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Writer's Block: Left Behind

What do you want done with your body after you die?

I will probably donate it to science. It's an anomaly, it's got many interesting conditions they can study. It's the sort of thing that won't hang in a doctor's office as a reference for a normal skeleton, that's for sure. Maybe studying it will lead to help and earlier diagnosis for people born with some of these conditions in the future -- or who get them because of bad conditions in infancy and childhood.

My funeral, on the other hand, should be pagan. A Viking ship funeral would be nice in effigy, something small that can be launched and burned on a lake or on the ocean. I want no mention of Christianity and no Christian prayers at it, no Christian service.

I expect any Christian friends or people who care about me to respect who I am and not impose their religion on me in any way. If they grieve and turn to their god in their grief they should remember that Samaritan bloke, because that's who I am in relation to Christianity -- a non-member who is sometimes good, honorable and kind. "Nondenominational" is not the same, if they want my name mentioned by their churches in a roll of the dead it should be "a pagan man, Robert Adrian Sloan."

All of my life I have dreaded being desecrated and lied about after my death, when there is nothing I can say to deny the lie. I did not want to be buried in a Christian graveyard. That would be the ultimate hypocrisy and the ultimate insult.

Men die, cattle die, even the gods will die,
But a good name lasts forever.
-- Havamal

I don't want my good name destroyed by people who want to pretend that I never made a moral choice in my life that disagreed with theirs. I don't want my good name defamed by people who denied the truth to my face and prevented me from real diagnosis and real treatment for the many conditions I still live with to this day. I live well and there is something very important about my being pagan, Norse pagan, an Odinist: I am not a racist.

Too often my faith gets associated with neo-Nazis and racists, because it happens to be a tradition of some European tribes. Not everyone in those tribes hates every other tribe in the world. Not everyone who follows Odin the Wise wants to stamp out the Jewish tribe or the African tribes or the Asian ones.

Gods witness this, I am Odinist and not racist. I am as true in my troth as any good Odinist and it has absolutely nothing to do with thinking of myself as better than any other man by birth. It has everything to do with standing before my gods on the strength of my own life and taking a look at my own ancestors, my roots, to see behind me the line of my fathers going back into history and forward from me now with my kin.

I welcome and honor the other gods too all the way back, because every one of us comes from African human beings. Or from Asia by way of Africa. There is the lineage of humanity and I honor that too, so all the ancient gods are my gods. This does include Jesus the Son of God, I'm just not fond of churches other than the Unitarian and the MCC. (They are somewhat exempt from that no-Christian-service but should mention in it that I'm a pagan man and if they call on Jesus on my behalf they should mention the Samaritan story.)

Norse view of kin, the child is the center, the child is the most important. My grandchildren are the future. My daughter, my son in law, my grandchildren, they are my kin.

Some thoughts on kinship follow under the cut.

There is something ugly in the way people look at families today that I don't think actually has theological grounds in Judeo-Christianity. I think it's more just custom that grew up, ideas that twine around the ideas of kinship and relationship. In the 20th century and early 21st, the times I've been around to see it, blood kin get viewed as having obligations.

Nothing new there. Oh boy is there nothing new about that. Most of, maybe all the cultures on Earth in the history of humanity define kinship and define obligations to kin. That's one of the basic things anthropologists use to define a culture: who is considered kin and what are your obligations to your kin if you're a member?

But the idea of kinship obligation that I've seen in this life is that you are obligated to blood kin to put up with emotional abuse, physical abuse and betrayal that you would not put up with from anyone else, without breaking off the relationship. You're free to abuse them though, all rules of politeness, respect or ethics get called off. Keep it within the family.

That's it. That is the sum of kinship-obligation as it's practiced.

People treat spouses, parents, children far worse than they do anyone outside the family. They make unreasonable demands and often get what they demanded. They call it love and treat family members as if they're enemies if they don't obey the chief drunk, addict or crazy person in the family. It can be a child. I've seen the family structure turn upside down where an abusive teenager winds up running the whole shebang into the ground.

What therapists call the codependent triangle, the abuse pattern, is so prevalent that in my view it is a kinship pattern, one that is more consistent than most others.


This isn't just my own experience. Siblings drift apart if they got along, move to different parts of the country, let go. Don't stay close except maybe to gather at parents' houses over holidays to pick on each other. That picking-on-each-other goes on in even the less distorted families -- the general custom of "let down all social barriers against bad behavior" filters out of the abuse pattern to become the shadow of a kinship obligation.

Parents in America do not pass on leadership to their children or even independence without a fight, a long and bitter fight. One result is that a tired generation of young men don't bother to fight and just stay home under the parents' roof and let the parents go on running their lives. Why not? If they left and married and formed their own homes -- the real American pattern is to leave home and never come back except on holidays -- they'd be trading the familiar domination of parents for the unfamiliar battles of marital strife as each spouse tries to be the one to win the one-upmanship game and run the lives of both.

The sickness in family relationships today is not universal. It is not a lack of Christian religion or any other religion, the lack of religion is something else that people solve for themselves in a free country. You can join any religion you seek. With the Internet you can even find other people who share it pretty easily. It's not a loss of religious values -- although most religions have something to say on the point of kinship obligation because religions carry culture.

Here is a point of kinship obligation.

That custom "you must accept kin no matter what they do" needs to be coupled with "and be kinder, more tactful and caring about them than about people outside the family" to make a family something strong enough to stand against the forces tearing it apart. It has to include accepting that your kids are not in diapers when they graduate and go off to be adults with their own occupations and goals and dreams.

It means they're going to dress in ways you wouldn't and eat foods you don't like and listen to music you loathe and have a whole vast range of personal tastes that have nothing to do with good or evil, illegal or legal. They're just personal choices in life.

