I watched the funeral of Whitney Houston today, the best female vocalist of my generation bar none. I am one year older than her. The TV was on in the background, when it started I never imagined I’d sit and watch it, not that I wasn’t a fan or didn’t care, but I did not expect anything about it to hold my interest.
The funeral was moving, a bit nostalgic, had good messages and tributes, good music and a good sermon. But after it was over it occurred to me how visceral the gospel comes through in that setting as compared to the weekly church service. Well, it should shouldn’t it? I mean someone is dead. But there is far more to it than that. Sure visceral feelings about death come through when someone dies. But when someone real, someone who was known to have issues with drugs and likely all sorts of temptations as they faced stardom, when that person dies and we hear about her life and her constant speaking of her faith, even in the presence of behaviors that would not be considered God honoring, its more moving to me than listening to a pastor who claims he was saved at 6 years old in Sunday school, and his sermons are about things like “how to stop complaining”. She was desperately seeking acknowledgment that bad things happen to good people, and pat answers will not cut it.
Whitney Houston was hurting for some reason, and the things she turned to killed her. Those of us who have lived, not in fame, but in the real world where people hurt people, sometimes physically, where drugs and alcohol are used, where games are played and the stakes are high, hearing a pastor preach about how he is a sinner too and his complaining and raising his voice, his laziness on occasion, and his tendency to eat too much ice cream are just as bad as anyone elses sin, it just doesn’t generate the feeling of shared experience, of common struggle.
My friend here, Sojourner, often talks about how certain movies that are purely secular, even with R ratings, where good triumphs over evil, can evoke feelings that are more conducive to experiencing God than all the trite Christian films where everything works out after the guy recommits his life to Christ. He is right. Maybe those things work for people who really haven’t ever been tested, who somehow are fortunate enough to have stayed on the right path more or less for a lifetime. But what about the rest of us?
Less and less people are unaffected by the gritty world that dragged Whitney Houston down. We are the products of divorce, have experienced abuse, have sought comfort in sex or drugs or alcohol, have lied, cheated, maybe even stole, and who have been pushed to that place where it seems totally reasonable to look out for number one. Ironic isnt it that when we reach the point where we look out for number one, that’s when we screw number one to the wall.
Someone watching that funeral was moved to faith today, someone who would never walk the aisle at a Billy Graham crusade, and who definitely wouldn’t be filling in the form and circling the letter “A” to pass it into the mega church to tell them they accepted Christ. While the world falls apart, those broken people who have managed to find solace and hope in faith have a message I submit is more powerful than all the scrubbed and coiffed preachers, and all the trite convenient redemption movies and songs.
Men especially are tuned into victory against real life adversity. Men don’t generally get wobbly because they don’t feel loved in marriages, or experience unhappiness in their minds. Its why men sit in dead marriages and make the best of them. It seems to take more to rock men’s world, so when it does get rocked, it creates a cynicism that only visceral stories of a woman (or a man) like Whitney can break through.
Comparing that funeral and her story and that of countless lives lived outwardly in less than God honoring ways to those religious well intentioned church goers who yell AMEN at the mention of today’s social issues that define the church, ultimately redemption and victory if achieved is more real for the Whitney’s of the world. The story of Jesus ministry is real like that. The backdrop of adversity and depth of experience in Jesus life and those who live life far off the path is far more in keeping with today’s reality than that of the sanctimonious Christian who says “I’m just a sinner saved by grace”. I hope her story and her funeral broke through to someone who I know the alter call will not likely reach.
Our prosperity has taken reality out of the church. Evangelical feminism thrives where there is no visceral reality to motivate men. Men helping homeless addicts, men offering meals and shelter, directly, men visiting prisons, that is reality that speaks to a man’s heart.
Real stories, death, and real life, like that of Whitney, when juxtaposed to today’s church, leave the church looking weak and pointless. Whitney 1, Church 0.