Posts tagged ‘Funeral’

+ In Memoriam: George H.W. Bush +

When George H.W. Bush passed away nearly a week and a half ago, our nation lost a statesman, a war hero, and a president.

State funerals are relatively rare, but Mr. Bush, thanks in large part to his service to our nation as its president, received one.  However, when his son, George W. Bush, stood in the pulpit of the staid and storied National Cathedral to deliver a eulogy, he spoke not so much of Mr. Bush as a president, but as his father.  He reminisced:

To us, he was close to perfect.  But not totally perfect.  His short game was lousy.  He wasn’t exactly Fred Astaire on the dance floor.  The man couldn’t stomach vegetables, especially broccoli.  And by the way, he passed these genetic defects along to us.  Finally, every day of his 73 years of marriage, dad taught us all what it means to be a great husband.  He married his sweetheart.  He adored her.  He laughed and cried with her.  He was dedicated to her totally…

In his inaugural address, the 41st president of the United States said this:  “We cannot hope to only leave our children a bigger car, a bigger bank account.  We must hope to give them a sense of what it means to be a loyal friend, a loving parent.  A citizen who leaves his home, his neighborhood, and town better than he found it.  What do we want the men and women who work with us to say when we are no longer there?  That we were more driven to succeed than anyone around us, or that we stopped to ask if a sick child had gotten better, and stayed a moment there to trade a word of friendship?”  Well, dad, we’re gonna remember you for exactly that and much more.  And we are going to miss you.  Your decency, sincerity, and kind soul will stay with us forever.  So through our tears, let us know the blessings of knowing and loving you, a great and noble man, the best father a son or daughter can have.

It was this last line, at which the younger Bush choked up, that captured the hearts of many who were tuning into the service this past Wednesday, for his words were a reminder of what really matters in a life.  What is done from an oval-shaped office is certainly historically significant and nationally critical.  But what is done around a kitchen table is also significant and critical – perhaps even more so.  God calls us to love others personally long before He calls any of us to lead others politically.  George H.W. Bush knew this – and lived it.

In his book, The Road to Character, New York Times columnist David Brooks makes a distinction between what he calls “the resume virtues” and “the eulogy virtues.”  He writes:

Recently I’ve been thinking about the difference between the resume virtues and the eulogy virtues.  The resume virtues are the ones you list on your resume, the skills that you bring to the job market and that contribute to external success.  The eulogy virtues are deeper.  They’re the virtues that get talked about at your funeral, the ones that exist at the core of your being – whether you are kind, brave, honest or faithful; what kind of relationships you formed.

At Mr. Bush’s funeral, the eulogy virtues were certainly on display.  And at a time when many are openly questioning whether or not these types of virtues really matter in public service, the life of George H.W. Bush reminds us that they certainly do.  The virtues we cultivate shape the decisions we make, the wisdom we display, and the legacy we leave.

With all of this being said, we must remember that, for all of George H.W. Bush’s commendable and imitable virtues, nobody is perfect.  The younger Bush said as much about his father.  But, of course, human imperfection goes far deeper and into much more shameful territory than the humorous examples given by George W. Bush of George H.W. Bush.  The younger Bush pulled a rhetorical sleight of hand as he spoke not so much of his father’s imperfections, but of his idiosyncrasies.  But each casket is a reminder that each of us has been infected by real imperfection, the wages of which is death (Romans 6:23).  This is why, as great and as needed as eulogy virtues are, they are not enough.  Something more is needed.

Albert Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, pointed out that, at a certain moment in last Wednesday’s funeral service, during one of the prayers, Mr. Bush went from being referred to as “President George Herbert Walker Bush” and instead began being referred to as “our brother George.”  This was liturgically intentional.  The greatest thing that can be said about George H.W. Bush was not that he was a successful man with many resume virtues.  But it is also not that he was a good man with many eulogy virtues.  Instead, the greatest thing that can be said about George H.W. Bush was that he was a redeemed man, brought into the family of God by the blood of Christ – a brother in Christ.

