Christians: Don’t “Preach” at Non-Christian’s Funerals

Last night, a good friend texted me a screenshot. It was the Facebook page of a mutual friend who died suddenly and very young last week, leaving behind a large community of stunned people grieving his loss.

As is often the case, the man’s profile had become a makeshift gathering place for mourners, who checked in to post photos, share memories, and give tributes—but this wasn’t the image my friend shared with me.

It was of a Christian friend of the dead man, (who by all accounts was not a Christian), proselytizing on his virtual memorial.

He wrote:

David was a good man with a good heart, who understood that giving is better than receiving. I will miss him greatly.

(Sounds nice.)

But it is exactly times like this that we come to the reality that we can’t wait to get our lives right.

(Uh  oh…)

David set an example that we need to be better people. And we need to take that example and go further.

(Oh no, he’s not gonna go there, is he?)

We need to be better spiritually.

(Wait, PLEASE don’t go there!)

I may never see my friend again. I hope that before things went wrong, he accepted Jesus as his Lord and Savior.

(He went there.)

And there it was; the move I’ve seen a few hundred times: a supposedly well-meaning Christian, preaching at a dead non-Christian’s wake or memorial service—and I felt sick to my stomach.

There’s something so inherently disturbing about watching someone monopolize that sacred, fragile moment to deliver a sermon that the deceased person might surely have contested while living—and at a time when they have no possible way to contest it; when they are incapable of offering a rebuttal. It is the height of selfishness, because it insists on getting in the last word over a dead friend.

And then, the man did something perhaps even worse than that: he preemptively scolded the mourning onlookers who might rightly take offense, lecturing them on how to care about another human being (you know, like Jesus would do):

Some may be upset that I’m using this situation to “preach,” but if you just lost your friend and you truly, 100% believed you knew how to protect your other friends and yet you were afraid to say something??? Then how much do you really care about your so-called friends?

This is the go-to move for far too many Christians in these moments:
damning someone’s life with faint praise, as if being kind and loving and generous are nice, but somehow insufficient in themselves;

claiming you’re speaking out of compassion, while being completely oblivious to the feelings of other people;
saying you’re doing something “in love,” yet being almost shockingly unloving in your timing and delivery;
using someone’s casket as a soapbox, to implore people to turn to a God, who they implicitly suggest might have already rejected their dead friend.

I’ve seen this on tone deaf social media posts, I’ve listened to opportunistic preachers at funerals, I’ve heard it in awkward conversations at cemeteries. I know how deeply wounding it is when Christians seize the attention in a tragic moment for their own purposes.

It’s one thing if the deceased person professed a specific religious worldview and was explicit in sharing that faith while living; if they were clear about the desire to make their death a moment for evangelism.

But often, Christians give little thought to those things; choosing instead to punctuate the dead person’s life—with a sentence they decided to write for them.

I’m certain this man sermonizing on his dead friend’s page believed he was doing the right thing; that he is fully convinced he is being a good and faithful servant, that he is doing the work of Jesus.

I wish I could make him understand that he’s hurting already hurting people, that he’s reminding them why they run from Christians, that he is not giving people good news at all.

Christian friends: preach on your profiles, write the sermon you want spoken at your funeral, instruct people to explicitly share your faith convictions after you’re gone.

But when people who don’t share your faith pass away, simply be present for those who are mourning.

Let your spiritual convictions be evident in your kindness toward them.

Let your compassion be your testimony.

Let other people’s lives be their legacies—as they lived them.

Don’t put your sermons in their mouths.

Don’t add a spiritual postscript where there wasn’t one.

Stop preaching at non-Christian’s funerals.

 

 

 

 

America, Sexual Assault Survivors are Listening. What are We Saying?

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One of the blessings of the work I do is that people turn to me when they don’t believe they can turn to anyone else. They allow me close proximity to their pain. It is a holy place, and even though it is a tremendous honor to be allowed into the deepest recesses of people’s hearts and stories, this also means getting a front row seat to the incredible damage so many live with.

Recently I heard from a woman who I’ll call Emily. A few years ago Emily was assaulted by a stranger.

She has shared this information with almost no one close to her because of the trauma and undeserved shame she carries. Emily suffers alone every single day and through many sleepless nights, because someone else saw her as an object and ignored her consent and disregarded her humanity.

And yet as horrific as that day was for her, it was only the beginning of the nightmare she’s had to endure.

There have been more fresh nightmares this past year.

