Who knew that Kevin Costner is, or was, a Baptist? Funerals are the kinds of events when it's hard not to get religion, to feature at least some of those quotes that talk about eternal issues and ultimate choices.
The nearly 4-hour funeral of superstar Whitney Houston was no exception. I watched much of the live-streamed coverage on CBS.com and, truth is, the network's online wrap-up story about this event -- part home-church Going Home celebration at Newark's New Hope Baptist Church, part celebrity cable-TV special -- captured some, repeat "some," of its religious content.
There was plenty of preaching, of course. The overarching theme on this day was that Houston stumbled and fell at many points in her Christian walk, but that she knew Jesus as her Lord when she was young and that she kept coming back to that spiritual home base throughout her life. As producer-actor Tyler Perry said:
"There are two constants that I know about Whitney Houston," Perry said. "There was a grace that carried her from heaven down through Miss Cissy Houston, a grace that brought her up through singing. The other thing I know for sure: Whitney Houston loved the Lord."
The preachers said that, too, but no one expects the mainstream press to focus on what preachers' say -- in part because it's so hard to yank just one strong quote out of a full-tilt sermon without letting the readers know the context and the larger themes that shaped that quote. That's hard work for journalists with only a few lines of type to spare. Can I get an "amen"?
That's why it is so significant that Costner -- who spoke for nearly 20 minutes -- opened up and talked so bluntly about his relationship with the gospel singer turned Hollywood superstar. Costner knew he was in church.
Costner remembered his co-star in "The Bodygiard" as a movie star who was uncertain of her own fame, who "still wondered, 'am I good enough? Am I pretty enough? Will they like me?' "
"It was the burden that made her great and the part that caused her to stumble in the end," Costner said.
And later, there was this additional content from that Costner eulogy:
When Costner gave his remarks he made the crowd laugh at various points while remembering their friendship and working relationship. He talked about what the pair had in common: Both had been raised in the Baptist church and both liked to sing. He said Houston, of course, was a much better singer.
"I thought she was the perfect choice," Costner said about casting Houston in "The Bodyguard," her first movie role.
"Whitney if you can hear me now, you weren't just good enough," he said about Houston despite her insecurities. "You were great." Costner, his voice cracking, ended by saying, "When you sing before Him, don't worry, you'll be good enough."
Of course, it's much easier to hear the capital "H" in "Him" when Costner's full final quote is left intact. The ABC News coverage of his talk featured some very blunt material about the actor's blunt words -- including advice to the singer's own daughter -- content so blunt that it will be interesting to see if it surfaces in other reports.
(Costner) offered advice on behalf of Houston to her daughter and millions of other aspiring singers.
“To you, Bobbi Kristina, and to all those young girls who are dreaming that dream, thinking that maybe they aren’t good enough, I think Whitney would tell you, guard your bodies,” he said. “And guard the precious miracle of your own life. Then sing your hearts out. ”
He choked up towards the end. “Off you go Whitney, off you go,” he said. “Escorted by an army of angels to your heavenly father. When you sing before him, don’t you worry. You’ll be good enough.”
I believe, under Associated Press style, that passage near the end should be, "Escorted by an army of angels to your Heavenly Father. When you sing before Him, don’t you worry." Don't you think?
There are many other things to point out in the service. I thought, in many ways, that one of the most poignant pieces of content came near the very end, when some of The Winans performed "Tomorrow," one of their gospel classics that Whitney Houston had performed, as well. The lyrics were powerful, at the funeral of a believer who died too soon after making tragically bad choices.
Here's a slice or two of that:
Jesus said Here I stand Won't you please let me in And you said I will -- tomorrow
Jesus said I am he Who supplies all your needs And you said I know -- but tomorrow ...
Tomorrow Tomorrow is not promised Don't let this moment slip away Your tomorrow could very well begin today
That's challenging stuff to put into mainstream news copy. I know that.
I mean, it's so much easier to simply focus on the celebrity details in this kind of event. That religion stuff just goes on and on and takes up so much room.
What does this look like in practice? This final segment of the ABC News live-blogging feed, which includes the "Tomorrow" performance, says it all:
2:59 p.m. ET: Pastor Marvin Winans, a Houston family friend, is delivering Whitney’s official eulogy. He thanks Cissy Houston for her willingness to “forget about everything else” and have the service at their family church.
3:08 p.m. ET: Now the whole Winans family is performing “Tomorrow.”
3:12 p.m. ET: Marvin Winans reveals that N.J. governor Chris Christie is at the church. He thanks Christie for standing by his decision to lower the state’s flags to half mast today.
3:34 p.m. ET: Winans appears to be wrapping up his eulogy. He asks everyone to bow their heads for a prayer.
3:36 p.m. ET: Whitney’s golden casket is covered with flowers -- the arrangement is almost as big as the casket itself.
3:38 p.m. ET: Prayer turns to song -- the choir is singing “Amen.”
3:41 p.m. ET: The service appears to be over. They’re figuring out logistics of getting the casket out of the church and clearing out the packed house. ”As you can see, we have more stars here than the Grammys,” the man at the podium says. “That says something.”
Help your GetReligionistas watch for the final stories in the newspapers tomorrow. Also, if anyone sees solid video roundups after the evening news shows, please leave URLs in the comments pages. I won't be watching now, since it's Saturday night -- which means it's time for Vespers. And Great Lent is coming.
VIDEO: A classic gospel moment with "I Believe," featuring Whitney and her mother, the great Cissy Houston.