Wednesday, July 12, 2006

The Lay of the Land

The revisionists are already at work on the legacy of Ken Lay. Let me preface the rest of my remarks here by saying I met Ken Lay once, spoke with him for a time, and liked the man. He was a likeable guy. But so was Al Capone to some. Ken Lay was also in charge of a company that fomented one of the most financially dastardly deeds in modern history, and a jury of 12 men and women recently convicted him on all counts against him.

There was a heart-melting memorial service for Ken Lay in Houston Wednesday. Friends and family gathered to mourn and eulogize a man who’d been vilified in the press. It was quite an event. I'm surprised it wasn't televised, but then, that would have been a final, cruel indignity.

When was the last time you attended a funeral with Secret Service agents on station, and police posted on every corner? When was the last time you attended a service with former President George H. W. Bush in attendance? Dr. Denton Cooley in the crowd with James Baker and Rob Mosbacher. A who’s who of attendees for a man who was a mover and shaker on so many levels in his life.

I’ve been to a lot of funerals in my life.
My parents started taking me when I was young, getting familiar with the process of death and grieving and healing on the occasion of the passing of great aunts and uncles, great grand parents, and the elderly in our church. As I grew older, I made it a point to attend services for friends and for family members of friends.

There is a passage in Ecclesiastes (7:1-4) that comes to mind:

1 ¶ A good name is better than precious ointment; and the day of death than the day of one's birth.
2 It is better to go to the house of mourning, than to go to the house of feasting: for that is the end of all men; and the living will lay it to his heart.
3 Sorrow is better than laughter: for by the sadness of the countenance the heart is made better.
4 The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning; but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.

I’m not going to preach you a sermon here, but there are valuable nuggets in those verses of scripture. The value of a good name when our life ends…the comparison of mourning and joyfulness...and the idea that it is healthy to go to a service for someone. You gain an appreciation for life.

I’m not sure many folks would head to George Lewis’ funeral parlor instead of The Laff Stop, but a certain balance is needed in our lives from time to time. Funerals can do that.

Funerals are also dangerous places, because there sometimes can be a tendency to “preach the departed into Heaven” through comments made during the service. I’ve been to services like that, too. They’re a little odd. Basically, one you’ve reached room temperature, it’s “game over,” and your destiny is sealed, in my view.

Today, I don’t think anyone was trying to give Ken Lay a pass key to the Pearly Gates, but there were comments made that should not go unchallenged. Mr. Lay’s Stepson, David Herrold, expressed anger at the treatment Lay endured over the past five years.

Hey, David. I am sorry for your loss; truly, I am.
But you must know by now, you reap what you sow, and your step dad was plowing a field with a borrowed team of mules and stolen seeds. I agree with you in being thankful that he is now beyond the reach of the circus that surrounded him so relentlessly. He was a good man who did a bad thing...or at least was responsible for those below him who did so.

Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church Pastor William Lawson really pushed the envelope in comparing Ken Lay’s treatment by the government to the treatment meted out to Jesus Christ by the Roman government. Rev. Lawson, you should know better.

The Roman government officially washed its hands of Jesus’ case, which was really a trumped up bunch of charges by the religious politicians of the day, and allowed the Jewish Sanhedrin to seal His fate. The Roman crucifixion was carried out as one of three civil cases closed on that date.

Rev. Lawson, I could lend you my copy of The Passion, if you’d like to review. I know you own a Bible. Check the Gospels--they've got a great parallel account of the event.
I knew Ken Lay.
I know Jesus Christ.
Ken Lay was no Jesus.

Lawson also expressed anger at Lay’s “lynching,” and Lay’s brother-in-law, Ray Phillips described Lay's conviction as false…more examples of revisionist thinking. Lay was not lynched, but solidly convicted by a jury of his peers.

I think one of the most poignant point of the day was written in Forbes by Bethany McLean and Peter Elkind (McLean was one of the creators of the Enron movie,"The Smartest Guys in the Room"):

“…the setting aside of Lay's criminal conviction is really a legal technicality. Nothing will ever change the fact that after a long, fair trial, 12 people found Ken Lay guilty of fraud and conspiracy. Nothing will change Lay's legacy now; he will have no Michael Milken - like redemption. He lost his fortune, his reputation, and now his life.
What more is there to lose?”

A very sad closing to the final chapter of Ken Lay’s life, and an important lesson to take away from the house of mourning in Houston today.

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