Craddock - 2018
(On the occasion of what would have been Fred Craddock’s 91st birthday, I’m sharing a tribute offered at a Vanderbilt Divinity School-Disciples Divinity House luncheon on July 11, 2011, in Nashville, Tennessee, when he was honored as “VDS-DDH Alumnus of the Year.”*)

Other than being the premier homiletician who led the reclamation and renewal of the discipline and practice of preaching for the church in North America at the end of the 20th century and into the 21st century and ….

Other than being the most acclaimed Disciple preacher of the last 50 years, and ….

Other than being one of the most faithful of Disciples – faithful to the witness of scripture, faithful to his calling, faithful to ecclesia, faithful to the academy, faithful to Nettie and to family and to Cherry Log and to friends and to God….

Other than all that, how does one introduce a man who is known far and wide by the sheer, gentle, yet persuasive force of his first name, “Fred”?

Well, let us consider, in a truly inductive manner….

Maybe it is because of what we have learned from Fred about place that we gather to honor him. Fred has taught us the value of place, the specifics of place and the nuances of place. In his own life, he has given evidence of the importance of place, in that he was dedicated, baptized, ordained, and married in one particular place, Central Avenue Christian Church in Humboldt, Tennessee. Even if you’ve never crossed the city limits in a vehicle, Fred has taken you there. Because of what Fred has taught us, we know that that place and all of the places we all of us value are so very essentially, crucially important.

Maybe we gather in this honoring moment because of how Fred has reminded us of the significance of placement, how we place ourselves at the disposal of others for service and fellowship, how we place our words, as best we can, in the service of the gospel and its love-endearing, hate-shattering powers.

It could be that. But maybe not.

Perhaps we’re gathered here because of the people Fred has reminded us of, some we knew about and some we never would have known without his illumination of their lives.
Hermann Diem
Soren Kierkegaard
Frederick W. Robertson
Albert Schweitzer
Ben Hooper
Because of how Fred illumined their lives for us, we have been emboldened to pay better attention to the people with whom we share life and love and faith.

One thing I am almost 100% sure of is this:


I believe we are gathered here to pay tribute to Fred, because of the inherent capacity of language and Fred’s exquisite use of that capacity, especially the power of a remembered phrase or a story or an admonishment or a challenge or an encouragement. You remember them, don’t you, those phrases, those beautiful, arresting flourishes? We’ve heard them when Fred was giving a seminary presentation, or fulfilling a lectureship, or offering his wise advice, or he when he was preaching in our churches or at a General Assembly. You remember those daring theological declarations, like….
…. “Anticipation is the key. Phone ahead before you make a pastoral visit. Anticipation of a visit is half of the pleasure for those who receive the pastor into their homes.”
…. “Did you bring ‘Doxology’ with you?”
…. “When your faith fades and grows dim, let your congregation believe for you until your faith returns.”
…. “Gracious God, we are grateful for a way of life and work that is more important than how we feel about it on any given day.”
…. “If you’re tired, go to bed, and, later, make an appointment with God.”
…. The cavernous distance between “the sky of our intentions and the earth of our performance.”
…. “Nine pound sparrow.”
….“The final work of grace in the human heart is to make us grateful.”

Because of these memorable phrases – and so many others too numerous to count – Fred has inspired us all to know just how powerful preaching and teaching and faith can be, and to never take those tasks glibly or without appropriate prayer and preparation.

In a story set in a church in Oklahoma – a story which, for lack of a title, goes by the legendary designation “She Wants Some Names” ** – Fred tells how he once encountered a woman who shocked him by saying she was quitting the choir (and ostensibly the congregation). When Fred pressed her about why, she said no one cared. When he asked her what it would take for the church to show her they cared, she said “Take me seriously.” She wanted some names of folks who took her seriously and cared for her.

If that woman, or someone like her, were here today, I would say, on behalf of us all, “You want some names? I know someone who will take you seriously, some who will care for you deeply, as he has for countless students, colleagues, pastors, church members, denominational leaders, and friends. I know someone. You want his name? His name is ‘Fred Craddock.’ I know he cares.”

