This was the eulogy (edited for coherence) I delivered at my grandmother’s funeral two years ago. Death is a terrible thing to face and witness, but my heart convinces me more and more each day that this is not the way things are supposed to be. If you like this, try also reading my other post.
I want to thank you all for coming to witness my grandmother’s passing. She was truly a great and loving woman and she was a tremendous blessing to her children, grand-children and great-grandchildren. It is amazing but all of the grandchildren were by her side for this time, something that I would not have been able to have imagined in thousands of years. I have just have a few things to describe about my grandmother.
My grandmother made sure everyone ate a ridiculous amount of food. My Korean is horrible, but I know Korean food well because of all of the things my grandmother made, 무말랭이 (spicy dried radish), 열무국수 (yulmoo kimchi noodles), 식혜 (a sweet rice drink), 동치미국수 (a water-based kimchi), 부추김치 (a chive-like kimchi) , 천국장 (stinky soybean soup). We all knew she made 천국장 “Chungook Jang” because the home smelled like feet that haven’t been washed for weeks. When I would protest the smell because I wanted friends to come over, she would say “너가 냄새 싫으면, 다른 집에서 살어” (If you dislike the smell so much, go live in a different house.) If you don’t believe my grandmother fed us well, I suggest you look at the waistlines of some my male cousins and you will have your answer. I always thought growing up in this family that being chubby was normal.
My grandmother also provided a point of refuge for my brother and I when my father punished us. For instance, when my father took us downstairs for punishment be it because we lied to him, burned our report cards and flushed it down the toilet he made us stand in the garage with our hands held above our heads and hold that position while he brooded over the appropriate amount of spanking. There was nobody we could appeal to it seemed, and as we were bracing for the worst, when we suddenly heard slow steady footsteps creaking down the stairs. My halmoni came down and said, “에비야 고만” (No more). My father replied “Umma!”, as it was obvious he was trying to say “Mom, leave me alone, they need to be punished!” Again she said the same thing, and we knew my father had to obey. I still smile like a little punk over that incident knowing full well we didn’t get what we really deserved. Living with halmoni was awesome knowing my father was ultimately not king of the household when my brother and I did stupid things. Perhaps some can even call that grace.
The grandmother we knew was an extremely strong woman, so it was difficult for all of us to see her fade in such a way. This was a woman who picked acorns outside with Amy and Allen to make food, cooked with Anna, Kathleen and Shauna, poked needles into Brian’s fingers and toes as a cure for whatever stomach ailment he had and even cut up pieces of cheese into bite size pieces for Edlin to put in his cereal (Who knows why this was considered tasty? to each their own).
As we approached this time, we all became increasingly frustrated to see her body falling apart. She could no longer walk, she ate less and less and she was even refusing water. Our comfort that we provided was our best but still lacking, her knees still ached, she became more and more dizzy, she became more and more saddened. Our halmoni fed us when we were hungry, comforted us when we were sick and got angry with us when somebody wronged our family. This disparity pointed to a biting irony in our own lives.
Death is awful, there is no way around it. Regardless of whether you believe God is Jesus Christ or whether you think God is a figment of the imaginations of many poor and lost idiots, the pain and sting of death is a problem faced by a person regardless of his faith or worldview. I don’t know why; but my grandmother’s body failed. We are defined by this fact, our very existence, even my halmoni’s is a fallen one; we are all destined for death. Yet, if we dwell on this point and ask why too much, we fall into the trap of seeing life as an incomplete story, as Macbeth says “full of sound and a fury, signifying nothing” But I want to point us into a different direction; I know we might have our own views and faiths, but I want to direct us to the Christian view that speaks to me and I hope can help us all during this time.
One of the greatest things about my faith is that it does not merely say God has created us and loved us; but it says “Emmanuel” God is with us. When the scriptures say this we are not talking about a foggy spirit that lurks among us. But this is a God who is with us, beside us and IDENTIFIES with us. Jesus felt pity for the poor leper that he restored his health, He was alongside Mary and Martha when their brother Lazarus died. As the Rev. Tim Keller has said, God binds with the suffering to the extent that he feels any move against them is a move against him.
The story continues though because in this world of pain and suffering God does not just give us rules to follow and leave us be. He is a God who gets his hands dirty for us. He cried out for his children so much that he demonstrated his love for us by sending His son to die on the cross. It becomes easier for me to accept God when he is willing to become drawn in this suffering we fear. When Jesus was on the cross, he cried not for himself but for all of us. The Cross is the reason why I believe God is not somebody who doesn’t care for me. God doesn’t merely tell me He loves me, but He shows me. But I don’t think this is the final story either.
In Revelation it says:
See the home of God is among mortals, He will dwell with them; they will be his people ad God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.
See, I am making all things new.
This is the ultimate promise my grandmother and we all have. We know our limits, we saw how helpless we were to stop our grandmother’s eventual demise. Yet we have a new hope, that we will be completely restored and made new, that sickness and despair are gone, and we will not know pain. Our story is not incomplete knowing we will see each other perfected, ultimately with our Creator.
I know my grandmother took care of us in so many ways and for that we feel forever indebted. We all felt at home going into her arms, dwelling in her room and feeling her love. In the same way we need to rejoice, because she is being cared for infinitely better than she ever cared for us. The day before she died, she cried out to go back home. She was able to pass away in her bedroom among her entire family in a place we thought of as her home.
But, we must know that, that was not her home. In the same way we joyfully came to her, she can be relieved and see the arms God open wide and His voice tell her, “Come to me all, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”
Halmoni, rest in peace, you have made it home.