This year she’s had to hear friends and co-workers and family members openly defend the words and behavior of Donald Trump, oblivious to the way these things silently wound her and force her deeper and deeper into isolation and sadness, and how their words assault her all over again.

She’s had to hear people like Rush Limbaugh make the issue of consent the punchline to some twisted joke.

She’s seen an alleged Christian leader like Jerry Falwell Jr. say that he would endorse Trump even if he had a history of sexual assault.

She’s listened to other women defend the President and give guys a pass and blame victims and openly campaign for a confessed sexual predator.

Over and over and over she’s had to hear that she doesn’t matter. Over and over she’s been told that she’s expendable. Over and over she’s been reminded that her pain is inconsequential.

Maybe she’s had to hear this from you too.

Maybe it’s been your Tweets and Facebook tirades and coffee break conversations and flippant comments that she’s had to endure; bleeding internally, suffering in silence, grieving anew.

I suspect this may not matter to many of you, but I hope you’ll think about it.

Emilys are everywhere.

People you know and love and worship and work with have survived sexual assault, whether you know it or not. They are in your kitchen, your staff room, your classroom, your church pew.

They are listening to you and they are being brutalized again, because people they know and love and worship with and work with were okay elevating a sexual predator to the Presidency and dismissing their trauma and excusing away rape culture as just “guys being guys”. I wonder if that’s something you are okay with.

I wonder if Emily matters to you.

I wonder if you knew Emily was listening to you,  if you would have still said what you’ve said or posted what you’ve posted. I wonder if it would make any difference at all.  

This year America, and this Republican Administration specifically, are speaking loudly to victims of sexual assault and domestic violence about their worth, their pain, their importance, their credibility.

And honestly, I shudder to imagine how harmful those words are.

To all the Emily’s out there: You matter. You are beautiful. You are loved. You are not defined by what has been done to you. You are not alone. We see you. We hear you.

Be encouraged today.

 

 

If you are the survivor of sexual assault, here are some resources where you can find support, encouragement, and care. You don’t need to carry this alone. 
RAINN
National Sexual Assault Hotline
EROC (End Rape on Campus)
National Domestic Violence Hotline
Safe Horizon
INCITE (For Women, Gender Non-Conforming, and Trans people of Color)
On Eagle’s Wings Ministries
Human Rights Campaign (LGBTQ)
NCLR Nation Center for Lesbian Rights 
Not Alone
Safe Helpline (Victim support for members of Military)

 

Order John’s book, ‘A Bigger Table’ here.

 

We Need a Softer Faith for These Hard Times

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Look around you.

Take a glance at your social media feeds. Watch the news.

Listen to people. Hear the strained weariness in their voices.

Look at their faces. See the tightness of their jaws and the furrow in their brows.

These are hard times.

Not that they are difficult (they surely are that too), but they are heavy and rigid and unyielding.

Hard times have a way of hardening people, even the most faithful people.

We rack up our battles and our disappointments and our damage, and the scar tissue gradually begins to accumulate on the lining of our hearts. Our soft spaces slowly solidify over time. The tender places of compassion and goodness that we had when we were younger compress and petrify until our very centers become stone.

Here hope gets squeezed out and joy dries up. Only bitterness and anger remain.

And when this happens our faith so easily becomes religion.

Religion is made to be hard.

Religion wants to mark the line between the inside and the outside, to delineate the blessed from the damned.

Religion builds its walls of creeds and confessions. It fortifies its perimeter with doctrine and dogma.

Religion defends its rightness and justifies its arrogance.

Religion fights wars and for that one needs weapons. It needs to fight and wounds and damage.

Yes, these are hard times but they don’t require an even harder people.

In days like these we need a faith that makes us softer.

This softness is not the opposite of conviction or the absence of principle. It is the quiet confidence that doesn’t require anyone else to mirror them. 

This softness is the sacred, supple core of the peacemakers, the forgivers, the healers. It is the holy place that has always been where love does what love only love can do.

A faith that softens us will always make us more like Jesus.

His was a soft soul.

You can tell this because the afflicted sought him out. The broken reached out their hands to him. The wounded never recoiled from his embrace. People knew that their pain was safe in his presence.

From the hard places and the hard people, he was a refuge. His softness was sanctuary to which they ran.

I wonder if this is still what the people of Jesus are known for. I wonder if it’s what I’m known for. I’ve felt the growing coldness in the center of my chest in these days, so sure that it’s been conviction and principle, certain it has been fierce faith—but maybe I’ve let these times harden me too.

