If music be the food of love — play golf

by Richard on May 30, 2011

Dave Faulkner is vexed by an organist’s choice of music before a service of worship

My eyebrow started to get in training for next year’s Olympics when I realised the organist was playing John Lennon‘s ‘Imagine‘. That’s right, the one with the line, ‘Imagine no religion.’ … Then having settled down again to talk with the people next to me in the pew, my eyebrow sprang into action again. George Benson, but sadly not from his jazz guitar phase. No: ‘The Greatest Love Of All.’ And that contains the line, ‘Learning to love yourself is the greatest love of all.’

Dave doesn’t reveal where this took place, but I wouldn’t discount the possibility that the organist doesn’t share the church’s faith and was having a private joke. Of course, it’s equally likely that they just liked the tunes and wasn’t really thinking about the lyrics. Either way, Dave is giving us an important reminder that even the ‘incidental’ music in a service of worship is important. I wouldn’t want any congregation of mine singing along to the appalling ‘Imagine’ before the service began.

Methodist Preacher picks up Dave’s theme and considers the choice of music used in funerals, a subject I’ve had a go at before in Top 10 Funeral Songs. An extract might be in order.

…there is a real danger that our society is losing the vocabulary to express grief in a meaningful, realistic way and at the same time retain hope and joy in the face of death. My experience is that Christians are often no better at this than those of no faith, sometimes attempting to make the funeral an occasions for an enforced jollity that leaves no room for sorrow to be articulated.

My worst experience in this respect was of having been told that there would be some music from a CD at the close of a service in the crematorium, only to discover after I had said the Benediction that what was played was Monty Python’s ‘Always look on the bright side of life’. There can be few who are bigger fans of Monty Python than I am, and for my money ‘The Life of Brian’ is their best work. But whilst it might be funny at the close of a film, it isn’t a song which has any place in what had been a service of Christian worship.

[Incidentally, David is quite right in his dislike for 'My Way' at funerals, at least if they are Christian services. It would be entirely appropriate for followers of Ayn Rand, of course. It's hard to see how any Christian would want it]

Music is a powerful instrument (no pun intended) for framing the context of worship. It should always be chosen with the greatest of care.

{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

1

Dave Faulkner 05.30.11 at 5:52 pm

I am deliberately revealing neither the location, nor the denomination, nor any other identifiable details of the church - and especially as there were so many other commendable aspects to the worship. However, while I think ‘vexed’ might overstate my feelings (’puzzled’ might be closer), I thought it was worthy of discussion.

2

Richard 05.30.11 at 6:39 pm

Very worthy of discussion! Fwiw, I’m sure you were right not to give clues as to the identity of the church you visited.

3

PamBG 05.30.11 at 7:12 pm

We’re having my dad’s memorial service this Friday. I’m giving a “Reflection” - I deliberately didn’t call it a sermon or a homily - because my dad was an agnostic.

No, we’re not playing “My Way” but it’s going to get a reference in my Reflection “Had we wanted to be stereotypical, we might have played ‘My Way’” because, dang, if my father didn’t die the way he wanted to die and almost when he wanted to die as well.

I think most Christians would find the service I’m going to do to be appalling because of it’s lack of God. But he didn’t believe in God and - in my opinion - it would be disrespectful of his memory to pretend that he did.

I will be saying that it’s OK to be sad, and I’ll be inviting people to both ‘laugh and cry’. Both laugh and cry is what I want to do. It’s how I feel and I don’t think that there is anything wrong with laughter either.

4

Bob Gilston 05.30.11 at 9:47 pm

Pam, laughter will be good, particularly if your dad had a good sense of humour.

A Methodist minister I know related the story of when she was taking the funeral service of a Manchester United supporter. At the end of the service the organist played “You’ll Never Walk Alone” not realising that it was the anthem of Liverpool FC and of course United and Liverpool supporters hate each other. As one of the mourners walked out he said to the minister, “Lovely service Reverend, but who’s the plonker on the organ?”

It pays to research your music.

5

Tony Buglass 05.30.11 at 9:51 pm

I did for both my parents what you’re going to do, Pam. It was hard, but good - it was the last and best thing I could do for them, and I would have felt terrible if I’d been sat there listening to a minister they hardly knew get it all wrong. The family asked, and I agreed, and I’m very glad I did. You’ll be in our prayers.

