At a memorial service today, two contrasting tones were set. There were speakers who remembered the deceased, who told stories, who said in their own words what they thought those stories meant about the values and the life of the lost one. And there was a substantial layer of theology placed over the top by the minister, in entirely different terms contributed by the institution. Because the minister spoke last and at length, it felt as though he took back the ceremony from the people who actually knew the deceased. It was as if the institution couldn't leave well enough alone, couldn't trust others to say the ceremonial word, couldn't allow the non-doctrinal word to be the last word, couldn't imagine that people could endure without the institution's organizing words. The gut reaction of the institution was to speak and speak, to speak over the top of the other voices, to honor generalities about a life when people who knew the particulars had just spoken. I was annoyed, but it gave me something to think about, not least of all because I m own training and station in the world gives me something of an institutional voice too.
There might even be more layers to the service, if you think about the music, both words and sounds, along with the interpretive moods of the singers, some of whom knew the deceased too and spoke, in a way, through their emotional performances.