Tuesday, August 30, 2016

The Build-Your-Own Casket Project, with Dennis Hintz

Dennis Hintz is a “pine box” kind of guy.

You know the type. When the high cost of funerals comes up, they say, “Just put me in a pine box.” (Hear! Hear!)

The response is understandable. Caskets alone can set you back anywhere from $2,100 to $25,000, according to one 2016 list from a funeral home.

So what’s a “pine box” person to do?

Dennis’s answer: Make your own casket!

That’s what he’s doing, anyway. I heard about his plans a few months ago at a meeting, where he told a story about a special suit he purchased back in 1978 for his pastor’s funeral. The hefty price tag made his wife, Kathy, say, “You’re going to be buried in that suit!”

The suit is still part of the plan, and so is the DIY casket.

“It’s really a stewardship issue for me,” says Dennis, who retired in 2012 after 40 years as Director of Christian Education (DCE) at St. John’s in Topeka. “It’s been some time ago since I had it in mind, that this is something that I’d like to do, mostly because the cost of caskets is just out of this world. To spend upwards of $10,000 for a casket just blows my mind.”

The real Dennis Hintz, in his DCE days
He recalls jokingly telling Kathy in one conversation: ‘If I had my druthers, you could put me in a black bag, take me to the Flint Hills, and drop me off.” That tongue-in-cheek comment gave way to more serious consideration of the build-your-own casket.

As a frugal Midwestern Lutheran, I’m pretty intrigued by the idea, but how realistic is it, really? After talking to Dennis about the project, I’m convinced: If you want to do it, you can do it.

Let’s call that lesson #1. Here are nine others takeaways from my interview with “The Casketmaker.”

1) The Web has everything you need.
The Web is full of information on this topic. You can see examples, watch the process, obtain plans, and even buy kits, which is particularly helpful if you’re not a woodworker of This Old House caliber. (Dennis, by the way, is pretty handy; he received his grandfather’s cast iron jigsaw for Christmas in fifth grade and was making signs for local ranchers by middle school.)

One of Dennis’s favorite sites: Northwoods Casket Company.

Dennis browsing one of many bookmarked sites
2) You can save a lot of money with the DIY route.
If you don’t want to cough up $8400 for the “Wabash Cherry with Beige Velvet Interior” casket, you’re in luck. How about a few hundred bucks for a simple pine box? “The least expensive kit I’ve discovered so far is listed at $431,” Dennis says. “That’s remarkable.”

3) Funeral homes should accept your DIY casket.
If you want to use your DIY casket, your funeral home should accept that, says Dennis, who knows his stuff when it comes to funerals. He currently serves on the Topeka Cemetery Board and also works part time at Penwell-Gabel Funeral Home in Topeka. The only requirement, really, is build quality, but there shouldn’t be much worry there. As Dennis notes, “If you follow the design and suggestions that the companies provide with kits and plans, most of the designs can take a 600 lb. weight test.”

4) Making a nice casket is a lot of work.
It might be easy to assemble one of those casket kits, but if you want anything more than a few boards joined together, it will involve some work (and time and tools and skills). If you have a few minutes to spare, check out these videos. The first shows a young man building a casket for his father (with several helpers in a very well-equipped workshop); the second shows caskets being manufactured. After watching the videos, I can see why nice caskets don’t come cheap.

5) Maybe I don’t want just a pine box.
The more I looked at those pictures of the plain pine boxes, especially the interiors, the more I started rethinking my own pine box idea. When they’re propped open, they look kind of like the wooden crates that sit in our home office, filled with books. If I used a similar box for a casket, would I look like a shipment from Pottery Barn at my funeral? I’m still aiming for inexpensive, but maybe a little less “pine boxy.”

The VERY simple pine box, upper right
6) What’s up with traditional Jewish caskets?
Dennis’s own casket will be very simple in design and have holes in the bottom, similar to a traditional Jewish casket. Dennis has talked with a Jewish friend about the “dust to dust” principle that guides Jewish burials, and that got him thinking. “I was fascinated with the concept of dust to dust, as we have at Ash Wednesday, and so I said, ‘Well, it seems to me it sounds like a good thing to do as well.’” So he’s going with the holes, which allow remains to return to the earth. And if the cemetery requires a vault? Dennis says the lid can be removed and it can be used upside down.

