Monday, April 18, 2005

Evangelising has a time, and funerals are not it.

PERHAPS some of you might have already known from my blog, or perhaps with Singapore's mere three degrees of separation it is not difficult to guess - 20-year-old motorcyclist Goh Jingwei, who was killed last Saturday in the shocking bus-bike accident, was a friend of mine.

It was a heart-wrenching and shocking ordeal for me, not only because of the cruel way Jingwei went, but also because he was the first of my friends to go.

I cannot claim to have attended many funerals (nor would I ever want that), but so far, those that I've been to before Jingwei's were gracefully arranged.

In my opinion, the service, no matter what religion the deceased may be, is overtly important. It is the last memory one can have of the deceased, and unpleasant as funerals always are, personalized eulogies by loved ones combined with tastefully prepared rituals or gentle bereavement speeches can seal the deceased in the best memory one can remember him as.

In Jingwei's case, it was uncertain whether he was a Christian or not, but he did express an interest in the said religion, and, according to his friends, had attended church twice. Thus his family, who were not Christians, acted accordingly and held a Christian funeral for him.

The chosen pastor, naturally, did not know Jingwei personally. That cannot be blamed. But what made me feel angry, was the way the pastor had to repeatedly glance back at his piece of paper in hand to get Jingwei's name correct, and yet managed to deliver his memorized speeches flawlessly.

Excuse me, but that is just plain offensive.

To all of us present, Jingwei is so important... and yet, the pastor could not even put in a little extra of effort to memorise a three-syllable name?

An inappropriate analogy perhaps, but I remember when I was a banquet waitress I've always told myself that it might be just one of the many times I am serving a wedding dinner, but that evening is eternally special for the couple. And therefore, I always put on my best performance for these weddings. Shouldn't the pastor have the same attitude; or is Jingwei just unimportant because he is doing this speech thing everyday?

That being said, a different pastor from the previous day was actually doing active evangelizing during the service.

Among all the heartbroken people that Jingwei had left behind, he had the cheek to actually announce, I quote, that he would "like to take this opportunity" to urge those present to accept Christ, or well, not be able to go to heaven like Jingwei did.

I'd love to spew some vulgarities at this point of time, but urgh, I can't. (Hey, I can now! KNNBCCB!)

What does he mean by "take this opportunity"? This is my friend's funeral, and it will not be used as a billboard for his personal preaching! He was hired to comfort those in grief, to pray for Jingwei, and to conduct the whole ceremony - most definitely not for non-Jingwei related issues such as evangelizing!

I recognize that he wants to spread his beliefs, but there is a time for it, and the moment he chose could not have been more wrong. It was taking advantage of a person's death for his own religion's benefit (although he is assuming the benefit for 'converters' but keep in mind not everyone agrees with that, and I most definitely don't)! It is ok if Jingwei specified, before he passed away, that he wanted his faith to be spread, but Jingwei most certainly did not do such a thing.

But the issue has passed. It doesn't matter anymore, because no matter how the funeral went, Jingwei will still be with us (his family and friends) spiritually, although he has left physically.

What matters, however, is that such atrocity does not happen in future. I am writing this article as people tend to let pass these hiccups because the atmosphere is sombre enough without extra trouble - which I think is a terrible mistake. The funeral is going to be the last impression of the deceased one can have, and it has to be done properly. It should not be tolerated, such insensitivity to the deceased and family.


Personally speaking, since I am a non-Christian, I find it pretty - condescending - that pastors tell the story of how Xtians all go into Heaven - whilst the rest of us have to stay and suffer on Earth.

