unidentifiable remains (the church, post-orlando)

I was fascinated a few years ago when the remains of King Richard III were found under a parking lot in England. Richard died in 1485; I was amazed anything identifiable still remained at all.

This week, there is news of other royal remains: archeologists believe Henry I may rest under another parking lot in another city in England. Henry died in 1135 of food poisoning. He gorged himself on his favorite unhealthy stuff, and then he died.

There is a lesson in here.

But first, it’s worth sharing a couple of tidbits from the news story of the discovery, the details of Henry’s reign, recounted on the website of the History Channel. Discussing Henry’s ascendancy, usurping the higher claim of his older brother, the story says,

“Henry proved to be an effective, if repressive, ruler, strengthening the monarchy and establishing a rigid administrative system that kept the realm functioning efficiently. He also stood out for his rampant womanizing; he fathered some two dozen illegitimate children, more than any other British monarch in history. In one gruesome incident, Henry is said to have let two of his own granddaughters be mutilated (their eyes poked out and the tips of their noses cut off) as part of a political quarrel.”

None of that surprises me, politics of the dark and middle ages being what they were. (And I’m not sure why I just relegated that to those “less enlightened” times.) Henry was a power broker, a power monger, a political animal. Power is a drug, and Henry’s bad behaviors could all be symptoms of his addiction.

The story went on to tell how they think he may have ended up in a parking lot. There used to be a church there, Henry’s favorite. He was buried at the church, under the altar. Four hundred years later, the church was torn down, when Henry VIII had a fit of anti-Catholicism. Three hundred years after that, a prison was built on the site. Which eventually included ample parking.

And then, this, my favorite part of the story, recounting the mullings of the historian leading the search: “Henry was a reforming king and would have been fascinated by the idea of cars and transport, and may well have liked being buried under a car park,” Mullaney told the (New York) Times. On the other hand, he continued, “He was a religious man and so I think he would have preferred being buried in a church.”

So, to recap, Henry allowed a political rival to poke his granddaughters’ eyes out. But he was a religious man and wanted to be buried in the church.

This week, lesbian, gay, transgender and other queer folks are still reeling from a massacre of 50 of us in an Orlando nightclub, and many of our families and allies are still grieving the loss of life – as well, perhaps, as the loss of their own innocent belief that LGB people’s battles are done. (Even the most insulated would have a hard time hiding from the battle over bathrooms waged openly against our transgender brothers and sisters.)

And we mourn and pray and shake our heads, and wonder whether anything will ever be different, whether we will ever regain any sense of responsibility to one another or any sense of national well-being or human equilibrium. Signs are not good.

And then this: a Tennessee lawmaker is giving away two assault rifles, similar to the ones used in the slaughter, giving them away as door prizes at a fund-raising event. To be fair, he had already announced the event (with one AR-15 door prize) BEFORE the patrons of the Pulse nightclub were terrorized and executed. But after the shooting, he changed his plans. He decided to give away a second weapon. “I’m sick and tired of the media and liberal politicians attacking our right to keep and bear arms,” he posted on Facebook.

On a hunch, I googled the legislator and learned he has previously drafted anti-gay legislation.

I also learned he is a deacon in his Baptist church.

In other news, the Washington Post told of a Sacramento pastor who posted a sermon online decrying the fact that the shooter in Orlando didn’t get them all.

“People say, like: ‘Well, aren’t you sad that 50 sodomites died?’…. Um, no, I think that’s great. I think that helps society. You know, I think Orlando, Fla., is a little safer tonight…. The tragedy is that more of them didn’t die. The tragedy is — I’m kind of upset that he didn’t finish the job!”

One could say none of this is surprising. Even as a package, it is so, so common. “Good Christian” equals anti-gay, pro-gun. It’s practically the American way.

I think about Henry I. He died of food poisoning, and probably not unrelated to his power addiction. “He was a religious man and would have wanted to be buried in a church,” said the historian, though he sacrificed his granddaughters to mutilation for some political gain. He gorged himself on his favorite unhealthy stuff, and then he died of food poisoning.

And I think about the Church, the remains of Jesus. The abominable ways we read scripture, the distorted tales we tell of the early church, the misguided perception we have of Jesus’ own life, the way we often usurp a higher claim. Are we complicit? Do we just continue to gorge ourselves, poison ourselves, on unhealthy stuff to our own detriment? How do we mutilate the body of Christ for power, political or otherwise?

Given our history, and as with Henry, I am amazed anything identifiable still remains at all.

So this is what I mean when I lift up the biblical theology of “remnant” — the Christ-like identifiable remains. In our world, there are still faithful people, people of all faiths, who are not an embarrassment to God. Let us strive ever to be among them.

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About Deb Conrad
I’m Deb Conrad, pastor, teacher, photographer, writer, antique-lover, cat-mom, wine-drinker and old-house-seeker. I have a bike by Burley and knees by Stryker. I play guitar marginally, bowl when I can. I live in Flint, Michigan, with previous lives in SC, NJ, PA, MD, Washington DC, TX, CA and KY. I founded and still help run UrbanSpirit, a poverty education center in Louisville (link below), where I meet interesting people and try to do what I can to change the world. I'm pastor of Woodside Church in Flint, a groovy place if ever there was one.

2 Responses to unidentifiable remains (the church, post-orlando)

  1. Deb, this was a thoughtful and thought provoking post. We, too moved from TX after living in the LaGrange parsonage. Thanks, from Orlando, Paula

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