Rattling Bones: A Eulogy for Dale P. Andrews

JANUARY 16, 2013- Martin Luther King Commemorative Program (photo by Dan Anderson)
JANUARY 16, 2013- Martin Luther King Commemorative Program, Elon University (photo by Dan Anderson)


Eulogy for Dale P. Andrews

Emilie M. Townes

27 September 2017

Vanderbilt Divinity School

Ezekiel 37:1-14

pastoral prayer

if we die while being faithful, then death is not the end of life

this redaction from an interview dale gave in 2011 was repeated many times on facebook and other social media in the days shortly after he died

it was taken from a longer interview he did with faith and leadership—a resource from leadership education at duke divinity school

in that interview, he talked about balancing the pastoral and the prophetic as an ongoing challenge for the church

and the specific question he was responding to was: What about those leaders in the church who may say, “Well, social justice is a goal, but we are trying to keep our organization together, trying to keep it healthy, trying to keep it alive”? How do those two issues intersect?

dale took what i call, a “dale long pause” and measured his response

pointing out the reality of institutional survival as important in black churches, the role of both protest and nurture that has shaped the witness of black churches, the economic stresses and strains these churches face with issues of maintaining the building and the staff

but then he said: this is not the sum total of the work

and then just a bit later, and this is where the quote is taken from, dale tells the interviewer and us:

If we’re going to die, if we’re looking at facing death, then let us go out trying to be the church.

We still work at the institutional maintenance, but if we’re facing death, let us face death with faith that our death is not the end of our life. And let us go out dying by doing that justice-making out in the community, and we will be faithful in doing it and trusting in God’s faithfulness to work with us.

And if we die while we’re being faithful, our death is not the end of life.

leave it to dale to be both prophetic and pastoral in the same breath

and this is the bootiful legacy he leaves us with

reminding us all that in the best of us, there is still better

in the worst of us, there is always the promise of redemption

and all of us, all of us find ourselves on some kind of emmaus road at points in our lives where a reckoning comes with who we have been, who we are, and who we can be

like ezekiel’s vision in the valley of dry bones

dale reminded us time and time again that an empty theology and a dilapidated faith

does not help us get to salvation

no, we must have a deep, committed, convicted faith

for when we are broken, when we are harried with the details and challenges of living

we can’t cover up our frustration, our anger, or our impatience with a don’t worry, be happy gospel of iniquity

for there is a difference between a band aid and major surgery

between consolation and rebirth

between playing dodge ball with our faith and standing before god

and if we die while we’re being faithful, our death is not the end of life

this was a word to the church

and a word to each of us

the vision of the valley of dry bones

is more than a story about reconnecting some sun-bleached ivory

that got that way because of sin and faithlessness

it is the revelation

of the transforming power of God’s spirit within each of us

which is why, i suspect, we miss dale’s booming voice and laughter so much

why we yearn for the ways that he leaned in and listened closely when you talked with him

why he looked you in the eye when he had something to say to you

how he could and would drive you a bit pixalated when he dug in with his compassionate heart and insisted that we pay attention to the least of these

his faith was an active witness to God’s transforming power

to the challenge that each of us can take up God’s question: can these bones live

and do our own preaching to the four winds

our own turning to a holy mindbender and heart fixer and soul regulator

and live our faith so that if we die while being faithful, our death is not the end of life

we are sometimes like the dry bones

sometimes we are a valley people with a death mentality

we get ourselves in the crouch posture to cover ourselves up so that life will not crush us

but brother professor reverend dale p. andrews’ life, witness, and resurrection reminds us that we must face our living even as we die

through the sleepless nights that make us feel as though god’s love is far from us

through the times we second guess our choices and decisions

through the physical and emotional and spiritual illness that sometimes won’t let us go

when we don’t love ourselves enough to realize that god loves us

when the church can’t seem to live a wide and large faith that let’s all of god’s creation in because our vision is too small and narrow to speak a full gospel

dale’s powerful belief that god’s mercy is alive in creation, helps us reach out and stop living in the folds of old wounds

so that we no longer endure just plain wrongness with a silence that is not golden

and leaves us empty and hollow and mean as a snake

we avoid wrapping our hope up in a lamentation of indifference

we find that we have crafted a muzzled life that gives us no voice except for laissez-faire postmodern platitudes that seem to hide out in the wastelands of our hearts that have ceased pulsing on the morning

we recognize that that running away from the challenges of living a vibrant gospel is placing our faith on the boondocks of fear

and friends, we are simply scared to come out of the house, out of our religious homes, so we lock ourselves in with a malnourished discipleship as our banquet feast

as we mourn dale’s death in these days and weeks ahead, let’s try to keep in mind what he tried to live in his time with us

we must grow our hearts large and larger

we must hold on to the watch light of hope

we must live a life that is filled by god’s breath

we must have a witness that is woven by the sinews that come from the almighty

we must have a faith that is covered by the flesh that the holy spirit gives us

and if we do this and teach others to do so as well

we will hear our bones rattling with the promise of salvation

we will discover the rich laughter that can carry us through the rough and tough spots of life

we will shed deep and full tears for our loss and remember that a bright light has dimmed so we must trim our lamps

oh yes. . .i miss him today, i will miss him in my tomorrows

but i will carry with me the tremendous faith he carried with him even into his death and i encourage all of us gathered here and beyond to do so

it was a faith that allowed him to fight with every ounce of his being to stay here for his children

so that when he looked me in the eye when we first talked about his terminal cancer diagnosis he said: i want my children to have a father

it is a faith that made him stop his oncologist as he was walking out of the door while dismissing the possibility that the prayers of those of us who went deep into our prayer closets could save him, thus proving that there is no god

doc, i need you to sit down for a minute.  doc, i need you to know that if i don’t survive, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a god.

and on the conversation went

the faith that dale knew and shared with each and every one of us prophesies to dry bones that God will cause breath to enter them, and us, and we shall live

the sinews of redemption will come from the four winds

and the flesh of justice and love will be covered by a stubborn, willful refusal to believe that god is done with us and this is the best it can be in creation

we will carry with us the power and challenge of dale’s words: and if we die while we’re being faithful, our death is not the end of life

hmmmpf. . .

if we die while we’re being faithful, our death is not the end of life

let’s rattle them bones


Explore Story Topics