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Something missing from Michael Jackson's service

Saturday, July 11, 2009

When my father-in-law died seven years ago in northwestern Pennsylvania, it was my privilege to have a share in his funeral. Funerals, at least in the Christian tradition, are worship services. In other words, the purpose is to give praise and thanks to God for the life of the just-deceased individual. The focus, to put a fine point on it, is supposed to be on God. Our Catholic friends take this emphasis a step further by celebrating communion. (This further focuses the bereaved on God's saving work in Jesus Christ.) We honored Dad in the service but were careful to say that our ultimate purpose was to be grateful to God for his years among us.

Earlier this week, if you watched television at all, it was hard to avoid the wall-to-wall coverage of the Michael Jackson "memorial service" at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. I use quotation marks in the last sentence because if the body is present -- as it was -- then it is technically a funeral. But there's no point in quibbling over semantics.

At least two clergymen spoke at this service. From my vantage point, they failed to do the basic job of giving glory to God for Michael Jackson's life. From beginning to end, it appeared to be a two-hour glorification of an individual, the so-called "King of Pop." Several people said embarrassing things, words so over-the-top and out of proportion that I imagine Jackson himself might have had cause to blush. Only Jackson's adolescent child, surrounded by relatives wearing sunglasses for an indoor event (ostensibly to honor MJ), seemed to acquit herself well -- saying simply, "I'll miss him." Exactly.

Events like these, which so many people apparently watched, are an opportunity for reflection. What is the purpose of a funeral? We presuppose that every person's life is so important that we choose to mark their transition to death with an event -- a funeral (body present) or a memorial service (body not present).

Such moments are minifamily reunions and a chance to reconnect with friends, including those we seldom see. They are opportunities to take our private grief and make it public. But funerals/memorial services are for the living, for the survivors. If such events are to be helpful, we must connect our grief and sorrow to something larger -- to the God who made us, redeems us, sustains us and promises to take us to our eternal home.

God seemed suspiciously and disappointingly absent at the Staples Center on Tuesday. Was it a well-produced spectacle? Certainly. Ultimately helpful in helping us wrestle with the mystery of life and death and to build a better relationship to the one who holds both in his hands? Don't think so. It's a shame. Really.

Jeff Long is pastor of Centenary United Methodist Church in Cape Girardeau. Married with two daughters, he is of Scots and Swedish descent, loves movies and is a lifelong fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers.


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Thanks Preacher.....This needed said!

-- Posted by mo_ky_fellow on Sat, Jul 11, 2009, at 7:20 AM

Paster Long,

I think your statement of "God seemed suspiciously and disappointingly absent at the Staples Center on Tuesday" is very incorrect. I was in the funeral profession for nearly 17-years and probably directed over 3500 funerals in that time, both black and white.

What I seen taking place, was not only Michael's transition back to his roots but a service that was emersed deep into a Christian spirituality.

Infact, the processional song was, "Soon and Very Soon." A gospel song injected with lyrics that say, " We have come from every nation, God has already signed our name. Jesus took his blood and he washed my sins.. he washed them all away. Yet there are those of us who have laid down our lives but we all shall meet again on the other side... soon and very soon."

Mariah Carey also sang the song, "I'll be there." Entrenched in it's lyrics you find:

You and I must make a pact

We must bring "salvation" back

Where there is love

I'll be there

I'll reach out my hand to you

I'll have faith in all you do

Just call my name

And I'll be there

Jennifer Hudson sang, "Will you be there." With lyrics stating:

Hold Me

Like The River Jordan

And I Will Then Say To Thee

You Are My Friend

Infact, after watching Michael's service, and listening to these lyrics (some his own) I felt that Michael had never left his Christian roots.

And...If that doesn't convince you, Michael apparently had a very close relationship with Gospel Singer Andrae Crouch. Shortly before Michael's demise, Andrae and his daughter Sandra made visit to Michael.

"spokesman for Andrae Crouch added that at the meeting, Jackson "asked for prayer concerning the anointing of the Holy Spirit . . . So Andrae and Sandra explained to him about the anointing and about Jesus."

But did the legendary singer pray to receive Christ? The Crouch spokesman responded: "He did NOT reject Jesus or the prayer when (we) prayed, and gladly joined in prayer . . . There was NO actual 'sinners prayer' however, but they did talk and pray about Jesus and the anointing of the Holy Spirit."

