Comic: Ecclesiastes 3 or the Byrds? 4

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Jef Mallett’s titular character “Frazz” is a janitor, song writer, and triathlete. If you are unfamiliar with his work, it really is great. He is witty, smart, and insightful. To be fair, sometimes too much so as it borders on preaching. You would be forgiven for thinking that this was Calvin and Hobbes in new clothes. Clearly the first strips of this year are heavily influenced by Watterson (but then again, which cartoonist is not today?). In this Sunday’s strip Caulfield, the precocious youngster who dresses as a literary reference every Halloween and clearly idealizes Frazz has this exchange with him.

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The fact that Caulfield should know both the Byrds and Ecclesiastes is impressive, but in keeping with this character. What it reminds me of, however, is the clergy member who performed an infant funeral for friends of ours. Their daughter was the same age as ours and we watched her while they went off to the hospital for delivery. There was no sign of anything but a nice easy delivery, just as with their first child. A few hours later the father came by to get their eldest and tell us that the baby had died at birth. They were not a religious couple, in fact she was a very certain atheist while he was part of a 12 step program and accepted that there may well be a “higher power.” Still, they wanted a minister to help with the funeral and we also wanted to offer what condolence we could.

I reached out to a good friend who was a priest in our parish (Episcopal). He met with them, but he insisted that he would use Scripture. They did not want that. I think his position was sound and fine, although I understand if some feel that his was not a “pastoral” response. I then put them in touch with another Episcopal priest I knew who also happened to be the hospital chaplain. He had no issues with excluding biblical language and texts.

We arrived for the graveside service, the only service they wanted, and the priest began a simple service. He then began a brief reading with this words. “A reading from a native American poem. ‘For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal…” Obviously it was 

Priest #1 might have taken a more pastoral approach of not reading Scripture, but still remaining with them and helping them through their grief. (He did, in fact, continue to counsel the father for a time.) Priest #2 agreed to not use Scripture, but then lied, using Ecclesiastes while attributing it to “native American” tradition. Who was the better pastor? Who was better serving the grieving parents?

Ecclesiastes is not the easiest book to read and it certainly doesn’t fit comfortably into Jewish and Christian theology without significant thought. Yet it does offer great comfort as the Preacher has wrestled with some of the most difficult issues of life and death. A few verses in chapter 3 would serve nicely as a conclusion to this, I think.

14 I know that whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it; God has done this, so that all should stand in awe before him.  15 That which is, already has been; that which is to be, already is; and God seeks out what has gone by.

 

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4 thoughts on “Comic: Ecclesiastes 3 or the Byrds?

  • Vance Neudorf

    Thanks for the comic on Ecclesiastes. I’ve never seen one that has mentioned the book and I’ve been studying it for the past 30 years. I completely agree with you that the book does fit nicely into either Jewish or Christian theology but I think that may be changing. I am seeing more interest in the book in recent years. I completed a translation of it in 2013, memorized it and now perform it for whomever will have me come and visit. This morning I performed at an evangelical church and the response was overwhelmingly positive. I think Kohelet may yet find the audience he deserves.

    Thanks again for sharing your story and the article. Your closing quote is from one of my favourite sections.
    “I clearly see there is nothing better than to be happy and enjoy ourselves for as long as we live. Each of us has been given the opportunity to eat and drink and find satisfaction in our work. That is God’s plan for us, and we cannot add to or subtract from his design. It fits us perfectly, for it achieves God’s purpose and causes us to honor him. That’s the way it was in the beginning, and it is the same today. Our future is rooted in the distant past, for God’s intent for us is consistent.”

  • Rick67

    An interesting question and challenge. I am less comfortable with what priest #2 did. Are there church guidelines on how clergy should handle situations like this? Serious question. On a different note, sometimes couples ask if I will perform the wedding, and I always ask “so why did you come to me, as a pastor?” If they have no interest in Christian faith frankly I would rather they not ask. But then… death is different. People don’t choose the circumstances. How can one minister to someone in crisis if they want nothing to do with talk of God or Scripture? Side note = “Turn Turn Turn” by The Byrds is the main ringtone on my phone – largely thanks to studying Qohelet with Bill Brown.