7) What will cousin Freddy think?
Lets say you want the super simple casket. If your loved ones follow through, will they have to worry about what others think? (Whispering relatives: “Really? They couldn’t do better than a shipping crate? Didn’t Aunt Marge deserve more, after all she did for them?”) To help alleviate the concerns, Dennis plans to include some explanatory information in the funeral program. 

8) Oh yeah, this thing has to be stored.
It’s one thing to build the casket. Where does it go after that? Dennis and Kathy don’t have room to store the casket, so they’ve had to think about alternatives. There’s been some talk about using the casket as a coffee table, but Dennis is now thinking about a bookcase. Some kits, in fact, even come with shelves for exactly that purpose. “What a conversation piece!” Dennis says, laughing.

Picture casket here
9) And speaking of conversations…
Dennis has shared his casket story at various times, and he’s gotten a range of reactions. “It’s amazing how people react. ‘You’re going to build your own casket?’ If you can get them to talk about why it would seem abhorrent to them, that can be an interesting conversation. It’s another way to open the door to talk about things that are really important, and that’s life and death and eternal life and what it is that the Gospel assures us of. This life and this world is only the precursor.”

That might be a nice thing to engrave on a casket, if you have the tools.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Photo Friday: The Best Construction Challenge

Many of you know these words: "Defend him, speak well of him, and put the best construction on everything."

That's what we're directed to do in the explanation of the 8th commandment, but it can be a daily challenge, no?

Time to get creative. On this Photo Friday, I've snapped a few pics of some common pet peeves. How would you put the best construction on the actions in question? Share your efforts at kindness and diplomacy in the comments section. 

The Toilet Paper Roll Ignorer
This is especially great when discovered at 2:00 in the morning.

Related (found recently in our fridge):

In fairness, I should acknowledge the mote in my own eye. Here's a bag of bubble lights I got this Christmas as a gag gift, still sitting at the top of the basement stairs, waiting to be put away. 

The Parking-Challenged Driver
And all others who drive in ways that inspire eye rolls, or worse.

The Litterbug
So many trash cans, yet still so much trash on the ground. 

The Grammar Slayer
Interestingly, grammar misuse shows up on a lot of "pet peeve" lists. The one below always makes me shake my head.

Coming up next month: Steeples. Send me your pics!

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Your Presence Is Requested

The phone is ringing as I’m writing this post, and I’m ignoring it, like I usually do.

I’m ignoring the call, and along with it, the person on the end of the line. The telemarketer. The fundraiser. The political researcher. The Navy recruiter.

In other words, people who don’t matter much to me.

Ouch! Did I just say that? Seeing those words on the page makes me cringe. People should matter. Don’t they count as neighbors, as in, “Thou shalt love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt. 22:29)?

That’s one of the themes running through this month’s book selection, Life’s Too Short to Pretend You’re Not Religious, by David Dark (InterVarsity Press, 2016). The book wasn’t quite what I was expecting, largely because of Dark’s definition of “religious.” He’s not talking narrowly about belief in a god or following the teachings of a religion (although that’s part of it). His definition is more expansive, revolving largely around relationships to others. As Dark explains:
Religion, after all, is nothing if not relationship, the way I go about relating to the world made plainly evident by the forms my relating takes. And relationship, like culture, is non-optional.  I’m always cultivating and relating in one way or another, [. . .]. In this sense, the question of religion is always the question of right relationship, a question that can’t be justly avoided by anyone anywhere. (p. 122) 
If I were to choose another title for Dark’s book, I’d go with something like, Life’s Too Short to Pretend You’re an Island Unto Yourself. As Dark argues, we’re connected, all of us, although we often act like we aren’t.

One of his ideas that most resonated: We could pay more attention to being present—being in the moment with others, and being genuinely interested in the goings on around us.

I often see just the opposite, both in myself and others.

I see it in the jogger who passes me by with eyes averted. No smile. No wave. No hello. Sad to say, I sometimes do it, too. 

I see it in the checkout line, in the customer who talks on the phone without saying a word to the cashier, and in the cashier who carries out an entire transaction in complete silence. (If only all stores were like Hy-Vee! That “helpful smile in every aisle” is magic!)

