The Bag of Bones

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Yesterday Wendy and I went to visit a pastor friend/couple of long-standing we haven’t seen for a decade. We just picked up where we left off. It was about as rich a visit as four people could ever have. This morning I still feel the glow.

We visited the church where my friend is Interim Pastor and heard his very thoughtful sermon. I want to tell you a little about an illustration he used about bones but first let me put this in context.

Our Tribes

We all run in tribes. Life limits one’s active associations and the most active of relationships will always be within what has been effectively identified as a tribe. The tribe may not have a name, but it does have tribal qualities. My religious tribe is a certain group of Baptists in Canada. Our friends both grew up in the same tribe as me.

They invested about twenty years in ministry in our tribe and then they moved on to a different tribe the last twenty years. There is very little contact between these two tribes.

I asked which years were better. They couldn’t supply a definitive answer. But when I suggested they would probably be buried from their current tribe and location they couldn’t say definitely that they would. I suppose that is partly because those roots run deeper than they currently were, and are imagining.

He has become an elder sage or guru to his new tribe. They are deeply loved there. Perhaps he is too much of a mystic now to return to his origins. His thinking has morphed around the edges. But several in his new tribe have left the traditional campus while still remaining members. We explored that heart-to-heart and found that we still have much more in common personally than we have that separates us. I truly respect his tribe. But I don’t want to be a part of a group with the much looser boundaries they can live with. We enjoyed visiting his people. But there is zero chance we could ever find a home there.

The Bag of Bones

Now to the bones.

My friend told a story about how he has visited several Benedictine monasteries.  He noted that once a brother joins a monastery he is there for life and is buried there. They ran out of real estate for the graveyard centuries ago. My friend asked how they now handle the bodies of the deceased.

Here’s how.

They find the oldest grave and exhume what is left of the body. Of course, by then there is nothing but bones. They take those bones and put them in a cloth bag. They bury the recently departed brother in the same hole. But this time they carefully lay the body in the grave and put the bag of bones under his head as a pillow. This reminds them of their continuity with the past. They keep the patterns and traditions flowing all within the same land-limited graveyard.

I love that story. It ought to remind us all that our lives rest with a continuity to our past. For good or ill we will all be placed in a metaphorical grave with our heads on a pillow of bones from the past. It will serve us all well if we don’t mess with the bones of the past and recognize how they supplied our DNA. Of course, that is not as true physically as it is metaphorically.

My friend had, as it were, a DNA transplant. But our love for each other transcends that. In the “great gettin’ up mornin'” we will fare well together with all those of truth faith, in our eternal home.

Appreciating Bones

In the meantime, I have a new appreciation for the bones of those in my tribe who have gone on before. There were four men who put together the statement of faith of my spiritual tribe. I had the privilege of knowing them all. Two of them served as my pastor at different times. And I had the privilege of being the pastor of a church that one of the others had effectively founded long before I was born. I have no idea where their bones are. But wherever my road will lead I know that my head will be buried with their bones as my pillow.

I have a new-found respect for how well these four men served in setting the foundations of a tribe that was new and started during my lifetime.

My friend’s tribe also has a rich heritage. He laments the fact that some in his group treat their statement of faith as a draft document that remains in flux. He doesn’t like that part because he sees the subtle drift such an attitude creates. That tribe is built more on cultural and ethnic continuity than on a belief system. There are some things they continue to possess that I wish were part of my family of churches. I take instruction and courage from their heritage.

However, I am pleased I landed where I am with the simple statement of faith I respect and live with. There is so much less of a fuzzy edge here where I stand. Put my bones on that bag of bones please.

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