Homily for My Dad, Robert Bushey, Sr.


It is hard to believe that a month has passed since I said goodbye to the greatest inspiration in my life, my dad and friend, Robert Bushey, Sr. For twenty years Dad faced Heart Disease & COPD and we prepared for these days together. I have been privileged to spend the last five years making it possible for Dad to live with dignity in his own home. We had no “unfinished business” and we trusted one another completely. I am grateful for the honesty we shared. The authentic relationship we had strengthened me to make important decisions concerning his care when called upon to do so and to celebrate his life with family and friends a few weeks ago. Here is the homily I shared in honor and tribute of my dad.

Born to Pietro di Bernardone, a rich cloth merchant, and his wife Pica Bourlemont, he was one of seven children. His father was in France on business when he was born, and his mother had him baptized as Giovanni di Bernardone in honor of Saint John the Baptist, in the hope he would grow to be a great religious leader. When his father returned to Assisi, he was furious about this, as he did not want his son to be a man of the Church and decided to call him Francesco an adjective meaning French in Italian, in honor of his commercial success and enthusiasm for all things French.

As a youth, Franceso became disillusioned toward the world that surrounded him, demonstrated in the “story of the beggar”. In this account, he was selling cloth and velvet in the marketplace on behalf of his father when a beggar came to him and asked for alms. At the conclusion of his business deal, the youth abandoned his wares and ran after the beggar. When he found him, he gave the man everything he had in his pockets. His friends quickly chided and mocked him for his act of charity. When he got home, his father scolded him in rage.

As a young man, a serious illness started him on a deep spiritual journey. Francis heard a sermon that changed his life. The sermon was based on Matthew 10:9, in which Christ tells his followers that they should go forth and proclaim that the Kingdom of Heaven was upon them, that they should take no money with them, nor even a walking stick or shoes for the road. He was inspired to devote himself to a life of simplicity.

Many of the stories that surround the life of St Francis deal with his love for animals. Perhaps the most famous incident that illustrates the Saint’s humility towards nature is recounted in the ‘Fioretti’ (The “Little Flowers”), a collection of legends and folk-lore that sprang up after the Saint’s death. It is said that one day while Francis was traveling with some companions they happened upon a place in the road where birds filled the trees on either side. Francis told his companions to “wait for me while I go to preach to my sisters the birds”. The birds surrounded him, drawn by the power of his voice, and not one of them flew away. Francis spoke to them:

My sister birds, you owe much to God, and you must always and in everyplace give praise to Him; for He has given you freedom to wing through the sky and He has clothed you…you neither sow nor reap, and God feeds you and gives you rivers and fountains for your thirst, and mountains and valleys for shelter, and tall trees for your nests. And although you neither know how to spin or weave, God dresses you and your children, for the Creator loves you greatly and He blesses you abundantly. Therefore… always seek to praise God.

Another legend from the Fioretti tells that in the city of Gubbio, where Francis lived for some time, was a wolf “terrifying and ferocious, who devoured men as well as animals”. Francis had compassion upon the townsfolk, and went up into the hills to find the wolf. When he found the wolf, he made the sign of the cross and commanded the wolf to come to him and hurt no one. Miraculously the wolf lay down at the feet of St. Francis.

Then Francis led the wolf into the town, and surrounded by startled citizens made a pact of peace between them and the wolf. Because the wolf had acted out of hunger, the townsfolk were to feed the wolf regularly, and in return, the wolf would no longer prey upon them or their flocks. Francis, ever the lover of animals, even made a pact on behalf of the town dogs, that they would not bother the wolf again.

Francis’s attitude towards the natural world, while poetically expressed, was a truly Christian attitude. He believed that the world was created good and beautiful by God but suffers a need for redemption because of the sinfulness of humanity. He preached to humanity and beast the universal ability and duty of all creatures to praise God and the duty of persons to protect and enjoy nature as both the stewards of God’s creation and as creatures ourselves.

Legend has it that St. Francis on his deathbed thanked his donkey for carrying and helping him throughout his life, and his donkey wept.

While I certainly would not claim that my dad is a candidate for Sainthood in the sense of the venerated saints of the Catholic church such as St. Francis of Assisi, I want to suggest this morning that the man many of you knew as Bob possessed many of the same qualities as St. Francis in his life.

Dad never knew a stranger. He was ready to have conversation with anyone. And, when he perceived a need he was ready to give the shirt off his own back to help. He was generous and he exemplified confident humility in his approach to others including non-human beings.

Dad loved nature and nature loved him. Wild and domesticated animals were drawn to him like a magnet. Like the legend of St Francis, Dad carried a calm welcoming spirit with animals. Many members of his family remember nature walks with Dad – he could name every tree, plant, flower. He was comfortable in the woods or on the prairie, picking berries, tending the lawn or planting his bountiful gardens. From his childhood forward, Dad was connected, grounded and at peace with creation around him.

The generations of our family preceding Dad understood the value of the earth – not the blue and green globe sitting on your bookshelf earth – but earth – you know gritty, sandy, rich, black, dirt – the substance of life according to the Book of Genesis in the Bible. Yes, the first human being created in the second account of creation, Adam – a name meaning from the dust or dirt – is literally made from the earth.

