I grew up remembering when TLC stood for “The Learning Channel.” It was filled with educational programs designed to spark imaginative and creative thinking. Well, it seems those days are long gone. Now a days, “TLC’ appears to stand for: “Tramps, Losers, and Crazies.” Let me tell you, programs like ‘Gypsie Sisters’, ‘Long Island Medium’, and ‘Buying Naked’ make for some high quality television. Now you can add “Best Funeral Ever’ to the classy TLC line up.
Seriously. I mean it; this isn’t a joke.
Best Funeral Ever airs on Monday nights and focuses on The Golden Gate Funeral Home in Dallas, Texas. While the program has been airing in the US for some time, it is making its first foray into the Canadian market. If you are unfamiliar with the premise, Golden Gate Funeral Home offers a unique style of funeral services, a style which Director John Beckwith Jr. defines as ‘their take on a traditional funeral.’
That would be putting it politely. The services offered by Golden Gate are not so much a take on traditional liturgy as they are a full on abdication of it. Services are based on theme and to that theme everything must relate. TLC’s sneak peak reel of this program depicts the loved one’s remains (in either casket or urn) being placed in the centre of a wrestling ring; a Game Show wheel, an old-fashioned western shootout, and sliding down a giant slide in the arms of a giggling grandchild. The Pastors who officiate these services (and who are employed by the funeral home) dress in thematic attire and preach about the wonders of the theme. HuffingtonPost reports that the funeral for Willie McCoy (who sang the Chili’s ‘Baby-back ribs’ theme song) involved the Pastor wearing a chef’s hat and surrounded by live pigs.
Yet Golden Gate doesn’t simply offer traditional liturgy in non-traditional forums. This isn’t merely liturgy lite. As I said, everything serves the larger theme. Even the hymnody of the service is defined by the theme. In a breakfast themed funeral, a blue-robed choir sang out the glories of breakfast. “Breakfast, Breakfast, Waffles Bacon and Eggs and it’s all mine. Breakfast, Breakfast, Eating breakfast in the morning time!” The Pastor responds to this rousing chant by preaching ‘throw some sausage on the side!’
Obviously, as someone who conducts funeral services myself, I find this show all types of appalling. While I do not object to a grieving family wishing that the personality and interests of the deceased be reflected in a service, Golden Gate goes a little too far. It’s one thing to display a loved one’s prized bowling memorabilia, it’s quite another thing to actually push a casket down a bowling lane! (see video here)
The deep problem with this program is not the outrageous costumes or the ridiculous themes, but how it portrays Christian worship. Worship is seen only in the context of an enthusiastic party. It is high energy. It is rousing. It is exciting. But more importantly, it is centered on the self. What is worshiped is not the Lord of heaven and earth, but entertainment.
It seems to me that Golden Gate is not in the funeral business; they are in the business of throwing parties. Cloaked under the guise of ministry to the grieving, Golden Gate is no more than a high end party-planner. Their mandate is to make people feel happy and have a ‘good time.’ Funeral director John Beckwith Jr. is even quoted as saying that their desire is to ‘make these families extremely happy during the worst moments of their life.’ For Golden Gate Funeral home, a funeral as not an act by which mourning family and friends enter into a service of worship in order to share a sense of communal grief. It is an excuse to throw a party. The underlying spiritual message in each and every one of the services that Golden Gate provides is that worship must make you feel happy and excited.
This is a completely unbiblical approach to worship, not to mention the matters of life and death. It is unbiblical because while they speak of God, there is no recognition of a God who would lead one through the shadows of death. While they use the language of Jesus, it is not a Jesus who would ever stand weeping at the loss of his friend. The god held up in the midst of these glitzy services is the god of the self; that which is worshiped is nothing but entertainment and self-centered happiness. Simply put, Best Funeral Ever is idolatrous.
See, part of the beauty of our worship is that it is able to touch both the vibrant and the dark places of our lives. The worship of the church doesn’t side-step all that is painful and hurtful. Rather we willingly participate in acts of lamentation, mourning, and grief. We do so in the knowledge that even in those places we are never alone. The beauty of Christian worship is that it is not dependent upon our individual feelings or experiences, but only on the presence of our Lord who is continually in our midst. Turning the focus away from God and onto own selves only serves to deaden our ability to receive the God’s comfort and peace.
If this program becomes popular, I shudder to think what funeral requests may be coming my way. But who knows, perhaps all this could have a positive effect. Perhaps Best Funeral Ever will inadvertently shine a light on the emptiness found in services of self-glorifying extravaganza. Perhaps viewing that which is completely opposite will help people uncover the deep healing and comfort that comes from having God as center of life and death. Perhaps viewing the over the top ridiculousness of high energy funeral parties will make people yearn for deeper experiences of God in their lives. Who knows, like the prodigal who wakes up to the realization of how far he had drifted from his Father, perhaps this show will make people begin the journey home.
God willing, may this be so.