Monday, May 21, 2012

#248- Using Dead People to Remind You About Hell

So if you're here, the good news is that you're here and alive. This matters. Be thankful.

And for those who left us.... well I'm really hoping their funeral was somber and reverent and done with decency.

Because some of the dead aren't that fortunate.

Sometimes you die and the funeral preacher is so completely detached from reality that when they are invited to speak at a funeral, their eyes secretly get all wide-eyed and scary as if a sinister plot is unraveling in their head. These kind of preachers for some ungodly reason see funerals as opportunities to just completely lose themselves and preach the Acts 2:38 salvation message in the most frantic, urgent way possible that scares just about everyone in attendance except for those who are already saved and the corpse itself.

What does that even mean?

I'll tell you exactly what it means. Two weeks ago I found out a friend from the past died. I grew up with him in church. To be honest, we were more friends out of circumstance than anything else. He came from a completely different background. He lived on the other side of the railroad tracks if you will. If I remember correctly his father wasn't anywhere around. And his mother was the one who elbowed him in the side to come to church every week even though for the most part, he really wasn't interested. Likewise my mother did the same to me, although maybe I tried faking my interest in church a little more. One advantage of that friend: He was honest and never was going to be fake just for the sake of pleasing someone else. In retrospect, my own life has been more or less an attempt to do what came so naturally to him: Be honest, no matter what.

Anyways as we hit our teenage years, my friend was more than happy to demonstrate that when it comes to religion, he really  was not that interested. He was the one who first showed me Eminem. He was the first person that I ever saw experiment with illegal substances. He swore a lot too. And while at the time he more or less scared the crap out of me because I was a goodie-two-shoes growing up, I can still say he never did anything because everyone else was doing it. Literally he walked to the beat of his own drum. For sure there'd be times where he'd find himself at the altar and we middle class momma's boys hoped that he'd finally have a "breakthrough." I think he really wanted the breakthrough too whenever he did end up at the altar. And you could see him praying then with eyes closed as sincere as sincere can get.... probably a little frustrated too that any time he would try to pray in church he'd be greeted with a slew of attention from people who otherwise didn't care about him outside of him being at the altar. To the best of my knowledge, he never had a breakthrough, but I may be wrong.

Yet in spite of our differences, he was really my friend. If you ask me how this worked out, especially since we wereof such different backgrounds and upbringings, I really couldn't tell you. I can't even recall what we did talk about. I do remember he was the only person who would talk to me about the whole Tupac/Notorious B.I.G. controversy when it happened, which was cool. But outside of that I don't remember how we got along. Sometimes he  was cruel to me too. I probably deserved it most of the time because I had a mouth like no other, and he had swear words and a fist that would leave bruises if you ever said anything that deserved it. Maybe it's like that family member you have who you have absolutely no desire to hang out with outside of extended family get togethers, but when you are together things are never as bad as you imagine in your head and instead you guys get along smashingly every time you are together.

If you fast-foward the tape, he gets older and more independent and just basically drops out of church. I wasn't the guy who mourned "backsliding" friends so I didn't think much of it. We saw each other maybe two or three times at special church events (e.g. funerals) between the ages of 18 and now. And each time we did talk, those conversations were a blistering torrent of endless conversation.Conversation filled with "catching up" and mostly just talking about the memories of those days not too long ago, but just long enough to be hazy enough to forget without talking about it. One of those "remember the days" conversations except we were like 23 years old. 23 year olds can enjoy a bit of nostalgia too. Also it was clear that neither one of us had really changed our course. I continued being a nerd with a mouth trying to gain acceptance by going to college and he continued doing his own thing and getting into the construction business. 

Fast-forward the tape to a couple weeks ago: He's dead. He was all of 25 years old I think.

Naturally my thoughts did that awful thing where your mind fluctuates between wondering how his family is taking it and how sad it is that he's gone.... and then going to that selfish spot in your head that thinks about yourself in relation to death.... Your brain basically starts using other people's deaths as a selfish excuse to dwell on your own mortality.  I do this and it's awful and I wish I could be more reverent in my thoughts when friends my age die. 

And About the Actual SAL topic?