Celebration of Life for Robert Bushey, Sr. (July 8, 1933 – March 9, 2015)

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When Dad’s ancestors immigrated from France to St. Anne, IL they were farmers, growing produce and such – living and making a living from the earth. Being born July 8th 1933, the first son of Lawrence & Sara Katherine Gilbert Bushey, Robert Paul joined his twin sisters Evelyn who is here today & Evangeline “Vangie” who preceded Dad in death as did Dad’s younger brothers Arthur “Lee,” Rodney & Dennis “Mike” Bushey. It goes without saying there is quite a reunion going on in that dwelling with many rooms – simple to find just look for a nickle and dime poker game on an old picnic table.

Born the grandson of a farmer, Dad loved to tell the story of one of his first memories as a child, probably five or six yrs. old, when he was out with his Grandpa Antony and a team of work horses. My Great Grandpa was a giant of a man by all accounts, standing a head taller than most with hands large enough to wear a size 13 ring (average is about 6 or 7). The day remembered, Grandpa Tony let Dad have the reigns while he walked along beside. Suddenly the horses began to work into a trot with Grandpa Tony running beside.

Dad would say “I probably snapped the reigns a few times and aggravated the horses, but your Great Grandpa was furious with them for taking off – he said Whoa twice before catching up to the bit of one of the horses not slowing down.” Dad would recount the moment when his grandpa stopped the horse from running off with his grandson, saying “I said Whoa!” just before he swung his fist, knocking the horse out cold.

Dad loved to tell stories. And so do his family members.

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Dad was a clever child. For instance when he was about 10 or 12 growing up in Hobby Heights, having a great interest in electronics, especially radio communication, he designed and built his own radio telephone network in his neighborhood, carefully climbing and stringing wire from telephone pole to telephone pole down the alley and to each of his friend’s homes. The system was working great until Com Ed was in the area working and discovered his wires tracing them back to his house. The guys were so impressed by Dad’s efforts they took his whole network down, rolling each spool of wire for him.

This is where the story changed Dad’s life. You see Dad was determined – a value that would stick with him his whole life – and so he began restringing the whole network through the trees in each yard. Climbing the trees with his loop belt he made in Cub Scouts and as he would say, “I was on the last tree, up ten or fifteen feet, when the loop belt broke and down I went.”

Now this story has been somewhat disputed over the years. Some of his siblings and friends claimed he was playing Superman in the trees and that’s how he fell and splintered his arm. The end result was still the same. A trip to St. Mary’s gave the prognosis of amputation of his arm.

Grandpa Bushey would have nothing to do with that and loaded Dad in the dump truck and hauled him to Chicago where after extensive surgery and treatment they saved Dad’s arm.

A couple things came out of that story. First, Dad missed nearly a second year of school, having already missed a major amount of one of his years at Baker School due to Rheumatic Fever. Dad loved school and had aspirations of being a physician, but his time away made him much older than his classmates and as he approached adulthood the pressure to get a job – easy to do without a diploma or degree back then, led him to withdraw from school to work with his dad operating Catepillar dozers and dump trucks. Second, his new nickname was born – Superman!

Yes, just like unassuming Clark Kent, Dad seemed simple enough, laid back, passive, intelligent and even a little goofy at times. But like the comic book character, when danger called, Dad just took off his glasses, put his big S on his chest, dawned his cape and leapt tall challenges with a single bound all through his life.

When our nation was calling the youngest and strongest into the armed forces for service in a mostly unknown Korean peninsula across the international dateline, Dad enlisted. Having already battled through sickness and injury, Dad trained for the Army at Camp Atterbury in Edinburgh, Indiana and served for two years and two days in the 31st Infantry in the Demilitarized Zone where you had to wait for an attack to defend yourself, via UN rules of engagement.

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Dad like so many Veterans witnessed the horrors of armed conflict and for many years would not share his experience in Korea. Forty years later after a reunion with his Army buddies, Dad began to share and share and share and share. Dad was a true hero who served even though his heart was weakened significantly by his sickness as a youth. He earned the rank of Superman again and again through life.

Having survived his time in Korea, Dad returned home with an Honorable Discharge and began trying to follow the American Dream of the 1950’s. With his Clark Kent glasses on, he began pursuing his “Lois Lane,” a roller skating car hop on Broadway in Bradley from whom he would slyly steal spoons until she was forced to pay attention to him to get her spoons back.

They were soon in love and Dad married Janet Pfeffinger on September 28, 1955 in Kankakee. Together they shared the best of times and the worst of times for 59yrs. They were blessed by births and sorrowed by loss. Dad left the trucking and excavating business to provide steady employment for the new family at Roper Appliance Division in Kankakee.

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Working nights to support Mom and my brother Larry followed five years later by brother James, Dad operated steel presses and other heavy machinery throughout the production floor for over 25yrs. He had the strongest forearms I have ever seen, even after he retired, Dad remained strong and limber. Dad was an engineer without a degree who could design anything he wanted and he automated several operations at Ropers before they closed in 1982. I remember Dad sitting sideways at the table every morning at 6:30AM drinking coffee Mom had perked on the stove while she packed his lunch box, hustling out the door, waving to me as he drove off to be at the plant by 7. And then, when he returned home at 3:30 I got to eat his leftovers – a half sandwich or a crumb cake he left for me.

