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Bullets, Cremains, and the Concept of the Sacred

November 15th, 2011 | 2 min read

By Matthew Lee Anderson

I wish the story was a joke, but it wasn’t.

A few weeks back, not long after Steve Jobs died, a story went around about a company named, of all things, Holy Smokes will take the cremains of your loved ones and turn them into bullets.

Yup, bullets.

I was remiss in pointing Mere-O readers to my contribution to this matter of grave national concern, but it still lingers over at the Washington Post.

Generally, our most sacred moments are in some ways our most wasteful and inefficient. Consider the person and work of Jesus. His first miracle, the wedding at Cana, is indicative of this sort of lavishness. There is no utilitarian dimension to his decision to turn water into wine. Water would have slaked their thirst just as easily, but the sacredness of marriage is fittingly honored with the best of drinks, not the most functional. There is no pragmatic utility here, no ends beyond the celebration for which the wine is intended. It is an end in itself, joy for joy’s sake.

At the same time, the life of Jesus hints at a radical embrace of inefficiency. Whatever you make the truthfulness of the story, if Jesus was who he claimed, he certainly had more efficient means at his disposal to accomplish his tasks. And in the Garden of Gethsemane, he acknowledges as much. When Peter takes matters into his own hands, Jesus points out that he has twelve legions of angels he could call on. But Jesus’ path is not necessarily the shortest or most expedient.

Sacred moments, then, seem to be constituted by a sort of prodigality that commemorates the fundamental goodness of life, combined with a reluctance to opt for efficiency as the greatest good. There is a lingering that goes on, a savoring of every aspect of an experience that is appropriate to sacred moments.

Lest you think that I’m off dealing with trivial idiosyncracies and turning Mere-O into a pseudo-respectable version of, I’ll point out that this wasn’t even the weirdest story I’ve seen on such things.

That belongs to the burgeoning trend of putting cremains into ink…for tattoos.

(I would have written about that one, but I’m pretty sure my head would explode.)

Matthew Lee Anderson

Matthew Lee Anderson is an Associate Professor of Ethics and Theology in Baylor University's Honors College. He has a D.Phil. in Christian Ethics from Oxford University, and is a Perpetual Member of Biola University's Torrey Honors College. In 2005, he founded Mere Orthodoxy.