Thanks for reminding me. The funeral. Right. The funeral was full of young people. Mostly his friends, who  also seemed more or less like him in terms of background and upbringing. There were a few from the old church as well as other backsliders from the old church.... 

Perhaps I'm being too specific. And sometimes there's no other way to make this vague. But long-story short, the preacher uses the eulogy to discuss my friend's upbringing in church.... which, and here's the kicker: leads to a reminder that you need to fulfill Acts 2:38 in order to get to heaven.

My friend's death became an object lesson for a witnessing opportunity.

Human beings as object lessons....

While his friends are sad and confused and missing their friend who lays in the casket...

And we're supposed to be mourning and remembering what is lost....

And apparently he's just an example for us all to remember that if we don't get our act together, we're probably going to hell.

Who does that?

Men who have flown so far up to heaven in their mind that they really have no clue any more that they too are human beings.

And I understand their perspective. I really do..... something about how this could be the only opportunity to witness to these people so even though the preacher really didn't want to talk about Acts 2:38, the great commission is greater than the commission to empathize with human beings....

And that's exactly it..... preachers who use funerals as the excuse to witness have basically just stopped loving. Human beings become reduced to objects that are to be converted. The message of salvation becomes the main point. As if Jesus Christ died for Acts 2:38. If that's the case, human beings are reduced to containers that could potentially transport the Acts 2:38 virus message around.

I don't think anyone at that funeral has been saved who wasn't before the funeral. And my friend-turned object lesson rests six-feet under.... and judging from the reactions of the "lost" in attendance, the sermon served nothing but further confirmation of why they won't be coming to church any time soon.

And it feels really icky and kinda makes me want to shower when I think about it.

You Are NOT an Object Lesson

So anonymous reader... I say hello and hope the best for you. Whoever you are. I really mean it.

 I know that seems like a trick because obviously I don't see your face and probably have never met you.... but while I'm writing knowing that you will indeed read this message.... I don't want to reduce you to a mere statistic.

You're here. And people love you. God too. And I have a friend who died recently and know that never again will I have the opportunity to say "hello old friend."

And I wish to God I could remember to say such things with all sincerity about everyone I meet. Just like I am thinking about you right now....wanting to say "hello friend."

But life gets busy and we get distracted. And it gets overwhelming trying to treat people like people. But please don't give up. Yes that's cliche. But Seriously, Don't make people into objects that you want to preach to get them to heaven. That's not love.

 Love people as people and do it as much as you can remember to do it. Love with everything you got to those around you. Even the people you don't really like. It becomes kinda maddening and tiresome for sure. But that means you're not giving up like grumpy old people do which is a good sign.

I swear to God there was nothing more troubling and unloving than to see my old friend treated like an object lesson...... Yes it's easier and less taxing but at the end of the day you've forgotten what it's like to be a human. It's almost like your dead at that point. I've been there. Not worth it.

But if you are here, the good news is you are alive. Be Thankful. Say Hello a lot and mean it.

Friday, May 4, 2012

#247-Daddy's Network

(Done in stream of consciousness on the fly, just because....overthinking causes long posts which....totally boring...)

Speaking of networking... I was reminded of a hypothesis that is no way true of every young minister/pastor, but seems to be the going way of things in the UPC... but the young youth pastors/evangelists asked to speak the most often at camps/conventions/conferences are the one's most networked through their father or father-in-law. Which, is yeah, obvious.

Nothing new right? Except most of the time these guys are just bad speakers. Flat out dull, banal, formulaic or obviously "acting the part of what an evangelist should sound like." And yet these cats keep getting asked to preach year in and year out at the best conferences and I can't fig it.... because I know there are plenty of less connected preachers who maybe don't dress as snazzy as the Fortunate Sons but are way more informed about good Exegesis and are more caring about their audience, and also, yeah way better preachers too.... something's gotta change.... Not that I really care because preaching's not my gig,.... but I write this for the sake of getting my other peers who are way better speakers to get a little more dollar in their wallet and a little more exposure. Ya hear me?

Consult your local politicians tell them to vote no on November's ballot to let Pastor's sons and son-in-laws to free reign on the big time pulpit stage. Tell them your sick of it and your bored of altar calls that don't really make you feel much of God or anything else for that matter. Your voice matters.