EXISTENCE

Wayne Dale Matthysse

Much of my time these past few months has been sitting on the wall of our crematorium waiting… waiting for the first, the second, often the third, sometimes even the fourth, and a couple of times the fifth COVID victim of the day to arrive. In between, there is the checking of the furnace to make sure the fire is burning evenly. Then the opening of the red hot furnace door for cleaning out before the next body can be put in. Not a pleasant job at all, especially for a nurse whose main objective in life has always been to heal people.

The heavy work is done by others and as long as everything goes right I am of little use, however, there are times when things go wrong and quick action must be taken…

especially when the furnace is still red hot from a previous cremation and the casket breaks out in flames as it is being put in. That’s where my experience with the furnace is needed.

One of the few gratifications of this job is in providing the families space to grieve and hold ceremonials both before the cremation…

And after, when the tray is removed for the collection of the bones. The thing that gives me the most support and comfort during the day, however, is always just a short distance from me. 

And every now and then it catches my attention from the corner of my good eye… and draws me back into the moment, reminding me of how rare and beautiful it is that we exist.  

RIPPLES

Most of us live just ordinary lives, each day followed by a routine that seldom varies. Many, if asked, can not recall but only a few memorable days when life was extraordinary for them. Graduations, Promotions, and Wedding days are a few of these Occassion’s,  as is Falling in Love for the first time… by the second, third, or fourth time, however, even that becomes routine.

Somedays I wonder what all of the in-between days are for… but I suppose if all I had was extraordinary days, even that would become ordinary, and so I am happy to have made it to what most people would consider an “old age”… and in looking back, I now realize that on many of those ordinary days of my life, I was often affecting others in extraordinary ways. Maybe that is what Life is really all about.

INSECTS AND OLD AGE

As my age advances, it is not unusual to have to get up at least once or twice in the middle of the night to empty my bladder… and with the addition of Melinda’s lentils to my diet, I usually have considerable gas to pass as well. I don’t mind the walk to the bathroom, however, and at times on a peaceful night, even enjoy the interlude.

A few nights ago I made one of those journeys to the bathroom and when I turned on the light, there was an immediate swarm of flying insects buzzing all around it. Rather than turning off the light as I usually do, I decided instead to watch this spectacle from the safety of my seat on the Throne. The insects buzzed frantically around the bright light, trying to get as close to it as possible. Some actually touched the light and paid the immediate price of death while others, thinking themselves wiser, flew in circles around it… perhaps hoping to understand it better. In the end, however, they too paid with their life, as many fell to the floor in exhaustion.

I am sure that to them the light was a beacon of hope, a promise of salvation from the darkness… but, in actuality, by seeking the light they became easy prey for the geckos who took advantage of their ignorance. Common sense should have told them that something was wrong… but because they were blinded by the light, they could not see the bodies of their comrades below them, nor could they see the geckos waiting to devour them. Had they only closed their eyes and looked within themselves for a moment, perhaps they would have understood the deception and saved themselves from their demise.

As I returned to my room, I thought about how easy it is to accept this irrational type of ignorant behavior from insects… but so much more difficult to do so from people you care about.

ONENESS

As we get older our passions and beliefs often undergo many changes, becoming more expansive and inclusive in some, while others become more dogmatic.  I have met my former self a couple of times in the past and it has made me realize just how the passage of time has polarized my way of thinking.  It got me to wondering if who I have become is really a result of growth and understanding… or have I, in the weariness of age, grown tired of conforming to the Truths I once, in faith, lived my life by. 

I know exactly how many of these dogmatic people feel because at the beginning of my journey I too felt persecuted for Christ’s sake. It was just Jesus and me against the whole world, and if people didn’t like me, it was because they didn’t like Him. I could be antagonistic and even rude towards people and Peoples who didn’t share the same views that I held because the GOD of the Universe was on my side and We owned the World. I suppose I got much of this from growing up in a Christian Reformed environment… we were, after all, the people GOD chose after the Jews killed Jesus, and not only was I baptized as a child, but I also carried the mark of circumcision, which practically guaranteed me a seat in the Inner Sanctum when the Pearly Gates were opened, or so was my thinking when I was young, energetic, and willing to do anything for Jesus… well almost anything. The Second Commandment that Jesus gave us to “Love your neighbor as yourself,” was about to become a challenge for me.

I didn’t have a problem with the First and Greatest commandment that said we should Love God with all our heart… but when I left my comfortable Christian community in June of 1966 to enter Navy boot camp, my neighbors suddenly became people of different races, religions, colors, and well… sizes. I would soon learn, as we were marched naked to the showers, that many of my new neighbors, were much larger than me. Perhaps, I thought, it was because they had never been circumcised! Talk about persecution… I was sure feeling it those first few nights away from home. 