Dad and mom moved several times during their first 25yrs of marriage. There was the tiny bungalow on Broadway in Bradley, the house on Industrial Ave in Kankakee, the house on Cottage Ave and the new home they built and have lived in for nearly 47yrs in Limestone; the home I was brought home to another baby boy. Truth be told, a boy’s name wasn’t picked out for me until Uncle George suggested from Vietnam that I be named after Dad. Thank you, George!

They owned Chryslers and Buicks and Oldsmobiles, Chevys and even a Hyundai, from South Korea, courtesy of Korean War Veterans like Dad. One became a snow plow in the blizzard of 67 on the way home from work, one was used as a dog house for Frisky, one was pushed out of the garage and taken for joy rides frequently until the brakes were packed with sand (Larry) or the mysterious dent appeared on the back of the red & white camper (Jim), one was totaled behind Walgreens in Meadowview, one was crashed into while sitting in the driveway early one morning, one was demolished by a deer, another given to a grandchild, and one is parked in the garage today.

Houses and cars don’t make a family, but we can tell you stories about each one. Addresses that carry memories of a baby brother John and baby sister Susan who were carried into heaven before we got to know them.

Cars the three of us boys learned to drive in and work on with Dad and neighborhoods where we grew and played in until the street lights came on, well mostly.

Our family grew as we married, which always added joy to Dad’s life. Daughter-in-laws and grandchildren and great-grandchildren were all welcomed with open arms, warmth and love. Dad loved watching our lives blossom. He enjoyed attending our activities when work and health allowed. He traveled with Mom all over IL and even IN to cheer grandchildren on in several sports and music events. Soccer, basketball, band, baseball, graduations, grandparent’s days – whatever the occasion Grandpa was proud of all of his grandchildren and nothing meant more to him than to spend time with you.

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Nieces and nephews were high on Dad’s list of pride and joy as well. Whether you were pitching shoes with him or walking trails – you were an important part of Dad’s lif Dad loved to travel, mostly for the big breakfasts he’d claim were necessary. He and Mom enjoyed trips to Florida, Wisconsin Dells, Colorado, Michigan, Branson, Las Vegas and a Cruise of the Caribbean for their 50th.

Larry recalls the Colorado trip when in the mountains, Dad read a sign about a famous Native American Indian buried up on the mountain above them that warned, do not climb after a certain time of day. It was about 10 minutes before the time stated so Dad said lets go! They ran and ran and ran up into the thin air to arrive and find a disappointing tiny plaque marking the grave. Down they came in nearly pitch black dark conditions – that’s Superman for you.

And, there were the Nascar and Dirt Track Racing nights several of us enjoyed with Dad.

Since I lived away from here for nearly 20 years, my family always looked forward to taking Dad and Mom on trips with us including a special trip 6 years ago to Washington DC where Dad visited the Korean War Memorial. It was one of the few times I witnessed Superman weep.

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Dad loved to learn new ideas about how the world works. He was a visionary thinker and inventive throughout his life. His favorite reading came from Discover, Popular Mechanics & Popular Science. He was always interested in medicine and even witnessed his own surgeries – which he found fascinating.

His favorite TV shows were the News and Game Shows. And, he loved a good game of cards or dominos, even though Mom always won.

He enjoyed cooking especially on the grill. And he made the yummiest but most dangerous pancakes in town. Dangerous because for awhile everytime Dad made pancakes something major like a lumber yard burned in town. He loved Soupy Spaghetti, a good hot hamburger over mashed potatoes and pretty much anything Mom cooked for him.

Dad bowled for many years with his straight backup ball and golfed for years as well. He was a past member of the Moose Lodge of Kankakee and a 36yr member for Kankakee American Legion Post #85 where he enjoyed calling and playing Bingo with Mom.

Dad was a dependable and hard working employee. He retired in 1995 after having worked for Ropers, Kenneth R Hartman Construction Co, Michelich Septic Service, F&S Construction and as a truck driver for Luehr’s Ideal Rides & Amusements. So many stories to tell – not enough time in this day to share them all.

Dad was real, authentic and grounded in goodness. What you saw was what you got. He was honest. He wouldn’t cheat anyone out of anything – too much change, return it. He was determined facing life head-on without allowing fear to control him. Dad was kind, gentle and caring while being strong at the same time. He was our St. Francis, our Superman a true role model, mentor and inspiration for life.

The apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the church at Rome, that nothing can separate any of us from the love of God made known to us in Jesus Christ our Lord. In the eighth chapter, Paul describes the sufferings of this life are not worth comparing to the glory about to be revealed to us. “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God.”

Dad loved and was loved by his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. He placed his faith in the unfailing promises of God and put that same message with confidence into action in his life. He was an active member and Diaconate Emeritus of this congregation where he served in many capacities relating to the building and in leadership as well. Dad was and is a child of God, forgiven, loved and free.

He believed in the Good news: that God incarnate in Jesus Christ, rose from the dead and in so doing granted through God’s grace and love the victory of eternal life in the spirit to each and all.

