September 11, 2014

Recovering Christian: Never have I wanted so terribly to believe as attending a Christian funeral

Life is short.

Sometimes, far shorter than it should be. That's the truth that is very much lodged in my brain this week. When you lose someone that's a beloved wife, mother, sister, daughter, teacher, church member, community member...well, it's kind of easy to get hung up on the idea that life is often short than it should ostensibly be.

When you're a "recovering" Christian, life can be disconcerting. I spent the first two decades of my life adhering to a set of beliefs, and as a function of that adherence, I automatically belonged to a community with rituals and answers that so easily filled in the gaps at times like these.

So attending my first Christian funeral, post-belief, and having it be someone whose sudden death probably would have shaken my belief even had I believe, was something that I was admittedly shaken by.

Not shaken as in, "I suddenly decided to revert". No, not at all.

Rather, I was struck by the intense wish that I could believe, that I could just hang on and take that comfort that was offered.

I will say, I applaud the gentlemen that ran the service. This is the fourth funeral I have attended this year, and in each of the other three, I watched pastors bend over backwards to work in a call to salvation, leaving me disgusted that they would take advantage of the vulnerable in such a way.

Not these pastors. Strikingly one said, "I don't have answers for you to the why. I don't know why this happened. I don't know." The honesty was truly refreshing.

As the service progressed, and the religious music played, and the second pastor spoke on the endurance--versus patience--of Job, I found myself truly possessed by a wish that I could believe.

I'm leaving the door wide open here. I know there will be those (my own mother among them, probably, but that's for a post for another day) who will say, "That was you being convicted. That was God calling."

But I have to disagree. It was a sad wistfulness, a longing, but not for God. It was that longing for community. All week I had to be careful about what I said and how I offered comfort--things I never thought about as a Christian. I just assumed that everyone would understand what I meant...and usually they truly did.

I had a very Hubert Harrison moment. Harrison once said:

"I wish to admit here something that most Agnostics are unwilling to admit. I would pay tribute to the power of that religion which was mine. It is only fair to confess that Reason alone has failed to satisfy all my needs. For there are needs, not merely ethical but spiritual, inspirational--what I would call personal dynamics; and these also must be filled."

What will strike you the most, if you too find yourself at a Christian funeral, in the midst of a family that is overwhelmingly Christian, is that it is exhausting. You will have to find your own sources of comfort, in poetry, in philosophy, in physics.

You will find yourself dwelling on your prior life, and you will miss parts of it. That's the truth.

And you will find yourself longing for the comfort of people that think like you, feel like you, believe like you do. You will long for your own tribe.

And most of all, you will find yourself wanting to believe, not for yourself, but for the people you care about that are so obviously hurting. You will find yourself wanting to believe so that you can offer them true comfort, without carefully watching your words.

And you will be exhausted. So exhausted.

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