Language was another problem. The closest I had ever come to swearing was to try and think of the word that Johnny Carson was being “beeped” for on the Tonight Show. I didn’t realize that there were so many beep-able words in the English language.  Surely God did not mean that I should Love all of these men as my neighbors! I had never known a “heathen person” before, at least not on a personal level, but there was no doubt in my mind when I first entered boot camp, that I had just been cast into a whole company of fallen angels. 

Time would soften my views and I learned to appreciate my new neighbors, even though their behavior and language did not change. Just a little less than two years later, while serving as a medic with the Seventh Marines somewhere in the countryside around Da Nang, it would be men like these who would give away their position so that a medivac chopper could lift me out of a combat zone and into safety, knowing full well that by doing so they would seal their own fate, and earn the right to have their names written down on some memorial Wall in years to come.

I have met a lot of people in the years that have followed… people who are nothing like me at all. Many live and hold beliefs that seem so strange and even threatening at first… but as I have lived and worked among them, I am beginning to understand the Second commandment Jesus gave us. By Loving others as ourself we create Oneness… The Oneness that is God.

SILENT WITNESS

I would not classify myself as a coward… and in fact have, at times in my life, acted quite bravely in the face of danger. Most men and increasingly more women wonder, as did I in my youth, how they will respond when under the fire of enemy guns. It is an age-old question, which cannot be answered until you are actually in a real-life and death situation and then, before you even have time to think about it, you have your answer.


My experience under fire was relatively short… three days of intense fighting in the lowlands of South Vietnam. Overall, I would say I did as well as any of my comrades and in fact, in the face of the enemy, some even considered me a hero. Now, before you start thinking I am on another one of my bragging sprees, I must tell you that there is another side to me that I am not so proud of and talking about it, even today, can make me sick to my stomach.


Most of us were taught to respect our elders, our teachers, our government, our country, and anyone else who is in authority over us. Never question, never doubt, and do not judge for GOD is in control and He will punish the unjust… good advice for Sunday school children, but the Marine Corp is not Sunday school and while it demands the same blind faith obedience to its officers as the church requires of its Pastors, the price of breaking the code of conduct on the battlefield, could be a bullet in the back of your head.


Two incidences, that happened on the same day back in 1968, changed my life forever and set in motion a conflict that has been raging inside of me ever since. It got me court-martialed and has caused me to be fired from every job I have ever held. It hit me harder than any bullet ever could have and caused more internal damage than all of the bombs and mortars that were dropped around me. It ripped the innocence from my soul and forced me on an endless journey of recompense, for a debt that cannot be repaid. I witnessed the murder of two children and did nothing to stop it.


What is it that makes us hesitate to get involved when we see one of those in authority over us doing something we know is wrong? Why do even brave men hesitate to stop a friend from doing evil? Why can we judge an enemy we have never met and determine he should die simply because he is our enemy yet find it so difficult to judge a friend, even though we have witnessed his wrongdoings?


These questions have haunted me ever since that day when I was ordered not to treat the bleeding wounds of a young victim of our bombing. I obeyed orders, like I was taught in Sunday school, and watched him bleed to death while in his mother’s arms. All I needed to do is disobey the order and perhaps the child would still be alive today. Later, that same day, we captured a young boy with a green colored shirt. He said he had taken it from a dead man because he had no clothes of his own. After contacting the base, the Captain ordered him killed because he was told prisoners were not needed that day. There was no evidence, other than the green-colored shirt, to suggest he was a soldier, yet they took him away and I did nothing to stop them. Now I must see his horrified eyes pleading with me, day after day, to do something… but I can’t, and though I may help 10,000 others like him I have to admit that I let him die because I was afraid to say “Stop! You have no right to kill him.”


I no longer believe in violence and I am a strong supporter of gun control and organizations like Veterans for Peace and World Beyond War… and whenever I can, I continue to confront evil and hypocrisy when I see it… even though I know it will never be enough and there will be consequences to pay for doing so.

THE ESSENCE OF GOD

Throughout history, many scholars, much smarter than I am, have studied and followed the teachings of Christianity, and therefore, some have asked me, how it is that I could reject their findings.  While I do not wish to belittle those who have spent a lifetime studying the Scriptures, the fact that intelligent men choose to study a particular subject does not in itself make it right for everyone. Intelligent men have also studied other religions besides Christianity and have followed them with just as much diligence as those who have followed Christianity and the results are always the same. Devotees who are willing to fight, kill, and die for the gods created from the teachings of these scholars whose ultimate goal is not the worship of a Holy God, but the building of earthly kingdoms for themselves.