The world has had enough of hard, religious people claiming that they come in love while throwing stones; the preachers and the Evangelists and the enthusiastic judges who see their inflexibility as virtue, their intolerance as noble, their abrasiveness as righteous. 

The Church as a building will be perfectly fine being hard. It will welcome the rigidity and solidity that religion promises.

But the Church as a living, breathing, feeling body, will need to hold on to its flesh so that it can be the gentle, loving response to all the hardness around it.

Hurting people never fear faithful people whose hearts are still soft. They will always fear hard religious people—because those are often the ones who hurt them.

I am trying not to respond to religion with more religion. 

I am trying to hold onto to the pliable heart of Jesus in the middle of very difficult days.

I am doing my best to not become stone in hard times.

I am praying for a faith that will make me softer.

 

 

The Golden Age of Social Media Outrage

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Life tends to become repetitive. If you look carefully you can see the patterns.

Here’s one:

Star Wars actress Daisy Ridley offers compassion for victims of gun violence in Orlando on Instagram.
Olympian Gabby Douglas doesn’t place her hand on her heart during the National Anthem.
Comedian Ellen Degeneres shares a Photoshopped image of herself on the back of Track and Field Legend Usain Bolt.

Begin immediate and unrelenting social media sh*t storm.

Open up the floodgates for The Internet to be outraged.
Cue millions of us falling over ourselves to fire off the Tweet that will be heard ’round the world the next morning.
Commence the incessant public badgering of complete strangers.
Enter an army of finger wagging, shame-throwing, just-add-water keyboard activists to save the world.

In every case and dozens like them every single day, history repeats itself:

We pile on relentlessly with expressions of volcanic indignation, as those involved explain their misinterpreted intentions, defend the purity of their hearts, apologize profusely, and then limp away battered and bloodied—and we all go back to keeping up with the Kardashians and sharing cat videos, feeling the momentary intoxication of our own self-righteousness.

Then we simply turn our gaze away from the feigned interest we had in whatever deep, underlying issues of humanity we claimed to care about in the moment—and scan the screen in front of us for whatever else is trending.

We aren’t known as a deep people anymore, as much as we are a combustible people.

We’re all brilliant at generating instant, scalding anger and packaging it in 140 characters, but not as adept at doing our homework or sustaining interest. The extent of our historical research tends to involve retweeting excerpts from books we’ve never read or sharing memes we haven’t fact checked and believing we’re authorized to speak—and not just speak, but speak with volume and venom.

Never mind that an entire world is within the reach of our finger tips, and that we could learn and dig deeper and begin the real work of addressing the pervasive ills of our world. But that’s too time-consuming, too laborious, too boring, and not as good at producing endorphins. We’d rather just put people we’ve never met and have no relationship with on blast and soak in the cheap applause of the gathering crowd.

And yeah, maybe it’s redemptive, but maybe it’s just bullying for sport.
It might be compassion, but it might be anger created for public consumption.
It could be speaking truth to power—or it could be just throwing shade to gain followers and grow our brand.

This isn’t a question of whether one or all of the examples above resonates with you or me as insensitive or misguided or dangerous or historically ignorant. Of course it might. It isn’t a question of whether or not we should speak into issues of injustice, bigotry, institutional racism, or any other social sickness. Of course we should. It isn’t a question of whether we get to police what moves someone else. Of course we don’t.

The question, is whether or not we really give a damn in these individual moments or whether we simply want to feel or appear like we do.

It’s about whether the fire in us is for the cause—or whether it’s just to start a fire.

It’s a useful thing every once in a while to ask ourselves if we really care about whatever it is we say we care about in the middle of our daily online engagements, or whether we just need an object for our anger. And we can only answer this question for ourselves. I get worked-up almost every single day, but more times than not what begins as righteous anger quickly morphs into a desire to be angrily right.

This world is broken, friends. People are hurting.

Racism, violence, bigotry, terrorism, poverty, and illness are real and insidious and they deserve our sustained attention. There are a billion things that are calling out to us and asking our hearts to respond, asking our voices to speak, asking our feet to move.

But they aren’t likely to be easy to hear above the din of our self-made social media storms, and they’ll require a whole lot more than the time it takes you and me to share a graphic, compose a Tweet—or to write or read this post.

There is more than enough injustice and suffering in this world to merit our outrage.

May we choose those things carefully, so that our time here isn’t just filled with momentary bombast, but with meaningful, redemptive passion that makes the planet better, not just louder.