And, after his 20yr long and courageous battle with heart disease and COPD, Dad rested peacefully in the arms of God the morning of March 8th. Blessed with 81years of living fully and surrounded by family Dad died unto the grace and abundant love of God who raised Jesus from the dead to life everlasting. A precious gift to us, he has been transformed by God’s undying love and has been given a life in the spirit beyond our imagining.

Our faith proclaims that Jesus is the resurrection and the life and that He is preparing a place for us with God. We have the promise of the scriptures of eternal life in this place. This is our hope as we live on after this day and as we too realize that we will not walk on this old earth forever ourselves. May it be that as we continue on with our lives, that our faith is strengthened and our hope increased as we remember God’s promise to each one of us.

Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my Peace I give to you.”

A Legacy of the Printed Word – Leo Phillips – 97

Homily from the Funeral for Leo E Phillips (November 5, 1916 – January 24, 2014)

Born the son of a wealthy German goldsmith in the late 1390’s, a young Johannes learned the trade of preparing metal for the minting of coins for the church. He was given the surname Gutenberg from the family house he lived in Meinz inherited by his father. After an uprising against the aristocracy, of which Johannes belonged, the exiled family was forced to move to Alta Villa to an estate that his mother had inherited. From there because of his political views he was forced to move to Strasburg where he stayed until the 1440’s when a failed business deal left him most unpopular with the investors who had lost their investments. The deal included polishing metal mirrors, said to capture holy light from the relics, which would be sold to pilgrims or tourist.

The legacy of Johannes Gutenberg is of course most widely known as inventor of the printing press back home in Meinz in around 1448 when Johannes took a small loan from his brother-in-law to begin mass-producing movable type in Europe.

Gutenberg’s ingenuity changed the world as books and all printed material became available in an economical way. In 1455 he completed his most famous printing the 42 – line Bible, named so for the 42 lines of type on each page. We commonly refer to this treasure as the Gutenberg Bible. Johannes died February 3, 1468 at the age of 70.

The advent of economical and mass produced printing introduced the era of mass communication which permanently altered the structure of society. The relatively unrestricted circulation of information — including revolutionary ideas — transcended borders, captured the masses in the Reformation of the church and threatened the power of political and religious authorities. The sharp increase in literacy broke the monopoly of the literate elite on education and learning and bolstered the emerging middle class.

The printed word was a large part of the great awakening of human history and the precursor to the industrial, scientific and information ages.

The willingness to take a risk and the gritty determination of Gutenberg moved the edges of the world. He faced the challenges of political exile more than once. He endured the hardship of failure and embarrassment. He persisted and was successful without much recognition or fame while he was alive.

To pursue and invent a method or a machine or a printing press takes an attitude of hopefulness.

And, hopefulness is why we gather here in this place this afternoon in the face of the death of one we have known and loved. Hope is the source of our confidence and our strength and such was the case for the recipients of the letter from Peter from which we read moments ago. The early followers of the risen Christ were undergoing terrible persecutions at the hands of the Roman Emperor Nero when Peter says God has made us alive again and given us a living hope through the resurrection of Christ! We have inherited a new kind of hope that is imperishable, a hope to sustain us even when the whole world seems to be falling apart around us.

This is the foundation of our hope, that today and tomorrow belong to God.  Whatever present sorrows and struggles we bear, God’s victory over death revealed to us in Jesus’ resurrection empowers us to live with strength and hope into the future. And, when we live in hope, our present sorrows are transformed into joy as we no longer fear death, we no longer struggle with disbelief or confusion. For God has made it clear, that death no longer has power over our tomorrows. Peter said,

In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith—being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.

With hopefulness we celebrate a full and well-lived life of 97yrs today. We have shared in Leo’s life story which began when he was born on November 5,1916 to Alva and Harriet Stewart Phillips in Memphis, MO. Leo Ellsworth Phillips came into this world a sign of hope and new life during the First World War for his family and community, when the rest of the world seemed to be falling apart.

Leo was the youngest of three siblings. Older brothers Clarence and Harold preceded him in birth by some 19 and 17 years and preceded him in death as well. Leo graduated from Memphis HS in the early 1930’s during the Great Depression. He began his life-long career in the printing business in his hometown working for the local paper, the Memphis Democrat. During his early printing years Leo caught his hand in a press losing fingers to his trade, which resulted in his exemption from the battlefront of WWII and so Leo supported the effort working for the Curtis Wright Airplane Company.

On July 21, 1940 he married his partner in life, whom he met at the skating rink, Madeline Blaine. Partners in life, faith, parenting, grand-parenting, printing, retirement and travel they celebrated 73 years of marriage last summer. Leo & Madeline, inseparable names in many of our hearts & minds, were blessed as they would tell you with good lives.

Three children, Sandra, William and Jan, Five Grandchildren and Sixteen Great Grandchildren rounded out Leo & Madeline’s family of blessings.

As a father, I’ve been told he led by example and while he wasn’t known for rambling parental lectures, he knew what to say when you needed it and his few words were solid and true – even when he’d tell you to “get your nose out of the glass” when you took a drink at the dinner table.

As the war came to an end, Leo & Madeline found themselves in Gorin, MO publishing and printing the Gorin Argus covering Memphis and Gorin, now South Gorin in Scotland County, Missouri from 1890 – 1972 according to the Library of Congress. Madeline gathered the news and Leo ran the press along with good friends the Salsbury’s.

