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Funerals in Gangland and the Role of the Gospel

In my various experiences in the Episcopal Church I’ve been to a lot of funerals. Up until now the experience has always been only slightly uncomfortable. The Congregation has always played the part: Dressed usually in black, or occasionally brightly colorful as befitting the celebration of an older member’s passing. Intellectually though, I knew the funeral this past Saturday was going to be different.

As part of my mentored ministry, I am currently engaged in a cross-cultural setting, and I was asked to help out at the funeral of a 17 year old young man that was killed in a drive by shooting. He was a baptized and attending member of the congregation, and I envisioned him as an innocent bystander. There was no real official information about his death to respect both the ongoing investigation

Rosa Parks Funeral, source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/perspective/sets/1258286/

and the family’s privacy. Nevertheless, I expected the funeral would be a lot like the ones I’d experience in the past, only this time with an all Black congregation.

Visually I was expecting the funeral to look a lot like this, and initially it did. I arrived early to help set up, and offer my condolences to the grandmother who was the matriarch of the family. Her side of the family was all turned out in suit and tie, or their Sunday best dresses. She then warned me that the boy’s mother’s side would probably arrive late, and there would be a lot of them. To my surprise, a few young people began to show up dressed more for the club than church.

My surprise grew as a few turned into at least 60 of the young man’s friends and acquaintances. The thing I found truly shocking was they were all wearing a screen printed shirt in addition to their bling, sagged pants, or revealing attire. The shirt had a caricature on the front depicting a dread-locked man with a side cocked hat, gold grill and the caption

Soulja Boy and Mr. Thug in 2013.
Image Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/100099282@N04/9482810052/

“RIP Bobo.” I found out Bobo was the young man’s street name.

My first thought was, “Oh my God,  How can they glorify the life that got him killed like that?” “How disrespectful to the family?”

As the small church was packed to overflowing, folding chairs were added to all the aisles, and a pew that normally sat 4 or 5 was wedged in with 7. Even still the crowd spread to standing room only in the back with a few of the “young thugs” not even coming into the church.

Despite this unexpected audience, the funeral began like all in the Episcopal Church do…The cross processed, a few hymns were sung, and the Bible lessons, including the ubiquitous Psalm 23. Then the young man’s Uncle stood up to deliver the eulogy.

Here the real curveball began. The deliverer of the eulogy was a Baptist Minister by trade. He began by apologizing to the family, because he was going to step on some toes, and then proceeded to throw out his prepared statement and address the young crowd and give them a “come to Jesus” talk, and tell them that death was coming for them. It’s coming for us all, and if they weren’t prepared they were going to hell.  At first my reflection was positive, these people may never come to a church again, so they need to hear the gospel.

The Pastor began to talk about when you find Jesus, you can still go out, you can still have fun, and you can still get high only its high on the Holy Spirit. I heard a lot of “amens” from the congregation.  As he continued preaching, I became more and more uncomfortable. The sermon had become and “us” vs. “them” all about how they needed to change their lives and get what we had, or end up dead like their friend there. Not only that but it seemed to trample on the needs of the family.

The grandmother had partially raised this boy. He was baptized as an infant, raised in the church, and had been to church the Sunday before he died. This woman was in agony, wondering whether her grandson was in heaven, and here the pastor began using his life as a case study. I don’t know the full circumstances of this young man’s life, but I do know this. Even after I became a Christian it was a long time before I stopped doing stupid stuff.

Reflecting Theologically, Is Evangelism ever appropriate at a funeral?

  1. It’s an emotionally charged situation. These people are not coming there to be converted.
  2. It’s patronizing. People need to reach rock bottom, and want to receive help and want to change. The church becomes yet another nagging voice.
  3. We need to preach the gospel that God is love, merciful. This 17 year old’s death was not just a part of God’s plan to provide the opportunity to witness to his unsaved friends.
  4. We are saved by faith not works. Hammering away at people to “come to Jesus” and “turn their lives around” misses the point that none of us are righteous by our own merit.

Given these factors should we never evangelize at a funeral…Despite the potential for it to go wrong, I say No. A funeral is an opportunity to share the very heart of the gospel of God’s love, and to show that love to others. It’s an opportunity to invite people to reflect on life, and how short it is.  The role of the gospel here is consolation for the family, despite any setbacks or relapses into sin this young man was washed clean in the blood of the lamb, and we trust that he has eternal life.

