Thursday, April 24, 2008

Funerals and Narrative Theology

First an apology for a recent drop off in posts. Life is crazy and more recently even more so. Last week my wife and I made a fleeting trip to Springside Saskatchewan for her grandfather’s funeral. While it was exhausting it was well worth the trip. This was the most celebratory funeral I have ever witnessed. So much so that it hardly seemed a funeral with the reunions of distant family and the constant laughter at the telling of stories.

It is these stories that now occupy my mind. Having been wrestling with narrative theology for some time, I have been given a concrete example of the formative power of stories…gospel or otherwise. Pastor Cliff spoke about the Godly heritage that Adelbert passed on to his children, and these children to theirs, and now another generation is being formed in the faith. But the biblical stories that are known well in the family are just one set of stories that are told. Their life stories are wed to this grand story of God. Now depending whether one follows Barth or Niebuhr the biblical stories inform our stories and/or our stories form our interpretation of the biblical story.

But these family stories, told and retold shape the family. Alistair MacIntyre suggests that traditions are historically embodied arguments about what constitutes the good for a particular group. Here at this funeral, stories shared are not for nostalgia and reminiscing, though they do that, but are meant to form us and encourage us to continue this Godly heritage that was bestowed upon us and passed down for generations.

These stories form us through repetition. While we may tire of hearing these stories as we grow, they need to be told and rehearsed. And in our world where people leave home for work and education and spread across two or more countries, in our families case, it becomes increasingly important when the families gather that these stories be told as necessary reminders to who our family has been, who are to be now, and who we will be in the future. The stories are a rehearsal of our collective memory as a family reminding us of God's goodness, hard-work, the importance of family, a life of prayer, and others.

As a relatively new member of this family (three years this summer) it is especially important for me to hear these stories and to ask questions. I must put these familial fragments together, to discover the ethos that floats around and animates this family. So too with the church. We must keep the greater narrative afloat and affix the individual stories in their appropriate places within the greater story.

The image is from our wedding in 2005. Grandpa Bert was a wonderful 87 years old. I am thankful that I had the opportunity to spend a few holidays with him and the family.