Posts tagged ‘Washington Post’

Worst Funeral Ever

Best Funeral Ever 1It started with MTV’s “The Real World.”  And ever since, television has never been the same.  So-called “reality TV” has become a staple of both cable and network prime time lineups.  It used to be “Big Brother,” “Survivor,” “The Bachelor,” and “Fear Factor.”  Then came reality talent competitions like “American Idol” and “Dancing with the Stars.”  These days, shows like “The Biggest Loser” and “The Voice” top the ratings.  And now, new to the reality TV field is the surprise hit … “Best Funeral Ever”?

I wish I was making this up, but I’m not.  TLC’s newest reality show features over-the-top funerals directed by the over-the-top Golden Gate funeral home in Dallas.  The funeral home’s motto describes its philosophy:  “You may be in a casket, but it can still be fantastic.”  So far, the show has featured a Christmas-themed funeral complete with a mourner dressed as a snowman as well as a funeral for the singer of the Chili’s Baby Back Ribs jingle, Willie McCoy, which boasted a barbeque sauce fountain, ribs for the guests, live pigs, and a coffin shaped like a smoker.

The garishness of these funerals may provide a ratings boost for “Best Funeral Ever,” but its irreverence also invokes deep discomfort.  Clinton Yates of the Washington Post lamented, “TLC’s exploitation of how families mourn their dead is shameful in an era in which we can barely focus on keeping each other alive.”[1]  Turning mourning into a spectacle just doesn’t seem right.

Of course, there is a reason turning mourning into a spectacle doesn’t seem right.  It doesn’t seem right because it isn’t right.  Death and the mourning that it brings is an indicator of something gone terribly wrong and tragically awry.  This is why death is referred to in the Bible as an “enemy to be destroyed” (1 Corinthians 15:26).  Death is no joking matter.

The ancients were well aware of the gravity of death.  After all, it was all around them.  In first century Rome, the average life expectancy was a mere twenty years.  And the Romans hated this.  This is why when a person died, he was taken outside the city to be buried.  This is why a Roman law mandated, “No body be buried or cremated inside the city.”  People did not want to be near death.  They did not want to confront the mortality that surrounded them.

But then, something changed.  Rather than burying the dead far away from the living, cemeteries began to become a part of the local landscape.  As Christians began to build houses of worship, many cemeteries were plotted directly on church grounds.  To worship the living God, you would have to walk through the valley of the shadow of death.  In our day, we might find this unsettling.  But for many early Christians, such a move was intentional.  For these Christians believed that death was not only an enemy to be destroyed, but an enemy that would be destroyed.  These Christians believed the somber scene of the cemetery was only temporary.  Indeed, even the word “cemetery” is from the Greek word for “dormitory” – a place where one dwells only for a time.  These cemeteries, then, were not tragically permanent dwellings, but only provisional dormitories.  One day, the people buried in them would move out and move on to be with the Lord at the resurrection of the dead.  There was no need to be scared of them.[2]

The tragedy of a show like “Best Funeral Ever” is that it replaces resurrection anticipation with TV tawdriness.  Snowmen, barbeque fountains, live pigs, and smoker shaped caskets offer little in the way of true and lasting hope.

As Christians, we know that what a funeral needs is not cheap antics, but an empty tomb.  It is there that we find cause for real celebration, for it is there that we find God’s promise of life.

[1] Clinton Yates, “‘Best Funeral Ever’: Most frightening reality TV show to date?Washington Post (1.7.2013).

[2] For a good discussion of how the Christian hope of the resurrection changed ancient views on death, see John Ortberg, Who Is This Man?  The Unpredictable Impact of the Inescapable Jesus (Grand Rapids:  Zondervan, 2012), 191.

January 21, 2013 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Weekend Extra – It’s Crystal Clear!

In 2008, the Pew Forum on Religious and Public Life conducted one of the largest surveys ever of Americans’ religious beliefs.  Though it found that 92 percent of people believe in God, when asked to specify who God is or make hard and fast distinctions between their faith systems and the faith systems of other religions, respondents struggled.  Instead, most Americans have an increasingly nonexclusive attitude when it comes to faith.  70 percent of people surveyed believe that many paths lead to God.  Gregory Smith, a research fellow at the Pew Forum, explains:  “Even though Americans tend to take religion quite seriously and are a highly religious people, there is a certain degree of openness and a lack of dogmatism in their approach to faith and the teachings of their faith” (“Most Americans Believe in Higher Power, Poll Finds,” Washington Post, 9.24.08).

In all honesty, the Pew Foundation’s survey offers no real surprises.  Though it is one of the largest surveys ever conducted, the results are a dime a dozen.  Survey after survey has demonstrated that, though most Americans are “spiritual” and believe in “God,” they have no real cohesive doctrinal system nor do they subscribe wholeheartedly to an external source of authority such as the Bible.  People claim to be spiritual, but their spirituality is fuzzy.

Long before researchers were around to conduct in-depth surveys on people’s religious attitudes, the apostle Paul foresaw that such misguided faith would be the order of the day for many:  “The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons” (1 Timothy 4:1).  In a world which subscribes to fuzzy spirituality, Paul seeks to inject some clarity from the Holy Spirit:  “The Spirit clearly says…”  True faith in God is never ill-defined.  It is as clear as the Gospel itself.  Indeed, according to Paul, a faith that does not find its clarity vis-à-vis the Gospel is not a faith in God, but a faith from demons.  And for the nebulous faiths of demons, Paul warns, “some will abandon the faith.”  Two things are notable in this phrase.  First, the Greek word for “abandon” is apostesontai, from which we get our English word “apostasy,” a word which, etymologically, means “to stand apart.”  Paul’s argument, then, is that standing apart from faith in Christ means standing with demons. Second, the arthrous phrase “the faith” reminds us that, quite distinct from the popular conception that many faiths lead to God, there is only one true faith – faith in Jesus Christ.

What is the way out of the fuzzy spirituality which plagues our culture?  Paul cites two remedies.  First, fuzzy spirituality must be remedied by the Gospel:  “This is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance (and for this we labor and strive), that we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, and especially of those who believe” (1 Timothy 4:9-10).  Hope in the living God and His Savior, Jesus Christ, leads to salvation.  Period.  Of this we can be clear and sure.  No nebulous spirituality can promise salvation like the Gospel can.  It can only conjure up shady specters of possible hereafters.  Second, fuzzy spirituality must be remedied by the authority of Scripture:  “Devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching” (1 Timothy 4:13).  The Gospel is revealed in, by, and through the pages of Scripture. Thus, if we desire clarity on the Gospel specifically and theology generally, we turn to Scripture and submit to its authority and believe its promises.  With the Gospel and Scripture in our hearts and hands, clarity is given to things spiritual, with even more clarity being promised in eternity:  “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:12).  Praise be to God for the clarity which comes from our Creator!

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January 31, 2011 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

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