How funerals teach us how to live: 12-20-17
December 20, 2017
I attended two funerals in the past week, and both left me wanting to do whatever I can to urge you to attend funerals.
They have a way of concentrating the mind and stirring the heart to recommit ourselves to pay more attention to what really matters in life and to quit spending our time on the many opportunities life offers to wallow in mindless trivia.
The first funeral was for the 86-year-old mother of a good friend. Janet devoted her life to her three children and to their children. I don't know if there may have been just the tiniest bit of hyperbole in a claim heard in one of the eulogies, but she was credited with never missing an activity of a child or grandchild. Ever. And I am willing to believe it.
Yes, she had a life of her own that she shared with her husband of 67 years. But mostly she wanted to make sure that her kids and grandkids felt loved. Could there be a better way to live a life? Isn't such a life a model of the teachings of the world's great religions?
The service for my friend Keith (his picture is seen in the photo above in the sanctuary of Second Presbyterian Church) was different, though in good ways. For one thing, cancer killed Keith when he was just 58 years old. I visited him several weeks before his death and his rambunctious, funny, inspiring soul still was present despite the maddening ways the disease had battered him.
At his service, friends and our pastor, who also considered Keith a good personal friend, told wonderful stories about this mischievous, generous, talented man.
Stories and then more stories. We laughed until we cried. And we said to ourselves that we want to leave such a joyful legacy for a broken world that can use some light to contend with its darkness.
If we are paying attention, death always brings with it a sense of awe, in large part because we know death is also our eventual fate. And, barring the gift of redemptive grace from God, it is also the end of us.
So, please, make it your habit to attend any funeral of any person to whom you have even a tenuous connection. The habit can help teach you how to live.
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AND THEN THERE ARE FUNERALS
Some funerals, of course, carry with them the old admonition against making quick judgments about the deceased. That surely was the case in Kentucky this week when a state representative accused of sexual harassment killed himself, with the funeral being held in the church where he preached. What a sad story -- sad for the woman who charged Dan Johnson with sexual assault, sad for Johnson's family, sad for the congregation, sad for everyone. And all that sadness is true whether Johnson was guilty or not. My tendency in these many sexual assault cases is to believe the accusers, though what I may or may not believe as someone outside the story is irrelevant. And while I acknowledge that tendency I also must acknowledge that I am in no position to know the truth in any full way. I can only weep with those who weep and mourn with those who mourn.