Living in the Midst of a Graveyard
Recently I was at an event where the Rev Leslie Griffiths (or Lord Griffiths of Burry Port if I were to be official about it, and name-drop with an enormous "clang") told those present that he lived and worked surrounded by a significant graveyard around Wesley's Chapel in London. This, he affirmed, served to remind him not only of the past, but of the future... the future for all of us.
His comment reminded me of the fact that in my first station, a rural one, I was the only minister in the local clergy fraternal who didn't have a graveyard around my church buildings, a fact for which I was perennially thankful, not because of any squeamishness but because my colleagues lives seemed to be dominated by the petty politics involved in administrating grave plots.
Yesterday I was back in the same room as the discussion with Leslie Griffith, but this time the speaker was Duncan Morrow (many more postings will probably stem from what he said, here and elsewhere...). During his presentation he made a comment that resonated with Leslie Griffith's one, when he reminded us of a phrase that John Paul Lederach uses in his book "The Moral Imagination" when in chapter 12 he speaks of "The Past that Lies Before Us." In it he writes of the experience of a group of Mohawk Americans negotiating with the government over past wrongs. For the government the past is at best an inconvenience if not totally irrelevant and they simply want to find a pragmatic way of moving on towards the future. But for the Mohawks the past is a living thing that lies in front of them. This he compares to African philosopher, John Mbiti's description of African people pointing forwards when refering to the past and back over their shoulder when referring to the future... This he says is based on an understanding of time flowing from the present to past... like a river taking us all to the same place as those who have gone before us...
"Time like an ever flowing stream, bears all its sons away..."
as the hymn says... But whether they
"fly forgotten, as a dream dies at the opening day"
is down to us... As is whether the forgetting or remembering of the past helps us in the present and the future...
One respondent then said that he was uneasy with us being too focussed on the past because our faith is eschatological, which he saw as being future-focussed... But that misses the fact that the eschaton, or last-days, as defined by Jesus included his present, which is firmly in our past. And even if we are to be future-focussed, that future is only assured because of what has happened in the past. Thus we are told "Do this in remembrance..." (Luke 22: 19, I Corinthians 11: 24-5)
Indeed our future resolves into eternity... that existence outside of time, where our future hope began when Christ was chosen from before the creation of the world (Ephesians 1: 4; I Peter 1: 20)... Although how can something be "before" time? Ouch my brain is starting to hurt...
Anyway, what does this say to us? In political situations where we as a province are trying to decide what to do about our collective past; in pastoral situations where people are trying to come to terms with the consequences of their personal past; in church situations where we are still living in the past (and that is not a trite point).
Honestly, I don't know, but perhaps we start by acknowledging that we are living in the midst of a graveyard, with all the politicking that may involve.
For a fuller description of the conversation that inspired this series of reflections and another perspective on it, read Glenn Jordan's blog.