A few observations for our purposes:
1. The President of the United States can get away with this. Clergy cannot. Do not ever, under any circumstances, pose for a smiley “Hey, let’s get this quick shot!” before, during or immediately after a funeral or when you are in your robes (at a funeral, that is). NEVAH! Even if it’s like, Mick Jagger, and he thinks it would be cool. Even if it’s PRESIDENT OBAMA. You can’t get away with it because your role at this occasion is ancient and sacred, babies. You are the intermediary between life and death, heaven and earth. You’re the shaman there, okay? You’re the one who is going to say the words and do the mojo on behalf of the living in the name of the dead. Don’t get too casual. Don’t forget your priestly function. You can pose for photos at the reception later if you want to, you know, with Mick and all.
2. It is not a half bad idea in today’s culture to include instructions to turn off or put away phones in your Opening Words or Welcome. Like I said, you’re the one taking on the shamanic role on behalf of a community that has largely lost touch with the numinous. People genuinely don’t know enough these days not to text during a funeral. This is a fine occasion upon which to let out your inner Cotton Mather. Practice your looks of non-aggressive disapproval before the service.
3. Your very own PeaceBang was doing a small graveside service and interment once when someone’s cell phone ringer went off. I paused, holding a silence at the end of a phrase, and did not look up. I figured that I would hear sounds of frantic scrambling by the guilty party grabbing the offending device to silence it, and that I was sparing the embarrassed person great humiliation by not directing any attention at them. I waited. One second. Two seconds. Three. I looked up and saw a schmendrick walking away from the grave with a phone to his hear. “Hey!” he stage whispered. “What’s up? I’m at a funeral so I can’t stay on long.”
I CAN’T STAY ON LONG.
Have you ever seen Key & Peele’s show? You know the character of Luther, President Obama’s Anger Translator? Google it. I think we need a clergy version of Luther — a guy who can show up, karate kick the air at times like this when we’re maintaining a gracious silence, and yell, “OH YOU CAN’T STAY ON LONG, HUH? YOU CAN’T STAY ON LONG, ‘CAUSE WE’RE PUTTING THIS LOVELY OLD WOMAN IN HER FINAL RESTING SPOT SIX FEET UNDER THE GROUND AND IN JUST ONE SECOND, SON, WE’RE GONNA THROW YOU DOWN THERE TOO!”
3. I have seen the images of the First Lady and she doesn’t look disapproving to me. She is simply maintaining decorum at an important formal occasion. Her husband broke decorum and should have known better, but his gaffe was not horrible. My sense of the funeral is that it was one of gratitude and hope, with lots of energy and love for a man who lived a long life, who triumphed over evil, and who had tremendous joy of spirit. Had the occasion been tragic, I feel confident that the three dignitaries would have maintained more somber demeanor.