I went to church for the first time in about 10 years. Now before you decide whether or not to read on, hear me out…
My great uncle passed away.
He was a kind, gentle, talented man. The pastor at the church he was a member of, shared the words of the good book in between the heartfelt and honest words he used to describe my uncle. When reflecting on his life he talked about his many talents; he loved to paint and build bird houses & children’s toys. He even crafted the wooden cross often catching my eyes as I listened to him speak at the front of the church. He shares of how he was widely known for his sense of humor. I heard the story of the practical joke he played on my uncles, my grandfather & my aunt when they were kids. He even goes on to say how the kids in the community knew him as “Donald Duck” because he could do the best impression (I smile because that’s how I remember him).
The choir sang a moving “hallelujah” and we all respectfully bowed our heads to pray…
The pastor shared of personal conversations between himself & my uncle… Like the first day my uncle walked into his church & that first car ride home when he recalls him saying something like, “if I ever do anything you don’t like pastor, please tell me and I’ll change.” You see, my uncle was a “big friendly giant” as some called him. Intimidating to others & often loud as most of our family members are. Boundaries didn’t always come first & he liked to show his affection towards others freely. If you didn’t know him well, his personality might take some getting used to…
My aunt & her partner had taken my uncle in to live with them a few years ago… One of the first priorities was to find him a new local church as it was a valuable part of his routine. Unfortunately though, it seemed that the first church they found wasn’t a good fit for my uncle as they asked him to leave…
Let me stop there for a moment. Has anyone ever thought about HOW or WHY one might get “kicked out” of a church?! A place that is suppose to welcome, accept & overcome diversity of ALL individuals?! The full story I may never know… but that thought puzzles me, still… How any religion or church would be okay with turning an individual away that wanted to practice their same beliefs, I will never know… Thankfully, the church I was sitting in didn’t share that practice.
I know I have a habit of rambling on but there is a valid point to this story, I swear… I learned a little something about religion at this service. Religion is different things to many people. You might call yourself a Christian, catholic, Buddhist, atheist, spiritualist or whatever preference you have or practice but it is not that label that defines your beliefs to the outside world – it is YOUR ACTIONS!
While the pastor from my uncle’s church reminded us that my uncle often voiced how much he loved god and that he prayed that his family would be saved & find god, too. At first, he often had talks with my uncle about his participation in church & his relationship with other members – the gateway to creating open & honest communication and ultimately a beloved friendship as my uncle was later known as the “pastor’s right hand man.” My uncle showed an eagerness to help others & a want to be needed. He always greeted people with a smile & if someone ever cleared their throat or let out a cough, he had a cough drop waiting for them. He joyfully talked about my uncle’s encouragement to build a playground for the children of the church (which they followed through on) and of the pride on my uncle’s face when he showed up with a dish to contribute to a church supper. Before going home, he would always ask when the next get-together was because he couldn’t wait to come back! To come back to a place were he felt wanted & needed – every human’s natural desire.
Somewhere in-between all those graceful words & the choir rising to sing a second hymn, I realized that I wasn’t just crying over the passing of MY UNCLE, but over the impact his actions had on the world around him – an impact that I had not bothered to fully notice. The truth is… Sometimes I would wiggle out of his big bear hugs or dread staying at his house as a kid. I didn’t always take the time to try to understand exactly what he was trying to say. I never brought over the materials for him to make a wooden wagon when he simply wanted to give my son a gift. I didn’t think twice about burning him in a game of Yankee swap on Christmas a few years back. What I’m trying to say is that I wasn’t always as patient, respectful or loving as I could have been towards him because I chose to let our differences get in the way. What I sometimes found to be annoying, embarrassing or took for granted about my uncle were embraced as beautiful differences by the members of his church who hadn’t thought twice about welcoming him with open arms while only knowing him a short while… The members of my uncle’s church may think they were simply doing God’s will & that my uncle was brought there to remind them the true meaning of grace but I have chosen to believe they were acting as we all should…
Whether you believe in god, Buddha, spirits, the universe or the moon & the stars, one thing is universal – we are all vehicles – vehicles to spread a message of joy, love, acceptance & kindness. My uncle faithfully fulfilled his duty in doing just that.
THAT IS RELIGION.
I think I can speak for my entire family when I say, that hearing of the differences my uncle & his peers overcame together, the genuine bonds that were made because this community was able to put their judgements aside & of the pride he had for himself because he was surrounded by people that believed in him… brought us all much comfort in grieving the loss of his physical presence here in earth.
I can’t say I left God’s house a changed person that day but I was given a gift by my uncle & his peers – a great reminder that we are all capable of being a valuable vehicle in this life. My hope is that I am remembered for being a vehicle that has traveled with the intentions to; love more, judge less, act with more patience, respond with more kindness, pour more love unto others, be less selfish, give when I am able & always remember that “tomorrow is a new day.”
That is the religion I will choose to practice. May you embrace this gift, too.