Sunday, February 19, 2012

What's a Funeral For?

Yesterday, our local Fox station aired the funeral of Whitney Houston.  Pastor Joelle wrote some great thoughts about the Houston funeral in her blog post yesterday:  "The televised funeral of Whitney Houston showed a community that did not throw Whitney away. And thank God it was televised because I heard the Gospel being preached over and over and over again, in word and song. And I thought of all those people who were tuned in in order to consume more, but maybe got more than they bargained for. This was not a tribute...this was church. Three hours of it."

My spouse and I watched some of it.  Although we tend to watch the home improvement shows on our PBS stations on a normal Saturday afternoon, we found the funeral oddly compelling and kept flipping back to it.  We're the last Americans who don't pay for cable TV and don't steal it and don't have a dish; in other words, what's on network television and all the odd other stations is what we watch when we watch TV.  I was kind of surprised to find the funeral on at all.  Were there no sports game that took priority?

We had friends over for dinner, and one of them said that she kept waiting for someone to mention Whitney Houston's drug abuse; essentially, my friend wanted the funeral to serve as cautionary tale.  My spouse also thinks that funerals should remind us of the good and the bad aspects of our dead loved one.

But is a funeral supposed to be a cautionary tale?  On the day of loss that a funeral symbolizes, do we really need to remember the bad habits of our loved ones?

I would say no.  First of all, pop culture is full of cautionary tales.  By now, we all understand the risks we take when we experiment with drugs, smoking, and alcohol, don't we?  I might argue that Whitney Houston's life could also serve as a cautionary tale about letting the wrong people into our lives:  would Whitney Houston be dead today if she had fallen in love with someone who looked out for her interests better than Bobby Brown did?

But again, I could argue that we all know already that some people aren't good for us, and as soon as we can figure that out, we should extricate ourselves.  Alas, as Whitney Houston shows us, sometimes that's too late.

I think a funeral should remind us that it's never really too late.  Even if we can't get our lives sorted out on this side of death, my Christian faith reminds me again and again that death will not have the final word.  I want a funeral that stresses that message.  I want a funeral that reminds the loved ones that God waits for us to welcome us to whatever is on the other side of death.  Most of all, I want a funeral that stresses that what we do is not for nothing.  I want a funeral that reminds us that our lives do have meaning.*

And then, of course, there should be food.

*Here's a quote for those of you who need a reminder of how our lives have meaning.  It's from N.T. Wright's Surprised by Hope:  Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church (HarperOne, 2008)"What you do in the present--by painting, preaching, singing, sewing, praying, teaching, building hospitals, digging wells, campaigning for justice, writing poems, caring for the needy, loving your neighbor as yourself--will last into God's future. These activities are not simply ways of making the present life a little less beastly, a little more bearable, until the day when we leave it behind altogether . . . . They are part of what we may call building for God's kingdom" (page 193).


Anonymous said...

The funeral was littered with eulogies giving praise to Houston ... not God.

The service ended with prosperity gospel proclaimed as the only Gospel.

I was not impressed.

Kristin said...

Thanks for the counterpoint view. I must confess to having only seen bits and pieces and tuning out long before the end. Good to know what you point out.

Pastor Joelle said...

Thank God this was funeral was not a cautionary tale - it was about GRACE because we can all be cautioned till the cows come home, and still screw up, just not all of us in front of millions and not all our mistakes kill us. But to know there's a always a soft place to land in community and a God who welcomes us home in love, we need that Good News more than any cautionary tales.