MLK Monument 2016Today, on the occasion of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday, I’m remembering the dedication of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Washington, D.C.

Originally scheduled for August 28, 2011, 48 years after the very day and hour of the March on Washington and Dr. King’s soaring “I Have a Dream” oration, the dedication ceremony was cancelled due to Hurricane Irene and eventually enacted on October 16, 2011, the 16th anniversary of the 1995 Million Man March.

Those who’ve seen the Memorial – either in person or in photographs – will attest to its magisterial character and how it symbolizes Dr. King’s inimitable eloquence, visionary faith, quiet nobility, and steadfast leadership.

The 30-foot-tall sculpture – rendered by artist Lei Yixin and situated on the northwest corner of the Tidal Basin near the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, on a sightline between the Jefferson Memorial and the Lincoln Memorial – depicts Dr. King gazing out on the world with a countenance of fierce intensity and arms folded in unflinching determination. Referencing one of his greatest rhetorical flourishes, there is chiseled into the memorial’s side the memorable phrase: “Out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope.”

In the sculpture and the memorial site’s 450-long crescent-shaped inscription wall, there are reminders aplenty of Dr. King’s legacy and the abiding beliefs by which he lived: the sacredness of each human being; abiding compassion for the oppressed and the poor; the redemptive power of love; and the moral obligation to resist evil non-violently.

There is also a simple, singularly beautiful aspect of the memorial that deserves noting: its seeming incompleteness. Dr. King is emerging from the granite, not yet free from it. It’s as if the sculptor Yexin wanted to dramatize the indisputable fact that while Dr. King’s dream is indelibly, undeniably etched in the American consciousness, the fulfillment of the dream is set to our hands. As Dr. King famously proclaimed, “Until all are free, I am not free.”

Dr. King, and other luminaries who struggled before and alongside him, would have us heed the high calling of the prophetic aspect of faith, to “keep on a walkin’, keep on a talkin’, marchin up to freedom’s land,” until the dream of equality, dignity, and equity is fulfilled for all people.

— Bob Hill

© 2016, Robert Lee Hill

“When does something become a ‘false god’?”

Honored to offer a response to the question When does something become a ‘false god’?” in today’s “Voices of Faith” column in The Kansas City Star, Sat., January 9, 2016.  http://www.kansascity.com/living/religion/article53703950.html

 “Voices of Faith” Column for The Kansas City Star – January 9, 2016

A “false god” is any lie, any deception, any idol which we allow to occupy the place, position, and status of God in our lives.

Whenever we offer our utmost trust or allegiance to something other than our Creator – to possessions, to money, to guns, to a movement, to a group, to an idea – we commit idolatry and worship a “false god.”

Whenever insecurities, anxiousness, and fears prevail in our thoughts and deeds, “false gods” are near.

Whenever we make comprises with difficult truths, settle for deceptions, engage with life’s predicaments with willful ignorance, we succumb to “false gods.”

Whenever we render the mystery of the Divine completely comprehensible, we even make God into a “false god.”  God’s majesty and glory always exceed our grasp.

The Bible is replete with evidence that even the most well-intentioned people can and regularly do traipse after “false gods.” The testimony of the Hebrew prophets, the proclamations of Jesus, and the witness of the early Church ring with alarm about such idolatry.

And the human saga is soaked with the blood of untold millions who suffered from leaders whose maniacal persuasiveness toward “false gods” resulted in history’s greatest tragedies, including Auschwitz, Cambodia’s killing fields, Soviet gulags, the Middle Passage, the Trail of Tears, and Boko Haram’s butchery, to mention just a few.

The key to answering the question lies in the word “something.” Anything can become a “false god.” Humble, fierce, honest, persistent wrestling with life’s situations can definitely help us resist “false gods.”

  • Bob Hill

Remembering Pat McGeachy

Remembering The Rev. Dr. Daniel Patrick McGeachy III

Pat McGeachy

The death of Pat McGeachy leaves a God-shaped hole in life, in the lives of those who loved and admired him and those whom he loved and cared for, and in my life.

I came to know Pat through Project Return, an agency he helped to found and which was housed at Downtown Presbyterian Church for several years. In May of 1980, two days after receiving my M.Div. from Vanderbilt Divinity School, I went to work at Project Return with Kit Kuperstock.  Others would join in Project Return’s work, focusing on assisting people leaving prisons and jails with a solid sense of welcome in the free world, job placement assistance, and some not infrequent kick-in-the-tail counseling. Because some of the staff were also ministers, there were also occasional invitations to preside at weddings and funerals.

