I've talked about my uncle once before, his life and his death both. But Jessica's post on understanding death made me remember it again. As I wrote before, I cut my teeth on his doctrine, the original Jesus Camp. He commanded your attention and would then reward you with scripture quoted in a booming voice that meant no fidgeting, no looking away and you damn well nod your head and you damn well better never say damn. He commanded his church with much of the same tough love: you can come in but you better find a bible. You can do drugs but you better be praying. You can sleep on my pew but at 6am you better be on your knees.
Because of the nature of his ministry he had a tremendous following, people who truly felt he'd saved their lives. Folks that ended up serving the church in a variety of ways, their gratitude almost cultlike, Pastor, they'd say with reverence and hands outstretched. Pastor, and he'd touch their hands or heads and they saw it as being blessed.
When he died suddenly and without warning everyone felt he did a great service by choosing to die away from the church. There was never any discussion, just Pastor decided it was time to go home. Dying away from the church meant no one saw it happen and the shock while brutal throughout the church and shelter was manageable until the day of his funeral.
We got there early and still had to park blocks away. The church was overflowing with scores of street people and the elderly, kids and their moms. Every color of the rainbow and every walk of life, languages from all over the world and the church packed to the rafters. They still had to lodge some speakers in the windows to accomodate the hundred and more people filling the street.
My uncle was laid out up front, his casket closed. Folks were weeping and using their programs as fans. Being family I was in the second row and watched his son give the eulogy, tears coursing down his cheeks. The choir broke down in sobs in the middle of their song. It took forever after the service for everyone to walk by and pay their respects at his casket, lines streaming from outside the church. One woman literally threw herself on the coffin and had to be pulled off and away and I can still recall her wail. Men were weeping. Women were in the basement making a humble meal, a meal he'd approve of because everyone was convinced he was still paying attention. My uncle see, he didn't mess around.
I didn't know death until that day. I didn't know that my heart could feel the depths of sorrow and fear of loss itself, the man we circled our lives around and broke bread with, who ministered and raged and guilted and scorned and forgave and loved and who never, ever would listen to an opinion contrary to his faith. And I cried that day, sitting amongst the street folks and the dealers, the thumpers and the old grandmas with no teeth. I cried great buckets of tears because nothing made sense, the man who spoke to God was dead and I feared him and I loved him and somewhere in between I found my own way.