REMEMBERING FORREST CHURCH

Forrest Church - 2019

(On the occasion of what would have been Forrest Church’s 71st birthday, and on the eve of the 10th anniversary of his death, I’m offering a tribute remembrance of Forrest, adapted from my book “Life’s Too Short for Anything But Love.”)

On September 24, 2009, the day after his 61st birthday, Forrest Church, beloved husband, father, brother, son, friend, and Minister of Public Theology and former Senior Minister of All Souls Unitarian Church in New York City for nearly thirty years, died in peace, his life fully extended, his love embracing eternity.

I met Forrest in the aftermath of 9/11. We made a connection in New York City while Priscilla and I were enjoying the east coast leg of a sabbatical. How we actually came to meet in his office at the corner of Lexington Ave. and 80th St. was a mystery to us both, through a happenstance e-mail, as best we could figure. Regardless of the manner of our meeting, his gracious hospitality and kindnesses were, as they always would be, consistent and enduring, the stuff of which dear friendships are made. I was glad to offer a poetic piece to a book he was putting together then (Restoring Faith: America’s Religious Leaders Answer Terror with Hope). I was also glad when he began making stops at Community on his book tours, as he read from “Freedom from Fear,” “The American Creed,” and, on his last tour through Kansas City, “So Help Me God: The Founding Fathers and the First Great Battle Over Church and State.” But an even greater grace was the sheer joy one could share with Forrest, talking baseball, politics, theology, family dynamics, books, history, barbecue, Idaho lore, New York City wonders, and the blessedness of the pastoral life.

In addition to pastoring the membership of All Souls, Forrest was the author or editor of 25 books. His last book, “The Cathedral of the World: a Universalist Theology,” served as a shining summation of his overarching theology and life commitments. Forrest also served in leadership capacities throughout New York City, and offered commentary for CNN, ABC, NBC, and CBS news, as well as for National Public Radio.

Beyond Forrest’s faults and failings, which he knew and confessed were many, he can be remembered as an extraordinary human being. Forrest’s family will gratefully recall how his love and care were persistently, passionately present. History will show him to have been an outstanding clergy leader, guiding the All Souls Unitarian Church in New York City to become the flagship congregation of Unitarian Universalists in the United States. All Souls congregants will surely witness how the love they shared with their pastor was exemplary and life-changing, the way all ministers hope relationships to be. Friends will attest that his open-heartedness was rare, fine, and a blessed source of encouragement.

It is likely that Forrest’s most lasting legacy will turn out to be the manner in which he faced death, after learning that he had esophageal cancer in 2006. Joyful to the point of buoyancy, Forrest’s posture of gratitude for daily grace afforded him enough time to complete three more books. And good for all his thankful readers, each book set forth a distinct aspect of his public life: his conclusive historian’s assessment (So Help Me God), his overarching pastoral perspective (Love and Death), and his final theological statement (The Cathedral of the World).

In honor of Forrest’s life and legacy and in celebration of his amazing graciousness in the midst of life and death, I offer here a poem which was a gift at the occasion of his 60th birthday celebration.

IN THE WORLD’S CATHEDRAL
(for Forrest Church)

And so we gathered, and so he made it,
as he said he could, as we knew
he would, to the hallmark birthday,
and all because of the radiance,
ablaze in his eyes,
which he borrowed fully
from the light, always slanting,
shimmering, with audacious freedom,
in the world’s cathedral.

As son, husband, father,
prophet, poet, priest,
all these, and friend, too, he said
what he had been saying
all along, the one thing
that always wins, always lasts:
our tears in another’s eyes,
flowing from the source
that conquers every fear.

We told him good joy,
we returned to him what he had given
freely, a glad, grateful peace,
which he grants, even now,
to those here and to those coming
in a new legacy, and this too:
the best courage, the best oration,
the best oblation is love. Love. Love,
his for us all and ours for him, forever

— Bob Hill

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Remembering

Remembering Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson, Addie Mae Collins, and Denise McNair who were killed by white supremacist terrorism in the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, 56 years ago on the morning of September 15, 1963.

TRIBUTE FOR FRED CRADDOCK 

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….

1 – PLACE
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.

2 – PLACEMENT
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.

3 – PEOPLE
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:

4 – THE POWER OF A REMEMBERED PHRASE

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.

CONCLUSION – “SHE WANTS SOME NAMES.”
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.

SEVEN SMALL SUGGESTIONS FOR SIMPLE LIVING

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

ROL’s TOP RELIGIOUS/SPIRITUAL BOOKS OF 2018

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

ROL’s TOP RELIGIOUS/SPIRITUAL BOOKS OF 2018
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.

TOP 25 RELIGIOUS/SPIRITUAL BOOKS OF 2018

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 .

READING SAMUEL GREEN AND RUMINATING ABOUT 9-11

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