BLAISDELL BLESSEDNESS

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Whenever Christmas comes around, I go to the Blaisdells. Maybe not literally, but figuratively and imaginatively and spiritually, at the very least. Their home became a welcoming haven, and ultimately my home, at crucially significant stages of my life, and most especially at Christmas.

I recall spending several Christmases in the warmth of their home in Ft. Worth, Texas, during the halcyon days of college. And I can remember like it was yesterday, one holiday time during my graduate school tenure: driving in the dead of night from Nashville, Tennessee to Ft. Worth, through wretched weather, enduring one of the wheels literally falling off of my car, just so I could be in the Blaisdell’s living room on Christmas morning.

Chuck Blaisdell was and remains one of my dearest friends on the face of the earth. We’ve known each other since the topsy-turvy days of high school CYF conferences. When I arrived at TCU in Ft. Worth, it was through Chuck that I met his parents Hazel and Dick and their home would become a joyful dwelling place for me.

Sunday afternoons at the Blaisdells meant the Dallas Cowboys and brisket. Thanksgiving meant turkey (and at least a week’s worth of turkey soup) and games of Risk and Monopoly until the wee hours. And Christmas meant grace and comfort and cherry tarts. (To this day, cherry tarts are a necessary portion of our home’s Christmas morning rituals.) And the blustery days of the Super Bowl weekend meant chili and a persistent debate about which Cowboys team was the greatest of all time.

In time Chuck’s brothers Jim and Greg would also become beloved to me. Despite time and distance, I cannot imagine anything I would not do for them if they asked me. (Jacob and Esau grew apart over time, too. But as a sign of my esteem for Chuck’s brothers I would echo Jacob’s sentiment when he embraced Esau in reunion at long last: “…… truly to see your face is like seeing the face of God, with such favor have you received me.”)

It was and is Hazel and Dick, however, who provided the strong, mysterious, and lasting attachment to Christmas for me. Among all the wonderful people whose hospitality I have been privileged to enjoy, the Blaisdells were and remain the ultimate expression of what Christmas is all about: a treasuring of simple, lastingly good relationships, good events, good food; mercy and jubilation at the daily gifts life brings one and all. Their loving warmth was unconditional. Their affectionate affirmation was abiding and gracious. Their joyous gratitude was deep and profound and their hospitality irrefutably genuine.

To put it simply, the Blaisdells made a place for me in their hearts and their home, and because of their tender mercies, I was born anew. What I received from the Blaisdells I suppose I would call “Blaisdell blessedness” – as beautiful as new fallen snow, as exquisite as a baby’s smile, as essential for a fully developed life as the air we all breathe.

Every year the same item is inscribed at the top of my Christmas wish list: that everyone – family and friends and acquaintances and strangers –may experience some good portions of “Blaisdell blessedness” during the high holiday times. It is one of the best ways I know of to get close to a certain manger in Bethlehem.

REMEMBERING PAT McGEACHY & JOY IN ADVENT

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Pat McGeachy’s passing nearly a year ago 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. But that hole is slowly being filled with sacred memories of his powerful presence, especially as we approach “Gaudate Sunday,” the third Sunday of Advent on the Christian calendar.

While his devotion to family was exemplary and his interpretation of scripturewas 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 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

2016, Robert Lee Hill

PEACE IN ADVENT (& ANY OTHER SEASON)

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All seasons and times are good occasions for considering peacemaking possibilities in our lives. Currently, there seems to be no better opportunity than the present moment to move heartily and energetically toward a more peaceable world. Daily the world is granted occasions for hope and celebration, mixed with the constant din of war.

On the global front, we are hurtfully naive to think that the peaceable realm in which God would have us abide will come easily, without hard work and the friction of comprise. The peacemaking efforts among nations in the Middle East, for example, will continue to be fraught with on-going tensions in the future, despite whatever peaceable accomplishments were ever attained in the past.

On the U.S. scene, we are challenged to deal directly and wisely with the grievous horrors of increased gun violence, drug trafficking, and domestic assaults. All people, and especially religious folks, are called to take a strong moral stand against such wrongs and to do our part to contribute to “the healing of the land.”

And, in the personal realm, many stand as eye-witnesses to the truth which Albert Einstein declared: “Everything has changed except our thinking.” There is, indeed, a multitude of tasks to take up in the journey toward true peace.

