Monday morning we attended the funeral of the father of a friend/family member. I didn’t know the father but for a few “hello/goodbye” meetings at holidays. The son and my husband were good friends in high school, then he went and married my husband’s cousin, so he became family.
The funeral was the kind that I have come to dread. An open casket in a funeral hall, a tinny amplification system that cuts in and out. The only speakers were my husband’s friend and the decedent’s pentecostal minister. There was a group of women singing along with someone playing on an electronic keyboard, and, while their voices weren’t awful, the ‘whine’ in their voices was the only thing amplified by the tinny system. That the songs they chose were about Jesus and included graphic references to the crucifixion, and that the preacher preached a theology that made my soul shiver (and not in a good way), and that I learned not a lot about the man I didn’t really know in the first place, I’m surprised I didn’t run from the funeral home picking at my skin and shouting “let there be a merciful God, somewhere.”
Usually, when I leave these funerals my first and only response is to turn to my husband and say: “I want there to be no doubt about my wishes: cremate my body, I don’t care what you do with the ashes, but DO NOT allow an open casket.”
This time, however, I went back to work and my husband went on to the graveside burial and the luncheon, so I had 35 minutes alone in the car to process the experience of that funeral. And as I processed it, my thoughts were not about my body, but about the hearts and minds of the people in that room who had no alternative theology to turn to when that preacher told us “God made it so simple even I could understand it: there’s only one way and it is the way through Jesus Christ. There’s not 400 ways …”
I won’t be pejorative and say things like “my God is bigger than that,” though I have in the past. But I wondered about the daughters of our friend, young women I have known since they were children, young women who have babysat for us, young women who are making their way into the world, two of the three who enlisted in the reserves in order to get a college degree and who have earned/are earning that degree by way of Iraq and Afghanistan. Young, smart women with an experience of the world that is both limited and boundless. Young women who grew up without any church experiences even though their parents will argue that they are “Christian.” To whom do these young women turn to question their own doubts about “one way” about “Jesus is the Son of God” about “God.” To whom and in what safe way can they say “this is not my belief.” And to whom and in what safe way can they explore what they do believe.
We have had a strong surge of visitors to our church since the beginning of the year. Many of these visitors are young adults. One couple texted another couple as they left the service to say “I think I’ve found what we’ve been looking for.” That couple joined them in our sanctuary the next week and the one woman said “we couldn’t wait to come!”
What did we offer those young couples that day and the Sundays that followed? What void are we filling, what questions are we asking, what hope are we instilling? And are we prepared to walk these people through their own doubts so that they can sit in a funeral one day and hold their own beliefs while being assaulted by anothers’?
Just questions, today. Just questions. Obviously still processing that funeral. Probably something I’ll be doing for some time.
God be with me as I do–the God of goodness, of kindness, of the four-hundred (four-thousand? four-milliion?) paths. And may your God be with you.