Last night my daughter sang a song at a candle light vigil for a former classmate who was brutally murdered last weekend. The even was coordinated by the teen-aged friends of this young man with the assistance of some parents. The entire community was moved by this horrific crime and probably upwards of 700 people showed up.
Many of them had maybe a passing involvement with church and no real active Faith to speak of. They are what I call TSC. Typical Southern Christians. Before you rail against me and see this as an attack on a region, it is not. I am from Philadelphia and grew up in the Philly area which is predominantly Catholic. We had the same thing except it was TYC. Typical Yankee Catholic.
Typical Southern Christians are folks who were raised in a church. They can't remember a time when they weren't going to church. It was the social gathering of the week. But it became so common and so familiar that it lost it's influence. Sure, you "watched your mouth" around ladies and preachers, and you wore your Sunday finery but it was no longer a place where the Word was still being wielded as a two-edged sword. Now it was a place where you went and heard what you already knew for the thousandth time, had chicken afterwards and watched football on the couch later. The eternal effect has long since been diluted.
In Philly you went to mass, heard a homily on being a good person and went to moms for some ziti. You were a good Catholic because you held to the liturgy, observed the Holidays and went to confession once in a while.
In neither scenario did Church have a deep life altering effect. It established some blurry guidelines that could be bent or obliterated as the situation required. In Catholicism you sin and then go to Confession, operating under the old ruse of "It's easier to ask forgiveness than permission". In Protestantism...particularly Baptist and Church of Christ and especially in the South...you screwed a guy over in a business deal but you gave your ten percent in the tithe the next Sunday and that squared things with the Almighty. And you were pleasant and said "Bless your heart" at some point during the underhanded business. In defense of my Southern friends, Yankees are equally ruthless, it's just that we wear it as a badge of honor and don't try to hide it behind a smile and a "Bless his heart". Both are sad...both are wrong.
So now that I have disarmed you with a little humor let me break your heart...if there remains a heart to break.
Last night at this vigil I saw upwards of 700 people, more than half of them teens, desperately trying to make some sense of a horrible triple murder that took one of their friends. I heard high school boys trying to express their souls and trying to say "I love you" to a friend they lost but not having the ability in their oft-confused teen-aged hearts to say those words...so they said it in different ways.
I heard my daughter singing a beautiful song so perfectly matched to the moment that it might have been written just this week by someone who knew the young man we honored.
I heard desperation, sadness and longing. Longing for answers to the great questions in their hearts. Longing to understand "why?"...longing for some sort of peace and healing. Longing for an answer.
In the midst of this I heard a lot of the usual platitudes about "He's in a better place now" "He's looking down on us" or "God wanted an angel". It's what everyone says when someone dies and it's the human heart's way of trying to find an answer and inject hope. Because ultimately what they gathered there last night to find was just that...Hope.
And when the moment came for God's voice to be spoken and the only TRUE source of Hope to be pronounced, explained, and offered freely...they got a backwards collar talking about "eliminating hate and intolerance" and encouraging the community to determine that "this will never happen again!"
I'm sorry pastor whatever-your-name-is, it WILL happen again. In fact just watch the news, it was happening while we gathered to grieve. As for the politically correct-motivated introduction of buzzwords like "hate" "intolerance" and you imploring people of "all faiths including Muslims, gay, straight whatever..." Really??? Why did you go there? Because your seminary has been compromised and your Gospel is nothing more than leftovers from Abby Hoffman's 60's?
For those who aren't familiar with the situation, the family was murdered by a deranged and emotionally unstable next-door neighbor who was under psychiatric care and heavy medication. He apparently had a psychotic episode...although one could argue that any murder is a psychotic episode...and broke into the house and killed three of the family members, leaving only a nine year old girl who is now essentially an orphan. There was nothing at all about this crime that had to do with gay intolerance or "hate" in any way. Other than, of course, the fact that it's hard to say you don't hate someone you have stabbed to death.
I watched and listened in shocked horror that quickly turned to dismay as this talking collar got in all the major liberal theology talking points but never even mentioned the name Jesus. Not once.
Instead of speaking to the underlying question of the hour..."Where is Jonathan" and "Will I see him again...can I be sure of that?" He spoke of community unity and taking action that this will never happen again. That's good because we all need to prepare a plan of action and a "mentally-ill-next-door-neighbor-survival kit". And we need to know where it is at all times.
Instead of using the moment and planting the most important and urgent Seed of all in hearts turned over and tilled and ready to receive it...he spoke of intolerance.
But I guess I should expect that from mainstream denominations now.
However, the more troubling issue to me was the stone silence of the other churches in the area. Why didn't they get involved and ask for a spot on the roster? Why didn't they bring out a group of believers to be there speaking the Gospel in comfort and power? The sad thing is that when a heart is rent like this it is pliable and soft for only a while...then it hardens up as a means of self defense. This morning those hearts that went home last night with the God-shaped vacuum literally throbbing from hurt and aching for a taste of the Gospel in full force, woke up with a callous starting to form. It formed because the so many of the churches from that community are in the "Emergent" bracket.
Being so heavily rooted in Reformed theology, they have no urgency to jump in with the Gospel. They have no heartbreaking vision of this crowd of wandering sheep searching desperately for an answer and for hope and no shepherd to be found. "If I can help you in any way..." was all that was proffered. I stood there in tears, because my daughter was rending hearts with a song so perfect and a voice so angelic that it could have passed for a Holy visitation, but also because I was preaching to them in the silence of my soul. I knew what I would have said and how I would have said it. I wanted to gather those people...especially those kids...and explain to them what eternity is and that it's real and that Heaven is real and so is Hell and that if their friend Jonathan could pull back the veil of eternity for just 5 minutes he would tearfully tell his mourning friends "I love you guys...PLEASE make sure you are ready for eternity!" And then I would have shown them from God's word...a book I had with me last night but the Collar did not...how this security could have been received. How a life with Jesus could begin, right then, right there.
Instead I squirmed and frothed and raged in my soul. I showed respect and didn't act on my urge to jump on stage, seize the mic, and speak the sermon that was turning to fire in my bones.
Where was the urgency? Where was the broken hearted weeping of the body of Christ? Where was the harvest??
My only assumption is that because of Reformed theology...which this man's denomination not only adheres to but played a role in founding...there was none. There didn't even need to be any. God has this all sewed up and figured out and we play no role in it so why bother getting rattled or broken about the eternal component in this? Why not turn this into a social gospel bleat? Why not include gays and Muslims and talk of hate and intolerance...even though none of those things played the remotest role in this calamity?
Why not? Since you have reduced salvation to a lottery system based on the whim of a capricious God...why even care at all beyond the present?
I can't begin to tell you of the sleeplessness I experienced last night. The broken-hearted tears as face after face flashed in my memory of kids who were literally spinning and free-falling in grief and bewilderment who came to show support and get comfort, and left just as grieving, just as bewildered...and just as lost.
If your doctrine removes urgency it is a godless doctrine indeed. And it is trying it's best to intrude on denominations who never before would abide it.
God help us all.