This morning, Angie and I attended the funeral service for our next door neighbor, Billy Tyler, who passed away after a fight with cancer. His step-daughter is a friend of Marissa's, so we interacted with the family often. I didn't know Billy real well, but knew that he was the hardest worker I have ever known. He was out working in his yard all of the time, even after his diagnosis. You knew he was getting seriously ill when that stopped. He still has the greenest lawn and the most perfect landscaping on the block.
I'd like to think that I don't have racist tendencies and that I judge people based on what they do (mostly - I've blogged in the past about my judgement of those based on appearance, but appearance to me does not include race). We've known Billy and his family since they moved in about three years ago and liked them. It didn't, and doesn't matter, to Angie and I that they are an African-American family. In fact, the only reason I mention that is because I'd like to focus on the cultural differences that I observed at the service - difference that find there source in racial differences.
Billy's service was at the Mt Hebron Missionary Baptist Church in Rowlett. Angie and I were probably 2 of 10 white people there. There were seven pastors officiating the service, some from Billy's hometown in Tennessee and some from Dallas and Rowlett. Billy's direction to them was to have a "normal church service" which apparently includes a sermon, singing and lots of praise for Jesus. Much of it coming in the form of audience feedback as, "Amen", "Hallelujah", and "That's Right!". It was wonderful, if not a little strange for us. People who were speaking would spontaneously break out in song and then spontaneously start talking again. Like the sit/stand and response routine of a Catholic mass, unless you knew what to do and when, you just kind of sat there and took it all in. One thing we noticed is that the singing was awesome. Someone from Billy's family sang an a capella version of Amazing Grace that was...well, amazing. The sermon was like something you would see on TV or in the movies - of a very animated black pastor speaking his mind and explaining scripture.
Angie and I have been pondering the culteral differences, but are also pleased by several of the many things we have in common. One - love of family. Clearly, Billy loved his and they loved him. Second, the love and comfort that God provides for us through Jesus. We may celebrate that differently, but the message is the same.
Rest in peace, Billy.
Billy Lee Tyler
1954 - 2007