My best friend and his wife were making their funeral and burial plans. He emailed to let me know he had named me to deliver the eulogy in his service. I wrote back that I had done the same thing with his name several years ago. It looks like we’re in a race to see who gets to do it!
My wife and I made our plans (and paid for them!) several years ago. It’s something I recommend, not only for obviously practical reasons, but because thinking about how we want to end our lives can help us think about how want to live them.
Eulogy Virtues vs Resume Virtues
In The Road to Character, David Brooks defined “resume virtues” as “the ones you list on your resume, the skills that you bring to the job market and that contribute to exernal success.” By contrast, “eulogy virtues” are “virtues that get talked about at your funeral, the ones that exist at the core of your being.“
The “resume” virtues are important, but they are ultimately temporal; “eulogy” virtues last forever. They point to the core values by which we live; the stuff that makes us who we are. The writer of the 119th Psalm was talking about “eulogy” virtues in declaring:
Lord, you are righteous,
and your rules are right.
Your word has been tried and tested;
your servant loves your word!
Your righteousness lasts forever!
Stress and strain have caught up with me,
but your commandments are my joy!
Your laws are righteous forever.
Help me understand so I can live! (Ps 119:137-144)
When my father made his “final arrangements,” he instructed that his gravestone include words (perhaps from Charles Wesley or E. Stanley Jones), “May I commend my Jesus to you.”
The way he lived was the way he died and the way he died was the way he lived. So, what will they say at our funerals? What will folks remember about the way we lived?
The Way We Live & the Way We Die
The good news is that we get to determine now what they say about us then. And what we hope people will say about us then can help determine how we live now. The psalmist prayed, “Help me understand so I can live!”
I’m writing on the day the Anglican tradition remembers Alfred the Great (849-899 AD) who led in restoring learning, culture, and the Church after the Viking invasions in England. He is remembered for saying,
“He seems to me to be a very foolish man, and very wretched, who will not increase his understanding while he is in the world, and ever wish and long to reach that endless life where all shall be made clear.”
I don’t intend to make use of those “final arrangements” any time soon! But I would be “a very foolish man, a very wretched” if I didn’t use it as a reminder to “increase in understanding” even as I aim for “that endless life where all shall be made clear.”
Remembering the Saints
All Saints’ Day is coming (November 1). It’s the great celebration of the victory of light and life over the powers of darkness and death.
The walls of the sanctuary in The Cathedral of Our Lady and the Angels in Los Angeles are lined with tapestries that portray saints from all races, times and places. (See Rev. 7:9.) Entering that space we walk with them and they walk with us in “sure and certain hope of resurrection.”
Don’t miss the connection between “then” and “now” when we sing “For All the Saints.” (Hear it here at the funeral of George Herbert Walker Bush.)
For all the saints, who from their labors rest,
who thee by faith before the world confessed,
thy name, O Jesus, be forever blest.
O may thy soldiers, faithful, true, and bold,
fight as the saints who nobly fought of old,
and win with them the victor’s crown of gold.
O blest communion, fellowship divine!
We feebly struggle, they in glory shine;
yet all are one in thee, for all are thine.
And when the strife is fierce, the warfare long,
steals on the ear the distant triumph song,
and hearts are brave again, and arms are strong.
So, as our pastor so often says at the end of his sermons, I plan to live as fully as I can into my eulogy values. How about you?
Grace and peace,
6 thoughts on “Living with Dying”
A beautiful and wise meditation, Jim. And may the race between you and your friend be long and filled with wonder.
Thanks for this 8 minute centering moment in my day—namely the performance of For All the Saints at George HW Bush’s funeral. The performance of all 11 verses (with the descant on the final verse) was moving. And seeing Jeb and George W. overcome with emotion as their father’s casket passed… A very poignant moment. Thank you.
Wiping my eyes in the tech booth,
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I get A LOT of email…but these posts have done more than anything I can think of to consistently guide me.
Thanks! I’m grateful for you and all we shared together.
Hi, Jim; I did our Circle program on All Saints Day, because I’ve always loved it and think Methodists should celebrate it [in Mexico Dia de Lost Muertos]; to end the lesson I had given out copies of the hymn, so I read each verse, and mbrs responded w/ Alleluia, Alleluia. I appreciate your including it in your post. When I looked up some sources about ASD I found some statements to the effect that Methodists avoided it because it was too Catholic. Probably true. Circle life is pretty different from years ago; I’m trying to accustom. lfw
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I’ve seen signs of more UM churches reclaiming All Saints’ Day by celebrating it in worship on either the Sunday before or after the day. I don’t really know how wide-spread that is…might just be the people I already know and see on Facebook!
Wesley called it “a day I preculiarly love.” (https://www.umc.org/en/content/all-saints-day-a-holy-day-john-wesley-loved).
The Rev. Dr. James A. Harnish 601 N. Sweetwater Blvd. Longwood, FL 32779 813-787-3753 http://www.jimharnish.org