James Cone, Gaye Hudson and Other Difference Makers
I have come to understand that there is a rather simple human choice each of us can make. It is this, will the generosity of a loving God be reflected in our lives?
In the past week two such difference makers for me, died. Their names, James Cone – renown theologian, faculty member at Union Seminary in NYC and author of ground-breaking work on Black and Liberation theologies, and Gaye Hudson – elementary school teacher, musician and supporter/surrogate parent of students at Indiana University both passed away.
Gaye and James were in many ways different, and yet, in essential ways they were similar. It is this — though both of them had reasons to live otherwise — they turned toward hope and healing as they lived their lives.
I remember the joy it was for me when James Cone would visit during my time in the administration at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary or when we were attending various academic meetings together. I would argue that more than any other writer in the last century, James Cone named the racism that constrained and corrupted the church in the United States. James understood the way all of our institutions, including his own alma mater, Garrett-Evangelical, were diminished by the toxins of racial bigotry and discrimination.
Still I knew him as a man of hope and… wait for it… JOY. I can see that smile and loved the ease with which he shared a small laugh, a riddle, a pun, that betrayed an underlying sense of hope. On more than one occasion, he expanded my ability to see past the fear-filled static and toxins of our society. Even when his words began in anger, they found their way to the gift of transformation. John Robert McFarland writes meaningfully and beautifully of memories with his seminary classmate James Cone — the difference maker (see: http://christinwinter.blogspot.com/).
Gaye Hudson was a member of First United Methodist Church in Bloomington, Indiana. This is a church I served as pastor for almost a decade. It was, and is, a congregation filled with remarkable folks — few more remarkable than Gaye. For over thirty years she sang in the choir and for all of this time she was a friend to many. Hundreds of students knew of Gaye’s care while in school. She fed them, provided transportation, encouraged them, attended their recitals and on occasion slipped a little extra cash their way. Some went on to teach; some became opera or recording stars; many were choral conductors, some wrote music and published books — ALL of them were in debt to their “dear friend Gaye.”
Gaye was the choir-mother — caring, challenging, sometimes lovingly disagreeing, anticipating the needs of others, and, yes, difference making. At her funeral service on April 29th, the choir loft was overflowing with her “children.” My, my, the music they made in her memory! I suspect that nowhere in American — or the world for that matter — was music of praise and generosity more gloriously sung than yesterday in that sanctuary.
In a world too full of anger and blame, fear and shame, I give thanks for James Cone and Gaye Hudson, two folks who didn’t know one another, two who knew injustice and burdens, but they knew more, they knew the joy of living with generosity toward others. I give thanks for these two who make a difference in my life.