Richard Wolf 02-16-2016

Justice Antonin Scalia with Cardinal Donald Wuerl. Image via REUTERS/Benjamin Myers/RNS

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s funeral will be held Feb. 20 at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, the largest Roman Catholic church in North America, according to media reports. The late justice will lie in repose at the Supreme Court on Feb. 19, following in a tradition last observed after the death of Chief Justice William Rehnquist in 2005.

Christian Piatt 03-11-2015
A rose on a stone. Image courtesy wrangler/

A rose on a stone. Image courtesy wrangler/

One of the principal goals of My Jesus Project, a yearlong effort to better understand what we mean when we talk about following Jesus, is to practice and embody right-heartedness, or what I call “orthopathy.” I believe that, though our beliefs — orthodoxy — and our actions — orthopraxy — are important, both are anemically informed and out of balance in a Christ-like life if the so-called heart work doesn’t come first, to inform the other two.

Some of which I saw when reading prominent voices within the Southern Baptist Convention criticize Rev. Dr. Fred Craddock, known as one of the most influential voices in preaching in the past century, before his body was even in the ground. Craddock, who was 86 and had struggled with Parkinsons for a long time, died on March 7. He left behind a family, an extensive publishing library, and a nonprofit — The Craddock Center — that has done tremendous work for those trapped in poverty in Appalachia.

Two days after Craddock’s death, Jason Allen, president of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Mo., reduced in a blog post Craddock’s lifetime of preaching work to “a mild-mannered man encouraging mild-mannered people to be more mild-mannered” — on March 9, the day of Craddock’s funeral.

He also called Craddock’s essential claims to be “dead wrong,” claiming that it led to “no true preaching.”

Criticism of Craddock by members of the Southern Baptist Convention is not new. But there’s a big difference between lodging criticism a half dozen years before a man’s death and doing so the day of his funeral. Allen brazenly demonstrates one of the greatest dangers in what I have often called “valuing our ideology over others' humanity,” which dehumanizes and denigrates as a result.

This dehumanization does not play political or ideological favorites, either — any of us can fall prey to this trap when we hold our beliefs closer than our love of God, neighbor, and self.

Joe Kay 08-27-2014
Henrik Lehnerer /

Henrik Lehnerer /

The television show Castle involves a mystery writer (Richard Castle) who helps a New York City homicide detective (Kate Beckett) solve tough cases. Beckett decided to become a police officer after her mother, a community activist, was murdered and the case was never solved.

In one episode, Castle notices that Beckett keeps a stick figure in the top drawer of her desk at the precinct. It’s odd-looking. The sticks that form the limbs don’t match exactly. The head looks like one of those football-shaped coin purses. It’s all held together by what appears to be seaweed and twine.

Castle wants to know the story behind it.

Beckett tells how on the day of her mother’s funeral, she was really sad so her father took her to Coney Island, one of her favorite places. They walked along the beach in their funeral clothes for a long time. It became a special time for the two of them.

At one point, they decided to gather items that had washed up on the beach and they made the stick figure.

So, why does she keep it in her drawer?

“He’s a reminder,“ Beckett says, “that even on the worst days, there is a possibility for joy.“

Photo by Christian Gooden, courtesy of St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Rev. Al Sharpton speaks at Greater Grace Church in Florissant. Photo by Christian Gooden, courtesy of St. Louis Post-Dispatch

ST. LOUIS — Justice was a recurring theme as thousands of mourners packed the mammoth Friendly Temple Missionary Baptist Church on Monday for the funeral of Michael Brown, a black teen whose fatal shooting following a confrontation with a white police officer set off weeks of sometimes violent protests.

The Rev. Al Sharpton, among the speakers, called for a “fair and impartial investigation” into the shooting.

“We are not anti-police, we respect police,” Sharpton said. “But those police that are wrong need to be dealt with just like those in our community who are wrong need to be dealt with.”

Benjamin Crump, a lawyer representing Brown’s family, alluded to the “three-fifths” clause in the Constitution for counting slaves (which actually was an anti-slavery clause) and demanded that Brown get “full justice, not three-fifths justice.”

Brown’s body was being laid to rest, but the controversy surrounding the Aug. 9 shooting was far from over. Prosecutors have not determined whether the Ferguson police officer, 28-year-old Darren Wilson, will face charges in Brown’s death.

Bishop Howard J. Hubbard of Albany, N.Y., blesses Kateri Meadow Natural Burial Preserve. Photo: Albany Diocesan Cemeteries / RNS

Growing up in small-town Georgia, John B. Johnson had family friends who ran the funeral home down the street, so the particulars of a typical American funeral — the embalming, the heavy casket, and remarks about how great the deceased’s hair looked — were all familiar to him.