Additionally you discussed about Memorial Services and Funeral Services. I am a bit confused myself on the family calling this a memorial service, because Michael's body WAS infact present. Not that either way would prevent the presense of God or Christianity.

Earlier you had said, "Funerals, at least in the Christian tradition, are worship services. In other words, the purpose is to give praise and thanks to God for the life of the just-deceased individual. The focus, to put a fine point on it, is supposed to be on God." I don't necessarily agree or disagree with this, but it's more of a "to each his own" type of stance.

Pastor Lucious Smith did infact deliver a closing Pray for Michael.

You also said, "Several people said embarrassing things, words so over-the-top and out of proportion that I imagine Jackson himself might have had cause to blush. Only Jackson's adolescent child, surrounded by relatives wearing sunglasses for an indoor event (ostensibly to honor MJ), seemed to acquit herself well -- saying simply, "I'll miss him." Exactly.

First of all, you've "never" attended or preached a service where the bereaved wore sunglasses, inside? In my experience, I find this very common place, and infact...in my own bereavement have found myself doing it as well.

Secondly, no comment was embarrassing, infact I found all statements to come from the heart. While Al Sharpton's words were undeniably a tool to publicly cleanse Michael's transgressions, and make us look beyond the mistakes of a man, there is no doubt in my mind that Michael's salvation, and glorification to his God were the entire focus of this funeral.

Many churches celebrate God's glory through music, and it's in those words/lyrics where you can find Michael's Christian values, his celebration of God.

In closing, whether a funeral is traditional or non-traditional doesn't devoid it of having Christian values. And to judge an event or celebration based upon one's own secular beliefs is purely and undeniably hypocritical.

-- Posted by Megalomania on Sat, Jul 11, 2009, at 7:55 AM

VERY well said, mega.

-- Posted by truth_be_known on Sat, Jul 11, 2009, at 8:29 AM

God wasnt present because he doesnt love people who touch little boys!!!

-- Posted by hockeydude on Sat, Jul 11, 2009, at 8:54 AM

I have to hand it to you Mega, your post was unusually sincere and insightful. Why would a seemingly respected lical Pastor choose to judge a memorial/funeral service? Beyond me.

I don't condone many things that MJ reportedly did in his life but only God truly knew his heart. The fact that he requested Andre Crouch to pray with the Holy Spirit would suggest that Michael must have had some prior knowledge in truly Godly things.

I had not heard the Crouch story. Very informative Mega. I can say from experience, MJ's concert was by far the best I ever witnessed! I can only hope that he accepted Christ. God bless those kids. I pray they do great things for the REAL King!

-- Posted by semotexex on Sat, Jul 11, 2009, at 8:57 AM

I have to hand it to you Mega, your post was unusually sincere and insightful. Why would a seemingly respected local Pastor choose to judge a memorial/funeral service? Beyond me.

I don't condone many things that MJ reportedly did in his life but only God truly knew his heart. The fact that he requested Andre Crouch to pray with the Holy Spirit would suggest that Michael must have had some prior knowledge in truly Godly things.

I had not heard the Crouch story. Very informative Mega. I can say from experience, MJ's concert was by far the best I ever witnessed! I can only hope that he accepted Christ. God bless those kids. I pray they do great things for the REAL King!

-- Posted by semotexex on Sat, Jul 11, 2009, at 8:59 AM

hockeydude,

"But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ [i.e., made us alive in Christ], (by grace ye are saved;) And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus. For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God." --Ephesians 2:4-8

-- Posted by Megalomania on Sat, Jul 11, 2009, at 9:02 AM

semotexex,

Thank you for your kind words.

Here is my source on the Crouch/Jackson meeting.

http://opentheword.org/news/1920-despera...

-- Posted by Megalomania on Sat, Jul 11, 2009, at 9:08 AM

I found threads of worship and glory to God woven into many parts of the memorial service, and I thank Megalomania for taking the time to highlight some of those. I was also particularly moved when listening to Michael's own voice asking if God would be there during the Jennifer Hudson performance of "I'll Be There." I couldn't imagine a more beautifully orchestrated memorial/funeral service. Of course, there will be some glorification of the performer that Michael Jackson was as it should have been, and I see no harm in that. It was HIS memorial after all! And, he was a remarkable music legend who has left a legacy so grand that some may eventually forget the conflict and turmoil that he carried in his later years and that ultimately resulted in his death.

