What About Cremation?

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What About Cremation?

September 29, 2023

Published on Baptist Press

About a ten years ago, Sharon and I were talking two-or-three-mile walks through our neighborhood and the surrounding area, and, at dusk one evening, we took fresh route up a residential street that, to our surprise, opened onto a big cemetery. It was surrounded by trees, shut off from view in our section of South Nashville. It was such a peaceful place, with a gazebo surrounded by graves down the hill from an array of other burial plots, some of them occupied, many not.


Over the years, we’ve walked through the graveyard several times, and it occurred to both of us that this would be a fine “resting place” for us down the line. I was born near Nashville in Lebanon, and lived here for a few years in the 1950s while my dad taught at Belmont, after he’d taught at Carson-Newman in East Tennessee, and before he headed to Ouachita in Southwest Arkansas. Then, as a newly-married couple, Sharon and I lived here for five years in the 1970s while I was at Vanderbilt; and, later, five more years when I worked at the SBC Executive Committee (Actually we lived in Franklin, just south of Nashville); and we’ve lived here another dozen since moving back down South from Chicago in 2011 to direct the SBTS extension (Actually, I had all the extensions in my job description till the seminary closed them down in 2013, preferring online and hybrid courses without the expensive and exhausting, weekly dispersal of professors to eleven centers across the land, from Boston to Greenville to Auburn to Springdale to Chicago). So, all totaled, I’ve spent about twenty-six years in this amazing city. So, it seemed a fitting spot.


Turns out, the cemetery’s owned by Christ Church, up the road from us and across Old Hickory Blvd. They identify themselves as “a three streams congregation, uniting the liturgical, evangelical, and charismatic streams of the church into one unified expression of devotional and missional life.” They’re not Southern Baptist and we’re not charismatic, but it’s a congenial fellowship of Christian brothers and sisters, one we visited when Henry Blackaby came to speak one Sunday morning. (And no, we didn’t have to sign off on any doctrinal statements to qualify for interment.)


As we talked with the church’s representative on cemetery matters, the question of cremation came up, and we said we preferred caskets, so our plot is traditional. They offer above-ground mausoleums for urns and caskets, but we went with the earth-bound placements. In this exchange, I mentioned this piece I’d done on cremation, and she was kindly interested in a look at it.


I can’t remember why this it appeared on Baptist Press, whether they requested it or I sent it out of the blue, the product of my thinking on a topic abroad on campus. A year later, a Crosswalk team came to Louisville to link up with a conference, and they were taping some interviews with a variety of folks, including one with me on this topic. There was (and still is) a good deal of interest in the matter, so it made sense. And not everyone was thrilled with my take on it. I recall an unhappy funeral director in Oklahoma who wrote to let me know that a very big chunk of his service dealt with cremation. I’m sure he was right. (In that connection, the two plots Sharon and I bought were from a lady who’d changed her mind and decided to have her recently-departed husband and herself cremated, with the containers placed alongside relatives buried in the “long form” way.)


And no, Sharon and I don’t feel quite ready to depart. As far as we know, we have some good work yet to do in the years ahead. But it seemed right and good to settle this matter, albeit with a happy look well beyond the grave to eternal life in heaven. (Thank you, Jesus.)