When the time came, he assumed, his funeral would look much the same.

But Johnson, now 44, envisions a different sort of send-off for himself: a “green burial” that draws both upon his faith and his commitment to the environment. For Johnson and others like him, a green burial is a way to care for the Earth and answer to the part of his soul that recoils at the pomp of the average American funeral, and takes seriously the biblical reminder: “For dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.”

FBI image of Tamerlan Tsarnaev

FBI image of Tamerlan Tsarnaev

An undisclosed community on Wednesday accepted the body of Boston bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev, which is now “entombed,” according to police in Worcester, Mass.

Tsarnaev’s uncle, Ruslan Tsarni, found a funeral home in Worcester to handle the body, but had struggled to get a cemetery to accept it. The Boston Globe reported that the body is buried in a community outside Massachusetts.

“As a result of our public appeal for help, a courageous and compassionate individual came forward to provide the assistance needed to properly bury the deceased,” read a statement posted on the Worcester Police Department’s website.

Richard A. Webster 10-29-2012

NEW ORLEANS -- In a sometimes harshly worded ruling, a federal appeals court last week smacked down the Louisiana funeral board's continued attempts to prevent a group of monks from St. Joseph Abbey from selling their hand-crafted caskets.

"The great deference due state economic regulation (does not require) courts to accept nonsensical explanations for naked transfers of wealth," wrote Judges Patrick Higginbotham, Catharina Haynes and Stephen A. Higginson of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Oct. 23. "We insist that Louisiana's rules not be irrational."

The appellate judges sent the case to the Louisiana Supreme Court, refusing to consider the funeral board's appeal of a lower court ruling that said it was unconstitutional for the state to give funeral directors exclusive rights to sell caskets.

"Simply put, there is nothing in the licensing procedures that bestows any benefit to the public in the context of the retail sale of caskets," U.S. District Court Judge Stanwood R. Duval Jr. ruled in July 2011. "The license has no bearing on the manufacturing and sale of coffins. It appears that the sole reason for these laws is the economic protection of the funeral industry," which he wrote is not "a valid government interest."

After Hurricane Katrina destroyed the abbey's timberland outside Covington, La., a longtime a source of revenue, the monks decided to sell their handmade caskets as a way to supplement their income. The abbey invested $200,000 in St. Joseph Woodworks and sold two types of caskets, "monastic" and "traditional," priced at $1,500 and $2,000 respectively.

"To be sure, Louisiana does not regulate the use of a casket, container, or other enclosure for the burial remains; has no requirements for the construction or design of caskets; and does not require that caskets be sealed," the appeals court ruled.

Daniel Burke 08-10-2012
Candles photo, Ekaterina Pokrovsky /

Candles photo, Ekaterina Pokrovsky /

Funeral services will be held today for the six Sikhs killed at a Wisconsin temple last Sunday. The bodies of the deceased will later be cremated —  but their souls will live on, Sikh tradition teaches.

Sikh scriptures don't dwell on what happens after death. Instead, the faith focuses on earthly duties, such as honoring God, performing charity and promoting justice.

"The afterlife is not a primary concern," said Gurinder Singh Mann, a religious studies professor at the University of California-Santa Barbara. "It's a very life-affirming belief system."

Still, like many religions, Sikhism includes intimations of immortality.

Founded in 15th-century India, Sikhism was born in the same cradle as Hinduism and Buddhism, both of which posit reincarnation. Like those faiths, Sikhism teaches that the goal is to escape from the cycle of death and rebirth.

But unlike Hindus and Buddhists, Sikhs believe that humans can't liberate themselves through meditation and virtuous living — only God's grace offers freedom from rebirth.

"We don't think that, 'Well, I've done these wonderful things, I get a ticket to heaven,'" said Mann. "That's a divine decision."

The Washington Post/Getty Images

The Washington Post/Getty Images

Prison Fellowship founder and Watergate figure Chuck Colson will be buried privately with full military honors at Quantico National Cemetery, with a public memorial service expected later at Washington National Cathedral.

Colson, who died Saturday (April 21) at age 80 after a brief illness, served as a captain in the Marines.

Michelle Farmer, a spokeswoman for Prison Fellowship, said Tuesday the family graveside service at the Virginia cemetery will occur “in the coming days.”

the Web Editors 03-21-2012

Egyptian Christian Copts wait in the queue at St. Mark's Coptic Cathedral. (GIANLUIGI GUERCIA/AFP/Getty Images)

Tens of thousands of Coptic Christians mourned the death of Pope Shenouda III in a funeral mass at St. Mark’s Cathedral in Cairo. Thousands more, unable to get inside, crowded the streets outside the Cathedral. The rite was movingly chanted by bearded, black-robed priests and monks as mourners joined in and wept.