Fred, on behalf of the Disciples Divinity House of Vanderbilt Divinity School, we offer you our profoundest “Thanks.”

– Bob Hill

* This took place during the time of the General Assembly of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). As strongly as I tried to proffer these sentiments, they still fall far short of adequately expressing the debt so many of us owe to such a great teacher, friend, encourager, and faithful witness. This is included in my book LIFE’S TOO SHORT FOR ANYTHING BUT LOVE (Woodneath Press, 2015), pp. 134-137.

** See Fred. B. Craddock, CRADDOCK STORIES, edited by Mike Graves and Richard F. Ward (St. Louis: Chalice Press, 2001), pp. 58-60.



One of the most famous of Yogi Berra’s malapropisms is “The future ain’t what it used to be.” Fitting words for our current circumstances. While the following notions can’t match Yogi’s pithiness, try them on for simplifying your life and moving with greater hopefulness day by day.

(1) Practice some form of simple exercise each day. In your bed or even in a chair, exercise can happen everywhere.

(2) Eat simple meals with family and friends. Trying out new recipes can be an eye-opening and fun adventure.

(3) Simply tell those you love that you love them. Silence isn’t always golden.

(4) Simply pick up trash wherever you see it. Going green sometimes means simply keeping places green and not strewn with paper or refuse.

(5) Start and end your day with simple prayers of “Thanks.” Prayers of “Help!” will rise up naturally enough in the course of a day, but be sure to bookend each day of your life with gratitude.

(6) Enjoy simple pleasures. A visit to a library, a walk in the park, playing games with your children, a discussion about a book, a phone call, beholding a sunset – all these are surefire ways toward deeper appreciation of Art Buchwald’s wisdom: “The best things in life aren’t things.”

(7) Invite someone simply to join you for worship. Such an invitation just may be the best gift you could ever give someone.

– Bob Hill


booked up, inc. - larry mcmurtry shop - archer city 2015

On Sunday, December 30, on “Religion On the Line,” KCMO-Talk Radio (710AM, 103.7FM), we shared ROL’s 2018 “Top” lists and reviews, including the following Top Books list.


1) Christian Wiman, He Held Radical Light: The Art of Faith, The Faith of Art
2) Robert Alter, The Hebrew Bible: A Translation w/ Comment. (Vols. I-III)
3) Marilynne Robinson, What Are We Doing Here?: Essays
4) Christian Wiman (editor), Joy: 100 Poems
5) James Cone, Said I Wasn’t Gonna Tell Nobody: The Making of a Black Theologian (Oct. 2018)
6) Howard Thurman, Sermons on the Parables
7) N.T. Wright, Paul: A Biography
8) Elaine Pagels, Why Religion?: A Personal Story
9) Mary Karr, Tropic of Squalor: Poems
10) Luci Shaw, Eye of the Beholder: Poems
11)Tod Bolsinger, Canoeing the Mountains: Christian Leadership in Uncharted Territory
12) Jimmy Carter, Faith: A Journey for All
13) Sandy Eisenberg Sasso and Margeaux Lucas, Regina Persisted: An Untold Story; Sandy Eisenberg Sasso and Darcy Day Zoells, When God Gave Us Words
14) Suzanne Stabile, The Path Between Us: An Enneagram Journey to Healthy Relationships
15) Diana Butler Bass, Grateful: The Transformative Power of Giving Thanks
16) Jon M. Sweeney, Phyllis Tickle: A Life
17) John Dominic Crossan and Sarah Sexton Crossan, Resurrecting Easter: How the West Lost and the East Kept the Original Easter Vision
18) Gary Dorrien, Breaking White Supremacy: Martin Luther King Jr. and the Black Social Gospel
19) Frank Thomas, How to Preach a Dangerous Sermon
20) Walter Brueggemann, A Gospel of Hope
21) Erin Wathen, Resist and Persist: Faith and the Fight for Equality
22) Adam Hamilton, Unafraid: Living with Courage and Hope in Uncertain Times and Simon Peter: Flawed but Faithful Disciple
23) Matthew D. Hockenos; Then They Came for Me: Martin Niemöller, the Pastor Who Defied the Nazis
24) Robin Diangelo, White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism;
25) Patrick Parr, The Seminarian: Martin Luther King Jr. Comes of Age; Anne Lamott, Almost Everything: Notes on Hope

