On Friday, I attended the funeral service for a young man who was murdered on the streets of Bridgeport.
The funerals I've attended recently have been "explainable" ones. Meaning, due to age or terminal illness. They also had not been open casket per the wishes of the deceased. This was a completely different story.
I drove up to the funeral home that's located blocks away from the scene of the crime. This neighborhood is decorated with "place of death" altars that include commemorative candles, beer cans, and other momentos. This place - this lifestyle is vicious and relentless.
I arrived around 10:30 to set up and prepare - I had been asked to play music for the service. And for the next two hours I watched as hundreds of people filed through the room, approaching the casket holding the shell of this young man - only 22. Many wore T-Shirts with his picture on the front with a tagline "Loyalty made us family." The image of big, strong men weeping at the loss of a brother should have invoked a sense of compassion in me. But it was all I could do - thanks to social norms and deep respect for the family - not to yell out - "ARE YOU DONE WITH THIS???!"
This problem is the complete opposite of simple. How disgusting it would be for me to stand up, a upper middle class, educated white girl from Easton and claim any jurisdiction over this issue. But the entire time I was sitting there, I kept repeating the same lines over and over in my head. "I grew up just minutes from this. We have to build bridges." This isn't a Bridgeport/Fairfield issue. It's not even an gang issue. It's a church issue. This is about youth in poverty getting the chance to step out and achieve amazing things through relationships and intentionality. Young people need the song sung over them that they are valuable, created in God's image, and they can live a life of freedom.
The truth is, I'm disgusted. Where is the reconciliation among brothers and sisters in Christ? Fairfield, Easton, Westport, Trumbull churches - how are you serving young people at risk, opening your schools, providing opportunities outside of the hood for the next generation? How are you walking with these young people? Bridgeport churches - enough with the "us/them"! You have an opportunity to open up your doors and actually spend time in the streets with your people. Will you go? Can others join you? Can we forsake our secondary church government structures and ample service times and be with others? I can't help but think that this is the very thing that God calls us to in James 1:27. True religion isn't found in the title of the pastor or the potluck dinner, but caring for orphans and widows...can we just DO this??
The pastor got up - a friend and a partner in the work we do in the East Side. He said it perfectly. There was no sugar coating the absolute waste of a death this was. It was meaningless. This young man was soon to be a father. He leaves behind a large, compassionate family. He was an uncle, brother, lover, son. There was no reason for him to die. The bottomless pit of pride and fighting in the street life gives the false veil of camaraderie and family, but what kind of family puts their family members at death's door on a regular basis?
The pastor said, "For many of you, he's just another one." How cheap. For us, Church, this man's life should be a wake up call to dip our hands in the muddy waters of faithful partnership and patiently walk with someone. Invest, care, support, breathe life into the future leaders, doctors, pastors, musicians, artists, business women and men...that we might demonstrate true family.
Culture is such a thick wall to push through. But getting stuck at this wall is costing the lives of our young people. Literally. So I have to ask us, Church. Are we done with this?