The atmosphere in Project Return’s office, right down the hall from Pat’s office, was, as Pat once described it, like unto the story line and subjects of the television show “M.A.S.H.,” a popular series at the time: complicated, comical, and always dealing with life situations that portended wonder-filled fortune and/or damnable tragedy. Kit and I, along with co-workers, Rudy Chatman, Nolan Eagan, Mike Bailey, Harmon Wray, Robert Arnold, Bill Frith, and a slew of field placement folks and interns from Vandy and volunteers from other non-profit groups around Nashville, worked together for good purpose and always with a healthy dose of humbling hilarity.

It was through Project Return and through DPC’s weekly mid-day lunch program that I was privileged to witness Pat’s profligate talents as a preacher, pastor, counselor, and community leader.  I had heard that he was a powerful preacher, previously at Westminster Presbyterian Church and other congregations along his intriguing career path.  But I had never heard him preach until I began attending the Wednesday noon services. That service regularly offered some of the greatest proclamations one could hear in Nashville, or anywhere else.

Of course, Pat was a bona fide logaphile, always reading and quoting every writer and source of note to anyone who would listen.  He was a surefire excellent writer himself, too.  While I was at Project Return, I was graced to read and then be gifted with a copy of his doctoral dissertation, a liturgical commentary on the 13th chapter of Paul’s first epistle to the cantankerous group of early Christians at the church at Corinth. I still have it and still take counsel from Pat’s words whenever I’m preaching or teaching on Paul’s great “love hymn.”

Pat was a genuine reveler.  He loved life and wanted everyone else to love it too. He took extreme delight in music, not only with his guitar, which he used to great effect in church settings and at some of the parties he and Alice hosted, but in all of its multitudinous expressions.

But Pat’s revelry wasn’t limited to music.  He could also tell a good joke (and more than a few horribly pun-infused ones), and he could play some unparalleled practical jokes on friends.  Once he called me on my extension at Project Return, exclaiming, “Hey, Hill, there’s a dead woman in my office!” I slammed down the phone and raced down the church hallway into his office, blurting out, “What happened?  Who do we need to call? Shouldn’t we call an ambulance or the police or someone??” But there was no body to be seen or found anywhere.  “What’s going on, Pat?” I asked. He pointed to a box wrapped in brown paper on a bookshelf and said, “There she is.” It was the cremains of a church member who had requested that he kindly dispose of her ashes at an appropriate time and place, and the box had just arrived via special delivery.

Pat proffered enormous gifts as a friend, tenderly offering free cedar trees at Christmas, hospitality to folks at holiday times, laugh-saturated lunches, book recommendations, eloquent recollections of movies and plays, and unrelenting regalings about the wondrous ways of his children and Alice.

Pat’s passion for justice was persistently strong and unfailing, an attribute I much admired and saw as a pastoral trait to emulate. He advocated persuasively and enduringly for others, and the perduring presence of Project Return and other social ministry programs is a significant part of his legacy.

But his ministry and his life, I believe, were always and ultimately seasoned with mercy.  Nearly every December, I go back in my mind’s eye to the steps outside the Project Return doors on the southeast corner of the Downtown Presbyterian Church edifice.  It was there that a group of three adults with Down Syndrome were stranded in the midst of a horrific snowstorm.  The transportation that was scheduled to carry them home from their sheltered workshop activity had been clogged up somewhere, and they were shivering in the cold waiting for some unknown bus that was likewise frozen in the impossible traffic situation that had descended on Nashville that late December afternoon. We ushered them into Project Return’s office and got them coffee and hot chocolate and secured the needed information about where they lived. Then Pat and I directed them to his SUV (an International Harvester Scout, as I recall), and off we went to deliver them home, made possible by some adventurous driving on Pat’s part.  It was Matthew 25 and Micah 6:8 and the essence of the Christmas story all rolled into one memorable event.

While his devotion to family was exemplary and his interpretation of scripture was consistently profound (and unusual) and his gifts with music were impressive (and unique) and his original limericks were unparalleled in my experience (and creatively earthy, to boot), it was Pat’s enthusiasm for life itself and the extraordinary dimensions of everyday sacredness that I’ll most remember. That and his ability to sum up broad concepts in brief statements and formulas. I will always associate the word “Joy” with Pat.     I remember Pat once describing  “J.O.Y.” as consisting of three ways of loving:

1 – Loving Jehovah (God).

2 – Loving Others (Neighbor).

3 – Loving Yourself (Self).

At the time of my ordination I was blessed mightily when a special chasuble that Pat had made was placed over my head after the laying on of hands.  On the front side of the chasuble were the initials “J.O.Y.,” signaling his memorable definition and his hope and wish for the ministry upon which I was embarking. Now, 35 years after that moment and Pat’s generosity, I still believe that being joyful in those three ways is the hallmark of what it means to be a faithful pastor, preacher, leader, and friend.  “J.O.Y.” was certainly writ large and legible in Pat and the life he shared with others. Having been graced by Pat and his “J.O.Y.,” I can’t imagine a better way to live.

– Bob Hill