My younger brother Leo died of cancer this past Halloween. He was bedridden the last couple of months, but my aged parents and I were somehow able to keep him in his rather small 1-bedroom apartment in North Central Iowa until the very end. We wanted him at home where he could be with his cat and where we could prepare him for the afterlife.
The people in my family are all members of a rather obscure sect found mostly in the rural Midwest called Crystal Methodists. Our beliefs occasionally seem strange to outsiders, so I thought I would write here about some of our quainter customs associated with the death of a loved one.
The name for our church comes from our traditional representation of Jesus on the cross. He is depicted as having a large crystal in his navel, which if I remember correctly from confirmation class represents a figurative umbilical cord to God from whom he receives (and we all receive) spiritual sustenance while living on this earth. Many older Crystal Methodists wear a crystal in their navels as well, at least when they go to church, but most of the younger generation just get their nipples pierced.
Our churchs, called "Labs," can be found scattered throughout the farmland of Iowa and Wisconsin. A Crystal Methodist Lab generally resembles a cross between a Christian Science reading room and a high school chemistry classroom, hence the name. We men somberly study the Bible in the reading rooms while the women cook up the sacrament and gossip about slutty women in other denominations. Our numbers have been reduced somewhat of late because our Labs occasionally blow up, killing the women and causing the men to use profane language. But so it goes; we phlegmatically remind ourselves that it is God’s will and remarry and build another Lab on someone else’s farm.
One of the more interesting beliefs we have is that, no matter how good we are in this life, we Crystal Methodists aren’t going to Heaven per se. Heaven, we feel, is reserved for Catholics and Lutherans and frankly we’re a little miffed about it. We believe that if we faithfully follow the teachings of Jesus in this life and do God’s work, the best we can look forward to is a menial job in Heaven doing maintenance work for the more privileged residents. We are Heaven’s janitors and handymen. The Pearly Gate is squeaking, call a Crystal Methodist to oil it. The Lutherans want to have a (rather restrained) celestial orgy, guess who cooks the food and cleans up afterwards – the Crystal Methodists. We have a trailer park in Heaven where we live, and those of us who were the most devout in this life get standard cable. There are rumors that if you’re a Crystal Methodist and live the life of a saint here on earth, you get HBO when you die, but none of us really believe that.
Oddly enough, our conception of Hell closely resembles our conception of Heaven except that in Hell you also have fallen arches, carpal tunnel syndrome and constant diarrhea. And the only channel you get in the trailer park is an eternal infomercial of Fitness Made Simple starring fitness celebrity John Basedow. Follow this link and Heaven starts to look a whole lot better, doesn’t it?
In my next entry I’ll explain how we prepared my brother for his passing the Crystal Methodist way. Casseroles (what you Northerners call "hot dish") are involved, so don’t miss it.