Since each and every season is always right for peacemaking efforts, allow me to proffer the following hope-filled goals, as they relate to three specific dimensions of peace.

PEACE IS ALWAYS RELATIONAL.
Therefore, in order to spread the experience of peace and to be at peace with one another, we are called to:
* achieve and maintain personal integrity
* live amicably with our families
* aim for tranquility in our neighborhoods
* rest assured always in the presence of God

PEACE IS AN EVENT IN TIME.
Therefore, we are called to:
* encounter our present reality with honesty
* move into the future with hope and anticipation
* appreciate the earth’s eons-long history
* act with purpose and focus now

PEACE IS A REALITY IN SPACE.
For peace to be real, then, we are called to :
* regard God’s presence in nature with reverence and gratitude
* know our environment for the precious treasure it is
* leave the earth a bit better than the way we found it
* understand that begins where we live

– Bob Hill

© 2016, Robert Lee Hill

NELSON MANDELA, THANK YOU

nelson-mandela-robben-island(On the third anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s passing, I’m sharing a chapter from my book LIFE’S TOO SHORT FOR ANYTHING BUT LOVE.)

When the news of Nelson Mandela’s death was transmitted around the world on December 5, 2013, my immediate response was to say out loud, “Nelson Mandela, thank you for your hope-saturated courage and unfailing love for humanity. The light of your indomitable spirit has not gone out.” I said it again while watching the broadcast of his memorial service. I said it both as a hope and a conviction, a stone-serious testimony. It’s amazing to realize how much Nelson Mandela’s unflagging courage and tenacity have impacted so many.

Always Mandela was a paragon of indefatigable strength, prior to, during, and especially after his long years of imprisonment. Oh, how he then infused peace into each encounter, offering the cool waters of forgiveness and reconciliation from a deep well of good will.

Mandela was and will remain in my mind a giant of gentleness, a defender of the defenseless, a faithful exemplar of reconciliation when reconciliation seemed futile. Vilified as a communist, condemned as a terrorist, the conscience of a movement, the father of a nation, a troubler of those waters that desperately needed troubling, a stellar exemplar of healing forgiveness, not only for his country but for the world.

I can hardly remember a time in my adult life when Nelson Mandela wasn’t a powerful, hovering force for transformation in the world and an inspirational force in the lives of innumerable admirers. His marvelous journey and his magisterial measure of morality unfolded before our very lives, year after year.

During my first year of divinity school in Nashville, Tennessee, I heard Dennis Brutus, a visiting South African scholar, poet, and sports activist, tell how he had occupied a prison cell next to Nelson Mandela’s on Robben Island, where Mandela spent 18 of his 27 years of incarceration. Hearing Brutus’ stories prompted my first public witness involvement, as I joined my voice with others to protest South Africa’s heinous apartheid system of racial discrimination.

Several years later, during a study leave in the summer of 1988, I ventured on a two and a half week tour of South Africa’s exquisitely beautiful land, prior to Mandela’s release from prison. One could sense his ubiquitous lingering aura of fierce faith and intense hopefulness, as he came up in conversations again and again.

A few years later, while visiting Senator Dole’s and Senator Bond’s offices in Washington, D.C., in an effort to urge U.S. disengagement from South Africa and its apartheid policies, I had an awareness of Mandela’s overarching influence in many such citizen motivated efforts.

And I will never forget the day of his ultimate release from prison, on Sunday, February 11, 1990, when Scott Stuart greeted me at the Main Street door of Community Christian Church after worship with a joyful exclamation, “He’s out! He’s free! Mandela’s finally been released!”

Then there was Mr. Mandela’s democratic election as the first black President of South Africa in 1994 and the creation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, chaired by his friend Archbishop Desmond Tutu, in 1995.

And then came the South African Constitution which he had a significant hand in framing and his daring decision not to seek a second term.

In sacred defiance, Nelson Mandela led in the dismantling of apartheid’s diabolical walls of division. In his determined fidelity to democracy, he constructed a pathway toward authentic freedom, a blessed right which all humanity deserves. And he did it, all the while, by allowing a constant, mysterious, sacred peace to dwell in him and to shape his relationships.

Thank you, Nelson Mandela! And thanks be to God for the privilege of living during a time in history when such a man, such a great soul, such a leader was ours to behold.

– Bob Hill

© 2015, Robert Lee Hill