It sounds like a nicely-spun fairy tale to me, and though it might help loads of others get over their grief (which is a good thing), I still feel uncomfortable with that particular belief. Here are some of my concerns in brief:

1) The pastor telling us not to be sad, for JW was taken away by GOD to a better place.

a) You bloody do not even know JW till he is lying there dead, OF COURSE YOU WOULDN'T BLOODY BE SAD. Don't even try to understand our feelings, and don't tell us what to do, because you DON'T KNOW A THING. Just shut up, you hired stranger. (It is not the pastor's fault I know, but I want to be angry at something)

b) If God truly wanted to take him away, why did God chose such a tragic death? Is it to torture his friends and family? Why can't he go in a peaceful manner? (If you don't already know, JW's head got rolled over by a TIBS bus after skidding off his bike)

2) It was said that Jesus understand our grief, for he too lived as a human, and he knows we all have heavy hearts. He however urges us not to feel upset, for the deceased as gone to a better, sunshiny place called heaven. So ... Does this Jesus guy expect us to feel upset, or not??? (If you don't get the contradiction, I am not going to bother explaining)

3) If it is true that dying means God wants to take us to him, then how come pastors take medication when they have terminal cancer? Just go la.

4) If living is merely for the glamourous afterlife with God (scoff, as long as we believe in Him that is - poor kindly monks), then what's the point of this life? To separate us into hell and heaven?

5) I've got a no. 5, but at this point of time my mother just started to scold me regarding chalet matters (which I am starting to feel is far more troubles than it is worth), so I forgot it.

Excuses. So many reasons spun out of nowhere to cover these questions. I just cannot accept it.

Maybe Christians can answer me, but don't. One thing I hate hearing is people putting words into God's mouth, like they play chess with him everyday. My Christian friend heard my questions. He cannot answer me, because God (is supposed to) have infinite wisdom, and we mere humans cannot fathom how he thinks. A good enough answer for me.

Note to Christians: The first part of the article is targeted at the particular behaviour of the individual pastors, and not the religion. Do understand that. I agree that most pastors would not do such insensitive things, or even if they do evangelise it is ok since the deceased is an staurch Christian and he/she would like to spread his/her faith. But as JW's friends, we find that behaviour hard to accept, because we know that JW would not have liked it. He never evangelised to us. Even though the pastor doesn't know this, his choice of words were still wrong anyway.

The queries later on, are my doubts, and do try to answer them if you can --- though I am not interested in your own answer. If you want, quote me the bible.


"The Babel fish," said the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy quietly, "is small, yellow and leechlike, and probably the oddest thing in the Universe. It feeds on brainwave energy received not from its own carrier but from those around it. (......) The practical upshot of all this is that if you stick a Babel fish in your ear you can instantly understand anything said to you in any form of language.

"Now it is such a bizarrely improbable coincidence that anything so mind-bogglingly useful could have evolved purely by chance that some thinkers have chosen to see it as a final and clinching proof for the nonexistance of God.

"The argument goes something like this: 'I refuse to prove that I exist," says God, 'for proof denies faith, and without faith I am nothing.'

" 'But,' says Man, "the Babel fish is a dead giveaway, isn't it? It would not have evolved by chance. It proves you exist, and so therefore, by your own arguments, you don't. QED.'

" 'Oh dear,' said God, "I haven't thought of that,' and promptly vanishes in a puff of logic."

---- Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (1979)

Did I already say how much I love Douglas Adams?

(This story is not relevant to the first parts, but I was reminded of it and just put it in anyway)


Postnote: To all the buggers who are saying that it is ok to evangelise at the funeral, HOW FUCKING INSENSITIVE CAN YOU GET? Ok look, you are saying the pastor is just doing his job. So it is justified to do it, anytime, anyplace is it? Just coz he is "doing his job"?

Excuse me but that makes no sense.

Answer me this then, why don't the pastor step into a Muslim wedding and start preaching? Why not? Because it is disrespectful, and people are not interested. The same for the funeral. Christian though it might be, people who are there are there to pay their last respects to JW, and not listen to general preaching talks - which are available at your friendly neighbourhood church anytime. We want to hear about Jingwei, and as I have mentioned, funerals are PERSONAL EVENTS.

I don't care if death is related to Christianity. It is just plain rude. I quote one reader on his comment: "i will agree that it is insensitive just as an insurance agent would be trying to sell a premium plan at the funeral."

One great analogy. So what if the premium plan is a good thing? So what if the insurance agent is "just doing his job"? Tell me about how I am going to hell another time please.