… and well I might.
I WAS an alien at this funeral.
An elderly Sikh friend of mine had asked me to take him to the funeral of his friend … another elderly Sikh gentleman who had died the previous week after a violent incident that my friend had also been tangled up in.
It was an ugly business.
Feelings were running high in the local Sikh community, and the funeral was a big one. A huge, pulsating throng of people had assembled.
They had THEIR language.
They had THEIR culture.
They had THEIR practices and rites and patterns of appropriate demeanour and behaviour … and I was a stranger to ALL of it.
The only white face in a sea of angry Sikh faces was mine.
I got out of the car and I wanted to leave …
My friend asked for my handkerchief, tied knots in the corners and put it on my head.
I felt like an idiot.
Not only was I wearing a handkerchief on my head at a funeral, but I’d come within an inch of causing offence by appearing at a Sikh funeral with an uncovered cranium.
It was a really scary experience.
Bodies pressing together and we staggered – I tried desperately to keep my frail elderly friend from being crushed. What – nobody cared for this old guy? (In fact, they were ALL supporting him – but differently. My culture would make a space for him – theirs crowded in and held him on all sides … he’d have made it through the door without legs of his own!)
Carried along bodily we pressed (gentlemen only) through the front door, down the hallway into the jam-packed small living room to meet a tide of ladies (having come in through the back door) and rotated in the opposite direction to the women around the open-topped coffin … then out again and into fresh air.
Throughout there was noise, there was … music? … there was pressure and (frankly) there was stale sweat.
And throughout all of this I didn’t know what to wear, what to do or how to speak in a strange and unaccustomed situation.
I was an alien at a stranger’s funeral … but I was there for my friend.
In case you were wondering … it’s a parable. It’s a parable of most people’s experience of ‘church’.
You see, the week before last … never having done this before … I ran a bit of a focus group at Breakout Llansawel, our outreach youth group out in the villages. It was pretty interesting, really … (are you still with me?)
The results were posted on the Breakout Llansawel Facebook page and you can check on them there if you wish. It was hardly a statistical sample, but it was interesting enough.
What the results show is that church language, culture and music is completely alien to the under 40s and that they expect (if they ever risk going to ‘church’) to be made to feel like an alien at a funeral.
They may have gone for their friend … but it’s a culturally alien and unsettling – a truly THREATENING experience for them to be there.
Biblically, it wasn’t like this …
When Paul was trying to persuade (in my judgement) the Celtic tribespeople of North Galatia to trust in Jesus Christ alone to save them, he appealed to them on a really distinctive basis. Of course he set out his logical arguments in support of this propositional truth. But then his clincher went like this (Galatians 4:12) … “I plead with you, brothers, become like me, for I became like you.”
Of course, happy with the church music and culture that suits OUR tastes our Bible-conscious minds flee straight to 1 Peter 2:11 and seek refuge from the threat of change. ” Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world,” (‘Ah, YES … AMEN! We must be aliens and strangers here …’ WAIT! Peter is specific!) “to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul.”
- Radical in difference because we abstain from sinful desires.
- Radical in identification, just as Paul is able to appeal to a bunch of tribal, wild Celts living in ‘weird’ ways at the edge of the Empire “become like me FOR I BECAME LIKE YOU.”
The young people in my focus group are from a generation that’s gone missing from churches. And most churches don’t want their cultural anywhere close to the doors!
This is not about contemporary worship music. In fact, ‘contemporary worship music’ won’t do. They don’t want sappy, dreamy, pseudo-contemporary worship music. It repels them.
They can’t deal with ‘church music’ and culture old or new, because it leaves them feeling like an alien at a funeral.
But the ‘edgey’, heavy, Biblically driven music I played them they loved, related to, got the words of and went away singing …
So, we’ve a conflict here.
We can do what makes our existing church congregations happy (‘contemporary’ or traditional) … play to their cultural preferences, family patterns and comforting meta-narratives.
Or we can ask them to be bigger than that for the sake of the lost.
And this all leaves me wondering … just what WOULD Jesus do?