-- Posted by my_thoughts on Sat, Jul 11, 2009, at 9:17 AM

While the presence of a body does technically make the difference between a memorial service and a funeral, in this case, the use of the term Memorial Service for the Staples Center event seems to fit.

Don't forget, there was a private family service at the cemetery BEFORE the Staples Center Memorial. While I did not really hear the word funeral used for it either, if I was a family member of someone famous enough to merit a private family service and a public extravaganza that required TICKETS, I would probably view the private service as the actual funeral, whether or not the body was at the bigger service.

A ceremony as big as the Staples Center event, with such a large crowd, many of whom were NOT friends or family but fans who won a lottery is NOT the same as a funeral, and if it is not as religious as you would like, that was probably NOT the purpose of this ceremony. The purpose of this was more of a public remembrance of a famous person, and thus I see no problem with the term "Memorial Service."

-- Posted by Eliza on Sat, Jul 11, 2009, at 11:35 AM

Eliza,

You make a valid point. In "funeral terms" the Memorial service "usually" infers to the body not being present (in a casket) but instead, the cremated remains.

And..usually, A memorial service is just that, a celebration of one's life. (which is what this was)

The fact alone that the Jackson family did allow for Michael's body to be present during that memorial service does reflect on their "traditional" Christian beliefs. I would say more accurately, it was a memorial service for Michael's fans and Michael's life, and a Funeral Service for Michael's family.

Their church, (as with many performers) are the many stages on which they perform on. The Staples Center was technically Michael's last church.

That being said, I don't believe there is a big issue on whether this was a memorial service or funeral service or what have you. Semantics, as Pastor Long pointed out...was not what he took issue with.

-- Posted by Megalomania on Sat, Jul 11, 2009, at 1:02 PM

Pastor Lucious Smith, closing prayer for Michael Jackson's Memorial Service.

http://www.youtube.com/user/PoliticsNews...

-- Posted by Megalomania on Sat, Jul 11, 2009, at 1:11 PM

My_thoughts,

Exactly. Here is Hudson's performance.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0N_Vayaoq...

I feel this service was "filled" with religion and Christian connotations. They are blatant and incontestable.

-- Posted by Megalomania on Sat, Jul 11, 2009, at 1:29 PM

Pastor, How dare you insist or expect that others do things "your" way? You're certainly entitled to your opinion, but you're using a bully pulpit. I moved away from SE MO almost twenty years ago (a life long Missourian, with roots going back in Cape County when it was Spain), and am saddened to see that the Southeast Missourian continues to be nothing more than a church bulletin.

-- Posted by gotethics? on Sat, Jul 11, 2009, at 2:10 PM

Mega,

Similar to "gotethics", I left SEMO for good 30 years ago. Visit family there often but not privy to the local church climate which leads to my question, "Where on earth is the good pastor coming from in his critical review of the MJ memorial?"

I wonder if he'll receive many attaboy pats on the back today at church? Would any of his parishoners dare challenge his judgmental views in the paper or even ask why like me? Sadly, probably not.

Maybe they could offer a prayer for the kids, at least. Mega, thought you might be able to provide some local insight since I doubt that the pastor would respond.

BTW Pastor Long---your denomination is UNITED Methodist Church. Your article united no one.

Scratching my head.

-- Posted by semotexex on Sun, Jul 12, 2009, at 2:48 AM

To say that God was absent would undoubtedly be to assume that all of his gifts, talents and abilities came from somewhere else other than God. Why is it that we act as if we serve a prideful, selfish and praise-hungry God? If God indeed created us and placed us on Earth to be express reflections of Him, then every accomplishment (from winning a Grammy to taking a step would), in essence, gives Him glory.

For too long, religion has forced individuals into be self-defeating, negative thinking because "we" are never allowed to say anything postive about ourselves or others. For some reason, we think that saying God or Jesus is evedence of our thanks, praise and worship for Him. It doesnt matter what you say, the Glory goes to him regardless. I would invite every individual that proclaims to love, honor, worship and cherish their God to spend 30 days without saying His name. Let Him show through your actions and not your words!(Impossible for some, I know, because you have to say His name in order to differentiate which of your actions you do 'for him' and the ones that you 'do not'.)