ALSO NOTABLE: Robert Hudson and David Dalton, The Monk’s Record Player: Thomas Merton, Bob Dylan, and the Perilous Summer of 1966; Joel F. Harrington, Dangerous Mystic: Meister Eckhart’s Path to the God Within; Maria Shriver, I’ve Been Thinking: Reflections, Prayers, and Meditations for a Meaningful Life; Dennis Cruywagen, The Spiritual Mandela: Faith and Religion in the Life of Nelson Mandela; Jeanne Theoharis, A More Beautiful and Terrible History: The Uses and Misuses of Civil Rights History; Stephen Mansfield, Choosing Trump: God, Anger, Hope and Why Christian Conservatives Supported Him; Craig D. Atwood, Frank S. Mead, Roger E. Olson, Samuel S. Hill, Handbook of Denominations in the United States, 14th Edition; Jason Sokol, The Heavens Might Crack: The Death and Legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.; Ursula K. Le Guin, So Far So Good: Poems 2014-2018 .


9-11 Ground Zero MemorialExcerpts from Samuel Green’s book of poems THE ONLY TIME WE HAVE (Sedro-Wooley, WA: Grey Spider Press, 2002) are guiding me in blessed ways as we approach the collective remembrance of September 11, 2001.

Green is a powerful poet who produces wonderfully made books in his very private domain on Waldron Island, in the San Juan archipelago in the Pacific Northwest.

About his initial response to the attacks in NYC, Washington, DC, and in the Pennsylvania countryside, Green compares the U.S.’s encounter with terrorism in 2001 with the experience of a bird slamming into a window: “A nuthatch slams into the bay/ window…./… How could she ever move/ past this moment without the grace/ of necessity? How could any of us?”

In another poem Green reflects on a grace-laced experience in New York City one month after the attacks of 9-11. Green pays tribute to a big-hearted New Yorker who went way out of his way and took Green directly to the address he needed to get to. He ends the poem this way: “…. No one, he says,/ should be lost when someone else/ knows the way.”

Years after a horrifically indelible mark was left on the soul of the world, those two notions – “the grace of necessity…” and “…. No one … should be lost when someone else knows the way” – seem healingly appropriate. I hope and trust all of us, along our own particular and personal paths, are receiving such grace and finding/showing the way.

— Bob Hill


Diversity-2Of course we must resolve to teach Diversity in all of its resplendent richness! Diversity is the preferred “modus operandi” for any growing culture, any successful institution, and any person serious about human maturation. It is only by reaching toward an appreciation of diversity that we can truly participate in a whole-hearted and full-blooded affirmation of the human family in its entirety.

May I suggest that we respond to the thematic challenge by yoking it with another, one which Dr. King asked in the time of his flesh among us as he embodied his great work on behalf of all people: “The question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be.” (from “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” in Why We Can’t Wait, 1963) The pressing question in our own time is “Will we be extremists for adversity or extremists for diversity?”

The brand of extremism posed by those championing adversarial relationships is a potion laced with exclusion, enmity, and an excessive gall toward anything and everything that is not like them. Theirs is a recipe for revenge and retribution toward anyone who avows a perspective — theological, political, social, or otherwise — different from theirs. Theirs is a toxic pollutant intended to foul all tributaries of discussion except for those which can pass their standards of “purification.” In the face of the efforts of those who would promote adversity, let us band together with a commitment to an “extremist” position which is a clear, diverse alternative. And let our “extremism” be permeated with the following guiding principles.

** Creativity is always to be prized. And creativity often involves conflicts with prevailing norms of taste, cultural preferences, and occasional taboos. The exercise of creativity is sometimes painful, but it is one of the dynamics which clearly defines us as human.

