Saturday, October 3, 2015

There are funerals I never want to officiate.

It was December of 2013.

I was in the college lounge at the church -- just across the street from campus -- when one of the students' phones buzzed.

There was a pause. Then a short intake of breath.

"It's an alert form public safety. There might be a shooter on campus."

Hold, there. Let that be disruptive for a moment. "A shooter." This is a common enough occurrence in our country that we have a shorthand colloquialism for something that ought to be difficult to imagine, let alone discuss.

"Ok," I said.

Non-anxious presence, they tell us in seminary. Be calm. 'Hold the office.'

"You all stay here. Lock the door. I'll go make sure the rest of the church knows."

We checked outer doors.

"This church has an awful lot of doors," one of the pastors said to me in passing. I laughed. We need a term other than gallows humor. I've never seen the gallows. The phrase doesn't mean much to me. This was handgun humor. Catastrophe comedy.

Back in the college lounge, the students checked in on social media. "Everyone ok?" one posted on our group page. One by one, others responded.

Finally, information began flowing in. False alarm. Everything is ok.

Everything is ok.

This time.


In this line of vocation -- what one author ironically refers to as being a "professional religious person," a phrase not without its share of self-critique -- funerals are an assumed part of the job. Death is a fact of life -- as it turns out, one of the few definite facts of life -- and being present with people in times of grief and death is one of the sacred spaces that pastors and chaplains are invited into. We stand in awe on holy ground, and often that holy ground is a place of pain.

In seminary, we are given guidance in officiating funerals. How to hold pastoral presence. Things not to say. How to pay attention to family dynamics and cultural differences. How to create space for lament. 

Funerals are a part of the role, no less than weddings and baptisms and preaching and (in campus ministry, at least) Costco runs for absurd amounts of s'mores supplies.

But there are funerals I never want to officiate.

There is no reason, no goddamn reason in the whole wide world, that I should ever have to plan a service, write a homily, hold the pastoral office, at a funeral for a college student who was shot and killed because we, as a country, have decided that we love guns more than life. 

In Oregon, this weekend, there are people doing just that. 

There shouldn't be.

If I continue in this church-thing -- and somehow, it seems to me that no matter the frustrations of a given week or month, I keep coming back to this odd gathering of messy people who cluster around a table and look for God in bread and grape juice and each other and mere inadequate words -- I will probably officiate many funerals. I pray that I will be given the grace to do so with awe and respect for the sacredness of such moments of grief and celebration, pain and release.

But there are funerals I never want to officiate. Here are five things you can do so that I never have to. 

Or, here's one: call you legislators this week. Tell them your friend David is a college chaplain. Tell them it's his job to pray and to be with people in times of mourning. Tell them it's their job to make sure that he doesn't have to do that for the families of students who died because we, as a country, refused to take any common sense measures to end gun violence.

Tell them I'll keep doing my job, today and tomorrow and the next day.

Tell them to do theirs.