I see it in groups of people—together, yet alone—each captivated by his or her own cell phone. Dark sometimes calls phones “electric soul molesters.” When his students ask why, he tells them, “Because [they have] a way of robbing you of our presence and robbing us of yours” (p. 103).

Amen. Such are the problems of our “Hurry up and matter” culture, says Dark. Better to slow down and be in the moment with those around us.

I’m not sure how quickly I’ll change my ways with telemarketers, but I know I could give more thought to the concept of “neighbor.”

The people of North Eleuthera seem to have the right idea. The fuzzy iPhone picture below might have ordinarily gone in the trash, but I’ve held on to it because of the memory it evokes.

I was sitting by myself outside the airport, waiting for a departing flight, nose buried in a magazine.

A bright voice: “Good morning!”

I kept reading.

Then another voice, another soul in my space: “Good morning!”

This time I looked up, and I realized the person was greeting me.

Me, really? Head down. Not paying attention. Pretending I was alone in the world (but wishing not to be). With that greeting, though, my randomness and strangerhood disappeared.

That’s a pretty nice way to treat a neighbor, don’t you think?

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The Mandated Government Sermon: May It Never Come to Pass

If I had been a delegate at the LCMS convention last month, I would have voted “Yes” (a thousand times yes!) to Resolution 17-04: “To Encourage Regular Sermon Evaluation by District Presidents and Circuit Visitors.”

For a former public speaking teacher, this decision’s a no-brainer.

Not everyone agrees, though. Check out this blog headline from a July 14 LCMS blog: “Regular Sermon Evaluation Proves to Be Hot Topic for Delegates.”

The resolution ultimately passed, but not without debate, and not by a landslide (705-228).

I suppose the sermon evaluation process could be fumbled in various ways, but things could be worse. On the very same day the LCMS blog headline appeared, July 14, the following headline appeared in the Washington Post: “Egyptian Government Orders Muslim Preachers to Give Identical Pre-Written Weekly Sermons.”

The reason for the scripted sermons? According to Mokhtar Gomaa of the Religious Endowments Ministry, the sermons are intended to curb extremism and foster religious renewal. “We will be contributing to shaping a new way of thinking,” said Gomaa.

Fair enough, in theory, but imagine (and while youre imagining, try to suspend thoughts of the obvious differences between Egypt and countries like the U. S.) . . .

Imagine watching your pastor get up in the pulpit this Sunday with a sermon downloaded from a government site. This week’s script, which he has to follow, addresses the virtues of personal hygiene. (Cue Charlie Brown teacher voice. Snooze.)

Your sister in Poughkeepsie will hear the same sermon. So will your cousin in Anchorage. You all commiserate about the sermons, which sound like 12-minute public service announcements.

Your brother? He’s skipping church altogether. He’s already read the sermon on the government site.

And those friends of yours? They’re checking out a new “underground” church, where pastors give sermons the old way.

I’m guessing that most of you—those who listen to sermons as well as those who write them— would be pretty unhappy with this state of affairs.

That’s been the reaction, too, in Egypt. Scholars at the prestigious Al-Azhar University, for instance, have opposed the scripted sermons on the grounds that they’ll lead to superficial thinking among imams.

The imam will find himself unable to discuss, debate and respond to [extremist] ideas and warn people about them,” said the scholars.

A few other concerns: The scripted sermons might create distance between worshipers and clerics. They might drive worshipers to seek out better preaching in other places (where they might hear some of those extremist ideas the government wants to squelch). The one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t allow preachers to address issues important to a particular worship community.

And then there’s the boredom problem, as pointed out by a security guard named Ahmed. “I look around and I find people either snoring or apathetic.”

So how about a vote? On the matter of scripted sermons (especially sermons written and mandated by the government), I say: “No. A thousand times no!”

That may be the way things will turn out in Egypt, too, thanks to the vocal opposition.

Just a few days ago, on August 11, 2016, the following headline appeared on Egypt Independent: “Endowments Ministry Backtracks on Scripted Friday Sermons.” The general topic is still required, according to the story, but the scripts?

Those are now optional.