The Right Funeral Can Solve A Lot of Problems


My late and extremely beloved Papa John was a “Pentecostal, full gospel, fire-baptised, Holiness” preacher. By way of explanation of what a “Pentecostal, full gospel, fire-baptised, Holiness” church is, let me just say this — if you know what one is, good. Email me and we’ll swap stories; I’ve got some great ones. If you don’t know what one is, no amount of explanation on my part is going to suffice for you to truly grasp the experience so I won’t sully the memory of the church or insult your intelligence by trying.

I spent my formative years under his ministry in a tee-tiny three room white church of knotty pine pews and funeral home fans. We had a congregation that ranged from six to one hundred, depending on if the crops were in, if the cotton mill was running overtime, or if various members of the family were up in arms against some of the others. Papa had taken over the pastorate after my great-uncle Pastor Robert had passed and if anyone of the few of you who know me personally can believe it, I was supposed to assume the pulpit after Papa John went to Glory. Sometimes things don’t turn out quite like we’ve always known they were going to.

In any event, as Papa’s heir-apparent, I often accompanied him on his visits to parishoners and, on very rare occasions, to meetings with groups of pastors of churches similar to ours. Later, when I broke my mother’s heart by excusing myself from the line of pastoral succession, I became a deacon in a church of a more liberal denomination. In such a capacity, I often accompanied my pastor and fellow deacons to pastoral councils across the state. Both with Papa John and my other former pastor, I heard the same comment from the mouths of many of these devout men of God.

“Brethren, my church is about two, maybe three funerals away from some real change (or growth, or new direction, or progress, etc).”

What they meant by that seemingly callous statement is that once they had the pleasure honor of performing the funeral for old batty gossip Sister Mattie Grace or crochety curmudgeon Brother Smith or some other long-reigning pillar(s) of the church, the way would finally be cleared to do what they (and often a great part of the congregation) had been wanting to do for a long time, be it change service times, Sunday School literature, or (Heaven forbid) music style (since it has been theologically proven that when Lucifer was cast out of Glory, he fell headlong into the choir loft and orchestra pit of most evangelical churches). These aforementioned sainted members had, by use of their demeanor, voting bloc, family ties, or other political influence, managed to keep the demonic specter of change and innovation out of the church. They were not titularly in charge, but their presence ensured the safety and often enshrinement of the status quo.

As in Heaven, so also it often is on earth . . . or at least in education.

It may be bad form, almost certainly politically incorrect, and definitely tactless to say this, but many of our schools today are just like those beleaguered pastors’ churches. They are two or three key retirements (or deaths — accidents do happen) away from some real changes in the school’s direction and climate.

Think now. How many of you are picturing someone or another right now? You all know the one. He or she sits in righteous enthronement dead center at every faculty meeting.

Pity the poor freshly appointed principal eager to offer her new educational vision for the school only to be met with a spoken (or at least subliminal) “I was here to see that come through by another name ‘x’ years ago. It failed then and it’ll fail now.” They are not just negative, they are toxic.

Pity the poor first year teacher who blunders into their lair at the back of the teachers’ lounge as they regale the “youngsters” with stories of the “good old days” when all students were angels, discipline was swift for those who were not, and everyone was a lot smarter.

Pity the poor freshly minted librarian who approaches on of these grizzled veterans with an offer of collaboration or display of some new technology. If the librarian survives at all, he or she is liable to be scarred for the rest of a career by the snarling reply of “I’ve got too much to do as it is,” or “what can you teach that I can’t.” Sure, the words might not be exactly so brutal (but I’ve seen them exactly so) but the sentiment is there. That kind of coldness can freeze a librarian into his library for the rest of the year.

It only takes one or two of this type of educator on a faculty to bring any hope of innovation to a crawl and to spread a generally negative miasma over everything in the building. The smaller the school the more pronounced the effect.

Sadly, not all of these human roadblocks to progress are old and grey. Some are young and in the wrong profession while some are middle-aged and burned out. They all share a common component though — they fear change right to the very quivering soul of their beings. Many of them were once as idealistic and gung ho as the colleagues and supervisors they now regularly shoot down. They had hopes and dreams of great lessons and lovely children. Lots of them probably had fond, loving memories of school days.

Now though, everything has changed and they are frustrated, insecure, and often bitter. Usually the realization that things have changed and they hate doing this comes too late. They have too many years in the system to quit or, worse, they don’t know what else they could do if they weren’t in education. As much as their attitudes frustrate me to no end, I can’t help but feel pity for them. I know fully the deep rooted misery that comes with dragging oneself out of bed every morning to go to a “job” rather than bouncing up to get to the latest day in a “career.” It’s just a bad situation all around.

So what can we do against such soul-numbing, embittered and negative obstructionist people? Not much, really. Try to go around them if you can. Work towards building strong relationships with more positive faculty members who want to innovate and grow. If enough of you can get together, you can begin to push back the negative cloud. Keep on reaching out to the crusty ones, though. Sure, you’ll fail with them more than succeed, but who knows? Daddy always said even a blind hog’ll find an acorn every now and then. Most importantly, keep your own positiveness about you. I know it’s hard to be Annie-full-of-Sunshine when it’s not really your personality, but keep trying.

Finally, if all else fails, get on your school’s version of the Special Occasions Committee and make sure every retirement or transfer at the end of the year is a HUGE blowout party. That way, maybe you’ll entice some of the dead wood to leave the forest earlier that they otherwise would have and, like Papa John and some of his friends always said, “The right funeral can solve a lot of problems,” so keep your black dress or suit cleaned and pressed. You never know . . .

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