Virtual Voices

The Church of You: Funerals

Religion

Let's face it: Death is a real downer. It used to be that people had to live alongside constant reminders that death preys on a broken world. Disease, accidents, wars-all these plagues kept people grounded in the reality that our time here on Earth is brief and subject to an end at any moment. But now, with advanced medical technologies, safe workplaces, and military superiority, most of us Westerners don't have to trouble ourselves with reminders of death, except on our terms by watching Die Hard movies and playing video games. Maybe that's what the Bible means where it says, "In your face, Death." Or something like that.

The point is, people don't want to die, and now they don't have to. I mean, they do, but it's a lot easier to put off. For example, we have no qualms about dropping half-a-million dollars to keep an 85-year-old alive another three months, even as children in other countries die for lack of clean water. We're all about fending off death where it matters most, which is anywhere we might have to look at it. And when the heavy D does finally make his entrance, we've made it a lot easier to pretend that you aren't really going to go cold and get chucked into the dirt. To quote a profound poem from the website of one personalized funeral service provider:

"Do not stand at my grave and weep; I am not there, I do not sleep. I am a thousand winds that blow. I am the diamond glints on snow."

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I can't remember the rest, but imagine that, rather than a fallen mortal, you are the Holy Spirit himself, and you get the idea. Comforting, yes?

And comfort is where the Church of You comes in. I'm not some Bible-thumper, mind you, but I've done a little studying into what the Good Book says on this topic. And there's plenty of leeway here to believe whatever you want. Maybe we go to sleep until Jesus comes back. Maybe we go right up to the heavenly party the moment we, you know, pass on. And maybe death isn't so bad. In fact, aren't we supposed to hate the world? So maybe death is this wonderful moment we're supposed to celebrate, like the day your Uncle Earl gets paroled.

I mean, don't take this hate-the-world, I'm-glad-to-be-moving-on stuff too seriously. As pastor in the Church of You, I've found that you don't want to go trotting that bit out until the funeral ceremony. People really like the world, and if you hit them every week with the message that they'll be leaving it one day, they're liable to get antsy.

But at a funeral it's a real crowd-pleaser. You may think, as you struggle for your last breaths, that something is wrong here, that death was never what God intended, that we ought to come together and mourn and reaffirm our faith that death is of the devil, that we hate it, and that we anxiously look forward to the day when our Savior will come to banish it for good, to restore his sullied creation, and to draw up all his children from the ground with renewed bodies. But the Church of You is about what makes us feel good. I mean, face it, you're dead. You're not a you any more. We've got us to think about, and nobody wants to hear that death is coming for all of us, that it is an unholy destruction of creation, and that we are right to weep at your passing.

Put on a happy face-that's the Church of You philosophy. So I prefer to run a slideshow of you during the funeral, play your favorite songs on our state-of-the-art sound system, have friends tell funny stories about you, and then remind everyone that you are right now having a great time, or that you are the stars and the ocean breeze, or something uplifting like that. The truth is, I really have no idea where you are, but I have a living congregation to please, and let's be honest, they're the ones who are going to decide whether to keep tithing.

So don't expect a downer of a funeral at the Church of You. It's a celebration. A celebration of your life, and more importantly, of our lives. There's no sting of death at our church. Not even a pinch.

Read Tony's other two posts in this series: The Church of You and The Church of You: Weddings.

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