Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Treasures in Heaven

Most of you know well Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount:
Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. (Matthew 6:19-20, NRSV)
While Jesus was here obviously referring to a realm beyond the visible sky above the earth, “heaven” in the Bible often meant simply that: the sky and the clouds and other things visible in it. For example, when Jesus said “until heaven and earth will pass away” (Matt. 5:18), he was talking about the sky above the earth, not what we usually think of as Heaven.
Certainly we humans are wise to heed Jesus’ words about storing treasures in Heaven. But perhaps it is time to think also about storing treasures in heaven—or wherever the digital cloud is. (If it is not in heaven, the sky, why is it called a “cloud”?!)

On May 31, June and I attended “homecoming” at New Hope Church and Cemetery, my father’s home church in Worth County, Missouri. The land for that church and cemetery was donated in 1877 by his grandfather William Seat’s father. And in March 1878 William’s grandmother, Elizabeth Seat, was the first to be buried in the new cemetery.
Just two years later William died while he was still 30 and was buried close to his grandmother. More than 60 years later, his widow, Rachel Clark Seat who never remarried, was buried beside him.
Gravestone of Alexander Clark (1804-1864)

After looking at many ancestors’ gravestones at New Hope, we drove over to Kent Cemetery southwest of the little town of Denver. We went there mainly for the purpose of seeing for the first time the grave marker for my great-grandmother Rachel’s grandfather, Alexander Clark, who was buried there in 1864.
All this got me thinking about the future of small country cemeteries, of which there are several in Worth County and in rural counties all across the country. I wonder what they will be like 40 or 50 years from now. Who will take care of them? Will they most likely be largely forgotten and seldom visited? Perhaps.
So, maybe the wave of the future is digital memorials stored in the “cloud”—and this is being increasingly done. Five years ago already a book was published under the title Your Digital Afterlife, and there is a helpful website called The Digital Beyond.
The latter maintains a list of more than fifty online services designed to help people plan for their digital afterlife and/or to memorialize loved ones. Putting memorials in the digital cloud—or putting treasured memories in heaven, if you will—seems particularly promising, and maybe better now than putting gravestones in a country cemetery (not that it has to be one or the other).
With digital memorials, not only information about the deceased loved one but pictures, voice recordings, and other treasures can also be stored—and accessed from anywhere. And according to the appeals made on some of the websites reviewed in The Digital Beyond, they will be there “forever.”
I wondered about the future of small, rural cemeteries. GGG-Grandfather Alexander Clark’s stone is still legible after 150 years. But what do you think? Will what we store in the digital cloud be accessible 150 years from now—and even forever?
Maybe—or maybe not.
So if we are looking for lasting treasures/memorials, taking the words of Jesus seriously is the way to go.


  1. Technology changes so quickly -- I'd trust a stone to last longer than an e-cloud.

    1. Well, it is hard to know how long the e-cloud will last. But my guess is that in the last 1/3 of this century Carl will be much more likely to visit, and to visit much more often, digital memorials for his grandparents than one on a stone in a cemetery--especially one on a dead-end road in rural northwest Missouri.

  2. Funny – this posting didn’t go where I expected from the opening paragraphs!
    It reminds me of the impermanence of all things. While I was on the Hill, I once was part of a briefing from the Library of Congress about the effort to permanently preserve information and learned that most important documents in the U.S. (such as the Constitution and the like) are preserved as words molded into glass, but that even glass slowly oozes (think of antique windowpanes, which are thicker at the bottom), so glass documents are expected to last only about 400 years before needing to be redone!

    1. Keith, thanks for sharing this. I didn't know about preserving things into glass--or that even such preservations needed to be redone after 400 years.

      But if glass is no more permanent than that, how can we possibly predict how long the digital cloud will last! There is no question, I think, that it will change over time--and over time even within my, or certainly your, lifetime. But will it last on with some continuity for centuries? Maybe.

  3. Leroy, forgive my neediness to express.

    “All things must pass.” – George Harrison “Be passersby.” – Jesus [Thomas 42]
    On “lasting treasures”: What lasts is what we pass on, not what we store up for self.
    On “lasting memorials”: Memorials are for the living, not the dead.
    “To live in mankind is far more than to live in a name.” – Vachel Lindsay

    Regarding legacy, this poem:

    This Remains

    Spiritual understanding consists . . . in a sense of the heart. – Jonathan Edwards
    Religion . . . is a direction of the heart. – Rainer Maria Rilke

    My strength I cannot give you. It has faded year by year.
    Nor are my eyes of use to you, for they are no longer clear.

    Gone, too, the sharpness of the ear, the joy of harmonious delight,
    The urge of diverse and sundry tongues, to take many and into one unite.

    My experiences I may tell you. What I’ve learned and what I’ve not.
    How I’ve tried first this, then that way, yet finished with the same old lot.

    A seeker of truth still not sated, a believer that truth is divine,
    To you I would give that most precious and know that it still would be mine.