Some have argued that the fact that many Christians have sacrificed their lives because of their faith in Jesus, is proof of the validity of Christianity. I would be the last person in this world to belittle those who pay the ultimate price by dying for a just cause. My own life was saved at the expense of the lives of 11 comrades in Vietnam and I have nothing but the highest regard for them and anyone else who gives up his life for another. The fact, however, that men were willing to sacrifice their lives to save mine, does not in any way purify war… nor does the fact that people have sacrificed their lives for Jesus, make Christianity any more valid than any of the other religions. Most religions were built on the blood of Martyrs, and if we include the blood of the victims of Holy Wars, which were and are today, being fought by religious groups, we begin to see a picture of something that is far from being what anyone would call Holy.

I am not interested in destroying anyone’s religious views or habits. We all crave security… and belonging to a religious group can provide us with the fellowship needed for us to have a meaningful life. The problem lies not in how a group of people decides to worship, but in how the group we belong to functions in the larger world community. Many religious groups support proselytizing of “pagan” peoples and most also support military actions against opposing religious groups. While these destructive actions may not require the direct involvement of a majority of its members, it does require financial support and backing. While I know of many good people who would never think about turning a child against his parents and culture, or would never think about killing another person… their support of those who do, makes them just as guilty as the people who do their dirty work.

I am not asking people to drop their religion and follow me, for no-one can follow me into myself. I am, however, asking people to look within themselves for answers to life’s questions and not to someone else… for until we have learned to accept ourselves completely, we will never even begin to realize the beautiful creatures we are becoming as a result of overcoming what many Christians call our “sinful nature”, but what I have come to think of as the ignorance of our true potential. 

Creation Itself is, in Essence, God… therefore let all of Creation rejoice, for Life is meant to be LIVED, not worshiped or studied, nor is it meant to kill or die for.

WATERMELON

I was born and raised in the Midwest, Michigan to be more precise, and one of my favorite fruits has always been Watermelon. The only way we ever ate it growing up was ice cold, and I never thought of eating it any other way because it was perfect eating it that way… what would be the purpose of eating it another way?

As my world expanded, I met other people who liked Watermelon just as much as I did and most of them ate it in the same way… although I do remember one time, when at a party, someone spiked the melon with Vodka. I took one bite of it and threw the rest in the garbage can. ‘Idiots’, I thought, ‘what a waste of good melon’.

A few years later my world had expanded to Honduras where, on a hot scorching day, I was invited to share a whole Watermelon with a friend from the South. He split the melon in half, right there in the market place, and it wasn’t even cold. Still… it was ripe and juicy and just as I was about to cut myself a slice out of it, he pulled a salt shaker out of his shirt pocket and salted down both halves. ‘How rude’, I thought, as I put the knife down, ‘why would anybody do something as stupid as that?’ I refused to even try a piece of it and walked away in disgust

As time went by, however, I allowed myself to appreciate the taste of Watermelon in many different ways. I have had it in salads and soups, pickled, soaked in alcohol, mixed in drinks and shakes, and I have even learned to appreciate it with a dash of salt at times.

A lot of people I have met along the Way have never tasted Watermelon and some even doubt its existence, because they have never seen anything like what I describe to them. I have tried to convince them that they would love it as much as I do if only they would try it, but they just shrug their shoulders and say, “We love Durian… why would we need to try anything else?”

I have tried Durian, and will eat it on occasion when it is served to me… but I still prefer ice-cold Watermelon if I have a choice… most likely because that is what I was brought up on. I guess it doesn’t really make any difference what fruit you like to eat, but it is important to remember to include a variety of fruit in your diet if you want to live a healthy life… without constipation.

Some may recognize that this is not like my usual post and that is because when I write about religion, people tend to get more defensive and often don’t bother reading to the end. Judging someone on the fruit they eat may seem less malevolent than judging them on their religious beliefs or sexual preference… but is it really any different? Making a judgment on others constricts our ability to see and understand alternative ideas and eventually causes Spiritual constipation.

ONWARD CHRISTIAN SOLDIERS

As a Vietnam Veteran and Purple Heart recipient, I would have to agree with President Trump, that those who fought in the Vietnam war were “Suckers” and “Losers”. They were, however, also good people, who like me, were led astray… but by who. As I looked back on my life I have to wonder, how did I get to a place, where killing women and children was acceptable, where bombing and burning down whole villages was okay, and where destroying rice fields with agent orange was necessary to prevent them from feeding the enemy, and themselves, for many years to come.

Part of it was a line in President Kennedy’s speech: ‘Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country’, but it started back much further in my youth. Back to when I started Sunday school in the Christian Reformed Church. One of my earliest memories was an action song that we all loved to do. ‘OnwardChristian soldiers! Marching as to war, With the cross of Jesus. Going on before.’ It was here that I learned that I was special… a member of an elite group of people that had God on its side… and we were taught from the pulpit, about the heathen communist, who denied our God’s existence and killed Christian missionaries and their followers and therefore needed to be stopped.