About 500 years after Gutenberg operated the first printing press on a loan and a prayer, In 1947 Leo & Madeline noted the sale of a printing business in Kankakee, IL the growing river town south of the big city. With a loan from Leo’s parents and I’m sure a few prayers they crossed the Mississippi River and purchased Burrill Printing Company est. 1913 on the corner of Court St. & Schylur Avenue on the second floor of the Kreske Building.

After moving the company to Harrison & Cypress Streets, Leo & Madeline built and operated Phillips Press, Inc. on South Seventh Avenue in 1958.

His honest work ethic and his frugality allowed the press to operate with Linotype, developed in the 19th century and able to create full lines of type rather than the slower movable type of Gutenberg, right up to the infancy of the digital age. Not unlike the time of Gutenberg, Leo witnessed tremendous changes in the world of printing. I’m sure in his heyday, Leo could hang a line with the best of them. A little Linotype jargon for being able to compose a new line of type before the previous line was finished. He was an artisan of his trade with a knack for aligning text perfectly by hand. He was a good salesman who dealt honestly with his customers while upsizing your ad in the process. Leo retired from the press in 1979.

Leo, with Madeline alongside, joined Central Christian Church 66 years ago on April 4, 1948. Leo served our congregation generously with his time, talents and resources over the years. He served as an Elder and was awarded Elder Emeritus, the highest honor of our congregation, in 1990.

Leo served on the Congregational Board of which he was a former Chairman. He taught Sunday School including the Phylatheon Class of couples which met on Sunday mornings and for fellowship in the evenings.

He played catcher for the CCC softball team and operated the sound system on Oak Street. He was a member of the Christian Men’s Fellowship and State Secretary for the CMF of the Christian Church in IL/WI. A regular worship attendee until only three-four years ago when his health made it impossible, Leo made sure the bulletins and Challengers, our newsletters, were printed neatly and without cost to the church while he was active in the printing business. Leo loved his church and this church loved Leo & Madeline.

During retirement, Leo & Madeline enjoyed traveling and camping during the winters at Morning Side Travel Park in the valley in Texas where Leo helped with the sound system for worship in the Park Hall. Part work and part enjoyment, the duo also inspected and rated camp grounds in Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island for the Trailer Life Publishing Company for 20 years.

As a community member and businessman, Leo was active in the Kankakee Boy Scout Committee, Kankakee Elks Lodge and the Salvation Army Board.

Leo was the oldest and longest serving member, and former President of the Kiwanis Club. He was made a Lifetime Honorary Member for 53 years of membership and service in May of 2012.

After eyesight and illness began making mobility difficult, Leo & Madeline moved to Heritage Village on Entrance in Kankakee and more recently to Our Lady of Victory in Bourbonnais. Whenever I or our Elders would visit with Leo & Madeline, the story was the same. God’s been good to us. We can’t complain. We’ve had a good life. We got to do things we wanted to do, see things we wanted to see. We’ve been blessed.

Now, I think that’s how we all hope our story’s final chapters will read.

Leo’s life story came to a close on Friday, January 24th now printed in the book of Life published by the author of all Life.

When I visited Leo last Friday afternoon just hours before Leo died, I watched Madeline taking care of her partner, friend and husband with gentleness and sweetness. Blessed.

They have shared in the great story of life and in time, resting in the promises of God in Jesus Christ, they and we will know eternal blessedness in the presence of our Loving Creator and Redeemer.

We came to worship here today to celebrate a full life of 97 years and to celebrate the victory of resurrection revealed in and through our Lord Jesus Christ – the victory of Jesus’ own resurrection, triumphant over death, and the victory of life everlasting given through the grace and love of God.

Truly today we must celebrate Leo’s victory of eternal life achieved; as Christians we come to proclaim our faith in the God of “living hope,” the God who promises victory for each and all of God’s children over the power of death.  Today, we remember and we seek strength in the power of Jesus’ resurrection and the gift of eternal peace, rest and life with our God.

We proclaim our faith in God who was birth in the stable in Bethlehem we have just celebrated. We believe in Jesus, God made flesh who dwelt among us, and who suffered and died on the cross.

We believe in the Good news: that God incarnate in Jesus Christ, rose from the dead and in so doing granted through God’s grace and love the victory of eternal life in the spirit to each and all.  We believe that Leo has died unto the grace of God, the same grace that will welcome each of us into God’s holy and peaceful presence when our day comes. We can put our trust in the everlasting arms of God who through Jesus Christ has made known to us the promise of eternal life.

We know that Jesus is the resurrection and the life and that He is preparing a place for us with God.  We have the promise of the scriptures of eternal life in this place.  This must be our hope as we live on after this day and as we too realize that we will not walk on this old earth forever ourselves.  May it be that as we continue on with our lives, that our faith is strengthened and our hope increased as we remember God’s promise to each one of us.

“Peace I leave with you; my Peace I give to you.”

