This past week I attended the funeral of my uncle, who could easily have vied for "most gentle man ever." I remember him from a very young age, when he was dating my aunt and then right after they married and lived in a house on the street behind ours. I never saw him express ugliness, never heard him bark at his kids (my dad-- lotsa bark and bite), never felt afraid of him. Everything he was was right there, worn like his clothes, deep all the way to his heart. As a young mother and wife, my husband (now ex) and I spent a lot of time with my aunt and uncle, as she helped me navigate breastfeeding and he encouraged my kids' dad to get his HAM radio license and then we all played with then-burgeoning technology. He taught me to write batch files and to download games from bulletin boards, and we would play a particular game over our computers while he and my kids' dad talked over their radios. He was there when my kids were born. In one instance, he used his HAM radio to tell my kids' dad to hurry back to the hospital because I was about to deliver (I had sent him out on a fool's errand because he was driving me crazy).
My uncle was born in Nigeria to missionary parents, and he and my aunt met in Campus Crusade for Christ when both in college in Austin. He did many different jobs in his lifetime, and in each of these positions made friendships with people who were drawn to his gentleness, and in most of these cases people were led to Christ. Very much a case of "What you have I want!" That's who he was.
Last year he was diagnosed with, treated for, and conquered leukemia. Then a couple of weeks ago he collapsed, his system having been attacked by an unknown virus. By the time they identified it and began treating it, he was in near-total organ failure, and though every day there was some spark of hope, in the end he was removed from life support and slipped away; even after life support was removed he was alert and went on for many more hours than expected, surrounded by family and, I believe, being a comfort to them before he left. He was that kind of man, husband, father, grandfather...uncle.
Now, I'm not the right-wing conservative Christian I was raised to be, and my uncle and his family for the most part towed that line. Actually a little over half my family stays in that range. So it should have been no surprise that his funeral would be a quiet Baptist service with a sermon-come-alter-call complete with fire and brimstone. Actually it was more like stillborn babies rubbed with bloody sheepskins, but it's all the same. It's the grace of Jesus with the threat of horror, trotted out before a room full of grieving grandchildren who should not be hearing this shit.
I know, if you're a Christian that's part and parcel. I won't get in to why I object and how I came to my belief against church services and sermons in general. I have come to feel confident as I study the Bible and other religious texts myself, and seek out conversations and traditions outside what I was taught as a child and through my young adulthood. There is absolutely no reason on earth that I should sit still for an hour and be threatened by an angry man from the pulpit.
(See, the gentleness isn't as strong in me....my uncle married into our family and shared his with us, but it doesn't run thickly through our blood!)
My uncle's life was a sermon, an offering of grace to everyone who was blessed enough to be in his sphere of contact. During his funeral, voice after voice told stories of how they met him, how his nature touched them, and how he eventually led them to Jesus. There was NO ONE in that room that needed to be exposed to the grotesque and gory pictures "just in case" they weren't saved yet.
I think I was a little mouthy afterward and although I believe I kept my voice silent to all except the person(s) I was talking to, but I objected afterward, and I was angry! The truth is, the man who delivered the sermon has been on my poo poo list for many years because of his perspectives and the manner in which he delivers them. But that's another story altogether. I'll tell it.
Don't get me wrong...there is a time and place for teaching about what life would be without grace. But when people come together to comfort, to be comforted, to say goodbye and be held in loving tenderness while they grieve...that's not right. I have instructed my children that in NO WAY should there ever be a sermon of any kind during my funeral or at my grave or wherever they decide to dump the body. Nothing beyond these words, "You know where mom is....and you know how to get there." If anyone scares or threatens my precious grandbabies or great-grands (yep...my non-gentleness will probably see me through another generation) I will come down and stomp their ass. I will be watching!!!!
Our lives should be the only sermon others ever need. Our funerals should not be a "captive audience" opportunity.