 

 

Broken Ministers

What a beautiful thing to sit in a mentored ministry class…The room is full of broken people. Recovering porn addicts, recovering drug addicts, survivors of abuse, 2 former correctional officers, a psychologist, and me…Me in the midst of my struggles with depression, body image and past mistakes.

Yet here we all are teaching each other about how to minister to those traditionally looked on as “outside the church”. Ministering in brokenness…Jesus was the only perfect child of God, because we can’t be.

How do we bring the outsider in? By recognizing that their brokenness may be different, but no worse or better than mine. We need to stop expecting people to “act Christian” before they even come into Church.

Must Faith Follow Reason?

But that doesn’t make any sense…how can you believe that a man died and rose again after 3 days, and your ‘eyewitness’ accounts are written more than 70 years after the fact. -Sam Atheist

Pastors are (or should be) encouraging their flock to go out into the secular world and share their faith. But often we are ill prepared to do this. Many times we will encounter people who are outright antagonistic and think Christianity is outright stupidity. Indeed many can present seemingly challenging criticism like that mentioned above, and the conversation especially in an online forum goes downhill from there. Our evidence comes from the Bible, yet our hearers don’t except that as an authoritative source. Many faithful, rather than effectively evangelizing, find their faith genuinely challenged by others questions…

William Lane Craig talks about the difference between “knowing” the gospel to be true and “showing” the gospel to be true. We can know the gospel to be true based on the inner testimony of the Holy Spirit in our lives.  During his time at Wheaton, Craig was exposed to an ideology that faith must always give way to reason. Therefore, if faith was countered by reason one must give up their faith.

Craig argues in the book , Five Views on Apologetics, that this is absurd! No we aren’t supposed to give up our personal faith, even when seemingly defeated by reason. “Some persons simply lack the ability, time, or resources to come up with successful defeaters of the antitheistic defeaters that they encounter” (Craig 34). The Holy Spirit is a ‘self-authenticating’ witness that, while not directly countering defeating arguments, overwhelms  them.

We “know” our faith based on the Holy Spirit, but when we seek to “show” our faith we need to provide evidence. Reason is the only way to break a deadlock between those who claim to have a conflicting experience with the Spirit, or who do not accept the Spirit as a valid witness at all. The role of the Spirit in showing others is prevenient grace, working on their hearts and minds to promote honest consideration of our arguments.

I think Pastor’s would be well advised to prepare their congregations to face the questions of the “Sam Atheists” of the world. We need to have both faith and reason; the faith to withstand questions, even those we may not have the answers to and the reasoning and apologetics to “show” our faith effectively to others.

 

 

Apologetics in an Unapologetic World

One of the classes I’m taking this semester is about Christian apologetics. The course readings include author’s such as Dawkins. One of his assertions that stuck out at me is that we are all atheists in this world. Some of of us just have one more God that we don’t believe in than others.

On the whole I find Dawkins smug and repugnant, but he has a point. No one is arguing much these days for the Gods of the Greek pantheon. Is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacod going the way of Zeus? Are Dawkins and others just ahead of the curve in ousting this God that seems to not make sense in our scientific world. I would argue that no…they are not ahead of the curve, but are behind it.

Joseph Butler, an Anglican Bishop, wrote a fabulous book called “The Analogy of Religion.” His book is a fabulous piece of apologetic work that deconstructs the problems that many beginning in the Enlightenment began to have between ‘reason’ and ‘religion.’ Sadly his work is in 18th Century English, and largely inaccessible to the modern readers comprehension.

Apologetics seem more important than ever in a world where a Christian viewpoint is automatically deemed as biased and suspect, yet where have they gone? The last century was filled with great evangelists, but they had little impact on rational debate. Perhaps this century will be one in which apologetics again comes to the fore.

The recent debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham about creation received a lot of buzz. Yet it seems no one was convinced. Nobody won…The creationists still believe and their opponents still do not. So what would a meaningful and impactful Christian apologetic look like in today’s pluralistic world?

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Becoming a Daughter of the House

 

This January I was officially admitted into Nashotah House, an Episcopal Seminary in Nashotah, Wisconsin. I am now a dual-enrolled seminarian because I’m still earning my Masters in Divinity from Asbury Theological Seminary.

As part of my final year of my journey towards ordination, I’m earning my certificate in Anglican Studies. I was so proud and pleased to be able to attend Matriculation this January at Nashotah House and sign my name into the book of sons and daughters of the house that agree to abide by her rules and train there.