Grace at Starbucks

The other morning when I stopped by Starbucks across from the office there was a line of cars in the drive through. After a very busy weekend, I really wasn’t in a hurry. I just needed a little extra go juice. After I placed my order, the usual a blonde roast, cream and sugar, (I’m a light drinker) I was third in line to receive my order. Window down I was stunned from my Monday morning fog when a woman two cars ahead suddenly began yelling at the young woman at the window. “You dumb, f******* b**** I want to speak with your manager!!!!!” I’m pretty sure the seismology sensors across the state picked up her thunderous tone. Immediately, I was wide awake and my ministry sensors were tingling. Okay, so perhaps her latte wasn’t non-fat or her iced coffee was too sweet, or maybe some of the costly liquid was on the outside of the container – whatever the problem was and maybe it was not any mistake the barista made, no one deserves to be treated with such a raucous demeaning tone.

The vehicle before me hurried through their order with little exchange and I was next to pull up to the window where I was greeted with a smile that I knew was masking a major blow. As I exchanged my payment for my coffee I said, “Well, she was really loud. And, no one deserves to be treated that way, no matter what, no one deserves to be called those names. I really hope your day gets better. Thank you.” She mouthed thank you as her eyes flooded with what I believe were tears of hope and healing, a simple miracle at the drive through window. Yes a miracle of grace, one person to another, simple and yet potentially profound. I just hope my barista’s day improved and the other customer found solace for whatever was troubling her. I’m fully aware the abusive customer may be abused by something herself. And, everyone has the right to be angry while no one has the right to abuse others with their anger.

I drove to the office almost no longer needing my extra go juice adrenaline had taken over. My coffee, well it didn’t have any cream or sugar, a result of another persons unleashed cruelty. And that’s why I always keep some handy. I ran across this quote and article later in the day. Good thoughts for this week of Thanksgiving.

When we feel most grateful, it is impossible to be cruel or callous, brutal or indifferent.” Marcus Borg

The Devil, Lucifer & Evil Myths

Yesterday, I preached a teaching sermon on the devil, Lucifer and evil myths. As people of faith, we often create collages in our minds of sayings, historical events, myths, scripture and other literature when we are attempting to understand the nature of topics such as evil. During the sermon we visited a few texts from scripture: Luke’s report of the return of the seventy boasting about their ability to cast out demons in chapter 10, Isaiah’s oracle of doom upon Nebuchadnezzar whom the KJV names Lucifer, in chapter 14, and the consummation of the cosmic battle between the evil empire of Rome and Jesus of Revelation 20. We very briefly surveyed the contexts of the epic works of Dante’s Inferno and Milton’s Paradise Lost as we moved from the middle ages and enlightenment understandings of the universe to modern and post-modern views of the universe.  We even stopped by the early days of psychoanalysis as we tried to make sense of all the demons in scripture. Hopefully, we arrived in present times where devils with pitch forks and horns are more about costume fun than some scary reality. I think the survey was worth at least a quarter of a credit in seminary. I share these words from the closing of the message:

We do live in a world where Evil is present. And, Evil Powers continue to cause hurt and harm in our midst. David Felton & Jeff Proctor-Murphy in their book Living the Questions help us understand the powers of evil in our midst. According to them the Devil, Satan or demons are “human conditions of hatred, spirits of injustice, attitudes of jealousy, and structures of destruction.” Systems of oppression and practices of Greed and Deception are the real devils of our world.

The power of the demonic is the power of us – power to reject God and to thwart the emergence of life, love and potential. – Living the Questions

We too often point and blame before taking any responsibility for the evil in our midst. We need to seek healing of our need to be blameless and to seek help to see the ways we participate in unjust systems and communal sins such as racism, sexism, ageism and all forms of prejudice and oppression.

In the Lord’s Prayer we pray,  “Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from Evil.”

We pray to one who endured the pain and suffering of Evil in this world – who died at the vicious hands of power and greed, who was executed by systems of oppressive power in the hands of a few.
We pray to one who did not return his tormentors evil with evil,
with vengeance or revenge.
We pray to one who forgave the many who were complicit in his own torture and death.
We pray to the one who forgives us still today.
We pray to the one who invites us, in Paul’s words to
“not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good”

After the sermon, we received our newest member into the love and care of the congregation. She later told me she was grateful for the message and we are in a dialogue about questions she continues to discover. I’m certain I do not have the answers and I’m convinced there are many more like her who would love the opportunity to live the questions of faith in the 21st century. I’m grateful for the conversational journey and look forward to walking forward in faith.

Freedom is the Heart of America & Justice is her Soul

I published this in the most recent issue of The Challenger from Central Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Bourbonnais, IL

This week we pause as a nation and celebrate our Independence from tyranny with picnics, festivals and of course fireworks. We light the evening sky with brilliant colors and fascinating shapes as we remind ourselves that we live in a nation where as our forebears declared,

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

A beautiful sentiment and a powerful declaration, these words of liberty inspire us still. Of course, the definition of the prescribed unalienable rights and the access to them by all persons has been and continues to be the source of great divides in our not so perfect union.

This past week has demonstrated the gulf that exists between ideologies, theologies and perceptions found across the land we call the United States of America. The highest court of law in our land, the Supreme Court, ruled on three controversial cases during their  session. The highly anticipated rulings were celebrated by some and decried by others. The overly politicized SCOTUS struck down fifty years of civil rights law which had ensured the right of persons to vote regardless of their race in places where blatant discrimination against people of color had prevented rightful citizens the ability to cast their vote. The ruling stated that demography has changed and the outdated law just doesn’t make sense anymore. When our founders signed the declaration, quoted from above, men were of one race and gender in America, white, European and land holding. Black and brown folks, indigenous peoples, women and immigrants from other lands were not included in the men of the July 4th 1776 document.

