"Let the dead bury their own dead." I have always been troubled by this statement of Jesus as he responds to a young man who expressed a desire to follow him. I mean, in the sense of logic, the dead are incapable of burying themselves. And in the sense of emotional compassion, this seems insensitive and lacking in Jesus' care for this young man's loss. But lets leave this thought here for a minute.
In my last post I wrote about 'Hoarding, Talking With The Dead, & Lessons Learned From The Past'. I started out describing how our house was filled with the boxes from my stepdad's apartment and the lifetime of things he had accumulated over time. While reminiscing as I went through the many photos, papers, journals, and materials, it was difficult to know what to keep and what to toss away. Even though my dad & mom are no longer here, I had a strange internal fear of offending them by letting things go.
It was also in this internal struggle that I began to see the very storylines which influenced and filled my dad's life in thoughts and actions. While perhaps burying it into a box and tucking it away into a far corner of the basement, it seemed as though he was unable to let go himself, of the many events and struggles of the past. To quote Bono, he was "stuck in a moment" and without being able to free himself, this empire of experiences consumed him in emotions and thought. Burying it further and further under a mountain of stuff, he never truly managed to let its hold over his life go.
This revelation had me wondering, how often does this not define our own lives? We would like to think of ourselves as blank slates, ready and able to take on new thoughts and actions at any given time or moment of our choosing. Yet the truth is, we are not blank slates, we are not free from the constructed empires of our past experiences and events in history. Like the packed boxes from my stepdad's basement, we can end up burying our past deep within our psychological being and while we would like to think they have no influence upon us, the truth is, these empires of experiential authority and power can take over our beliefs, understandings, and actions in life.
Brian Walsh and Sylvia Keesmaat describe empires in their book 'Colossians Remixed' the way:
“Empires project a sense of all-embracing normality. Not only do empires want us to think that reality is totally composed of the structures, symbols, and systems that have been imperially constructed, they also want us to believe that the future holds no more then a heightened realization of imperial hopes and dreams. Whether it is the eternal rule of the Pax Romana or the complete marketization of all of life and every corner of the globe, the result is the same. In fact, sameness is what it is all about. Empires, ‘are caught in an ideology of continuity and well-being in which human reality is covered over by slogans.’ ”
So I return to the question and Jesus' quote to the young man; if the dead are to bury their own dead, what are we to keep and what do we toss away in the empires that rule over our lives? What structures exist in life that are life giving as apposed to housing the dead? What symbols embody a positive, truthful, & just meaning while calling us to creative social involvements as apposed to negatively deconstructing all understandings of significance and oppressing our abilities to live holistically and diversely in community? What systems give us freedom to discover new realities, frontiers of originality, and undiscovered truths of common unity as apposed to imposing divisive labels, exclusionary existences, and slogans of separation?
Jesus' response to the young man of, "let the dead bury their own dead", found a much deeper and different meaning for me over the past several weeks. While wanting to tell a new story, I needed to learn how to let go of the structures, symbols, and systems from my own past. I needed to acknowledge and recognize the authority and power they had in creating who I was up to this point and allow myself to see beyond there influence to a story that created something new in me. It's not a matter of whipping clean the story of my past; it's a recognition to transcending the empires of my past so as to be able to tell a new story of an empire that exists free from the constraints of time and envisions a future in life built in newness.
The breaking in of this new story, a life giving story of new purpose and calling, happens in our willingness to find freedom from our past as having authority over our future. Telling a new story does not dismiss the influences of empire in our lives, it reveals the defining of what empire you choose to belong too! It reveals the very possibilities of an empire built in wonder & awe!