Sunday, February 3, 2013

The cheapening of life and death . . .

Recently we watched as a video of a hearse visiting a fast food drive up window one last time exploded in popularity.  I have written and posted a number of things this past month on the cheapening of life by the way we deal with conception and the discarding of the fetus in the scandal of abortion.  The trivialization of death is also one measure that cheapens life.

We have created a culture in which funerals and the solemn confrontation of death have given way to celebrations of life and the denial of death.  Since we are not willing to admit death, we deny it by focusing on the life of the deceased.  We console ourselves from the less than real loss by laughing and joking around with death.  So a trip up to the drive up window at a favorite fast food joint makes the memory softer and, we think, comforts us in death.  In reality, it does not comfort but trivializes death and ends up cheapening life itself.

When the funeral is guided most of all by the idea "this is what n.___ would have wanted" we surrender our hope of life eternal for a life captive to the past and present.  When we make the deceased the star in his own comedy movie "This Is Your Life" we think it consoles us but it merely distracts us.  The depth of our loss and the reality of death are covered up by a feel good moment that does not help us at all.

I do not fault the motives of those who think these things are making it easier on the grieving family.  I do fault the end result.  Instead, the most consoling choice is to focus on the reality of death while, at the same time, hearing the good news of life in Christ, whose own suffering and death ends death's reign and whose time in the tomb sanctifies the graves of all who hope in Him.

I do fault the Pastors who have willingly traded their role as speakers of the Gospel for the role of story teller, organizer of memories, and MC in the parade of memories.  It may sound harsh but the most compassionate thing we can do is to speak of death, to admit what death and sin have stolen from us, and to proclaim the death that gives life and the life that death has no power over.  In order to speak of forgiveness, you must speak of sin.  In order to speak the comfort of life rescued and redeemed, we must also admit the painful reality of death.

In a recent conversation a friend admitted that the blessing of long life had become a decidedly mixed blessing as he watched his father slip away in physical and mental fragility.  In the course of our conversation I admitted that the most painful reality of our ability to prolong life is that death comes not as a single event but as a series of events, a process of elongated days, and a slow but deliberate pace toward loss.  We grieve death not as an event but as many deaths in which our loved one slowly slip away from us in the darkness of memory loss or physical incapacity.  Because the death comes not at once but over time, we grieve differently.  Maybe this is one additional reason we console ourselves more by happy memories than by the solid hope that begins by confronting death.

A good rule is never to give into the temptation to trivialize the major occasions -- weddings, of course, but also funerals.  Act with good taste, consistent with the faith, where the focus is on the hope that is in us and not simply on a good laugh from a memory long ago....


Janis Williams said...

A lot of the problem also seems to come with the family who suffers the death. How often we and our families have failed to listen to good teaching. When a person plans their funeral (as I think we all ought, seeing it is an inevitability barring Christ's return in glory), they must think Christianly. The funeral home is part of an industry, the Church is not. Funerals belong in churches (and possibly partly in homes, as we used to do here in the South).

We have lost the truth that Christianity is about dying, and living thereafter with our Lord. It is not about living our best life now, and if we don't, the "consolation prize" (as you have put it, Fr. Peters) is heaven.

Jesus has passed through death for us. We must pass through death's door to get to Him. We should be realistic and plan for the inevitable (and necessary). It is, after all a dead body in the casket. It is a funeral, and NOT a celebration of life.

Anonymous said...

The cheapening of coffee:!

This is most certainly brew.