The justices were correct the demography has changed in the land that I love, which by the way is precisely why I love this land. Here, as is nearly nowhere duplicated, persons are persons regardless of any other describing or defining attribute, and as persons are endowed with liberty and promised justice for all. Freedom is the heart of America and justice is her soul. Ensuring liberty and justice for all has always relied on the democratic practice of lawmaking in our nation. I pray our leaders will continue to ensure the rights of all Americans to voice our freedom through the ballot box.

The rulings, handed down by SCOTUS on the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act and Proposition 8, concerning same sex marriage were by far the most dramatic, at least on social media and TV as persons on all sides of this issue stated their agreement or disagreement.  While there is not space here for me to tackle the theological disagreements about the origin and nature of marriage and there are many, I will reflect briefly on the relationship of the rulings to the aforementioned document of our independence. When the colonists signed their argument for freedom from the tyranny of King George III, they also declared their independence from the Church of England, as the church and the monarchy were essentially one institution. Following their exercise in liberty, Congress established our Bill of Rights in 1791, including these words from the First Amendment:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof

Tyranny of religion, by religion and for religion was not the kind of country our founders envisioned. So, as I understand the recent rulings, nothing prohibits the free exercise of anyone’s religious beliefs as a result. Folks who define marriage as only for heterosexual couples will still be able to marry, deny religious consecration for any folks outside their definition and receive the same rights and benefits as they had previous to last week. Folks who have a broader definition of marriage including same gender couples will now receive the same rights and benefits from the state and welcoming religious communities. No one has to change their religious beliefs or the practice thereof. The ruling is a matter of rights and benefits of freedom and justice for every American.

In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty and in all things, charity—Disciples founders.

When the red, white and blue lights up the skies this week, we celebrate our unity in diversity, our  liberty, freedom and justice for all. Happy Independence Day!

Farewell Sweet Mary…

Today I was honored to serve the family and friends of Mary Evans, a true saint of the congregation I serve as Pastor. Today, we wept and we laughed as we remembered a good and full life. Below are some of the comments I made at her funeral this morning. (For context, it may be helpful for the reader to know that last July during cosmetic surgery an accidental fire burned Mary’s face severely. Before the accident she was bowling and golfing regularly and a very social 84 year-old.) May God bless her family.

Mary was baptized into the Body of Christ at Central Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) on April 9, 1939 in Kankakee. Mary was a faithful and devoted member of Central for just shy of ¾ of a century. She served the church in many capacities including greeting worshipers,  leading worship, serving at the Lord’s Table, Leading the Cheerful Survivors breakfast group, and serving on the church board and several groups and committees. In 2011 she was honored with the highest recognition of our congregation as an Elder Emerita. Mary loved her church and her church family loved her. She lightened the room bringing laughter and joy with her each opportunity she was given to be in the presence of the Lord. No one hugged like Mary and no one was left out of her famous hugs. I will miss her every Sunday hug and kiss on my cheek. I was honored to serve as one of her pastors.

Mary’s faith was deep, strong and sincere. She had a patient hope, knowing like the Apostle Paul that nothing would ever separate her from the love of God in Christ Jesus.  When faced last summer with what for most of us would have been an insurmountable recovery, Mary proclaimed God was with her and God’s strength was enough to see her through.

Several times over the course of those eight months beginning in the ICU of Loyola University Medical Center, when after being heavily sedated, she awakened and could speak, Mary declared to me her confidence in the Lord. She was living and breathing her faith literally.

As the days and weeks at the Miller Rehabilitation Center turned to long months with three surgeries and what must have seemed like endless days of waiting for the next step, waiting to return to her own home, to her church, to her social circles, I sat down with Mary on several occasions to care for her only to be the one cared for. The struggle to regain her strength, her independence was toilsome and difficult and at moments overwhelming to be sure. Yet just days before she returned home in March, she testified on camera to her faith and to the strength of the church in her life and her recovery – her gratefulness to you, her family and friends. Mary was convinced that God and Christ in the church had brought her through.

And, she returned home on March 15th. She attended church on Palm Sunday March 24th where she was surrounded by her family of faith who welcomed her home with hugs of their own.

Mary was right, you know. Her faith, her trust in God’s mercy, love and grace was her strength, the strength to rise up with wings like an eagle as the Prophet Isaiah proclaimed of those who wait upon the Lord. Her ability to forgive, even those who may have directly or indirectly harmed her, was her strength. Her “can and will do” spirit was her strength. Her love for people, was her strength. Her humble hospitality was her strength.

Whenever we would talk about her recovery, she would say I don’t know how anyone does this without God, without faith, without a loving church. And I would simply agree. Me neither, Mary, me neither.

She achieved many of her goals during the past 10 months. She stayed in her own home for a brief while. She attended church for a few weeks. She socialized at the Moose and went shopping. She even drove her Ford Escape for a few days. She was amazing.