July 30, 2008
My latest post got some interesting discussion, and the latest article by David Brooks is spot on about our own inflated sense of self.
Per David Brooks:
The narcissistic person is marked by a grandiose self-image, a constant need for admiration, and a general lack of empathy for others. He is the keeper of a sacred flame, which is the flame he holds to celebrate himself………His self-love is his most precious possession. It is the holy center of all that is sacred and right. He is hypersensitive about anybody who might splatter or disregard his greatness. If someone treats him slightingly, he perceives that as a deliberate and heinous attack. If someone threatens his reputation, he regards this as an act of blasphemy. He feels justified in punishing the attacker for this moral outrage.
Hrmm, I wonder who that narcissist is? The title says Mel Gibson, but wait a second, he continues….
In their book, “The Narcissism Epidemic,” Jean M. Twenge and W. Keith Campbell cite data to suggest that at least since the 1970s, we have suffered from national self-esteem inflation. They cite my favorite piece of sociological data: In 1950, thousands of teenagers were asked if they considered themselves an “important person.” Twelve percent said yes. In the late 1980s, another few thousand were asked. This time, 80 percent of girls and 77 percent of boys said yes.
But, Carl Trueman decides to lay the hammer down. He does an amazing job, discussing the human infatuation with self. This is a great little essay on how many Christians, have this very issue.
The problem today is that too many have the idea that God’s primary plan is for them, and the church is secondary, the instrument to the realization of their individual significance. They may not even realize they think that way but, like those involuntary `tells’ at a poker game, so certain unconscious spiritual behaviours give the game away.
I suppose my tell is quite obvious, I write a blog. Not so sure how much more self-important I think I could get. =) I discussed this before regarding relationships and marriage in a wider context, Trueman makes a similar point about church commitment. The narrative is similar though, “Why should I continue my commitment to X church, Y person, when they aren’t meeting my standards?” Roughly translated, “I think I am more special than X or Y and thus am deserving of something better/more significant.”
Christians themselves seem to have similar issues in this regard.
The West worships the individual; from the cradle to the grave it tells us all how special and unique each of us is, how vital we are to everything, how there is a prize out there just for us. Well, the world turned for thousands of years before any of us showed up; it will continue turning long after we’ve gone, short of the parousia; and even if you, me, or the Christian next door are tonight hit by an asteroid, kidnapped by aliens, or sucked down the bathroom plughole, very little will actually change; even our loved ones will somehow find a way to carry on without us. We really are not that important. So let’s drop the pious prayers which translate roughly as `Lord, how can a special guy/gal like myself help you out some?’ and pray rather that the Lord will grow his kingdom despite our continual screw ups, that he will keep us from knocking over the furniture, and that, when all is said and done, somehow, by God’s grace, we will finish well despite our best efforts to the contrary.
Perhaps this is a huge reason why authors like Joel Osteen and the prosperity gospel succeed. What gospel is better than a gospel that tells you “Your best life is now!” or God’s purpose is grand for you here on earth. It’s funny because this sort of thinking is not just pervasive in the West, but has found a niche in Korean Christian communities as well. Take the parable about the talents. In my youth I have heard this sermon countless times about why I should become an Ivy League graduate/doctor/rich etc. Yet, the issue isn’t necessarily now that we’ve been misusing our talents. I think its everyone thinks they have 10 talents that God needs us to share. The weight of these expectations can be humbling to all and ultimately unsatisfying. The emphasis on our own work is the antithesis of the gospel.
I think this can be a major turn-0ff to non-believers as well. Some of the modern, evangelical identity has been rooted on the American sense of manifest destiny. While Christians and finance guys have often found themselves is a convenient relationship, its a perilous one as well. Listening to the talk radio or watching Fox News can lead one to think that a Christian’s main responsibility is to have a “Protestant work ethic” and defend an unalienable right against taxation. While I certainly do support the basis behind these ideas, I wonder why they have become the crux of even some purportedly Christian commentators.
Take this article on the housing crisis:
In 2004, Walton was researching a book about black televangelists. “I would hear consistent testimonies about how ‘once I was renting and now God let me own my own home,’ or ‘I was afraid of the loan officer, but God directed him to ignore my bad credit and blessed me with my first home,’” he says. “This trope was so common in these churches that I just became immune to it. Only later did I connect it to this disaster.”
Lin finds the message at prosperity churches to be quintessentially American. “They are taught they can do absolutely anything, and it’s God’s will. They become part of the elect, the chosen. They get swept up in the manifest destiny, this idea that God has lifted Americans above everyone else.”
It all really boils down to one thing: idolatry. OK sure, we aren’t making golden calves and worshiping anytime soon. Its a bit more dangerous actually. G.K. Chesterton once said, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.” In fact, its been changed and found convenient. Take God and fit Him in a box that matches perfectly with our worldview. I read the Bible and think maybe God wants me to be like Daniel, an impressive leader in a secular world, or perhaps Joseph of Arimathea, a slightly more esoteric figure, but nonetheless a rich one. Cha-Ching! Perhaps, a sexy story of redemption like Peter, but only if I get to be one of the greatest leaders in church history!
Or I could acknowledge why God called for children to come to Him, because of an inherent recognition of helplessness that each of them had in a world much greater than they could ever imagine. It should be clear if I believe in an all-powerful God, whatever significance I think I hold with my status/money/education etc. is probably not at all that significant.
Who knows what my “destiny” holds? But the first thing I need to realize is often when I put God in a box and worship it, all I am really looking at is a glorified mirror.