"You'll never get ahead if you don't take care of what you have." - Doris Waddell, RIP

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn
The multi-ethnic building was the original home of the music department at UMM. (B.W. photo)

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Are church bells really needed anymore?

People talked about church bells back during the discussion over the cemetery chimes in Morris. It was unfortunate we were ever forced into that discussion. But as it grew, we heard the chimes' supporters say that if we can accept church bells, why not accept the chimes too?
I began to wonder: are church bells in fact necessary? They seem to harken back to an old time when superstition rather than science guided much of our thoughts. We certainly don't need church bells to know what time it is. So why are they still heard? Well, the churches have them installed and they just seem appropriate, based on what we have always experienced. I'm prompted to think of old black and white movies about even older times, e.g. "Song of Bernadette."
The bells peal, as they say, to convey the weighty importance of our maker who of course we should fear. Preachers in the old days seized on that sense of authority. They lectured and hectored. They told us how to live. In our present age, doesn't that old model of church-going seem dated and rather irrelevant? Prayer does not cure disease, science does.
I talked with a Morris pastor not long ago who told me he did research at a parish within his denomination once. He looked into the history. He was surprised at the large number of relatively young people who died of "natural causes" in an earlier time. We might like to forget about that earlier norm. It's certainly true as my own mother has underscored in her recollections.
The more frail human life is, the more we're inclined to turn to religion as a way of at least coping. A Pierz MN native who has written several books says that funerals in the old days - he was referring to the '30s and '40s - were very sad in their overall tone. I would suggest this was because so many people were leaving us in the prime of life. A friend of mine claims that Bud Grant once said "if you want a lot of people at your funeral, die young." It was an irreverent comment, of course.
Today of course there still are people who leave us at mid-life, just not as many. The crowds for wakes and funerals can be huge like for when Tony O'Keefe had his untimely death. I remember wanting to attend Tony's wake. I was in a crush of people just outside the funeral home. After about 15 minutes of waiting and not moving an inch, I gave up and left. I memorialized Tony in my own personal thoughts. I later suggested that on occasions like this with such an overwhelming crowd, the funeral home should arrange for a constantly moving line so people can at least pass by the casket, and if they want to fight the crowd later, fine. I wonder if the Lee Center could be used for reviewals where a very large crowd is expected.
Funerals are common today where the deceased lived to a very old age and developed so many health issues, it's rather a relief when they pass on. This sounds coarse, but I think a lot of people know just what I'm talking about. My father could easily have died in the 1980s. He got a five-vessel heart bypass with no time to spare. He lived to age 96 and was capable of enjoying life right up to the end. He did lose his ability to communicate at the end.
I think doctors are stressed dealing with patients in their 90s, because even though many medical resources can be applied, people simply do not live forever.
In hindsight we probably should have chosen cremation like through the Cremation Society of Minnesota. We never wanted to talk about death in our family. The "traditional funeral" was a default decision for us. I recommend that everyone talk openly and plan for this. You are welcome to use the Williams family bench monument at Summit Cemetery. If anyone yells at you - and this is a real possibility given the low level of decorum at the cemetery - just tell them Brian said it's OK.
I guess it was the cemetery that allowed Ted Storck's chimes play for so long. What an unfortunate and unnecessary controversy. You can really learn a lot about people. Otherwise intelligent people will have their brains freeze and talk about how wonderful it is to hear this music publicly. They talk angrily about people who say this noise is unacceptable. Of course it's unacceptable because a man's home is his castle. But people got unpleasant and wedges got driven between people, which always happens during times of controversy in a "Peyton Place" type of community like Morris.
In the meantime, the person responsible for the chimes just sort of crawled out from under the pile. Couldn't he show some basic empathy for the people who said they were annoyed at the noise/music? Didn't he feel bad, at some point, at the conflict his chimes were causing?
An upstanding person like Ken Hodgson comes forward and totally defends the chimes in a public letter. Many other public letters were written. One writer wondered if the chimes' critics were "atheists." People can be so stupid.
We heard the argument that "if church bells are OK, shy not accept the chimes?" Well, I'm not sure church bells are really needed or desirable. I think church bells belong in another age, an age that was more foreboding in terms of dealing with our mortality, an age in which we'd fight a major war every couple of decades. Perhaps boys were encouraged to play football because it was a militaristic model getting them ready in case they'd have to be sent off to war.
Football belongs in the age of church bells. All this belongs in an age when we turned to superstition so much more than today.
Is Christianity still relevant? It can be. Problem is, we hear Christianity in terms of "evangelicals" being tied so much with the extreme political right. The media toss around that term "evangelicals" so much. I wish we could get a precise definition. It gives the impression that in order to be a Christian, you have to be a gay-bashing Mike Huckabee type. I don't think that's true. It does injustice to a faith that really is intended to be inclusive. The millennials hear the disturbing message and I think they become less inclined to want to get involved in religion. They join the "nones," people who do not choose to join a church.
People who work in religion are well aware of that problem.
Here in Morris, my First Lutheran Church is now going to one service every Sunday year-round, not just in summer. It's a little disconcerting. Is this move a reflection of the decline of the church or the decline of the Morris community? It has to be one of the two. I don't know. I know that when First Lutheran adopted the one-service format for summer, I considered it a slippery slope. There is no more "New Wine" at First. I never liked the title of that group because of the reference to an alcoholic beverage. I don't care if the term is from scripture. Also, consider that in ancient times, alcoholic beverages were sought in many cases as an alternative to unsafe drinking water. This is not relevant today.
I don't think church bells are relevant today. They are total relics of a less-enlightened, more fearful time in the history of civilization.
Maybe sometime I'll discuss offering plates. (George Carlin always wondered if it's OK to "make change" in an offering plate!) 
- Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

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