Sinners among us


When my 98-year-old grandmother died after a relatively short battle with Alzheimer’s, her children organized a funeral according to her wishes. However, rather than an opportunity to honor her memory, all in attendance were subjected to a long sermon on sin.

I barely knew my grandmother. She was in her early 60s when I was born and had 29 grandchildren before I came along. She didn't speak English well and since I did not speak or understand German I rarely spoke a word to her beyond, “Hi Grandma, how are you?” After the funeral, some of my older cousins talked about what a great sense of humor our grandmother had. This surprised me, as I’d never known her to do much more than smile or nod hello as I leaned down to hug her tiny frame.

My grandparents were avid churchgoers as long as they were mobile, so the funeral was held in the church they attended in their younger days. Two of my grandmother's children read an obituary and a grandchild gave a short tribute to the godly woman we were all there to say goodbye to. That was the only mention of my grandmother during the two-hour long service. The rest of the time the pastor spoke about what sinners we are and how we will go to hell if we don't accept jesus into our hearts. Throughout the entire service, three men sat in a bench facing the congregation, each with his own version of fixed judgment on his face. 

What people believe in is a personal choice, and I would never dream of telling anyone what they should or should not believe. But the pastor, who could only be described as forceful in his approach, was completely closed off to any other idea about religion and was not about to let us get on with our day until he read every part of the bible that proved what sinners we are.

At one point my sister, who sat beside me fidgeting and touching every book or paper within reach as though she had the attention span of a small child rather than the 37-year-old she is, leaned toward me and whispered, “I think he forgot why we’re here.

Why were we there?

To be honest, I was there because my mother would never forgive me if I hadn't been. I was not there to hear someone tell me I'm less of a person if I don't go to church, specifically that church, every Sunday. I have never understood why so many people fail to see there are other options out there that might suit someone better than the one they believe in. I once had a priest tell me, "I don't expect you to believe in everything Catholics are supposed to believe in. I think you're supposed to pick the religion that you believe in the most and the one that makes the most sense for you."

Rather than listening to what can only be described as a recruitment session for the church we were in, I spent the time wondering how boring this man's life must be to feel there is only one acceptable way of thinking. I find diversity and difference of opinions adds excitement and dimension to life. I felt sad for my grandmother that instead of remembering her life we were subjected to finger pointing and talk of what horrible people we are simply for existing.

I may not have known the woman I called my grandmother, but I still feel she deserved to have her own funeral service be focused on her life and her accomplishments. And wherever she is now, I hope she is happy and at peace.