I went to a funeral today. I’m sure you’ve been to one before. This funeral, however, was unlike any other I’ve ever been to. I did not officiate. This time I was the invited guest of a friend and brother. I didn’t know the deceased or the immediate family. I sat in the audience with a few friends who went to support a member of our church whose grandson was killed by gun violence on the streets of Oakland at the young age of 15 this past week. Sadly, he suffered a stroke and had to be admitted into the hospital on this day of his grandson’s funeral and could not attend.
I went to a funeral today. The service was at the mortuary but that didn’t really matter. I dressed in a suit I thought would be appropriate. I expected everyone to be like me and follow what I deemed to be the appropriate protocol and attire for attending a funeral service. After I arrived I felt out of place. Only a sprinkling of the old and traditional could be found in this sea of cultural urban expression. I tried hard to adjust and focus more upon what was being said than what I was seeing. But I confess I was completely distracted. The styles and attire were unfamiliar to me in a memorial service. Young men and boys wore sagging pants that showed their boxer briefs, tattoos, and other body markings. Young women dressed like they were going to the club, with six-plus inch heels, skirts that left little to the imagination, freely displaying their thong underwear, and other bodily parts.
I went to a funeral today. Police were strategically and visibly parked in their cars along the perimeters of the mortuary to prevent possible gang retaliation. “I will fear no evil; for You are with me,” I recited silently to myself as I crossed the street to the mortuary. As I entered, the smell of carnations and roses that would usually welcome mourners had been replaced by the burning smoke from cigarettes, weed, and alcohol. I nearly drifted into a high during the service.
I went to a funeral today. I heard some things that I never heard before. Young men and women lined the walls to give their tributes of remembrance of the young deceased. They swore, cursed, and used profanity to communicate their feelings and relationship while talking about their friend, relative, and acquaintance. I cringed at some of the offensive language. They laughed and shook their heads in agreement because it was the accepted norm for them. They talked about the young boy living a “stress free life.” Others said he fulfilled his purpose. Which was what at a so young age? They shared a few positive things—as they should—about him. I was in a different world. I was an outsider who was allowed to enter theirs.
When mourners spoke of the deceased young man people responded in the audience, “Let Him use you!” Who were they talking about? Did God show up here today? Was He present and I didn’t know it? Did I leave Him at the door when I entered? Why wouldn’t He be here? He was needed here more today than any Sunday morning service. I know there were believers here like me who were silently praying for God’s mercy, grace, love, forgiveness and salvation. I was not alone.
I went to a funeral today. I grieved, not for the deceased. He died nearly a week ago and there is nothing I can do to help him. I grieved for the hundreds of young people—mostly teens—who did not seem to be aware or cognizant of what had taken place. Many of them have or had witnessed violence before by or to someone they knew or have known. Others have experienced the death of some family member that had suffered a similar fate. Many of them had become desensitized to death and violence.
“Train up a child in the way he should go,” the Scripture says. Babies screamed and cried throughout the service. Parents put the microphone in the hands of little children to coach them to say something about this young man. Many of these children have never been to church. Their parents may have once been but no longer attend. It is not these babies fault but then what should our duty and response be to them? How do we reach them? How can we change this culture of violence? “So I said, ‘Woe is me, for I am undone!” (Isaiah 6:5).
I went to a funeral today. When I exited the building groups of young men stood around smoking weed, drinking, and recalling the life of their fallen friend. One young man carried a small bottle of Cognac around saying, “Tap the bottle. Tap the bottle.” Directly across the street another funeral was ending where the friend of the deceased was being held. He too was killed in the spray of bullets that pierced the building where they were ironically standing—in front of the Oakland Boy’s Club.
I went to a funeral today. I heard the preacher preach. He did his best to convince and convert these young minds to find a better way of life. He pleaded with them to seek Christ. He made an invitation to them to accept Jesus Christ as their personal Savior and like is often the case none of those young men rose from their seats. Thankfully, a few young ladies responded to the invitation.
I went to a funeral today and I cried. I remembered the words of the Savior, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!” (Matthew 23:37). I felt helpless because I knew in my heart that this would not be the end. Some of these young men would follow their friend and sadly, this scene would repeat itself all over again.
Earlier in the week a beautiful young sister in my church asked me and our congregation to support a community march against violence. I thought how angry our ancestors would be to know their hard work and blood had been wasted upon a generation that didn’t seem to appreciate or care about the sacrifices they made for them. Their souls are crying out from their graves all across the country in every major city in America. They marched for freedom and justice, and against the oppressors that once held our people in chains. They didn’t die so that we might kill one another in the streets like dogs. I am angry and I know they would be offended at what has become of our young people today.
I left a funeral today on my way to the house of my God.