As to music, well, I’ve heard all sorts in funerals, including ‘My Way’. I didn’t think of banning it, because I think the service is for them, not me. If that was a favourite of the deceased, let them play it. I did a funeral just before Christmas for someone who was a great Dolly Parton fan - the family wanted a number of eulogies done by themselves, punctuated by half-a-dozen tracks by herself. I can’t stand her music, but it was their service, reflecting the personality of the deceased; I was well able to make it a Christian service in my own comments and the prayers. There was a far better sense of completion afterwards than there would have been had I objected to their choice of music.

I might have acted differently if the music had been in church. It wasn’t, it was at the crem. There again, sometimes it does Christians some good to see how non-Christian music can relate to their faith. And perhaps raise a smile - I recall an organist developing a very Bach-like fugue, which sounded very impressive until we recognised the main theme from Three Blind Mice…

6

PamBG 05.30.11 at 10:18 pm

and I would have felt terrible if I’d been sat there listening to a minister they hardly knew get it all wrong.

My parents had both been quite insistent and I’d indicated to both of them that I didn’t think it was appropriate. Then we all went to the funeral of someone else in the family about 6 weeks ago, and the funeral was so appalling that I promised them I’d do both of theirs.

When I did funerals for folk that I didn’t know, I always wondered how what I was saying was coming across. Did I speak to the handful of people in the family who liked the deceased and everyone else hated them? I always worried about that. But the person who did the appalling funeral (whose denomination shall remain nameless) obviously didn’t bother to find out anything at all about the deceased.

Prayers would be appreciated. I’ve already got the service sorted out and I’m trying to go over it many times so that I’ll be so bored by Friday that I’ll be less likely to burst into tears. A little crying is acceptable but I don’t want to find myself unable to speak for too long.

7

PamBG 05.30.11 at 10:21 pm

I did a funeral just before Christmas for someone who was a great Dolly Parton fan - the family wanted a number of eulogies done by themselves, punctuated by half-a-dozen tracks by herself. I can’t stand her music, but it was their service, reflecting the personality of the deceased; I was well able to make it a Christian service in my own comments and the prayers. There was a far better sense of completion afterwards than there would have been had I objected to their choice of music.

Which takes us back to the old debate about who is a funeral for? I know a number of people who would say “If you’re going to have the funeral in Church, then it’s going to be mainly about God and if you don’t like it, go somewhere else.” I think I’m more in your camp, Tony.

8

Pamela 05.30.11 at 11:39 pm

Vocabulary is important (in certain contexts!).
I feel the service should reflect the personality and beliefs of the individual.
btw, my husband plays golf.

9

Tony Buglass 05.31.11 at 12:00 am

“I’ve already got the service sorted out and I’m trying to go over it many times so that I’ll be so bored by Friday that I’ll be less likely to burst into tears. ”

My mother died first. When the family asked me to do her funeral, it felt right to me, but my wife was very concerned that it was too big an ask. So we asked a dear friend, an Anglican woman priest and friend of her family, to be my safety net - I gave her a full copy of my script, so if I folded she could step up and ‘be me’; that did the trick - because she was there, I didn’t need her. I do remember thinking that all the funerals I had ever taken were a preparation for his one…

One thought - a few years later, I was asked to conduct the funeral of a friend who had killed himself. I did, and was glad to, because I was able to bring something to that which possibly nobody else could, but also because doing his funeral helped me to cope with it myself. That was about 10 years ago. A few months ago, issues relating to his suicide came up in a training course; when I got home, I tried to tell my wife, and I just dissolved in tears - finally, I wept for my friend. I was grateful that she was there to hold me. Doing this last thing for those whom we love is a great, great privilege. But it can block some of the grief, which will come out years later. That’s not a bad thing - I’m just saying that’s how it was for me.

10

Pamela 05.31.11 at 1:26 am

I’m sorry for your loss Pam.
I lost my father so I know what intense grief feels like. We’ve all experienced loss.

11

DaveW 05.31.11 at 1:51 am

First some reflections on my parents funerals:

I did not take part in either of my parents funerals. They were only 4 months apart and I was still in training (we only touched on funerals a year later).

