CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith for the Years of Winter
My son-in-law, Patrick, had a birthday Friday. That got me to thinking about how he has provided such a good eulogy. He’ll have more opportunities to add to his resume, but his eulogy is set, because it is based on character, not achievements.
David Brooks, in his excellent book The Road to Character, talks about the difference between resume virtues and eulogy virtues. Those for the resume are your worldly accomplishments—jobs, awards, honors, etc. Virtues for your eulogy, what people will say about you when you are dead, are harder to categorize.
I am intrigued by obituaries that say, “There will be no memorial service at the request of the deceased.” It makes me wonder, “How controlling of others was this person in life, to want to keep controlling even in death?” Are we not allowed to share memories of him or her at all? Shouldn’t we at least get together and sing “Please don’t talk about me when I’m gone…?”
Of course, some folks are hard to eulogize. I recall the pastor who was tasked with the unenviable task of doing the funeral for the town’s meanest man. He worked and worked and the best he could come up with was, “At least he wasn’t as bad as his brother.”
Reading Brooks’ book has got me to thinking about my eulogy and I have realized that maybe I should request no memorial service myself. I don’t want folks to think they can’t find anything good to say. My brother is a very nice person, so even that line won’t work.
When we lived in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, I was sure I would freeze to death at any moment, so I tried writing my own obituary. All the obits up there started with “He loved the great outdoors.” Personally I prefer to be warm and eat pie, rather than being cold and eating jerky, so I started my obituary with “He loved the great indoors.” That’s still true, but now there is a TV sitcom by that name, and it’s not very funny. I don’t want people to think I love it, or even like it.
I start the day by scribbling a poem, whatever comes to mind, to get my creativity going. Then I read scripture and a real poem by someone like Billy Collins or Elaine Palencia, and I read from some insightful contemporary author, like Anne Lamott or Rachel Remen. Or David Brooks. My personal scripture lectionary includes a history book, a prophet, Psalms, a Gospel, and an epistle. Today Luke 6:32 ff came up as the Gospel. “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you…” Jesus ends that passage with, “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…”
That was intriguing, for as I wrote my daily poem, I tried to line it as my obituary, without much success. I was trying to say, poetically, “He loved his family and his friends,” and that admonition of Jesus popped into my head, “If you love only those who love you…” Then here it was in my daily readings, too. Apparently this bit about loving your enemies is something I need to hear.