I’m fresh out of eyerolls for some of the things I see, hear, and read today. I’m deep into the attitude that as a pastor, my day is past in a lot of ways. Not that I couldn’t serve a church again if the Lord so led but that so many things have moved into uncharted territory. Consider me to be an an irascible curmudgeon in semi-retirement and an unreformable one at that.
I have declared that I will pass on all wedding requests. Waaaaaaay to much drama and nonsense afoot on those. I’m keeping family weddings as an exception. Should there be some to come my way, I can easily do those. They can’t fire me from being a father or grandfather. Others, no thanks. Have your destination disaster, your exhibition of absurdity without me.
But funerals and obituaries are still on the table and they can be quite interesting.
A wealthy, transplanted Yankee died recently. He was quite an achiever in several fields and a lifelong smoker who evidently relished the habit. In his obituary that was filled with both personal and professional mentions there appeared the sentence “He smoked his last cigarette.” Interesting. I smoked my first and last cigarette, maybe 1/3 of one, a half a century ago, so I suppose my obit could include the same sentence. Context is everything.
I’m still looking for the stalwart seeker of honesty in funerals. Looks like some families are ahead of the august Reverends in honesty about the dead.
Some emotional distance away from a mention of the deceased’s personal habits is brutal honesty: “She abandoned her children…” Ouch.
Maybe not acceptable for my local paper: “She was the grandmother of a ****load of grandchildren.” (We’re a “G” rated site, brethren). I’m okay with the one that described the dead person as “a connoisseur of root beer and bacon.” My kind of guy.
But a funeral is a time of grief, gratitude, and glory – to repeat a stolen funeral sermon outline that I’ve used many times – and ought to have some respect for the departed, for their family, and for the finality and gravity of death. As God’s representative presiding over a funeral service, there are things I will do and things I will not do. I don’t have to conduct the funeral. The family can always round up someone else if my ways don’t suit them. That’s never happened to my knowledge.
Oddly and unexpectedly, more than half of all deaths these days involve a cremated cadaver. I suppose we pastors ought to try and break the habit of referring to the “body” lying in front of us as we speak. What are the alternatives? “Old friend Bubba, reduced here to a couple of pounds of powerded carbon…” or “He just doesn’t look just like himself…”
Once, at the home of a dear old lady who died and was cremated, the funeral director showed up with the box of ashes. The family had an urn and a transfer had to be made. The director asked if he could borrow a cup to scoop out the ashes and drop into the urn. He got the cup. It was, I assume, a single use item. If he spilled any, and I didn’t stick around for the whole process, what then? Sweep it up? Brush off and forget? Are cremains (it’s a real word, in the dictionary, and has been used since 1947) like the consecrated host, to be treated as sacrosanct?
All that is pretty pedestrian compared to what I’m hearing that pastors are asked to do these days for funerals like wear the jersey of the departed’s favorite football team. What’s next? Holler “WOO PIG SOOEE”? Do the “dirty bird” dance?
Yeah, my day is past…recommend that you be sure and remember to give the Lord a word or two at your next designer funeral.