Being a pastor has afforded me many opportunities to preach or attend funerals over the years. While these occasions provide some truly interesting stories, one common theme connecting them all is the goodness of the deceased remembered by family and friends.
In one instance where I had no personal connection with the deceased, I listened to the personal remarks of a couple of people and concluded that this person was truly a blessing to his family and church. That's when an elderly lady seated in front of me leaned over to her friend and "tried" to whisper, "Do you think they're talking about another Bill Davis?" Apparently, they thought that what we heard was too good to be true!
I recall only a handful of times when the obvious negative traits of the deceased were acknowledged. Those speaking on behalf of the individuals were realistic and honest about the rough, sharp-edged, and even mean-spirited traits portrayed in these person's lives.
These courageous friends and family dared to mention the 'elephant in the room.' Yet, their acknowledgment opened the door to also recognize some of the redeeming qualities in these individuals that may often have been overlooked by others or overshadowed by their own difficult personalities.
I was unacquainted with the deceased at the funeral I attended yesterday, but it was another of many instances where I sensed a missed blessing by not having the opportunity to know the deceased. Though it was indicative that he persisted on having things done only his way, his love for family, friends, and church - along with an over-active sense of humor - endeared him to many people, and especially his teenage grandchildren, most of whom referred to him as 'the greatest person they had ever known.'
Our society has conditioned us toward suspicion, hesitant to give another person the benefit of the doubt. We are quick to find fault and slow to look for the redeeming qualities in people. We tend to make assumptions based on what we see (appearance) rather than what we could observe (character).
Further, we are swift to judge and unwilling to forget. We are prone to allow a person's single lapse in judgment or behavior to taint forever their image in our minds. We typically are not big on mercy or second chances, which is part of our own unpalatable qualities.
The speakers at the funerals where the true colors of the deceased were stated unknowingly taught the listeners a lesson: look for and encourage the redeeming qualities of those present around us rather than waiting until they are no longer here to realize how their goodness impacts others.
I want to live my life in such a way that those who come in support of my family and to bid me farewell will readily remember the redemptive traits of behavior and attitude that, by God's grace, I was enabled to portray. The Bible teaches us to "do nothing out of selfish ambition or empty pride, but in humility to consider others more important than ourselves." That is what it means to live redemptively.
Steven Callis is the minister at First Church of the Nazarene in Douglasville.