Wednesday, March 1, 2017

A Eulogy

Note: This is the eulogy I delivered at my brother Jim's funeral, Tuesday, February 28, 2017

In Memoriam
Rev. James C. Moody
August 7, 1956 – February 24, 2017

Jim loved the movies. There was nothing he enjoyed more than sitting in a dark theater watching a great movie, with a bag of popcorn, a soda, some cheese nachos, a slice of pizza, a hot dog with chili and jalapeƱos, and a big candy bar.

Going to a movie was like a family reunion for him. It was a meal. An event. He didn’t just watch movies, he looked for insights from them, for life lessons that he carried into his ministry, his preaching, and his own living. That’s what movies are supposed to do—teach us, move us, transform us—take us out of our lives for a couple of hours and then put us back in them wiser and more human.  Come to think of it, that is what church is supposed to do, as well. Jim understood that.

We had a debate over the movie “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” It’s one of my favorites. Audrey Hepburn is adorable and beautiful in it. And George Peppard was brilliant. Jim and I were talking one day about movies and I mentioned that was one of my favorites. He said he didn’t like it. What? Why? He said it was boring, that he didn’t think he’d even seen all of it.

So next time I saw him I brought him a DVD of “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” I said, “Here, watch it all the way through and then tell me if you don’t like it.” He laughed and said okay. Next time I saw him we were talking and I said, “Hey, did you watch Breakfast at Tiffany’s?" He said he had. And? He said it was okay. But he thought it was “cheesy,” sort of sappy and syrupy.

Here is one of the differences between Jim and me. I am a hopeless idealist and a sort of pathetic romantic. I love cheesy. I’m about 90% cheesy. Jim, on the other hand, was realistic. He didn’t have any use for anything that was shallow, bogus, or phony. He was more practical. He wanted the real thing.

Whether it was people in love, or someone’s faith, or people claiming certain rights, Jim wanted it real.

I think his illness made him that way. He didn’t have time for easy, superficial things. Plus, he knew how hard life can be, and that inner spiritual strength is often required of us.

Imagine living with a slowly progressive disease where day after day, year after year, you experience more and more weakness in your arms and legs, you sometimes have difficulty speaking or swallowing, your thoughts are fuzzy now and then with bouts of mild depression, all the while serving as a career minister, preaching, supervising an active congregation, taking care of the sick and dying, performing weddings and funerals. That was Jim’s life. And with everything that was against him physically, he did it professionally, courageously, and compassionately.

I told him he needed more cheesiness in his life. He just laughed. But the truth is, I needed his steady faith, his reasonableness, his tenacious relationship with reality.

He was in many ways a traditionalist. He loved the old Gospel; the story of the Cross; Jesus dying for our sins; the hope of eternal life.

I became this wild liberal in the family with stubborn questions and unorthodox ideas about God and Church and faith. Jim was a perfect balance to that for me. He stayed true to the historic beliefs. And that inspired and instructed me.

We had great times together. Vacations, golf outings, going to the movies, talking politics and theology, searching for the truth wherever we could find it.

For someone whose life had become so confined, his was still open to searching and learning and love.

Jim was a wonderful, gifted preacher and worship leader. He loved a good sermon whether it was his or someone else’s. He faithfully served four congregations over many years until he was no longer physically able to do it. And he would often talk of the people he knew and loved in those churches.

He was the best father he could be given all of his limitations. He fully supported Natalie and Jeff in everything they did. He cherished their love.

He would not have survived as long as he did without Natalie’s determined and loving care. Jim could sometimes be difficult. Sometimes he didn’t want to be cared for. That never stopped Natalie, thank goodness.

Daughters have this strange ability to win us dads over even when we don’t want them to. Natalie won every battle with Jim, even when he didn’t know it. We didn’t tell him.

We often think that suffering is some kind of gift, that only special people are chosen to endure it. But that’s not really true. We forget or ignore the terrible boredom and waste of suffering. Jim knew this well.

The poet, W.S. Merwin wrote,
“Send me out into another life, Lord,
Because this one is growing faint,
I do not think it goes all the way.”

It did not go all the way for Jim and there is nothing wrong in our admitting that and mourning it. His life should have gone on a lot further, whole and healthy for long years to come. That it didn’t was a tragedy for him and for all of us who loved him.

Jim joined the ranks of those who suffered long and endlessly and who with their courage and dignity and spirit have said, “Don’t pity us. Don’t treat us like victims. We are more than our hardships.”

Jim was always more than his illness.

There is that scene in the final movie of “The Lord of the Rings” Trilogy, “The Return of the King,” where the evil ORCS are about to breach the gates to murder and plunder the city. The wise leader Gandalf and the small Hobbit Pippen sit on stone steps realizing the end is near. They are bone weary, covered in blood and sweat and grime from the battle. Pippen looks at the large wooden gates where the only soldiers left are building a hopeless barricade.  Everything becomes strangely quiet and Pippen looks to Gandalf and wearily says, “I didn’t think it would end this way.” Gandalf looks gently at the small Hobbit and says, “End? No, the journey doesn’t end here. Death is just another path, one we all must take.” Pippen is still fearful. Gandalf looks into the distance in a kind of gaze and says, “The grey rain curtain of this world rolls back and all turns to silver glass…and then you see it.” His eyes are shining. And Pippen says, “What, Gandalf? What do we see?” Gandalf says, “White shores, and beyond, a far green country under a swift sunrise.” Pippen says, “Well, that isn’t so bad.” “No,” says Gandalf, “No, it isn’t.”

We don’t really know what exists after we die. There is the speculation of philosophers. There are the warnings of gloomy prophets. There are the dreams of poets. There are the lovely visions in Scripture. We honestly don’t know for sure. But there is something instinctively human, or maybe it’s something divine inside me that tells me, whatever is beyond this life is good and beautiful and safe. And Jim is there.

Writer and journalist, Mary Elizabeth Williams, tells of a time not long after her grandfather’s death, when she and her husband and children took an extended vacation. At the end of it they stopped by the old home place and visited her grandfather’s grave. I think she expresses what we all feel today. She writes,

“So we marveled at spring flowers that Grandpa didn't get to see this year. We reminisced about trips past that he'd been part of. Sometimes, we were even happy enough to forget we were sad. And as is inevitably the case, when we got down to the last day, our dwindling time became increasingly bittersweet. We ate ice cream cones, savoring them until they dripped down our arms. We took a million pictures of our last sunset. We said goodbye. That's how it is at the end -- whether it's a trip greatly enjoyed or a life well lived. The pleasure of being there is infused with the sadness of leaving. We look back over a shoulder one last time, hoping to hang on to the memories forever. And we want to keep saying, again and again and again, enough to last to the end of our own lifetime-- "We loved you deeply, we loved you, we loved you."


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