Friday, February 13, 2015
Last weekend I did not serve in my current parish where I am the interim pastor, but instead, I drove about 5 1/2 hours up the coast to provide leadership for a memorial service for a relative of a to-be relative (my niece's fiancee's brother died). He was 29 years old. Missing on a Friday and confirmed dead on Monday. As is always the case, the gathering of folks who were friends and family was eclectic, to say the least. There were complexities and tensions to be sure. However, the overwhelming words and tones were tenderness, grace, mercy, balance and celebration. A lot of that sentiment came from Ultimate Frisbee teams in the greater Portland area. I told a couple of people that many of these folks could be poster children for the "Keep Portland Weird" campaign -- and I mean that in the most complimentary and kind way. People came from Ohio, Tanzania (!), California and ??? Work colleagues, camp counselor buddies, Ultimate teammates, family and ?? were there to celebrate a life and mourn a death.
There was ritual, there was honoring and remembering, there was raucous laughter, there were hugs, there were huge embraces, tears and a whiskey circle where you "affirm the shit out of one another." (Sidebar: I'm going to tell you, I do believe that there are far too many churches who have forgotten to do this...the affirming, not the whiskey part, though perhaps they are inextricably connected. What do I know?) There was an art table with book altering, felted rock making and memory writing. There was an altar. However, there was little in the way of organized or corporate religion and worship. But it felt like church. I suppose I should feel guilty that I did not whip out my finest "witness to the resurrection" sermon and the masterful, traditional funeral prayers from the Book of Common Worship, but alas, I am a heretic and a sinner.
Instead, I celebrated and affirmed people where they were. I shined light on the hope that I saw. I named the sadness that I heard. I reveled in the lovely young adult community that surrounded this young man's family. Do I believe in resurrection? you bet! Do I know that God was present in that room, the beachside bluff, the whiskey circle, the memorial altar, the sharing of Mexican food and more? absolutely. Was I minister to the masses for those hours last weekend? Indeed, I was.
The poet and Scriptures may say it best:
God is a pure no-thing,
concealed in now and here;
the less you reach for him,
the more he will appear. - Angelus Silesius