They can't be defined by culture in a world where people grow up and travel thousands of miles to resettle. Deep old cultures adapt to climate and the land. Odinism is full of poetry about the land and identity, about the animals in the household, it is rich in detail in how to live in Germanic countries. The sea and fishing are a big part of it.

There is no lyrical poetry about going to your white-collar job every day and coming home to an apartment in old cultural patterns. That way of life has actually been around for a while -- there were accountants in ancient Rome -- but it doesn't get directed as specifically as old Bedouins or old Jewish bedouins were told how to live in a desert where pork will spoil fast and shellfish worse -- where breaking Deuteronomy can kill you.

There's no consistent pattern I can see across different Americans about how often to get in touch with one's older kin or whether to take them in. Generally the custom is to shove them into nursing homes on whatever pension they've got or to try to take over their fortunes and then shove them into nursing homes out of the way.

What there are instead are specific family patterns. Good families do carry these on. It varies from daughters that call their mothers daily to people who just get together annually for a good time -- and really have a good time when they do. There are some people in nursing homes that do get visitors, whose blood kin do come annually or often and mean it, become advocates for them if the institution is abusing them.

Those are the families that in practice do add "and be kinder and more generous with them than with people outside the family" to the obligation to put up with family members.

A quarter of Americans become clinically depressed in their lives. This is a ludicrous percentage. A far greater number put up with subclinical abuse, especially the emotional abuse and power trips that go on, in the name of kinship. The only other option is to cut it off completely and walk away from abusive kin.

Is there something jacked up if betrayal becomes so common that it's a way of life? If abuse -- real abuse and mistreatment -- is so common that people joke about it and take it for granted? I'm talking here about the kinds of patterns that go on in jokes and situation comedies, the assumptions people make about the obligations to kin and how to behave if someone's constantly critical, vicious, greedy, power tripping.

The level of vicious criticism and mind games people put up with at work or in public is so high that a European visitor could not comprehend it and mentioned it in an interview on NPR. You get constant rudeness, viciousness, mistreatment out in daily life. In the workplace the abuse pattern flourishes, more so if there's fear of unemployment.

Companies that don't tolerate abuse patterns in managers and supervisors have an enormous silent edge. They have long term employees who care about them and will work harder during their work, have more commitment to the company's prosperity than just going through the daily grind and escaping to get home and kick the spouse. Those employees are more experienced in the job, not just fumbling around in the first few months trying to figure out what to do. Thus they have better service.

I am not suggesting in this long rant that people should go back to their abusers and pick up the pattern of "put up with anything if it's from a family member." That gets people dead. Hello, in its extreme that pattern results in a lot of murders. Most murders are of family members including spouses, children, parents, or close friends and ex-lovers.

At least the stories from my Odinism don't deny the possibility that family members can turn into murderous betrayers.

No, what I am suggesting is looking at your own life to see where on that scale of healthy-family ties or unhealthy ones it falls and then the one thing possible to any individual. Decide to apply "kinder and more considerate" to those kin you do accept as kin. Especially the children. They learn family patterns from you.

I am grateful to be living in a family with this kind of consideration. The few conflicts I've had with my daughter and son in law get resolved fast in common sense ways. There was one about my leaving one of the baby gates open on my way upstairs to take something out to the mailbox, my grandson ran up the stairs after me and they had to catch him.

The conflict came when Kitten made the point "keep gates in the state you find them" and I explained that I could not bend down far enough to close that gate from the stairs. I avoided going up those stairs while the kids were awake for a couple of weeks while we both thought about it -- and then Kitten came up with a good solution. Turn the gate and close it to leave the kids in the living room during the brief time I'm up and out the front door, it won't hurt Gaby to lose half his play space for five minutes while I go to the mailbox.

It also won't risk his darting up the stairs, out of the house and down the block when he can run faster than I can. He's way too little to get it about traffic, or the big dog a couple of blocks away that bit a twelve year old so bad she needed stitches, any of the dangers in the world. He's so little he'd get lost and they'd spend all day finding him if he did. It was and is a serious issue.

But that's how things get sorted out and it is a joy compared to most of the families I've lived with.

Just some thoughts on kinship and kinship obligation. It's something that is weak in this country except in families that hold their own strong patterns and keep them. So if you came from one of the more common families that only had the abuse pattern left out of all the rich history of kinship patterns and old cultures, my only suggestion is to try to add that "consideration and kindness" clause to the one about accepting kin whatever they do.

It would not be so bad facing my own grief at loss of kin if I didn't know how common this is, if I didn't see it in so many other lives. Or see people putting up with the unthinkable and unreasonable on that pattern. It is okay to say no to the family drunk. To stop having the family drunk over if that results in risk to your kids or your house or spouse. Tough love is love, you can love them and still hold them off at arm's length, let go till they bottom out and sober up.

It's one of the few things that does push them closer to bottoming out, especially for drunks/addicts/codependents that count on being enabled. The ones that don't have a substance are the hardest to deal with because they don't have a handle on it. There's no benchmark for turning away from the pattern, no turning point of quitting drinking for a codependent.

Yet codependence lingers. I think in part that's because of a lack of cultural patterns in the American superstate -- that there isn't an American culture, not as my anthropologist son in law defines culture. It is not monoculture, you can't say "American custom" and describe a kinship pattern or burial practice or anything. The country is a patchwork and most of the people in it are mutts like President Obama with multiple cultural patterns in family history, all of which may have useful bits and many not-so-useful patterns that don't fit the real climate, living and working conditions the person's living in.

Just some thoughts on kinship.

It's a long rant and a sad one.
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Robert A. Sloan, author of Raven Dance

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