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January 13, 2011
The answer is: Those without shame
I'm retired now, but once upon a time, as a church pastor, I was called on to conduct funerals and memorial services. All too often.
I never saw them as opportunities to convert any possible unbelievers in attendance, exaggerate the virtues of the deceased, or advance some localized ecclesiastical agenda. That's not what they're about.
Funerals and memorial services are about looking beyond the moment where the cold immediacy of death has taken hold, and toward whatever divine, otherworldly, or transcendent beliefs are held by, most importantly, the family, but also their friends.
When the October 2002 memorial service for the late Senator Paul Wellstone (D. MN) turned into a political pep rally, many were offended. But who realistically expected it to be anything other than that? In that extravaganza, dignity was only moderately conspicuous by its absence. To paraphrase Rahm Emanuel: The goal is to never pass up an opportunity to take partisan advantage of a prominent politician's death.
It's happened again, this hijacking of mourning for political purposes, but this time the assault on dignity is more egregious. This time the props are innocent murdered civilians. And, this time they include a little girl.
Never mind what the President said last night. It was flat, harmless, boilerplate stuff, with no timeless, memorable quotes. It was the overall branding of the event, including special-event T-shirts (who bought them?), accompanied by applause as the various dignitaries entered the arena for the political theater, and the hob-knobbing that accompanies the gather of pols that collectively represented yet another amazing exercise of uncommonly bad taste by our political elite.
The question is: Who aims to take advantage of the death of a child to reap political gain?
The answer is: Those without shame.
Rev. Hugh MacKenzie adds:
I am a subject matter expert on Memorial Services. After almost 40 years of conducting all sorts of Services of Remembrance in all kinds of contexts and for all manner of deceased, I know the difference between a somber rite of reflection/remembrance and a Pep Rally. Last night I witnessed the latter when the former was what was needed.
T-Shirts! Slogans! Cheers! You've got to be kidding!
Ideas have consequences. Ideas and principles mould the rites and ceremonies that follow any dramatic event. Events so life changing that they demand the focused attention of the community in which it transpired. Focused in order to express the proper emotions. Focused in to bring to bear the thoughts and feelings of the community in order to make sense of the these seismic dramas. How do we make sense of tragedy? What can we do in the face of either unexpected victory or equally unexpected defeat?
Cheering! (Or as the AP reported, "Soaring response...").
Focusing on, "We can do better...", from the Consoler-in-Chief! So much for the "Bully Pulpit." So much for liberal sophistication and savvy.
What did we learn? That civility was violated and the society needs to, "Tone the rhetoric down."
This is how we respond to pure evil? The words tawdry and shallow come to mind. Inappropriate doesn't even do that public display of silliness justice.
The public would have been better served by more silence broken only by a Bach partita, a Chopin march, an American folk hymn, or Taps.
Our society seems to be not only short on words but bankrupt on class and sophistication, the result of turning our backs on anything that happened before our own births.
This "ceremony" did bring tears to my eyes but I am sure not in the way the designers of this mess of pop pottage and shallow sentimentality intended.
"Call the people together in solemn assembly...", and don't forget the t-shirts.