And as amazing as she was, she was human, like you and like me. Vulnerable yet strong, tenacious yet humbled, full of life yet faced with mortality. The last two weeks were filled with more health challenges for Mary. Another missed trip to Las Vegas with a dear friend. She told me she didn’t think she’d golf anymore. She was tired, still ready to meet the next challenge in spirit, and tired in body. And, on Saturday. May 11th our sweet Mary died into the loving arms of Jesus her savior, friend and eternal companion.

She trusted God and she had confidence in the promise of eternal life.

Angels were one of Mary’s favorite things. She collected them and several are displayed here. Mary indeed was one of God’s messengers through her life’s journey here with us. Her faith radiated from her and her attitude about life was a result of her hope in the redeeming work of the Lord  – the same hope she wanted you to know and have in your life as you face each day.

Thank you Mary for blessing my life and countless others with your tenacity, hope, faith and love.

Rebuilding the Church, Reflections on a New Pope

Copied from recent columns in the Christian Challenger…

Among the major news stories this year so far was the unexpected resignation of Pope Benedict XVI of the Roman Catholic Church. The Holy Father speaking of his deteriorating health said, “However, in today’s world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith, in order to govern the barque of St. Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary — strengths which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me.”  Health concerns aside, the 85yr old leader of the billion plus member church faced many difficult challenges ahead including the ongoing and increasingly damaging scandal surrounding abuses within the priesthood and the perceived cover-up of deviant behaviors, the role of women in the life and ministry of the church, the explosion of Catholic growth in non-Eurocentric countries, and the overall decline of religion in developed countries such as the USA.  With utter respect for the Papal office, I believe many ministers of the gospel have been feeling inadequate to the challenge of overseeing the church and preaching the Gospel in the ever-changing context we find ourselves in ministry these days.

With a disdain for most institutions, members of my generation forward have experienced the unscrupulous behavior of religious figures and political leaders played out through mass media. In fact, nearly every adult role of authority has had some type of fraudulent behavior uncovered, from school teachers, police officers, firefighters, doctors, preachers, Senators, and Presidents many of whom were protected by systems wherein which the victims were dishonored or worse punished for the crime(s) committed against them. Suffice it to say, those born after 1968 typically do not trust the very organizations our parents and grandparents trusted with leadership for society, including the church. So, the question for the next Pope and for all of the church of Jesus Christ is, how do we speak with meaning to a culture conditioned not to believe a word we are saying? Or, at least geared to be suspicious of any organized religion? These are challenging times for the church, but then again the Gospel has always been challenging to bear as light to a world filled with fallible human beings.

The challenges facing the church are real and great, but they are still only challenges capable of being met with vision driven mission and ministry. And, we will only meet the challenges with collaboration and commitment. In other words, we must be willing to participate in the creation of solutions and not just be sideline critics or gatekeeping controllers stifling God’s vision for the church and for the world God created.

Today the world is learning more about the newly elected, Argentinian Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio. A man of many firsts, he is the first Jesuit and the first Latin American to be chosen for the papal office. He is the first to choose the name Francis, which of course comes from St. Francis of Assisi who was called by God to “rebuild my church” in the 12th century, known for his love of the poor and his uncanny connection with nature. St. Francis is perhaps most widely known for his prayer: 

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen

As I said above, Pope Francis will be faced with great challenges in the months and years ahead as he leads the billion plus member global Catholic church in a time of massive cultural change and deep controversies. Perhaps rooting his papacy in the humility, compassion, concern, connection, and the desire for peace of St. Francis will assist him as he guides the massively, powerful institution of Roman Catholicism through the seas of discontent swirling around the tenets and policies of the most influential movement of Christian faith through the centuries. 

Even as we get to know the attributes of the person chosen for the papacy, some will undoubtedly say choosing him was a radical move by the conclave of Cardinals. Being non-European and from an order of the priesthood always said to never be chosen for the papal office makes this choice unpredicted and somewhat radical. Even the media folks were completely caught of guard including the “crickets” chirping as they fumbled through sheets of bios looking for this “non-contender,” which by the way fits with the Jesuits very well. Being a teaching order, scholarly and humble, the Jesuit way is not often associated with high pomp and circumstance. I have heard Pope Francis taught high school chemistry before being elevated to Cardinal status, lived in a simple apartment and used public transportation everyday. Blessings to Pope Francis, who began his papacy by simply inviting his followers to pray for him, and blessings to our sisters and brothers of the Catholic Church as they celebrate and begin in ministry together! 

Certainly, a radical choice is not a bad choice.  For radical comes from the Latin radix, the same word from which we get the English “root.” To be radical is to be rooted, to be grounded in such a way as to draw from the place where one is planted. In this sense, I hope the new Pope is radical and I hope I am too. For the Lord we serve was radical, himself. Jesus was rooted in the unconditional love of God for each and everyone, which he demonstrated through his life and ministry and perhaps most specifically during the most holy of weeks as he faced the cross only to rise again in newness of life.

As we prepare for Holy Week and for the Easter that follows, I hope you will know the radical Jesus, who challenged the systems of oppression in his midst, who lifted up the poor and the lowly, who healed the socially and physically ill, who reconciled the vilest offender with God’s amazing grace, who became a servant of all even unto death, and who gave everything so that we may know and receive life abundant. And, I pray we will grow as disciples of Jesus, who is Christ the Lord!