then bringing the throne down here to this needy world. That’s Psalm 2 if you want it in a nutshell, and blessed are those who take refuge in him.

Amen? Amen.

The Answer of the Throne

That’s the Christian hope: Christ coming back to establish his kingdom on earth. “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” That’s what we pray for. When we’re at our best, that’s what we long for and dream about. Christ on the throne is the answer to the big problems like war, bad government, COVID, earthquakes and climate change, like evil globalists and big corporations profiting from death. And it’s the answer to the comparatively little things, like the pain of losing a much-loved pet.

That throne is a future reality on earth, but it’s a present reality in the glories of heaven. If you want to know a little peace, that’s something to keep in mind.

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