As many people know, my dad is a man of the cloth. That cloth is usually shorts and a sweatband, but then he is the Running Preacher, after all, so this isn’t much a surprise.
As pastors go, he’s really not a very good one. Terrible, even. Most people don’t know that about him. He’s never made much money at it, never been interested in being the boss when it comes to church affairs and never had any sort of political ambition at all, including within the Southern Baptist Convention. (I wish there were more terrible pastors.)
Of course, he isn’t the Running Pastor; he’s the Running Preacher. And for good reason. Dad gives a good sermon and fine Bible study; he’s the calm in the hurricane of wedding ceremonies and counseling. He has run to bring money and attention to many charitable causes and donated to more, and for this he’s earned some minor celebrity. But I firmly believe he was put on this earth to eulogize, for I know no one else who does it so well.
Other speakers lack something. For laypeople not accustomed to public speaking, of course I understand and forgive them for speaking as best they can from their hearts, but if they speak more poorly than the other preachers, priests and ministers, it isn’t by much.
People should walk out of the service comforted and, though not happy, at least joyful. Too many clergy use their eulogies to make funerals the dry, drab, purely mournful affairs so commonly thought of, maybe with a dab of sermoning to try to use the moment to turn people God and avoid hellfire.
But Dad performs what can only be called séances.
See, what he does is he takes the dead, sitting in a casket before the whole room, and fools people into thinking the person is alive again for a few minutes. He does it without fraud or dishonesty; he does it with truth and goodwill.
The spirit doesn’t return from the grave or in the body, but proceeds from and in the minds of all those who knew the departed. Everyone remembers the living, breathing person they knew, and in the process forgets the embalmed corpse in the room with them. The point isn’t that the person is dead, but that the person lived, and to reminisce about how. If we’re sad a person is gone, how much more glad the person was here?
It isn’t my father who accomplishes this, but he allows it to happen — or shows others how they can have it happen. A funeral is a near-death experience, you know, and being near death, the dead’s life flashes before your eyes. There you see triumph, failure, laughter, tragedy and ultimately the sum joy of living. Dad tells the particular story, so small and insignificant, but like a peephole with your eye to it, you can see everything else through it. My dad can preach peepholes, and this is no small thing.
The true poet doesn’t tell people something new but rather helps them realize what they know by expressing the idea better than they might have on their own. In this, my father is a true poet.
He has the gift of letting people remember what they want and need most during the ceremony. Were it possible, I wish he eulogized the world.
A terrible shame that he won’t get to do his own funeral because no one else will be up to it.