Monday, December 10, 2007

The Ties that Bind

The lesson is -- oftentimes you never know how or when or why you touch people and make an impact on their lives.

But I'm getting ahead of myself here, so let me back up.
Today I went to a funeral.

Most times when I tell people "I have a funeral" I instantly get a very touching, "I so sorry" response, and then I totally ruin their lovely sentiment and make them squirm even more by saying, "no problem, it's a gig."

Today was no different. Today I had a gig. A funereal gig, but a gig nonetheless.

But this one was chock full of interesting dynamics. It was for a woman who left the Episcopal church in 2003 following the election and consecration of an openly gay Bishop from New Hampshire. At that time many people left the Episcopal Church, and several from my area formed an Anglican church that leans hard to the right, both politically and biblically. It's a lot less groovy, loving New Testament and a lot more Leviticus, if you know what I mean.

The Episcopal rift was (and continues to be) a time of fairly substantial upheaval. Lines were drawn in the sand, and whose side you were on was of critical importance. Some took a "good riddance approach" and others were devastated by the loss of friends within the Episcopal community. Some were called "haters" while others were considered to be brave and faithful upholders of the word. Problem was, who was a hater and who was an upholder was entirely dependent on which side you were on to begin with.

As is the case with many complex issues, I found myself in somewhat in the middle. Don't get me wrong, I have strong convictions on this subject. But from an intellectual standpoint, I could understand why people left the Episcopal Church, even if I disagreed with that decision with every moral fiber of my being.

As the church was filling up for the funeral, I made a mental checklist of people I knew who were attendees. Some I hadn't seen in several years. I wondered about them. How would they feel? How would I feel? And in the grand scheme of things, did it really matter anymore?

It was somewhat remarkable that I was asked to sing this funeral, because I only had the vaguest of recollections of this person from years past. However, in her own planning, she had specifically written down my name, telling those in charge that I was to sing if I was available. I felt a little humbled. Although she obviously knew me and my singing, I had to look up her picture in an old church directory, because I just couldn't place a face with a name.

What was even more remarkable though, was what I was asked to sing. The song that was selected was the wonderfully touching and yes, weepy pseudo theme song written years and years ago by a member of our church. Our Episcopal church. The one we all used to attend, until some chose to leave. But that's what was requested, and by golly that's what was going to be sung.

I've sung this particular song several times, often for funerals. And I'm here to tell you, having to sing these wonderfully touching words to such a sweeping, poignant melody isn't easy. In fact, it's generally considered an amazing accomplishment to make it all the way through without choking up.

I stood to sing to the people assembled and looked out over the crowd of people. They had left our church, but looking at the piece of music I had in my hand, I wondered if they had really left at all. This song -- this theme song, as it were, of our church -- had obviously touched people and made a lasting impression. And why not? The text asked for love, care, guidance, pity and mercy. It wasn't us versus them. It was just us. Help us. Watch over us. Love us. Heal us.

That's the way I sang it. Not as a weepy, let's yank at the heartstrings sort of piece, but as a song that asked for comfort and care and healing. And in all honesty, this sanctuary held a group of people that had so much more in common than not. Although many continue to focus on issues that divide us, I was grateful that this song in particular touched so many so long ago. To this day it continues to be something on which we all agree, and that is the first step towards healing.

Until that time when we can stand together and sing as one, I'm happy to be the voice in the wilderness. Given enough time, I bet others will want to join in as well. Music and singing is just that way.

Keep Me, Oh Lord as the apple of your eye,
Shelter me under the shadow of your wing.
My journey's long, be with me to the end.
I need your love, Lord. Pour it on me.

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