It was twelve years ago when I was first introduced to the Universal Life Church. There was the cat who was oh so proud of the fact he was a minister through the organization. He got his ordination via the spider's web and could perform things like weddings and other holy man-esque things, which seemed to me like Northern Exposure where the DJ had become sangha via an ad in Rolling Stone. This cat who was oh so proud of being an ordained minister with the Universal Life Church said he could ordain me right there on the spot, if I so wanted.
What the fuck else was there to do on a weeknight before kiting off to get mediocre sleazy diner coffee? And I always did like Northern Exposure, and the DJ character. Besides, my hypocrisy knows no bounds.
When heading out for coffee with one of my best friends, I told her I was now officially a minister. With a church, none-the-less. My fellow sangha was going to print me out a certificate stating this to be fact, which could work, given there are those who live and die by pieces of paper, whether used as currency or to show they sat in classrooms and regurgitated facts fed to them.
"You?!? A minister? You?!?" She was gobsmacked.
"Me. Ain't it grand?" I said with an impish smirk.
"I think it's a bunch of bullshit," she said finally.
When I got that certificate, I was very eager to show it to my friend. The whole absurdity of my heretical ass being sangha. Proof this was at least a real place, even if its credit might be dubious, based upon one's perceptions. My friend looked at the certificate, shook her head, and then grabbed a piece a paper and wrote;
"Robbie Grey is a certified bullshitter..."
And that was one of my best friends. She still is, even if she can be quite the punkass. To this day, she is quite unrepentant of that certificate she made for me.
So, over the years, those who have found out my dubious title of being sangha with the Universal Life Church, have either ooo'ed and awww'ed, or seen it as the joke it is. My parents used to try to use this as a way for me to say Christian grace at the dinner table, despite my decided lack of Christian beliefs. My sister would say me being a minister was why I had studied so many different theologies.
Shortly before my mother was diagnosed as terminal, she decided when she did die, she wanted her ashes scattered in the outback of the Sahel. Particularly at the ruins of an old mining camp and a particular bristle-cone pine that is an amalgamation of a bonsai and baobab tree where we'd sometimes picnic. When it got closer to the end, my mother requested that the priest who married my sister and Whitie say something nice when we scatter her ashes. I found this queer, given my mother wasn't Catholic, but she found it queer that her eldest son was a heretical Tibetan Buddhist who was apparently an ordained minister with some online church al-la Northern Exposure.
I was having Thai with my father, sister, daughter, and Whitie. My nephew, still on a strictly milk diet, just watched. At one point, the upcoming scattering of my mother's ashes came up. We discussed a wake at the House of Owls and Bats involving smoked chickens and red beans and rice.
"So, Son, as a man of the cloth, to you intend to say something over your mother's ashes?" My father asked me.
Oh, I had thought about it, but couldn't think of anything. I figured I'd leave it to the professional. The priest looked like he'd been around since the Inquisition. At most, Sabinan and I were going to leave a few sets of prayer flags strung through the branches of that bristle-cone pine.
"I'd loath to upstage the priest," I said through a mouthful of pad thai.
"The priest ain't coming," my father said.
"Really?" I was gobsmacked.
"He's transferred parishes," Whitie put in. "He won't be available."
It was then I noticed how intently everyone was eyeing me. I'm the zen one. Sometimes, I've strung words together in a way that might be considered clever. I was once ordained as a minister, making me, in a family of Southern Baptists, Catholics, heretical Buddhists, and Agnostics the most qualified.
"Fuck!" I muttered. Then I shrugged. "I reckon I can try to come up with something."
"I think that would be nice," my father said.
In the rising and setting of ten suns we will scatter my mother's ashes in the outback. Sabina and I will leave Buddhist prayer flags to eventually be blown away in the alpine winds. And now, it seems, I have been placed in the position of saying something over my mother's ashes. Part of me is honored the rest of my family would ask me to do this. Another aspect is utterly terrified at the prospect.
It's only ten days. No pressure. No pressure at all.