It’s a rare person these days respected enough to fill a church. When he’s healthy, Billy Graham can do it. T.D. Jakes and Joel Osteen still do it with regularity. Donald Trump probably could do it, too, although I have no earthly idea why.
So we’ve established that filling a church is tough enough when you’re alive. How many of us could fill a church in death?
When we’re dead, people no longer have to worry about what we’ll think if they don’t show up; it’s not as if we’re going to be around to take note. So when we’re gone, there’s really only one reason for someone to show up at our funeral: We’ve earned their respect.
Respect is a pretty old-fashioned word these days, not one that comes up much in conversation, polite or otherwise. There was a time when we almost automatically respected policemen, teachers, city council members, presidents, even each other.
But thanks to the internet and 500-channel satellite offerings and email and micro-cams, these days we know too much to automatically respect each other, as the incessant flow of information makes it easy to instantaneously doubt each other’s decisions and question each other’s motivations, particularly those of our leaders. It seems the more we know about each other, the harder it is to earn each other’s respect.
I’ve been giving all of this some thought since I sat in a packed church recently during a funeral for a guy I hadn’t seen in five years. Once we attended church together, trading various congregational offices over the years and sharing ideas about how to make the congregation better and stronger. Actually, sharing is too strong of a term: Mostly, I listened, and he talked.
He was that kind of a guy, someone who never once raised his voice in my presence, despite times when it was probably called for and certainly would have been understood.
He was a guy who treated his employees as well as his family, and his family didn’t mind and even appreciated that fact.
He was a guy who looked for solutions to problems rather than pointing a finger, and even when I didn’t agree with him (which was fairly often), I knew he sincerely believed what he said and was willing to believe the same of me.
As the funeral speakers extolled his virtues one last time, I looked around and saw heads nodding and tearful eyes agreeing.
The people at this funeral hadn’t been coerced, cajoled or guilted into spending one last moment with this man. They didn’t need to be reminded that the guy they came to say goodbye to didn’t need them there to finish things off the right way.
He had long ago earned their respect, and mine, and the overflowing church on a cold, rainy Saturday proved it.
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