By Curtis Shelburne: CNJ Columnist
I went to a funeral yesterday for the wife of a fine friend. She was a dear friend, too, of course. Her family and my family had been friends, her father and my father close colleagues since before I was born. I am richly blessed to have been one of the many students of her father. He was one of the finest pulpiteers I have ever known. She and her husband were married for 46 years. My wife and I are up to 33. Our first kiss? It was in these friends’ front yard following a church youth gathering. Her husband and I have sung bass with the same quartet—he, for forty years and counting, and me, ages ago for a very few but deeply formative ones. The ties are long and deep.
I’ve not been able to quit thinking about that funeral.
Of course, I think about the sorrow and depth of my friend’s loss. I can hardly imagine.
Another dear friend preached the funeral message and did an exceptional job putting into words the feelings of us all and pointing us to Christ’s hope and comfort.
Comfort was all around us. It was a kind of family reunion, poignant to be sure, but a reunion nonetheless. Many of the folks gathered there had deep roots in the same old church I grew up attending in Amarillo.
Attending? What a weak word! You attend clubs. You attend social groups. You attend events of all sorts when it suits your purpose. You attend when it’s convenient. You attend. Or not. For probably most Christians today church “attend-ance” is just one more activity among many.
Growing up in that old church, I knew long before I could have put it into words that the life of my family centered in a larger family. Our very lives were focused with others in that old church. Its members were my family.
Like all families, our church family was far from perfect. We were wrong on many things. We were part of a heritage sadly legalistic and grace-challenged and, whether we recognized it or not, already paying the price for such. We were a sub-sect of a sadly sectarian anti-denomination denomination. Almost all of “us” know now we were wrong on the issue that caused us to be separate from folks who made exactly the same wrong arguments on other issues using exactly the same skewed logic we did. But they were “uptown” wrong and we were “wrong side of the tracks” wrong.
But it was in that little group that I finally began to learn that God has no children to claim as his because they are right. All of God’s kids are wrong in the head. But the Father loves them anyway.
I grew up in a church family. We didn’t just call it that. We were family, and that means often wrong. Theologically. Relationally. Sometimes stupidly, ignorantly, stubbornly, and insufferably.
But in the midst of that family, the Father taught us something about love deeper than all our flaws.
I learned to love Him there. And I still love them and they still love me. We’re scattered far and wide, but times like yesterday remind me of the depth of a family’s love.