Remembering Luke the Drifter

Thursdays and Fridays tend to be the busiest days of the week for many folks. Thursdays and Fridays also happen to be the days when most of our arts reporting airs.

So, I will not blame you if you missed Chris Roberts stellar story last week on the play “The Funereal Remembrance of Luke the Drifter.” Which means you probably didn’t go to the show itself, which had only three performances.

However, I do think you should listen to the story now, while you still have the time.

The play, which takes place in an actual funeral home, wrestles with the question, “When people who live less than stellar lives die, how are they remembered, or even celebrated?”


Adam Talle plays Luke’s former parole officer in the show “The Funereal Remembrance of Luke the Drifter.”

MPR Photo/Nikki Tundel

It was inspired, in part, by country star Hank Williams alter ego, “Luke the Drifter.” But the primary inspiration cam from House of Mercy minister Russell Rathbun’s own experiences:

About a year ago, Rathbun started volunteering at the Bradshaw Funeral Home on St. Paul’s east side. It needed ministers to conduct funerals for so-called ‘John or Jane Does,’ people who died with few family or friends. Often they had made bad decisions, or inflicted a lot of pain in their lives. They posed a ministerial challenge to Rathbun.

“How do you be honest about that, but then how do you also remember what beauty and goodness that he brought into people lives?” he said.

Rathbun took his cues from the sprinkling of mourners who would show up to pay their respects. In most cases, their only connection was their relationship with the deceased. Rathbun soon realized they weren’t so interested in him putting some official religious stamp on the proceedings, but in sharing their own remembrances.

“As they begin to tell stories, you sort of begin to see a full life emerge,” he said.

The mourners didn’t brush over the hurt the deceased had caused, or the ways they had gone astray. That made their happier, more joyful memories all the more powerful and poignant.

If you did get to see “The Funereal Remembrance of Luke the Drifter,” be sure to let us know what you thought of the show.

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