Friday, May 27, 2011

Etiquette Versus Tolerance

This morning I attended a funeral for a dear man in my church, George Darby. George always greeted me with a big bear hug and always remembered my name, even though I only managed to get to services about once every three months or so. He was a drummer, a husband, a father, a quilter (I just found out today -- that rocks!), and a man of joy and happiness, but despite that happiness, I donned a conservative black dress and went to pay my respects.

I didn't actually count, but I'd say less than ten percent of the attendees were in black or gray. That doesn't really bother me, because like I said, George was joyous, colorful and unconventional. He would at times wear an African robe and skull cap (crown) to church. So looking mournful was, in my opinion, optional at this funeral.

But the people wearing jeans and ratty t-shirts got my attention. So did the three or four men wearing hats who didn't even take them off during the prayers. Several women were in flip-flops. At least twice, despite a very clear announcement to silence them, cell phones rang.

I was livid, judgmental and bitter. I smiled at the parents whose children were properly dressed, and scowled at the parents whose kids looked like they'd just rolled out of bed.

I grew up on the East Coast, where if you're less than fifteen minutes early, you're late. Now I live in New Mexico, where if you show up five minutes before the end, you're on time. I grew up right at the end of the era when people used to dress up finely to get on an airplane. We stood up during the National Anthem, even if it was only playing on television (I still do this, even when I'm alone). I'm glad my parents raised me with this sense of etiquette and respect. It has served me in many other ways and I like the way I am.

But the more Pastor Si talked about George, and the more I heard from his friends and family about how loving he was, and how happily he met life, the more I began to soften and question my qualification to judge the other mourners with whom I sat.

The God I believe in is a "come as you are" kind of god. We don't have to pretty ourselves up and get right before we can approach Him. I believe he welcomes all of us into heaven (yes, even that guy) because whatever we have done in life, or whatever reasons we have for rejecting what He offers us, He knows the reasons behind it all. He knows the pain that causes our doubts. He knows how we were raised and what we were and weren't taught.

Times change, cultures shift, and fashions adapt. Which is more likely: that 90 percent of the people in that chapel were being offensive and disrespectful, or that one woman was wrong for judging how much they cared or respected George based on their outward appearances?

I am not God, and I don't know the heart of anyone in the chapel today. I don't know if the man sitting next to me had just one hour to spare to come to the funeral from his job at a construction site, and thus had no choice but to wear jeans.
A family member was wearing a Jimi Hendrix hat in George's honor - should I reprimand that person because it's always wrong to wear a hat in a religious service? There were a couple of "Harley guys" who played in a band with George, and I see now that they were wearing the clothes they always wore when they were with him -- the clothes they always wear because that's who they always are.

What a joy, and what a feeling of freedom, that we can be who we are, and how we are, not only before God, but with our friends and families.

When it is time for my funeral, you can wear whatever you want. The important thing is that you are there, because you were important to me.

But turn off your cell phone.


Lizzy Leigh said...

I promise to turn my cell phone off and to wear something wonderfully colorful, just for you, as long as you promise me that I won't need to do this for a very long time. Deal? :)

karen said...

You got it LizzyBean!