the truth about funerals

I probably should not say this, but I'm going to, anyways:

I really don't like it when people use other people's grief to push an agenda. I don't care what that agenda is - it could be saving kittens from napalm, for all I care - it's just wrong. Sick and wrong. The proper response to people who are grieving is grief. Period.

Today, I attended the memorial service of a man I loved. I did not know him well, but what I knew, I loved. He was a kind man who'd helped care for my son during a rough patch. He was a man who loved broadly and well, a man who loved self-sacrificially, even when it hurt.

At the memorial service, a mutual friend had been asked to speak. He shared a few passages from the Bible. He shared a few stories, and made everybody laugh. He shared a few truths, and made everybody cry. When he had finished, a bunch of other people who'd also loved this man got up as well. Mostly it was his family, talking through a bit more laughter and tears. I was a wreck.

There seemed to be an endless stream of people wanting to get up and publicly express their love for this man, and so after a while, one of his sons rose and said that in the interest of time, he'd like the pastor of the church where the service was being held to come up and close, and everybody could share their love for his daddy afterwards.

The pastor, a man with a too-nice suit and a lot of hair gel, got up and after a dramatic pause said, "Well, I had some notes, but I think they've pretty much said it all" and I thought:

"Thank you, God."

I had been worried, see, that some churchmudgeon was going to turn this tragedy into a cudgel. Before today, I had only ever sat through one other memorial service in my life, and it was for my grandmother a couple years ago. Our family sort of ran the show, that time, and it went as my grandmother would have liked, with lots of people who'd loved her sharing a lot of laughter and tears. Nonetheless, I grew up in the Christian Church, so I knew how these sorts of things tend to go, and I had hoped for a pass for this man's family in their hour of grief. It was not to be.

Apparently, the pastor was just lying for dramatic effect. I mean, it's possible that he changed his mind in a fraction of a second there about everything necessary having been said, but I've sat through enough itty-bitty-Jesus-sermon-lies to know a dramatic deception when I smell it.

So instead of letting the family speak out of their grief and pain of their father's faith and their own, he chose to go on for another thirty-five minutes out of his lack of grief about how certain he was about everything, forgetting pretty much everything that mattered.

Like mourning with those who mourn. Or that knowledge puffs up. Or that it's not cool to tell someone in pain that their father - who had been ripped from them in such an untimely fashion only two days before - would not want them to grieve, because this was a day of rejoicing and celebration.

He forgot, as well, that he was just a dude. A dude with a suit who did not know what lay beyond the grave, because no one knows, not really, which is why they call it faith. A dude with a suit who had the audacity to quote Ecclesiastes, make a dumb "Mommas and Poppas" joke intended to show his cultural savvy, and then completely ignore the possibility that this might be what that selfsame verse in Ecclesiastes was referring to when it said there was "a time to mourn."

Mourn - not slickly recite memorized phrases about eternal destinies in an attempt to proselytize whatever "damned unbelievers" might have been drawn unwittingly into our midsts by the death of a man that they, too, had loved and were there to grieve.

As one of his sons said to me later, "If daddy showed love to someone with his life, then that was Jesus enough for them..."

I guess I should let it go. It was, after all, just a Baptist preacher, doing what Baptist preachers do. He started with a lie, though. A slick-suited lie.


  1. Hi Josh,
    I dig your story and couldn't agree more: powerful words from his son, lyrical words in you last lines. I'm also a Baptist preacher.
    My apologies.

  2. Hi Josh,
    I dig your story and couldn't agree more: powerful words from his son, lyrical words in you last lines. I'm also a Baptist preacher.
    My apologies.

    (erm, 2x posted trying to escape anonymity!)

  3. Note to self: a) write a living will, and indicate no sermon or sermonizing whatsoever b) ask parents how they want it handled c) if some slick pastor tries to pull a fast one on A or B, then etch in my memory the chapter on Haunting in THE HANDBOOK FOR THE RECENTLY DECEASED.

  4. Thank you, Erin. I'll try not to hold it against you :) All generalizations are stupid, eh?

  5. I didn't mean to be insensitive, btw. Having a weird sense of humor is a family curse, plus A and B are serious to-dos. I've mean meaning to write a living will and to ask my parents. If one of them passes, esp my Dad, I'm pretty sure sorting out the "business' of death will fall on my tiny shoulders.

  6. So sorry for your loss Josh.


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