All This And Heaven, Too!

All This And Heaven, Too! 

When I arrived at Trinity Church, DeLand, Florida, in 1972 as the spiffy, new, fresh-out-of-seminary Associate Pastor, I heard people say good things about a former Senior Pastor named Jim Rowan who had left an indelible mark on the life of that congregation.  As time went by, I watched his joy-filled, faith-centered, thoughtful leadership in the Conference and in the churches he served. He was a leader among the “greatest generation” of Methodist preachers in Florida and a model for ministry for my generation.

Yesterday I attended his Memorial Service at First Church, Lakeland, where he served for eleven years and from which he retired in 1991.  He was ninety years old.

Jim’s daughter, Jana, whom I knew as a teenager at the youth camp, spoke for the family.  She talked about the way her father could find exuberant joy in little things, like boiled peanuts, fresh oranges, or new socks on Christmas morning.  His face would light up with his day-brightening smile and he’d say,  “All this and Heaven, too!”  Sometimes he would ask it as a rhetorical question of utter amazement over little things:  “All this?  And Heaven, too?”

Stumbling Toward Seventy 

Those words resonated with a passage I had just read in a book of essays by Marilyn Robinson, whose novel, Gilead, won the Pulitzer Prize.  In contrast to her novels, The Givenness of Things is heavy reading.  I often had to read a passage several times to let it sink it, but it was worth the effort.

She said something surprising happened as she turned seventy. That caught my attention because just having turned sixty-nine, I can see it on the horizon.  She described it as “some ticking upward of pleasure and intensity that is really not what I had been led to expect.”  

She said the things in which she takes pleasure have not changed, but “they are all refreshed.”  Then she wrote:

I know my life is drawing to an end.  The strangeness of life on earth first of all, and then of everything that takes my attention, is very moving to me now.  It feels freshly seen, like a morning that is exceptional only for the atmosphere it has of utter, unimpeachable newness, no matter how many times old Earth has tottered around the sun. 

I really expected to feel older than I feel right now.  Most of the time, I still feel like one of the youngest guys in the room, though I know the calendar (and the receding hair line) prove differently. Caring for my soon-to-be 95 year old mother is more than enough evidence of just how difficult the aging process can be. Old age isn’t for wimps!

But facing that reality, I’d also like to experience “some ticking upward of pleasure and intensity” in the things that continue to bring pleasure, laughter, love and grace into my life.  In stark contrast to all of the negative, divisive and mean-spirited stuff in our culture today, I’d like to be a little more like Marilyn Robinson, with eyes open to the “utter, unimpeachable newness” of each day.  I’d like to be more like Jim Rowan, always grateful for small pleasures, always aware that we are given, as an undeserved gift, all this and Heaven, too.

Grace and peace,

Jim

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Anybody Here Seen My Old Friend?

A Night to Remember 

The news reports say that it was 48 years ago yesterday, but it lingers in my memory as if it were last year.

I was a junior in college, running for Student Body President.  It was a tight race.  We were holding a rally to build support in the college gym. Someone came up with the idea of noise-makers made from Coke cans filled with gravel.  The music was loud, the crowd was energized and I was about to speak when someone came back stage and told us that Martin Luther King, Jr., had just been shot.  I’m embarrassed to say that the rally went on as if nothing had happened. I won the election, but I still feel ashamed by what we did that night.

By contrast, in Indianapolis the assassination led to one of the most amazing speeches in American political history.

A Word from the Past  

Robert F. Kennedy was running for President.  He was scheduled to rally his supporters in a predominantly black neighborhood in Indianapolis.  When word came of the assassination, local police warned him they might not be able to provide protection if there was a riot.  Kennedy insisted that he make the announcement.  He wrote a few notes in the car on the way to the rally, but he spoke from his heart without notes or written text on the back of  a flatbed truck.

It’s just a few minutes long, but there is not a single politician in our nation today who could speak as eloquently as Bobby Kennedy did that night.  I urge you to read or better yet, watch it here.

Although other major cities faced riots, Indianapolis remained calm.  Sixty-three days later, Kennedy’s voice was silenced by an assassin’s bullet.

A Word for Today 

Forty-eight years later, we need to hear his voice again. “In this difficult time for the United States, it’s perhaps well to ask what kind of a nation we are and what direction we want to move in.”  

We are still called to make the same choice he offered the crowd that night.

We can move in that direction as a country, in greater polarization — black people amongst blacks, and white amongst whites, filled with hatred toward one another. Or we can make an effort, as Martin Luther King did, to understand, and to comprehend, and replace that violence, that stain of bloodshed that has spread across our land, with an effort to understand, compassion, and love.

What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence and lawlessness, but is love, and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or whether they be black.

Remembering that night, I found myself singing the song that became the painful eulogy of our generation:

Anybody here seen my old friend Bobby?
Can you tell me where he’s gone?
I thought I saw him walkin’ up over the hill
With Abraham, Martin, and John. 

Where are leaders like that when we need them?

Grace and peace,

Jim