The eulogy virtues extolled at last week’s funeral leave legacies, which make them of inestimable importance.  Redemption, however, gives hope, which makes it of eternal significance.  Our brother George may have been a good man, but, even better, one day, through faith in Christ, he will be a resurrected man.  His casket will be empty and last week’s funeral will be undone.  That’s Christ’s promise.  And that’s our hope.

Come, Lord Jesus.

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December 10, 2018 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Castro’s Death and the Christian’s Hope

cuba-1638594_1920

When news first came a little over a week ago that the longtime brutal dictator of the island nation of Cuba, Fidel Castro, had died, the reactions to his death ranged from the viscerally ecstatic to the weirdly and inappropriately sublime.  Many reports simply sought to chronicle the events of Castro’s life without much moral commentary, but, as Christians, we know that a man who, over the course of his raucous reign, murdered, according to one Harvard-trained economist, close to 78,000 people is due at least some sort of moral scrutiny.  As Cuba concludes a time of mourning over the death of a man who himself brought much death, I humbly offer these few thoughts on how we, as Christians, should ethically process the life of one of history’s most famous and infamous leaders.

We should not be afraid to call wickedness what it is.

It is true that there were some bright spots in the midst of Castro’s morally dark oppression of Cuba.  Cuba’s literacy rate, for instance, stands at 99.8 percent thanks to its government’s emphasis on education.  It has also been reported that the robust healthcare system there has resulted in one of the lowest infant mortality rates in the world at 5.8 deaths per 1,000 births, although The Wall Street Journal has called this number into question.

Whatever good Castro may have done should not excuse or serve as rationalization for his gruesome human rights violations.  As ABC News reports:

Over the course of Castro’s rule, his regime rounded up people for nonviolent opposition to his government and subjected many to torture and decades-long imprisonment.

In a January 1967 interview with Playboy magazine, Castro admitted there were 20,000 “counter-revolutionary criminals” in Cuba’s prisons…

Under his dictatorship, Castro arrested dissidents and gay citizens and forced them into labor or prison, according to human rights groups. He is also responsible for mass executions of people who spoke out against his government.

There is simply no way to mask or minimize the atrocities that Castro committed.  They were – and are – evil.  As Christians, we should be willing to call evil for what it is – not only for the sake of upholding moral standards, but for the sake of being honest about the way in which Castro’s immorality took countless human lives.

We should remember those who Castro brutalized and pay attention to those who are currently being brutalized.

The website cubaarchive.org is devoted to remembering those Castro murdered.  The stories in the “Case Profiles” section of the site are heart-rending.  In one case, a tugboat carrying children was intentionally sunk by order of Castro himself because the people on it were trying to escape Cuba.  In another case, U.S. citizen Francis Brown was given a lethal injection at a Guantanamo hospital that ultimately killed him while, on that same day, his daughter’s full term unborn child was murdered by doctors at a Havana hospital.  These stories should not be forgotten.  These are victims who should not fade into the recesses of history, for they remind us who Fidel Castro really was – an egomaniacal madman with no regard for any life besides his own.

These stories should also lead us to seek justice for those currently suffering under oppressive and brutal regimes.  The stories of people in places like Syria, Iraq, and Sudan should demand our attention and touch our hearts.

Though we should not eulogize Castro’s life, we also should not revel in his death.

It is understandable that many have celebrated the death of a despot like Castro.  Indeed, Scripture understands and points to this reality: “When the righteous prosper, the city rejoices; when the wicked perish, there are shouts of joy” (Proverbs 11:10).  But even if this is an understandable and natural reaction to the death of a dictator, we do well to remember that God’s reaction to the death of the wicked is more measured: “I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways” (Ezekiel 33:11)!  God refuses to rejoice at the death of the wicked because He understands that such rejoicing ultimately serves no purpose. For when the wicked die, they stand eternally lost and condemned.  This helps no one and fixes nothing.  This is why God’s preference is not death, but repentance.  Death is merely the result of wickedness.  Repentance is the remedy to wickedness.  God would much prefer to fix wickedness than to let it run its course.

