Tuesday, April 22, 2008

and the sky opened up

I've talked about my uncle once before, his life and his death both. But Jessica's post on understanding death made me remember it again. As I wrote before, I cut my teeth on his doctrine, the original Jesus Camp. He commanded your attention and would then reward you with scripture quoted in a booming voice that meant no fidgeting, no looking away and you damn well nod your head and you damn well better never say damn. He commanded his church with much of the same tough love: you can come in but you better find a bible. You can do drugs but you better be praying. You can sleep on my pew but at 6am you better be on your knees.

Because of the nature of his ministry he had a tremendous following, people who truly felt he'd saved their lives. Folks that ended up serving the church in a variety of ways, their gratitude almost cultlike, Pastor, they'd say with reverence and hands outstretched. Pastor, and he'd touch their hands or heads and they saw it as being blessed.

When he died suddenly and without warning everyone felt he did a great service by choosing to die away from the church. There was never any discussion, just Pastor decided it was time to go home. Dying away from the church meant no one saw it happen and the shock while brutal throughout the church and shelter was manageable until the day of his funeral.

We got there early and still had to park blocks away. The church was overflowing with scores of street people and the elderly, kids and their moms. Every color of the rainbow and every walk of life, languages from all over the world and the church packed to the rafters. They still had to lodge some speakers in the windows to accomodate the hundred and more people filling the street.

My uncle was laid out up front, his casket closed. Folks were weeping and using their programs as fans. Being family I was in the second row and watched his son give the eulogy, tears coursing down his cheeks. The choir broke down in sobs in the middle of their song. It took forever after the service for everyone to walk by and pay their respects at his casket, lines streaming from outside the church. One woman literally threw herself on the coffin and had to be pulled off and away and I can still recall her wail. Men were weeping. Women were in the basement making a humble meal, a meal he'd approve of because everyone was convinced he was still paying attention. My uncle see, he didn't mess around.

I didn't know death until that day. I didn't know that my heart could feel the depths of sorrow and fear of loss itself, the man we circled our lives around and broke bread with, who ministered and raged and guilted and scorned and forgave and loved and who never, ever would listen to an opinion contrary to his faith. And I cried that day, sitting amongst the street folks and the dealers, the thumpers and the old grandmas with no teeth. I cried great buckets of tears because nothing made sense, the man who spoke to God was dead and I feared him and I loved him and somewhere in between I found my own way.

23 comments:

cce said...

My earliest memory of being inside a church wasn't really early at all - it was my grandmother's funeral and I was a freshman in college and somehow I'd managed to avoid all churches until the day we buried her. My first funeral preceded my first wedding.

The fiery, important man you called Uncle stands out as some one unique in this world, someone who helped others in his own way, unique with conviction. Though I don't know you, I imagine you get some of your selflessness and strength of character from this family member who helped the street folk and the dealers.

Julie Pippert said...

And wow.

First, this site is HOT. Wow. Looks awesome!

Second, wow, "I didn't know that my heart could feel the depths of sorrow and fear of loss itself, the man we circled our lives around and broke bread with, who ministered and raged and guilted and scorned and forgave and loved and who never, ever would listen to an opinion contrary to his faith."

For good or bad, some people are cornerstones and forces.

You captured that and the loss so well.

The two sides, and how you grew from it.

Beautiful.

Mad said...

What a compelling post. Yours and Jess's have me ruminating on a potential post of my own about my dad's death. We'll see if I'm up for it.

Kyla said...

This one small story tells me so much about you, even though you aren't the main character. I see that passion and compassion in you.

Angela said...

I am so very sorry for your loss, what an interesting and complex man.Your commitment and passion for social justice is obviously a family trait. Love and loss, tears and pain. It's part of life, it doesn't get any easier to bear but it does make us hold our loved ones a little closer and remember life can change in an instant.

Madge said...

i just loved this post. it is beautiful.

Madge said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Gwen said...

How complicated that moment must seem to you now, having become who you are. But you captured it beautifully, and with so little judgment. I liked this very much.

Magpie said...

Wow, Jen - how fascinating. And how interesting that you followed, sort of, in his footsteps.

flutter said...

You know what, jen? Seriously, the writer in you astounds me.

Amy Y said...

I agree with Flutter!
And I love the new look... it's been awhile since I've gotten a chance to stop by and I'm all behind again.

Great post ~ I can feel the emotions surrounding your uncle... Thanks for sharing this story. He sounds like someone I'd have liked to have met.

Oh, The Joys said...

Wow, jen. I'm so glad you wrote this down. I loved reading every beautiful word of it.

thailandchani said...

This is a wonderful post.. the exact kind of thing I like from you. Hope to see much more of the same. :)

Christine said...

oh god jen. this story, this man--moving.

(ps sorry i haven't been around lately, that dog has all my free time now!love ya)

mamatulip said...

Jen, this is amazing, this post. Unbelievably beautiful.

It caught me.

Defiantmuse said...

You painted a vivid picture with your words.

Beck said...

Oh, this is a beautiful piece. Some people leave such a catastrophic absence in their wake, these irreplaceable huge people.

painted maypole said...

i'm off to read your previous post about your uncle, which must have been before my time in the blogosphere....

painted maypole said...

hey look, i'm back! :) i just read your other post... you know, I think that for a lot of people the reason they do help is based on the bible, and I think it's reasonable to share the WHY they do it, that they feel called/commanded to do it and that it's an expression of God's love. But I would make the argument that you can make that point without expecting that the person come to faith, which is what it sounds like your uncle did. But clearly, he made an impression you, and I imagine that he is quite proud of the work you're doing.

painted maypole said...

hey look, i'm back! :) i just read your other post... you know, I think that for a lot of people the reason they do help is based on the bible, and I think it's reasonable to share the WHY they do it, that they feel called/commanded to do it and that it's an expression of God's love. But I would make the argument that you can make that point without expecting that the person come to faith, which is what it sounds like your uncle did. But clearly, he made an impression you, and I imagine that he is quite proud of the work you're doing.

painted maypole said...

oops... sorry for the double comment... but it does up your comment numbers. feels nice to see those big numbers below the post, right? ;)

Lisa b said...

That moment of nothing making sense and then you find your own path.
beautiful jen, as always.

love the new look.

nomotherearth said...

"who never, ever would listen to an opinion contrary to his faith" - that line really spoke to me.

Beautiful post.