** Politics without compromise is totalitarianism, and leaves no room for democratic discussion.

** The search for peace — on any level, personal, familial, filial, professional, relational, and societal — is at the heart of the religious quest. That which does not make for peace is ultimately not of God.

** Love without justice is soft, and fuzzy, and mostly innocuous; justice without love is cruel, and brutish, and ultimately reptilian. The balance between love and justice is always to be treasured as an ultimate hope by people of good will.

** The need to blame — God, others, oneself — seems endemic to the human creature, but it can be overcome with tolerance, forgiveness, and patience.

** Toleration is only a first step which should lead eventually to celebration.

** The worst slight any human being can inflict on others is to treat them as if they are invisible. All people — regardless of their form of “extremism”– are to be regarded as “Children of God,” no exceptions.

Let us be extremists for Diversity!

— Bob Hill


(Meant to post this yesterday, but it’s never too late to remember Dale Eldred and his extraordinary life and art. So I’m sharing a chapter from my book LIFE’S TOO SHORT FOR ANYTHING BUT LOVE, plus a poem.)

Although Dale Eldred’s design fulfilled Frank Lloyd Wright’s 1940 vision for the Steeple of Light of Community Christian Church in Kansas City, Missouri, Dale never got to see it come into being. Dale was an internationally acclaimed sculptor and chair of the Sculpture Department at the Kansas City Art Institute for 33 years. During his brief 59 years he accomplished herculean tasks and mammoth projects.

Described once as a proponent of “romantic gigantism,” he became best known for large‑scale sculptures that included natural and generated light. He created numerous works of art in Kansas City and around the world. He inspired and launched hundreds of artist‑students in their luminous careers. But he never was afforded the earthly pleasure of standing with family and friends to behold the Steeple of Light at the corner of 46th and Main.

In the summer of 1993, Dale and the rest of Kansas City were worried about the rising of the Missouri River due to the “500‑year” flood ravaging the heartland. On July 26, 1993, with the assistance of his artistic crew, Dale was moving equipment in his two‑story West Bottoms studio in preparation for possible flooding. On the studio’s second floor, Dale, who rarely ever forgot where his feet were, forgot that a grate had been set aside and tripped and fell through the opening to the ground floor below. His death was devastating to family and friends, to Kansas City, and to the artistic community here and around the world. Those who gathered for the memorial service celebrating his life mourned his death and blessed his legacy.

Dale’s art continues to bless people and places around the world – in the hinterlands of Turkey; in the Nashville airport; along a North Carolina causeway; in the Tulsa Convention Center; in an Illinois shopping center; at a Des Moines art center; at the Minneapolis Institute for the Arts; at a Denver education center; in a Fort Lauderdale library; on college campuses in Missouri, Kansas, Michigan, Ohio, Oregon, Utah, and Arizona; and in numerous personal art collections around the world.

Dale’s long, grand romance with light was an ultimate testimony to his love of beauty. For light has a twin identity: first, light illumines all things, and without it nothing is illuminated; second, the illumination of light becomes a marvelous, alluring enchantment in and of itself. As a perpetual kindergartner on his way to the perpetual first day of school, Dale delighted in light’s capacity to empower him in a grand, perpetual game of “Show‑and‑Tell.” Or as Dale might have said: light shows great beauty, and it tells great truth.

To me, beyond his prodigious talent, more crucial than his unique gifts, more telling than his insatiable curiosity, more impressive than his powerful personality, and more searing than the piercing glint of his keen vision, this is first and foremost: Dale Eldred was a friend, rare and fine and precious.

Let us be thankful that Community Christian Church is the steward of one of Dale’s most visible and accessible sculptures, the Steeple of Light, made possible by his design and by the artistic execution of Roberta Lord, his partner in all things. More importantly, let us be thankful for Dale Eldred himself, who abides in loving memory as friend, teacher, colleague, brother, uncle, father, husband, partner, child of God, brother of the light, progeny of the Eternal.


He is here,
as solid as light,
as brilliant as steel,
as sure as rain.

And he is there,
strong in the wind,
bold in the moon,
rejoicing in the sun.

— Bob Hill

© 2018, Robert Lee Hill