On Naming the Dead and why I’ll say Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Name Next Sunday in Church

There are only two community worship experiences that we do where we name a list of all of the recently departed in a row: All Philip-Seymour-Hoffman-Saints (in November) and the Easter Vigil (the night before Easter).

And slowly and surely I’ve started to include not just the saints of the church who have passed on in recent years, but also celebrities, activists, politicians, and local heroes.

And I’ve started naming them on Sundays, too, when we give thanks for the saints who have gone before us. Like today I read out Pete Seeger’s name as a faithful witness in this world to the life of God shown in the Christ.

Was Seeger a Christian?  I don’t know.  I know he had a godchild.  I heard an interview with her on NPR. But there are plenty of people who have godchildren and don’t identify as “Christian.” I don’t think it matters in this case.  If there’s anyone who lived into the Beatitudes as a peacemaker, I feel Seeger is it.

We named him.  And we’ll name Philip Seymour Hoffman next week, too. Because it is less about how they identified themselves, and more about how God has identified them: child of God.

And, to be honest, Philip Seymour Hoffman touched me, and so many people, in his work that I think we’d do collective harm in not publicly grieving for him in some way; in some faithful way.  And I’m a firm believer that one of the ways that the Holy Spirit works in this world is through the arts, and I believe that God moved through him and his gifts.

Lord, he had gifts…

We name the saints not because of what they did  in life (though that is certainly part of it), but more because of who God claims them to be.

And there were demons there, now come to light, which we all have.  And if people knew the full truth of any of us, I think they’d balk at having our names read in any list of so-called “saints.”

And yet, my name is there.  And so is yours.  And so is any of ours.

So, if you worship in a community and there is a time to call out the dead, name him.  Do it.  Or when the Vigil comes around to your community and your pastor knocks on the parish door to invite the dead to worship in the resurrection, make sure his name is there along with Pete’s (we don’t ever do last names, so technically I’ll just say “Philip Seymour”).

Or if you’re making a list for All Saints, include him there.

Him, along with everyone else you know personally who has died this year.  Him, along with every other faceless, nameless person suffering from addiction who will die this week that we won’t ever hear about.

Because, and here’s the main point, in naming Phillip Seymour, I hope and pray I’m also naming about 100 other people who will die this week in Chicago of an OD that we’ll never hear about, and no one will care about.

And if we can’t care, in some small way, who will?  If we can’t point to this and all other deaths, especially tragedies, and say, unequivocally, “there lies a child of God, loved and redeemed even now,” of what use is the church in truth-telling?

May light perpetual shine upon Pete and Philip and all the other nameless ones we’ve lost this week. Amen.

8 thoughts on “On Naming the Dead and why I’ll say Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Name Next Sunday in Church

  1. Thank you for another especially meaningful hope-giving post. I read everything you post, often read parts aloud to my husband. Thanks for writing them all. Wish I knew how to find a pastor like you near where I live. I think youre inspiring me to try, not to just give up on Christianity. Thanks again.

  2. Thank you for giving me the hope again that I can call myself a christian and know there are others that think everyone is a child of God.

  3. Pingback: A Sermon on Addiction, Cheap Grace, and God Getting the Last Word | Mustard Seed House Churches

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