Michael is no more an exception than we are. Just as the service that celebrated him and his life gave glory to the parents that produced and raised him, it gave glory to the One that created him.

Just as many undoubtedly will question his salvation, many will undoubtedly question yours. It doesnt matter whether you go to church, preach or live on the street. No one knows, and to be quite frank, no one really cares...however, to have something to say, people will continually question the quality of other people's lives. Though it may be sad, it is very true.

Michael's memorial service was nothing short of amazing...I am thankful that he lived and appreciative of the things that he chose to do and hope that others will learn from him and follow his example. He gave more than some of us can ever imagine...or would ever even desire to give. Let him have his moment...trust me, just like a loving parent, God is not angry. He is well aware of His inclusion.

-- Posted by sabooya on Sun, Jul 12, 2009, at 7:29 AM

Jeff,

Thank you for your article.

Your comment "Earlier this week, if you watched television at all, it was hard to avoid the wall-to-wall coverage of the Michael Jackson "memorial service" at the Staples Center in Los Angeles." I avoided TV at all cost. The reason, the day after this crotch grabbing pervert passed his dad was saying that this was the greatest person to ever live in history. What about Jesus and the prophets before him?

Now I may be wrong, it may have turned towards heaven after that but I don't know since I stopped watching this fiascal. There are more important things going on RIGHT NOW then this one persons passing.

I would encourage you to read "death by amusement" at www.newswithviews.com/Daubenmire/dave159... since it really sums up the state of the US.

-- Posted by gman on Sun, Jul 12, 2009, at 11:21 AM

It's funny. You didnt hear all of these negative comments about Elvis, JFK or Marilyn Monroe. Wow!!! My grandmother was right all along, some things ARE better left unsaid. A fool only becomes known as a fool when they open their mouths and prove it to be true...I guess that is true in everything.

-- Posted by sabooya on Sun, Jul 12, 2009, at 12:27 PM

Wow, what an article. This is once again a perfect example of one human trying to control things with their ideas of god and how things should be according to what the believe. Everyone has beliefs, and everyone has different beliefs, and to try and say god wasn't present at the staples center, is taking on a task that no one knows the answer to. According to other religions, one might question the presence of god in the church of the person who wrote the article, but again according to religion, god is everywhere, but oops I forgot he is not with the ungodly I guess. Now we have to figure out how we can really tell who is on gods side and who is not, how do we do that, maybe we can just pray, god will magically show us the way, lol! Overall the article showed once again how biased and cold religion can sound, without even knowing it, because as long as you do what you do for your god, I guess negativity is acceptable, especially when it comes to MJ. Anyways let me make this response acceptable by saying, god told me to say it! lol! When you add god to the situation it usually makes things better, it's only right, right?

-- Posted by dallastx75233 on Sun, Jul 12, 2009, at 1:25 PM

Michael Jackson was jehovah's witness. If any Christians[Catholic or others that are not jehovah's witness] have ever read the book that they call a bible than you will know that it is not a Bible. At least the King James , and Catholic Bibles are the same, just worded different because of two different interpatations. As for me...I accept either the Catholic or King James version, but I will never accept the jehovah's witness version. That is MY opinion anyhow.

-- Posted by Hookie98 on Sun, Jul 12, 2009, at 8:24 PM

God wasnt present because he doesnt love people who touch little boys!!!

-- Posted by hockeydude on Sat, Jul 11, 2009, at 8:54 AM

Oh hockeydude--God is our Heavenly Father, and as such he loves ALL of us, no matter what we have done in this life. The bad things we do hurt him and he does not approve of them and HE will be the one who decides what becomes of us--but he still loves us all the same. When it comes to his children, God is not capable of hate. He allows us to make our own choices, both good and bad, and gave us a way out of the bad ones through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Do you really believe God would have given us his own son if he didn't love every single one of us equally? It is that very thing we should all strive for in this mortal life.

