There are boards with names on them (a story)

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This is a story that came to me in the middle of waiting worship recently. I shared it as a message and the ministry that rose up after it was amazing in that each person that followed filled in a piece of the puzzle that the initial image set forth. This was my part of the story. It is not exactly the same as I shared in worship, but the heart of the story is in tact.

Imagine that you enter a hallway that looks over the steps leading into a basement of a large meetinghouse. As you walk down the steps, a dank smell and dim light overcome you.

You are with a guide, an older person, softly spoken, gentle, but the flashlight she holds in her right hand announces her confidence in her role.

As you come around the first corner and down a gradual slope, you notice that all the floorboards and studs are exposed. And on each floorboard is a name; some of them carved, like the names of lovers knifed into tree bark, some are written with pencil, some permanent marker.

This peaks your interest so you turn to the woman. You ask:

Why are there names on each of these boards?

She responds, almost surprised by the question,

Those, those are the names of the people who put those boards there. Those are the people who built this house.

Some of the names you recognize. They are names that have been told in stories that older people in the community share. They are names labeled under pictures. These are names you recently found in directories that were filed away for decades.

As though she read your mind she continues,

All of these names are important. Not one of them stands above the other. See this one, she was the clerk of our meeting for 20 years. See this one here, he was a single-dad who was a part of our meeting for a few years before his family moved to the Mid-West. Here was a widow whose deep love kept this meeting afloat through many trying times. This one, he journeyed with us for a long time before he moved on. He used to ask the most challenging questions. These people here, their commitment and time went almost unrecognized. All these names are special, not one is above the other.

You nod in understanding and continue to stroll along the wall of a great room.

Then off in the distance you see a light. Walking toward it, you assume this is where the guide was taking you. As you approach the far end of the room, you feel the warmth from the solitary hanging light bulb. The soft glow illuminates the wall and the exposed boards come into greater focus. These boards however are different from the others. For one, the names have faded. And all these boards have begun to show their age. Some are decomposing; the effects on the structure are evident.

Time stands still. The silence overwhelms you. You know what this all means, the message is an obvious one, but the guide clears her throat and speaks nonetheless.

Now we will need to find new people to fix, repair and replace these. We need new boards and new names. But it is so difficult these days to find people willing to submit to caring for one way, one building, one home. These days, we would rather be on the move than dig in our heels. There are many reasons; many feel they are no good. Many feel they do no have the time or the adequate skills. Some are perpetually seeking for fear they might one day find and actually be called upon. Even if we were to use the materials from this building to rebuild something new, the question still remains: who will say, ‘Here am I, use me?’

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Wess

A papa, Quaker minister, Phd in Intercultural Studies from Fuller, & prof. Contributor to Antioch Sessions. Angelic troublemaker & #sketchnote preacher. Enjoys #remix, liberation theology, bourbon & a wool vest.
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5 thoughts on “There are boards with names on them (a story)”

  1. Being a visual person, I like the way your words create a picture for me.
    Thus the message can resonate and I will sit with awhile. Thanks!

  2. There are also Quaker meetinghouses that have stacks of fine lumber lying in the rain, warping and mouldering… for lack of anyone´s willingness to replace rotted boards, to raise the doorways a little higher, to build a wheelchair accessible ramp. Some say, ”we can´t come to unity on remodeling.’ Others: ‘What would the neighbors/heirs/X say if we replaced those old boards, or added an education wing, or actually paid a carpenter (since no one seems to have time to volunteer any more) to do the work?’ A few stick-in-the-muds say, ‘Well we can’t use that new cedar; the original boards were fir or oak — they wouldn’t match right.’ But they’re only a few and soon to die… Like the meeting house, like the pile of sawdust that the termites leave after the boards lie around unused for too long…

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