As a faithful Christian man I must say that I am sorry. I am sorry that the faith I cling to has been the source of so much hurt, disappointment, judgment and hypocrisy. I am sorry for the crusades. I am sorry for the fighting between denominations within the same religion over petty differences in belief. I am sorry that the loudest voices coming from our faith are the ones that are the most judgmental, divisive and often least Christ-like. But most deeply I am sorry that in the midst of the incredible tragedy of losing your peer and a beautiful sister, Tundun Lawani, you did not hear a message of comfort, hope and encouragement.
I attended the memorial service for Tundun, even though I did not know her. I sat in the front of the sanctuary with Dr. Teresa Amott because I was asked to be there for students, faculty and staff who might like to speak with someone following the service. During the service I was filled with so much hope, light and life as we heard wonderful scripture passages read by students. We heard stories, memories and thoughts from students, faculty and family. We were moved to tears by the musical gifts of Amanda Shiew and the gospel choir. Although I did not know Tundun, through the majority of the service I was moved to complete empathy and wished in my heart that I had known such a beautiful soul. This is a mark of a very successful memorial service — one that helps those who did not know the deceased to find empathy with those that did. And this is where I was … until a fellow Christian pastor began to speak.
It was hard to not notice the number of people who had walked out of the service at that point as the noise caused me to turn around. To those people who walked out, I am sorry. I am sorry if you were offended, because even as a Christian I was offended too. I am sorry that this beautiful service turned into something it didn’t need to be. In the spirit of grace I beg of you forgiveness.
What should have been said wasn’t something that trumped that which anyone else had said. What should have been said was something that was going to offer peace, comfort and a resolved hope for the future. I am sorry that you didn’t have the opportunity to hear the true Christian message on that day. I am sorry you heard doctrine and divisiveness instead of grace and peace.
And so this is what I would have said:
Today is an incredibly sad day. We have been blessed today to remember Tundun with life, light and laughter. We have been encouraged with music speaking to our souls in ways that words could never speak. And we have been comforted by hearing stories of Tundun’s life and the way that she touched so many of you.
I am sorry that I did not know Tundun Lawani. I am sorry that I did not have the opportunity to see her beautiful smile in person, or to be greeted by her heartfelt hugs or enjoy her encouraging humor. I know that you all will miss her deeply and that today you are paying attention to that hole in your heart that we call grief. For those of you who find it difficult to go to certain areas on campus or do certain things during the day because of your fond memories of Tundun … please know that those situations will get better.
There will be difficult days ahead, that’s for sure, but there will also be good days. Those days you will seemingly be able to tolerate the hole in your heart just a little bit more. You’ll be able to move a little swifter and your load will feel a little lighter.
Those of you who knew Tundun knew that she was very faithful about her Christian beliefs. You knew she cared deeply about her relationship with her God but you also knew that she cared deeply about her relationship with you. As a woman of faith, Tundun believed in one everlasting God and Jesus Christ, his Son. You may not believe in the same things that Tundun believed, but that’s okay. You are here today and that means that you cared more about her than about you’re your differences might have been. And I think that’s what the Christian faith really ought to be about.
Too often Christians are characterized as people who are judgmental, hypocritical, and self-righteous. Yes, we have many people in the Christian faith who act this way and again I am sorry. I am sorry because this isn’t how our faith teaches us to act. In fact, this isn’t how Tundun lived her life. She wasn’t self-righteous, or hypocritical or judgmental. She was loving and cheerful and welcoming of others. But she was also a Christian.
She believed in the power of a higher being who has promised everlasting life in a new kingdom and a new earth. Tundun believed in the stories of a man named Jesus who died on a cross and of whom many said came back to life. She believed in the stories of his miraculous healings, his mysterious teachings and his unbelievable miracles.
The Christian faith teaches about grace and forgiveness … that no one is good enough to make it on one’s own … and that we’re all in the same boat. And isn’t that the truth? Aren’t we all in the same boat here today? Aren’t we all trying to figure out how to go on after losing a dear friend?
Friends, I hope that you will join me today in trying to find some comfort in the midst of this loss. You may not believe the same things I believe, or that Tundun believed, but that’s okay. But what we can find comfort in is that Tundun believed in a life after this one. She believed that once you die you go to live with a loving God in eternity with those people who have gone before you. You see, our comfort ought to be Tundun’s comfort. You don’t have to believe what she believed, but be comforted that Tundun’s beliefs lead her to a better place right here and right now.
The last book in the Bible talks about this place and says that it will be a place where there is no more mourning or tears or pain … but instead there is joy, and laughter and dancing. I don’t know about you, but this is the place that I envision Tundun to be resting in right now and that gives me peace. I hope it will you too.
Yep. That’s what I would’ve said. I am sorry that I didn’t speak, but I hope that this will begin an open conversation about faith, maybe what’s wrong with the Christian faith, and how we could better accept one another … even in the midst of our differences. So, if it’s okay with you I will be in the Gizmo ready, willing and able to speak with anyone about whatever you want next Wednesday, November 14 from 11-1. You can find me by my “I Am Sorry” sign. I promise to not judge you if you will give me the same courtesy. In the mean time, please understand that I am sorry. Forgive my crazy Christian brothers and sisters. And please forgive me.
Rev. Dr. David Parker
Pastor, First Presbyterian Church