Looking Forwards or Backwards

Yesterday I was writing about the prominence of overtly Christian material on the supposedly secular airwaves in West Michigan... I don't know whether that is typical or not for the rest of the US but it is certainly atypical for the UK... even in the church-going area of Northern Ireland.
One of the pieces that has been played repeatedly while I've been here is MercyMe's "I Can only Imagine," which is musically OK (typical Christian-AOR), but theologically worrying because of the emphasis that it, and many similar songs have on the hereafter without seeing the implications for the here and now. But here it is anyway...

The thing is, it is so anodyne, I had heard it forty times before I realised it was Christian... And that time I only listened to it because it was played at the second funeral I officiated at here. And it is (and was) very appropriate in that context.
However, its words, and other events at that funeral, made me rethink what we are doing when we look ahead with a future hope, or back over a loved one's life.
As I reflected on my earlier post about American funerals, the whole business of saying goodbye to a loved one here is so much more high-tec... From the heavy metal caskets to the grave aprons and crank operated lift required to lower such behemoths into the ground, but also the use of desk top publishing to produce glossy potted biographies of the deceased for mourners to take away, and in the case of the second funeral I conducted, a permanent website dedicated to their memory.
I am sure that all these things are a comfort to those who have lost a loved one. And as with most things, what has begun in America will probably drift across the Atlantic in time, but I am slightly ambivalent about this.
Because just as looking forward to a "heavenly hope" can make us no earthly use, looking back on a person's memory in the form of a printed biography or a virtual lifestory, can cause us to forget that the best way to remember someone is to share what we learn from them in word and deed.
We look back with thanks and look forward with hope. But we live here and now in the grace of God...

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