I fell for it then, and now must live with the consequences of guilt and regret, for being involved in actions that took the life of many. Nothing much has changed in this world. Religions still teach exclusiveness, only it now seems to be getting more extreme, with many Christians joining the QAnon movement, while others join groups like the KKK or Antifa. All of these groups have exclusionary membership requirements and because of this, feel they have the right to speak out against those who oppose them, and at times a member or small group may believe they have the right to kill as well.

Mankind will more than likely destroy itself, perhaps sooner then most of us would like to think. When it happens there will be no tears from those life forms that survive and we will have only ourselves to blame for being so gullible. We asked for signs, and signs were sent, but they got trumped by our presidents. We could have had it all… if only we had learned to appreciate our differences, and lived together as One.  

HUMILIATION

Humiliation is a price too great to pay for many who, after spending a lifetime defending lies, begin to realize the Truth.


My father was a Christian for the better part of his life and to the best of my knowledge, he was a good one… although I suspect there were some skeletons in his closet that we never got around to talking about. He was a good husband and father who provided well for his family. He was an Elder in the church and taught Catechism to Junior High boys, one of the least liked duties of most Elders. The only thing worse than Catechism is the job of bringing the tapes, of the Sunday morning service, around to the shut-ins on Monday morning, a job he did with pleasure. There is really nothing I could say bad about him and I doubt there are many who could… yet at the age of 75, he walked out of the Bauer Christian Reformed Church and Christianity and never looked back… and although he did join a Reformed Church, a few miles down the road… it was, he said, only because he didn’t know what else to do on a Sunday morning.


Before he died he confided in me his contentment with his decision… but also his frustration for not knowing how to tell his children that he had made a mistake by raising them as Christians. My experience in life tells me that he is not the only father to have felt that frustration, nor is he the only person to realize that he had made a mistake, but didn’t know how to admit it to family and friends, many of whom had been influenced by those mistakes.


I left Christianity long before he did, but did not make it public until after his death… it was not easy for me either. In looking back, I wish I had done it much sooner, but we cannot change the past and I am happy for this chance to share my unbelief with the world today.  There really is nothing quite like unbelief, for there is now nothing I need to prove to anyone and there is no need for me to be right. I can simply enjoy life as it unfolds in front of me and if I were to meet someone who had a convincing argument for believing something I had not previously considered I would not have any problem accepting it.


Some may think that this writing is just another attack on Christianity… but it really is not. I know and respect many good people who call themselves Christians… but to tell you the truth, I have yet to meet a Christian who can convince me that they actually believe in what the church teaches. Most have stopped attending church regularly and the few that are still faithful, do so only because, like my father, they don’t know what else to do on Sunday. Even church leaders, who have devoted their lives to the teaching of the Bible, find it difficult to present convincing evidence for the doctrine they teach and although they promise me they have it, they never get around to sharing it with me.


Admitting I was wrong was not easy in the beginning, but the Freedom I now enjoy is well worth the humiliation I went through to get it… and it is this Freedom that I now have, that motivates my writings and inspires me to share them with others… others who, like me, are longing to be free of religious persecution.

DESTINY

Are we the masters of our own destinies… or were our destinies preordained by someone or something greater than ourselves? I certainly have had moments in my Life that would suggest that I was destined to be at one particular location at precisely the right time, and the fact that I am writing this today is evidence of that… because on more than one occasion I have escaped death by a mere millisecond of time, while others all around me passed away into eternity. There were other occasions as well, where I was able to assist, and at times even to save the Life of another, simply because I was at the right place at the right time. The problem I have with a God or fate, however, is that with the exception of those few exciting moments of predestined activity in my Life, the rest of it has been rather mundane, and I find myself wondering, now that I am in my twilight years, if I have outlived my purpose in being… or is there still more I must do?

For most of my Life, I have looked at people only from a Christian perspective, judging them and their actions by the Truths that I had been taught since early childhood. That was fine as long as I stayed within the confines of my Religion and only associated with those whose beliefs were similar to mine. But once I broke out of that confinement, I discovered that there were many people in this world who believed just as strongly as I did, but in a different set of Truths, and yet, they also did good deeds because of their beliefs. My first response was to say that their beliefs were wrong and mine were right… but you don’t make many friends that way, and I had a choice of either running back to the safety and isolation of the Christian fold, or trusting in the God I said I believed in. By trusting, I have discovered that not only is God real, but He is so much more than I had ever imagined. That realization has allowed me to form deep relationships with people of great integrity who, while different from me in some aspects of belief, are none the less, great people to be around.

I have a feeling that at the end, of what we now know as Time, all things will be revealed to us in their completeness, and we will then realize that the only differences between those who were religious and those who chose not to be, those who were blessed and those who suffered, or those who were colored and those who lacked color, were, like the spectrum of light that radiates from a perfectly cut diamond, the subtle variations in how each of us manifested the many Reflections of God, while jointly mastering our Destiny.