-- Posted by Maxine_the_Magnificent on Mon, Jul 13, 2009, at 11:15 AM

I hate that word "funeral." It is so archaic. I am a white protestant woman who is a mother of three and grandmother of four. I am a huge MJ fan. I am sorry he died. It was a needless death. Why didn't those who say they cared for him try harder. They didn't try at all. The vultures are now circling overhead and I feel for his children. I cried during his memorial service celebrating his life. There were so many poignant moments. His loss is devastating to the world. I'm sure I'll get clobbered for saying so by some people. I cried when Princess Di died. I cried when Elvis died. MJ was such a great humanitarian and entertainer and his music will live on forever. He has changed the world forever. That's the way I feel. He was a target of many people as are many famous icons, and he was sadly taken advantage of, by people he surrounded himself with, and by others who thought they could make a quick few million, and you know what I'm getting at. These false allegations were never proven beyond a shadow of a doubt. So, this is my speech. If when I hear others badmouth him (I think it's wrong to badmouth and malign a person who just died - there's no defense for that, it's just plain wrong), I just ignore them and walk away because I don't want to hear it. I turn off these stupid nighttime talk shows, and you know who I'm talking about. MJ has paid the ultimate price for fame as did so many other famous people. May he rest in peace. He's in God's arms now. God bless him and God bless his children.

-- Posted by shoozeyque2 on Mon, Jul 13, 2009, at 12:29 PM

Wow Jeff. I am shocked at the comments you made. I was a member of Centenary when Dr. Raymond Trotter and Reverend Joe Black and Reverend Howard Hardeman were pastors at that church. At that point in time, I considered the ideology of Centenary United Methodist Church to be very open-minded and non-judgemental. I was proud of my roots in Centenary until now. It dismays me and embarrasses me that a leader of Centenary can pass such rambling judgements. This is exactly why I do not want a funeral or service. I will have my body cremated and about a month after I die, a happy gathering, a party of sorts, where my loved ones can celebrate my happy life and accomplishments! Reverend Long, you choose a solemn method. It does not have to be that way. Please respect the wishes of the deceased and the deceased's family.

-- Posted by Beaker on Mon, Jul 13, 2009, at 1:08 PM

Pastor Long this was a Memorial not a Funeral. Big difference as others have stated. I do not agree with your views at all And definitely will not be trying your church anytime soon. But I think you need to sit down and Listen to all of Michael's Music. Alot of his songs especially his later work are Very Spiritual. Have you ever heard his song Speechless?

Your love is magical, that's how I feel

But I have not the words here to explain

Gone is the grace for expressions of passion

But there are worlds and worlds of ways to explain

To tell you how I feel

But I am speechless, speechless

That's how you make me feel

Though I'm with you I am far away and nothing is for real

When I'm with you I am lost for words, I don't know what to say My head's

spinning like a carousel, so silently I pray Helpless and hopeless, that's

how I feel inside Nothing's real, but all is possible if God is on my side

When I'm with you I am in the light where I cannot be found It's as though I

am standing in the place called Hallowed Ground Speechless, speechless,

that's how you make me feel Though I'm with you I am far away and nothing is

for real I'll go anywhere and do anything just to touch your face There's no

mountain high I cannot climb I'm humbled in your grace Speechless,

speechless, that's how you make me feel Though I'm with you I am lost for

words and nothing is for real Speechless, speechless, that's how you make me

feel Though I'm with you I am far away, and nothing is for real Speechless,

speechless, that's how you make me feel Though I'm with you I am lost for

words and nothing is for real Speechless Your love is magical, that's how I

feel But in your presence I am lost for words Words like, "I love you."

Well Pastor Long that is just one of His songs. Try a few more and I Think you will benefit by it. May God Bless you, open your eyes, and Your Heart. May He also bless all the others posters and bloggers on the Missourian too!!! :)

-- Posted by CommonCentsGal on Mon, Jul 13, 2009, at 4:08 PM

Beaker, Are you sure you went to Centenary? Rev Trotter was a minister there, don't know about Joe Black and Rev Hardemann was at Grace. Maybe you are having a senior moment.

-- Posted by little bo peep on Mon, Jul 13, 2009, at 9:30 PM

Very good commentary on the funeral.

My husband instructs me not to focus on his life,

but on God, at his funeral. Albeit, he has had a good life.

-- Posted by memories on Wed, Jul 29, 2009, at 6:18 AM


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