    Though I can’t give you that which has faded, what endures to you I impart.
    From a lover of truth still not jaded this remains: A desiring of the heart. - RGW

    Regarding death, this poem:


    Remember you are the living though I become the dead.

    Observe how the sun goes under the earth
    And returns at dawn of day.
    Between twilight and new day bright
    In midnight hides the shadow of death.

    When the bell tolls the passing of breath,
    Sing not lament. At the dying of the light,
    Though this form once fashioned return to clay,
    Let us rejoice! In this hour there is birth. – RGW

    1. Dick, thank you for enhancing my blog by your rich sharing of aphorisms and poetry!

  4. I have an old family Bible that just passed its 200th birthday last year, containing the text of the over 400-year-old King James Version of the thousands of years old text of the Bible. I can still open it and read it without problem. Meanwhile, my wife recently wanted to replay a popular computer game from a few years ago (remember Myst?), which caused us to fire up ancient computers in the basement to find one that could run the program. Call me a skeptic on really long-term storage.

    Meanwhile, here is something I did find stored on the web, which is itself rather old, from Isaac Watts' 1719 hymn "O(ur) God, Our Help in Ages Past": "Time, like an ever rolling stream,/Bears all its sons away;/They fly, forgotten, as a dream/Dies at the opening day." Or was that from "Row, Row, Row Your Boat?" Hey, even it dates back to 1852!

    1. Yes, some books do last a long time. But how many others, and other things such as pictures, family records, and other important information, have been lost to fire, flooding, tornadoes, or just neglectful destruction?

      And while Watts' hymn is a good and important one, we do not have it because of having access to the original but rather to copies made of copies made of copies . . .

      I see the same possibility with the digital cloud. It will change, be updated, etc., but surely the big and widely used websites, such as, for example, will be renewed and continued for decades and maybe centuries to come.

  5. I have pictures from my first digital camera from 2002 that I can still easily access. I realize that is not 150 years, but pictures, sound files and other data files are not the same as computer games that do require a specific operating system. However, if a file is not accessed regularly in 150 years, it could be removed to make space for new files.

    While that sounds impermanent, I have to question the space needs for storing billions of bodies over the next 150 years. What amount of time should I expect my space to be allocated to me before it is rented to someone else? Regarding rural cemeteries, I know of at least one that is running into cash flow issues due to increasing maintenance expenses and decreasing burials.

    Based on that, I have to put my vote on the cloud. Family tree researchers of the future should have it easier. Of course, digital records by government were already going to make that easier, but an archive of pictures and sounds seems like a big improvement over a rubbing of a grave marker.

    1. Thank you​,​ Dennis​, for your pertinent comments. I think you got my point more than anyone else who has responded.

      I have no idea what the limit is for storage in the digital cloud. But there does seem to be some natural limitations for burying and putting up a grave marker for all the billions of people in the world, or even all the hundreds of millions in this country--and especially for those who live in large cities.

  6. Thinking Friend, and old boyhood friend, John Tim Carr is the founder and CEO of the Charitable Giving Foundation, and he wrote about one of the people linked on his website that does memorial DVDs.

    Those interested in this type of memorial can find more information about it at

    And some of you may want to check out John Tim's website at

  7. OK, if we are going the direction of seriously discussing long term storage of family memories, I have some other things to say. First, nothing is forever. Dust to dust and ashes to ashes applies to our storage devices just as much as it does to us. On the other hand, just as good health practices can statistically improve our chances of living longer, good storage practices can increase the life of our memory storages.

    My number one rule would be, do not put all your eggs in one basket. I read a tech article recently (sorry, no link) where the author confessed to losing his whole business data when his cloud storage location went bankrupt, and creditors hauled off their servers with his data inside. He also told of the time when hackers wiped his computer, and he lost all his files, except for some he had backed up on the web.

    I make lots of DVDs of everything from my family photos and movies to baby dedications at church. I make multiple copies of each, and generously give copies to those I think might be interested, because DVDs are subject to sudden death. One goes in my archive fire box, one goes in the living room, and several go to family, or, in the case of dedication videos, I give three to the parents involved. There are some significantly more expensive "archive" DVDs that supposedly would last longer, but even those will not hold forever. Think of all those old cassette tapes many of us have lying around. Even if you still have a cassette player, how good is the music now? A DVD has intricate layers where a failure at any point, from a scratch on the surface to decay of the inner layer, can compromise security.

    Printing out pictures will with care preserve memories for years, and paying extra for archive quality will again provide more, but in the end both ink and paper deteriorate, just like those old childhood photos. If you put the pictures in a photo album, then you are betting on the plastic, glue and binding to hold up for decades. We have some once elegant albums of our children that have already failed that test.

    Who knows, the blogs we post here may last longer than anything!

  8. As you visit Israel, I highly recommend visiting the burial cave of Abraham (Ibrahim) and his family. Although the bones are long since dust (? - bones from prehistoric times are regularly found), the burial place is still there are a reminder for peoples of faith. It is one of my most vivid memories of my visit to that land. It is also a key reason why I go and visit the burial places of my ancestors, and became a director on the board of the New Hope cemetery.