taking the words of Jesus seriously

Not long ago I attended a funeral for a sixteen year old boy.* He was a student at the school where my wife is a teacher. I’ll call him Maxie.

Maxie was one of those kids of clearly limited intelligence – and who stood about a foot taller than his fellow eighth graders.

In the unyielding social economy of eighth grade, Maxie had every strike against him. He was too tall, too heavy, too poor, too dirty and he smelled. His hair was almost always dirty and matted, his clothes ill-fitting and not even close to clean.

He veered in and out of special education classes (as his parents probably had before him). He was, at best, borderline.

That too was a problem. His academic deficiencies weren’t severe enough to require continual attention, but he could barely pass normal classes.

He had few, if any, friends. He had brothers and sisters – some with learning disabilities and some not.

He wasn’t smart enough to think about anything beyond the essential. He cared about his family – and he wanted to know God.

He badgered his family into going to church.

How many teenagers would do that?

They didn’t have a car, so they took the bus around town to visit churches. They finally settled in a church that would accept this rag tag family.

Related: Bulls*** National Grieving – by Kent Annan

Maxie finally found a place that would accept him. He was big and strong and had a willing heart and he eagerly volunteered for any physical work around the church. He was a common fixture there on Saturdays and on any moving or project days. He loved to help – and his huge smile showed it.

The church was one of the historic tiny churches in town, operated by the Metropolitan Community Church – yes, the gay church.

I didn’t know Maxie or his family. I didn’t want to go. I had other things to do on a Saturday morning.

My wife felt obligated to go and she didn’t want to go alone.  With the usual anemic husband objections, I went.

The church was one of those old style neighborhood churches built in the 1920s or earlier. The congregation was a fairly typical funeral collection of family, friends and church members. As I looked over the collection of about eighty people, I noticed very few, if any, opposite sex couples. Maxie’s family was clearly an exception here.

There were older couples, young couples, and families.  After only a few minutes, I had to mentally remind myself that this was anything but normal.

The service opened with the song “Precious Lord” (made famous by Mahalia Jackson) sung with more passion – perhaps even desperation – than I had ever heard before.

There were introductory comments by the Pastor – who, until she spoke, I could not define as male or female. She wore a black robe and a rainbow colored stole.

A teenage girl sang her own piercing arrangement of “Amazing Grace” as they took a collection to cover the funeral expenses. Any excess was given to the family.

A visiting pastor from another church the family had attended, this one Lutheran, gave a brief message and led the congregation as we all sang the children’s song;

Jesus loves me! This I know,
for the Bible tells me so.

Yes, Jesus loves me! Yes, Jesus loves me!
Yes, Jesus loves me! The Bible tells me so.

I felt like a visitor to an isolated outpost in a foreign country. These passionate congregants were broken survivors in a hostile land – but they knew what they needed – redemptive love that only God could give. They sang with a hunger – and a fullness – I had never seen before.

Also by Morf: Are there Any Solid Arguments Against Same-Sex Marriage?

The Service closed with the traditional hymn “On Holy Ground” –

This is holy ground, we’re standing on holy ground,
For the Lord is present and where He is, is holy,
This is holy ground, we’re standing on holy ground,
For the Lord is present and where He is, is holy,

We are standing on holy ground,
And I know that there are angels all around,
We are standing on holy ground,
We are standing in His presence, on holy ground.

We are standing on holy ground,
And I know that there are angels all around,
We are standing on holy ground,
We are standing in His presence, on holy ground.

We could argue about theology and lifestyles, morality and social issues, but there was no doubt that at least for this day, that song was literally true. The ‘issues’ seemed to float away like noise or chaff. For that moment, far beyond our intentions or even philosophical preferences, in the company of strangers, we were indeed on Holy Ground.

* NOTE: Maxie passed away due to heart failure.

Morf Morford considers himself a free-range Christian who is convinced that God expects far more of us than we can ever imagine, but somehow thinks God knows more than we do. To pay his bills, he’s been a teacher for adults (including those in his local county jail) in a variety of setting including Tribal colleges, vocational schools and at the university level in the People’s Republic of China. Within an academic context, he also writes an irreverent ESL blog and for the Burnside Writers Collective. As he’s getting older, he finds himself less tolerant of pettiness and dairy products.

About The Author


Faith is not a formula. And I wouldn't even use the word 'relationship' - and probably not the metaphor of 'a journey'. The older I get, the more it seems that faith is a process - a determined focus on listening to the eternal, sifting out the noise and distractions and becoming closer with each breath and each word, to the fullness - and emptiness - of the pulse, hand and purpose of our Creator, which, ultimately brings us where we belong. I'm a teacher and writer, which really means that I am a listener and I share what I see and hear.

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