However, I will forever be grateful to the Methodists in Emsworth, Hampshire. My parents had not moved there very long before and due to cancer treatment had not been able to go to the Church there much after moving. Yet the minister and congregation were very supportive and generous. They allowed us to bring in the right people for us.

For Mum, it was Clive, a minister and close family friend for many years before entering the ministry. He was one of many who had been welcomed into the family by my Mum when he moved into the area as a single person and started coming to the Church.

For Dad, it was my Uncle, a local preacher who had known Mum and Dad from when they had been courting. He also read a letter from my brother, sister and myself.

I don’t regret not taking those funerals and the care that I received always influences me when I meet families to prepare with them for funerals.

Sadly, the first time I spoke at a funeral was only 4 months later when I gave an eulogy at my Father-in-Laws funeral.

Thoughts on music at funerals:

I have not needed difficult discussions with people about the music they want at funerals. We recently came into “Hey big spender” and I shared the story behind that choice - it was a good story full of memories for the family.

Thoughts on handling my own grief

In the years since I became a minister I have conducted a number of funerals for people who have been great friends and I fully echo David’s comment. When you conduct a funeral you have to put off your own mourning and you will have to deal with that at another time. That is part of the reason why ministers need to be reflective practitioners with pastoral supervision and also line management.

As a minister (or as anyone who conducts funerals) dealing with your own bereavement and loss cannot be left as a personal, private matter. Firstly, for your own sake as you are going to be very vulnerable when exposed to other people who have been bereaved.

Secondly, because you are going to be in situations where vulnerable people are relying on you. At those times you have to be able to be with them without your own grief damaging them.

When I am alongside a family who have just lost a loved one to cancer I have to be able to separate their loss from my own. I have to be able to hear their situation without drowning it in my own story. For this to be possible and repeatable I need the appropriate support mechanisms and all 3 of reflective practice, pastoral supervision and line management are essential (although they can be provided in a wide variety of ways). Others may also be considered very relevant and significantly helpful such as Spiritual Direction.

12

Kim 05.31.11 at 7:01 am

Which takes us back to the old debate about who is a funeral for?

Christian funerals are for the living and about the dead - and in and through the dead yet living Christ. So no cover-up, and no “management” of grief, but a focus on this final chapter of a person’s narrative in the context of the whole narrative of her life - and all of it in the context of the all-encompassing story of God and his people, and the pattern of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

BTW, I took the funeral of my father, who was a non-believer. I was competely honest about his life and beliefs - and completely honest too about the faith of the church. Not to bring his atheism into play would have been a sham - and so too with the faith of the church.

13

Earl 05.31.11 at 8:31 pm

“Which takes us back to the old debate about who is a funeral for?”

“Christian funerals are for the living and about the dead - and in and through the dead yet living Christ. So no cover-up, and no “management” of grief, but a focus on this final chapter of a person’s narrative in the context of the whole narrative of her life - and all of it in the context of the all-encompassing story of God and his people, and the pattern of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

BTW, I took the funeral of my father, who was a non-believer. I was competely honest about his life and beliefs - and completely honest too about the faith of the church. Not to bring his atheism into play would have been a sham - and so too with the faith of the church.”

I quote the question and response above in total for the simple reason that without qualification I agree. In leading a funeral service one simply must plan ahead. When death comes, there is often not a lot of time available. Other responsibilities will still require attention. Having good resources near at hand and having a clear understanding with instrumentalist and soloist as to appropriate music, local funeral homes and their directors as to arrangements, procedures, etc. allow one to more effectively minister to the bereaved family and friends. Many time folks will hear us preach 150 or more sermons in a year of which they may or may not remember anything. But in grief presence and compassion given leave an enduring memory. And what folks remember of the funeral message is often remarkable. It is a wonderful moment to lift up the Lord Jesus Christ and encourage trust in Him.

14

PamBG 06.05.11 at 5:52 pm

So one of the speakers at my dad’s memorial service yesterday decided to read out the entire lyrics of “My Way” and I thought of this blog as she was doing it.

It is a wonderful moment to lift up the Lord Jesus Christ and encourage trust in Him.

