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About 125 A.D., Aristides, the Greek scholar said, If any righteous man among the Christians passes from the world, they rejoice and offer thanks to God, and they escort his body with songs and thanksgiving as if he were setting out from one place to another nearby. Then, with a song and thanksgiving, we have come, friends from near and far, for a Holy Celebration. Celebration is a good and deeply religious word. It is worship itself.
We have come apart into a House of God to celebrate the life and victory of Karl King, a good and kindly man. We are thankful that for eighty years this child of God has been a part of the earthside human family. Here in the heartland of mid-America, we celebrate in Fort Dodge a half century that he was among us.
The Christian community has for centuries, with its Israelite ancestors, surrounded life's most meaningful moments in worship. We do not know any secrets that other men do not know. We are, and must be, honest. Death pains us and hurts. If we have been given eighty years, we yearn for but a few more. Life is precious and our earthly ties are so intimate and real that it is very, very difficult for us to face the reality of life's earthly conclusion as we know it. We come apart though, in this long tradition, to give thanks and to affirm God's rule over life.
The scriptures reflect many moods. Some parts are addressed man to man. Some parts, like the writings of the Prophets, speak God's word to mankind. The Psalms, unlike these two, are man's expression to God. They affirm man's adoration and praise of the God who has brought him into being, who sustains him in times of need, who towers over his wonderful creation. The last of the Psalms is a short, concluding Doxology. It seems to me to bespeak our mood for this day. Praise the Lord! Praise God in His sanctuary; praise him according to his exceeding greatness! Praise Him with trumpet sound, praise him with lute and harp! Praise him with timbrel and dance; praise him with strings and pipe! Praise Him with sounding cymbals; praise Him with loud clashing cymbals! Let everything that breathes praise the Lord! Praise the Lord!
Praising God with the instruments of sound is among men's oldest and most meaningful forms of adoration. A Psalmist picks up the moods and needs of the people and sets them to music. They then become the common property of all the people. They are echoed through the centuries. The Psalmist calls mankind to praise God with trumpet, lute and harp, timbrel and dance, string and pipe, and concludes his brief list with loud, clashing cymbals.
Karl King would be greatly embarrassed were he to hear me say this, but I call him a Psalmist of our common life. He touched the threads and needs of our existence and set it to music. He gave our wandering feet a beat to which we could march. One of the deep laments of our time has been the absence of genuine heroes. For many Karl King has been our hero. The role of the hero is a difficult and dangerous one to fill. To be liked is almost equally as dangerous as to be disliked. Not many of our spirits and personalities could take fame. We here at home remember and admire Karl King as much for those genuinely humble and real human qualities as for his fame as a composer and director. He handles his acclaim with a gentle chuckle and very real sense of humor. Humor is the capacity to see discontinuity; to hear yourself described as great, and to know that you are a man. Perhaps he would personally prefer that I tell you this simple incident from the time of his 80th birthday. I asked him, in good humor at one festive occasion, How do you get all this praise -- by clean living? Chuckling, he said, No. By outliving everybody that remembers any different until you are too old to be anything else. He was sufficiently pleased with this explanation to continue its use.
Karl King was a joyous man. He experienced joy. He wanted to share it. He did! From the Circus Big Top, to the bandstand, fair, festival or parade, his music told us who he was -- a man of purpose and joy.
Philosophers and theologians have long been intrigued with the circus. It reaches young and old, adding us under its spell. Its center ring is a symbol of life's front stage. Performers in splendid, gay attire, put forth their best. Backstage and off the center ring, silent workers and temporary helpers recruited from nearby perform the altogether necessary, but hidden task, that makes the Big Show possible. Wandering, moving, the circus seeks out the people and shares itself from place to place. It parades God's animals from the created order. God created them, but remember, he left to man the giving of them names and assigning them their place of significance. Men tame the wild. Ponies prance, elephants dance, and sea lions even learn to play a simple tune. The clown, gay or sad faced, dons his mask and plays out his role for others, hiding his own joys or hurts from public view, all for others. Great skills, like the performer on the trapeze, or high wire, are frequently passed on within a family where the tradition of excellence is a gift of birth. Some good-natured deception is there, but the viewer knows it. The lady is not really sawed in half. We are reminded that our senses do deceive us, and that all is not as it seems, but the knowing of that truth is itself a liberation.
And what holds it all together? The music of the band heralds the beginning of the circus, makes the transition from act to act, helps create and sustain suspense. No word from the ringmaster, significant as he is, quite clutches the audience like the music of the band.
Music is one of the glues of life, the universal language that transcends boundaries and differences. Karl King lived with that particular kind of glue. God gave him a gift and he gave it back to all of us -- a word of joy, a tug at the heartbeat of an excited child, old men becoming children again. He wanted to share it. And he did it so well that the young, yet unborn, will share his gift wherever band music is played.
Musical forms and idioms come and go, as do mortal musicians. But, when we want to get somewhere, be it from the slave pits of Pharaoh's Egypt, around the walls of Jericho, back from captivity in Babylon, to elect a political candidate, to win the homecoming game, or off to heaven itself -- let the band play the march that tells men to shake off the dust of the past and move to a new tomorrow, but let them march to the tempo of a familiar tune.
Ben Hearn, Pastor
Homily from Karl King's funeral
First Congregational Church of Fort Dodge, Iowa
Karl King's funeral procession leaving the Congregational Church in Fort Dodge
In front from left: Pastor Ben Hearn, Ralph Drollinger, Duane Oley Olson, Tim Pray, several unidentified Legion members, Chuck Barnhouse (with beard), Ed Breen
Ken Carlson and Bob Dean are visible on the other side of the casket
On the stairs beginning at the bottom, are Karl King Jr. and Ruth King, led by Mack Bruce of the funeral home, Michelle King (accompanied by her husband), Lois King (accompanied by Brownie, the King's housekeeper), an unidentified couple, and Roger Chrysler with John Erickson (in their band uniforms).
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