The wife of one of Mr. Trimble's law partners approached my before the service.
"I knew you played golf," Janie said. " I didn't know you could sing."
"I'm a lot better singer than I am a golfer," I replied. "Singing is easy."
I suppose that I have sung at around 50-60 funerals in my day. I have probably attended a hundred more. It is my privilege to be in the orbit of many. And so I seem to attend a lot of funerals.
It is always a tricky thing when the laity speaks at funerals. They are for most part not used to public speaking. They tend to be understandably emotional. Indeed, it is for that reason that I declined the opportunity to sing or speak at my own mother's service. And I'm experienced at both. Come to think of it, while I have sung at any of a number of funerals I have never given a eulogy. I suppose hearing from me twice during one service would understandably be overkill.
I don't expect much at these times. I'm not typically one to bother God with my supplications, seeing as how I figure He or She has better things to do than attend to my picayune concerns. But I always pray when friends or family of the departed get up to speak.
"Please God get them through this," I pray.
While I don't expect the Gettysburg Address at these times, I do expect a modicum of propriety and humility. It's a low bar.
Bearing this modest template for funeral oratory in mind, I can honestly say that the sermonette inflicted upon the congregation yesterday by the lay witness was by far the worst I have ever heard in my life.
He gave a few appropriate recollections that were truly amusing and gave insight into Mr. Trimble's formation into the gentleman he became. That was not sufficient. He then veered off into a fundy hellfire and damnation sermon before his captive audience that was exquisitely inappropriate.
Walls Trimble was a Presbyterian man of quiet dignity. He would have been horrified.
It went on and on. He did everything but an altar call. I was sitting behind the pulpit beside the Real Minister. I noticed her inching forward in her chair. She was about to bring on the hook around Minute Twenty. Mercifully, he shut up before that happened.
As we prepared for Mother's funeral, Vic Nixon told my brothers who wanted to speak his rules for witnessing at such times.
" You will have 5 minutes. Don't preach. That's my job."
Don't preach. It's not your job.
I didn't get to speak to the apostle afterwards. It is just as well. Because this is what I would have said.
" What you did was not about Walls. It was about you. It wasn't really about proclaiming the Gospel. It was about you. And I guarantee you that the talk in cars going back to Little Rock or wherever won't be about old Walls. And it won't be about how they are persuaded to accept your version of Christianity. It will be about how dreadful your diatribe was before a captive audience that wasn't there to hear you preach. That will be the recollection of this day."
The minister shook her head as she pulled off her robe after the service.
"I mean, you try to be respectful. People are nervous. People are emotional. But that was hardly Presbyterian theology."
And that's the point. It was a Presbyterian service after all.
You try to be respectful.
For God's sake. You try to be respectful.
Which means, at the minimum, when you are called to speak at a funeral, it can't be about you.