Following the mass, The Pope’s body was flown to Wadi al-Natroun, a fourth-century monastery in the northwest Nile Delta for internment.

Tracy Gordon 03-19-2012

Egyptian Christian Copts wait in the queue at St. Mark's Coptic Cathedral. (GIANLUIGI GUERCIA/AFP/Getty Images)

Egyptian Christians are mourning the death of Pope Shenouda III, the longtime leader of the Coptic Orthodox Church, who died on Saturday (March 17) at the age of 88.

His funeral will be on Wednesday (March 21) at St. Mark's Cathedral in Cairo, where his body has been sitting in state on a large wooden throne.

Tributes have come in from around the world, with Pope Benedict XVI offering prayers and President Obama praising Pope Shenouda as an "advocate for tolerance and religious dialogue."

Fan signs a poster for singer Whitney Houston at the New Hope Baptist Church, Ne

Fan signs a poster for singer Whitney Houston at the New Hope Baptist Church, Newark, New Jersey. Photo by STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty

NEWARK, N.J. — With TV trucks and camera crews clogging the streets and thousands of fans hoping for a glimpse of the event, Whitney Houston's family has decided that no one but invited guests will get near her funeral on Saturday.

That means no procession, no video screens outside the New Hope Baptist Church for the noon service — and no fans who want to pay their respects.

City streets will be locked down for six square blocks around the church beginning at 7 a.m. Saturday, Newark Police Director Samuel DeMaio said.

Celebrities from Aretha Franklin (who is Houston's godmother) to the Rev. Jesse Jackson have been invited to the funeral. Others confirmed on the guest list, according to CNN, are Chaka Khan, BeBe and CeCe Winans, songwriter Diane Warren, pop singer Darlene Love, Bishop T.D. Jakes, Antonio "L.A." Reid, Ray J and Brandy.

No one without an invitation will get into the service for the 48-year-old singer who died Saturday in her Beverly Hills Hilton hotel room.

Grammy-winning Gospel singer Marvin Winans. Image via Getty Images.

Grammy-winning Gospel singer Marvin Winans. Image via Getty Images.

NEWARK, N.J. — Grammy Award winner and longtime family friend Marvin Winans will deliver the eulogy for Whitney Houston during her funeral Saturday (Feb.  18) at the New Hope Baptist Church in Newark, the church pastor said Tuesday night.

Houston’s family rejected a public final farewell to the pop icon, choosing instead to hold a private, invitation-only funeral at New Hope, the singer’s childhood church, which seats about 1,500. The Rev. Joe A. Carter, pastor at New Hope Baptist Church, said he will officiate the service, scheduled to begin at noon. Houston was born in Newark and raised in nearby East Orange.

Winans, who also serves as the lead pastor at Detroit’s Perfecting Church, told the Detroit Free Press that he felt like he had lost a sibling when he learned the 48-year-old singer had died Saturday in Beverly Hills, Calif.

Houston’s mother, gospel singer Cissy Houston, her cousin Dionne Warwick, and other family members gathered at Whigham Funeral Home in Newark well into the early morning hours Tuesday to shape plans for the service, funeral director Carolyn Whigham said.

Christian Piatt 01-27-2012
Grim Reaper by Getty Images

Grim Reaper by Getty Images

I’ve been writing this week about inspired vision and embracing radical change even in the face of the death of present systems. But the experience is different when applying the same principles to our own lives. The following is taken from my upcoming memoir, PregMANcy, due out in a few weeks. The setting is about four years ago, when my son, Mattias, decided his latest obsession would be death.


I’ve noticed that Mattias has been more fearful in general lately, which concerns me. Part of it, I think, has to do simply with the fact that he’s smart enough to think through possible scenarios. As I’ve observed with him a number of times before in the last two years, he’s able to process a whole lot more intellectually than he can process emotionally. Eventually, his emotional wisdom should have plenty of opportunity to catch up, but for a four-year-old, any gap in development is more pronounced.

Two years ago, when he was only a year and a half old, Mattias was jumping from the side of the pool into my arms and going underwater. Last summer, he and his cousin spent most of every waking hour in their grandmothers’ pool, diving to the bottom for toys and to do tricks. Now, with floaties on both arms, a mask and a snorkel, it’s all I can to do get him off of the top step in the shallow end.

What the hell happened?

Duane Shank 09-22-2011
Every time I think I've exhausted my outrage capacity, I see something new to refuel it.