As Christians, we are called to mimic God’s character in our responses to the death of the wicked: “Do not gloat when your enemy falls; when they stumble, do not let your heart rejoice, or the LORD will see and disapprove and turn His wrath away from them” (Proverbs 24:17-18).  These verses caution us not to revel in the death of an enemy while also reminding us that God will render a just judgment on the wicked.  And God’s justice is better than our jeers. 

We should find our hope in the One over whose death the world once reveled.

Perhaps the most striking aspect of God’s refusal to rejoice in the death of the wicked is the fact that the wicked once reveled in the death of His perfectly righteous Son.  The Gospel writer Mark records that when Jesus was on the cross:

Those who passed by hurled insults at Him, shaking their heads and saying, “So! You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, come down from the cross and save Yourself!” In the same way the chief priests and the teachers of the law mocked Him among themselves. “He saved others,” they said, “but He can’t save Himself! Let this Messiah, this king of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe.”  (Mark 15:29-32)

For God not to rejoice in the death of the wicked when the wicked rejoiced in the death of His Son reveals not only God’s gracious character, but His perfect plan.  For God deigned that, by the mocking of the wicked, wickedness itself should be defeated.  Indeed, at the very moment the wicked thought they had succeeded in defeating God’s Holy One, God’s Holy One had accomplished His mission of opening salvation to the wicked.  Our hope, then, is not in the death of a wicked man, but in the crucifixion of a righteous One.  His righteousness is stronger than Castro’s wickedness.  That is the reason we can rejoice.

December 5, 2016 at 5:15 am 2 comments

Justice Antonin Scalia: 1936-2016

Antonin ScaliaHe was a man who combined a first-class intellect with a caustic whit.  The world lost not only a legal titan, but a brilliant mind when Justice Antonin Scalia passed away.  Sadly, some cheered his death in a macabre display of twisted politically-driven hatred.  Others – even those who disagreed with him politically and legally – were far more charitable.

Justice Scalia was fiercely devoted to Constitutional originalism.  He defined his originalism this way:

The Constitution that I interpret and apply is not living but dead, or as I prefer to call it, enduring. It means today not what current society, much less the court, thinks it ought to mean, but what it meant when it was adopted.[1]

His originalism came out in many ways, especially in his dissents. His famous 2001 dissent in PGA Tour, Inc. v. Casey Martin, for instance, is the stuff of legend.  Mr. Martin was a golfer who wanted to participate in the PGA Tour, but could not because had a degenerative leg disorder that prevented him from walking any considerable distance.  PGA rules required golfers to walk all 18 holes.  He sued the PGA under The Americans with Disabilities Act.  The high court ruled in his favor, noting, contrary to the PGA’s assertion, that using a golf cart does not “fundamentally alter the nature of the competition,” but its majority opinion did not find favor with Justice Scalia who believed the Court should not get involved in defining what does and does not constitute actual golf.  In a sarcastic dissent, he wrote:

It has been rendered the solemn duty of the Supreme Court of the United States, laid upon it by Congress in pursuance of the Federal Government’s power “[t]o regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States,” U. S. Const., Art. I, §8, cl. 3, to decide What Is Golf. I am sure that the Framers of the Constitution, aware of the 1457 edict of King James II of Scotland prohibiting golf because it interfered with the practice of archery, fully expected that sooner or later the paths of golf and government, the law and the links, would once again cross, and that the judges of this august Court would some day have to wrestle with that age-old jurisprudential question, for which their years of study in the law have so well prepared them: Is someone riding around a golf course from shot to shot really a golfer? The answer, we learn, is yes. The Court ultimately concludes, and it will henceforth be the Law of the Land, that walking is not a “fundamental” aspect of golf.[2]

No other Justice could turn the legal into the comedic the way Justice Scalia did.