Except, of course, if a person is certain that an atheist is in hell, there really isn’t any way of making that message compassionate or wonderful. Even if one does not say “this guy is in hell”, any exhortation to the congregation to accept Jesus on pain of eternal torture will still sound like “this guy is in hell”.

15

Tony Buglass 06.05.11 at 11:02 pm

During my first student placement I accompanied a minister to a funeral - the first one I’d ever been to, believe it or not: when I was a kid, it just wasn’t done to take kids to funerals. In the car afterwards, I asked him about the ‘judgement’ bit - he said “Every minister is a Calvinist in the pulpit and a universalist at the crematorium.” We both knew he was exaggerating a bit, but the point was clear: to speak of judgement and hell in the burial service of someone deemed to be an unbeliever would be the most unChristian and callous thing we could do.

You were in our thoughts and prayers on Friday, Pam. Hope it all went well.

16

Tony Buglass 06.05.11 at 11:05 pm

“It is a wonderful moment to lift up the Lord Jesus Christ and encourage trust in Him.”

I do, every single time. The last sentence of my funeral address is usually “Trust him - he will not let you down.” But I don’t do it by telling them that anyone who doesn’t is doomed to hellfire - I’d rather love folk into the Kingdom than try to blackmail and terrify them in.

17

PamBG 06.06.11 at 12:55 am

Tony, yes it went well and I feel very happy and at peace.

My dad said that he wanted a big party so the memorial service was held at the country club that he and my mom belong(ed) to and where he loved going to eat. The ballroom has a gorgeous vista overlooking a small lake and lots of greenery. The weather was stunningly beautiful.

We actually held the memorial service in the ballroom with folk sitting around the table. My mother had been in charge of food and decoration and set the whole thing up more or less like a wedding, with flowers on every table. In a separate room, my husband set up a rather display of photographs chronicling my dad’s life and this was interspersed with flowers too.

The service was great with a number of people from different parts of his life speaking for 3 to 5 minutes each about the man they knew. Then I did a reflection. Even though I led the service, I’m feeling a lot of closure.

For me, the best thing about the day was the food my mother ordered. They spent the entire 55 years of their marriage arguing over Italian food, which my mother hates loathes and despises. The buffet was three different kinds of pasta with three different kinds of sauces, fried aubergine, Italian sausage, Italian salad and Italian cake. And lots of wine. And I know that the dad I knew 15 years ago before he started getting sick was there and laughing and enjoying everyone and having a ball. And I know I’ll see him again healed, resorted and whole.

And, as far as I’m concerned, if you’re a universalist at the crematorium, you should be a universalist in life. Otherwise, you haven’t really embraced a free and full life. But what do I know? I could be wrong.

18

Kim 06.06.11 at 6:07 am

Shouldn’t that be “Every minister is an Arminian the pulpit and a Barthian at the crematorium”? The old saying, of course, is that “Every minister is an Arminian in the pulpit and a Calvinist on his knees.”

That sounds like a great funeral, Pam. Your mom’s arrangements with the Italian food really brought a twinkle to my eye and a chuckle to my heart. Just one thing, on your last paragraph: you’re wrong about possibly being wrong.

19

Pamela 06.06.11 at 9:04 am

Pam, ditto Kim’s words “That sounds like a great funeral”.

20

Tony Buglass 06.06.11 at 9:11 am

“And, as far as I’m concerned, if you’re a universalist at the crematorium, you should be a universalist in life.”

Btu that’s the point - he wasn’t saying that the minister is actually universalist, but that’s the emphasis that comes over. When I preach at the funeral of an apparent unbeliever, I offer a gospel of love and hope. I never raise the possibility that this person might not be in the hands of God. It isn’t that I believe all WILL be finally saved, but that I don’t know whether or not this one will finally be saved, so I give the benefit of the doubt. At the end, it’s up to God, not me.

It’s only in a court of law that I’m required to tell the whole truth. Not doing so isn’t lying, just focussing on the part of the truth which is important at that point.

21

PamBG 06.06.11 at 5:33 pm

Yes, Kim. The Italian food was actually a really sweet gesture especially as my mother spent so much energy railing against it until the last 10 years or so. My dad was first generation Italian-American, just to put that in context, and my mother isn’t.

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