At the same time Justice Scalia was a legal scholar, he was also a devoted Catholic.  In a speech at a Living the Catholic Faith Conference, he rumbled:

God assumed from the beginning that the wise of the world would view Christians as fools…and he has not been disappointed.…If I have brought any message today, it is this: Have the courage to have your wisdom regarded as stupidity. Be fools for Christ. And have the courage to suffer the contempt of the sophisticated world.[3]

Justice Scalia’s call to endure scoffing from others for the sake of faith in and a witness to the gospel is quintessentially Christian.  It is also, I would add, experientially true.  After all, Justice Scalia himself had to endure countless questions – not all of which were inappropriate, but many of which were the product of a secular skepticism – about his faith and the ways in which he exercised it.

Of course, Justice Scalia did and does have his supporters – including some of those who most vehemently disagreed with him during his life.  In a remembrance penned by Ruth Bader Ginsburg, one of the Supreme Court’s most liberal justices, she wrote of Justice Scalia:

He was a jurist of captivating brilliance and wit, with a rare talent to make even the most sober judge laugh. The press referred to his “energetic fervor,” “astringent intellect,” “peppery prose,” “acumen,” and “affability,” all apt descriptions. He was eminently quotable, his pungent opinions so clearly stated that his words never slipped from the reader’s grasp … It was my great good fortune to have known him as working colleague and treasured friend.[4]

For all of their political and legal differences, these two justices were best friends.  And it is here that we find one of Justice Scalia’s most important legacies.  Justice Scalia was strongly opinionated.  He did not mince words concerning his legal or theological views.  There was no question as to where he stood.  But at the same time he was intellectually rigorous as a justice and theologically rigorous as a Catholic, he was also relationally generous.  He befriended and loved even some of those with whom he vehemently disagreed.

From prostitutes to adulterers to tax collectors to religious elites, there was once another man who behaved similarly.  He too could be known for His “peppery prose.”  “You snakes! You brood of vipers!” He once thundered, “How will you escape being condemned to hell” (Matthew 23:33)?  But the same people He thundered against in His words, He also died for on a cross.  He was most certainly intellectually and theologically rigorous.  Indeed, he was more:  He was intellectually and theologically perfect.  But He was – and is – also relationally generous.  And somehow, the two went and worked together for us and for our salvation.

Justice Scalia leaves behind an impressive professional legacy.  And he will continue to be criticized – sometimes thoughtfully and sometimes angrily – for many things.  But beyond his professional legacy is his personal example of how intellectual and theological rigor can go hand in hand with relational generosity.  They went hand in hand in him.  And in this, Justice Scalia reflected how they go hand in hand in Christ.

At Justice Scalia’s funeral this past Saturday, his son, the Reverend Paul Scalia, began his homily:

We are gathered here because of one man, a man known personally to many of us, known only by reputation to many more; a man loved by many, scorned by others; a man known for great controversy and for great compassion … That man, of course, is Jesus of Nazareth.[5]

In his son’s mind, Justice Scalia’s greatest legacy is found not in what his father accomplished, but in how his father reflected Christ – even if imperfectly.  This is why, for Reverend Scalia, Justice Scalia’s funeral was not about Justice Scalia.  It was about Jesus.

May we be about Jesus too.

________________________

[1] NPR Staff, “Originalism: A Primer On Scalia’s Constitutional Philosophy,” npr.org (2.17.2016).

[2] PGA Tour, Inc. v. Casey Martin, 532 U.S. 661 (2001) (Scalia, J., dissenting)

[3] Ken McIntyre, “The Wit and Wisdom of Scalia: Nine Zingers,” Newsweek (2.14.2016).

[4] Marina Fang, “Ruth Bader Ginsburg Remembers Antonin Scalia, Her Dear Friend And Sparring Partner,” Huffington Post (2.14.2016).

[5] Julie Zauzmer, “A moving homily for Justice Scalia by his son, Rev. Paul Scalia,” The Washington Post (2.20.2016).

February 22, 2016 at 5:15 am 1 comment


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