James Cone, Gaye Hudson and Other Difference Makers

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-mothercaring, 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.

 

The Gifts Behind Door #1408

The Gifts Behind Door #1408

It is a short, rather boring, walk from the elevator to our Chicago apartment. Twenty-three paces.  We rarely meet anyone in the hallway.  Nor is there anything particularly unusual about the tan walls and dark carpet.

It is this very ordinariness that makes what sometimes happens in the hallway so remarkable.  The first time it occurred I was rushing to bring in groceries.  I noticed the music — “what fine music,” I thought.  It was a piano sonata, probably on the radio or a recording.  Nice.

Shortly afterward, I heard the music behind the door again.  Chopin, I thought… and just then, the piano music abruptly stopped, then began again a few measures earlier. 

This wasn’t a recording at all!  There was an actual pianist — and a talented one at that — practicing in #1408.  It was my special gift, each time I walked past and listened to the artist at practice.  I suspect she didn’t know she was gifting me or any of the others of us who passed by. 

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The Gifts Behind Door #1408

Then one afternoon, a violin was added to the piano.  On another occasion there was a flute.  Then I noticed a few times when the pianist wasn’t as accomplished. 

[I am both slow-witted and a bit dull, you see, because it took me weeks to understand that this was the apartment of a music teacher.  Of course, of course, there is a college of music nearby our apartment.  Students, with differing skills and who play various instruments were coming for lessons.] 

On one occasion, there was such a marvelous combination of violin and piano that I confess I stood in the hallway and luxuriated at the fine, hidden away, performance for several minutes.  So exceptional were the musical gifts being practiced behind the door they demanded my slowing down and listening. That is when I first met one of my neighbors.  A young woman.  We exchanged greetings.  She smiled, and stood with me for a moment, listening.  “Isn’t this wonderful” she said as she moved on to her apartment. 

The doorway to #1408 offers me a valuable lesson in a world chock-full of anonymous, mundane interactions.  All around — just on the other side of this anonymity, this troubling news and fear-filled analysis — there is often beauty that I otherwise tend to miss.  There is teaching and learning that is going on.  There are glorious gifts waiting to be heard, to be seen, to be understood or simply appreciated.  Sometimes the gift is offered as a solo, sometimes it is more than one who is sharing.

Then it happened, one afternoon, I met her, the pianist, the teacher. 

We were leaving our apartments at the same time.  She was almost as I had imagined her to be.  Petite, handsome, she was moving carefully to close her door, a violin case in her hand.  When I told her how I appreciated the music emanating from her apartment, she seemed surprised, a little worried.  “I hope my music isn’t bothering you,” she said.  “Bothering?” I reacted.  “Not at all!  Every time I leave the elevator on the 14th floor, I hope you will be playing.  It is the best part of returning.”

I still don’t know her name — this teacher, this beauty maker.  That will be remedied one day soon, I will make certain to learn more at the right time.  For now, even though we are still moving in anonymous worlds, I receive her gift as a reminder that my senses are often too dull to receive other offerings.

What gifts around us do we miss each day?  What gifts might we be sharing that we are unaware of at the time?  Where are there human and transcendent notes of joy and hope that are muted by the “normal.”

I find that by passing my neighbor’s apartment, even when there is no music, I am reminded to consider such questions — and I am able to approach my day with an anticipation of the gifts all around that I often otherwise miss.

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(Our primary residence is in Bloomington, Indiana: we also keep an apartment in Chicago.  We love both cities and because we have a couple of grandsons in Chicago, well…)

Rim Walking to the Eternal

Rim Walking to the Eternal

Almost autumn; rouge-tinged leaves hint that a soon-to-arrive-change is near.  Rotund tomatoes have captured a summer filled with both promise and tragedy.  It is time… to remember, to move on.

Saturday morning and a visit to our hometown Farmers’ Market.  A much-needed respite, today’s early gifts.

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Farmers Market, Bloomington, September 16, 2017

Our overripe national drama could cause one to despair, to wonder if a return to normal can be gained, or regained. 

From near and far are images of tragedy… a nursing home in Hollywood Hills, Florida, opioid overdoses down the street, a denuded Virgin Island paradise, mud, posturing politicians, mold, South Texas languishing, St. Louis marching in step with decades of accumulated grievance.  Politicians preen, speak sly words and pose for photo-op-displays-of-compassion.  These televised images vie for attention alongside heartless racist-tinged rhetoric.

Will our national identity be reduced to cheap reality television episodes?  Are we prisoners to shallow, disjointed actions and pathetic promises? “Everyone will be happy”!?  Is this reality?  Fake becomes real, while the real, the true, is declared fake.  Don’t lose your balance fellow pilgrims-of-hope.

Even here, especially here, there is truth… there is music, poetry and beauty.   So much fine produce at the market, stacked high, even okra (mostly for my spouse) and summers-end sweet corn (mostly for me).  The community band plays sweet summers-end music.  Abide With Me as it tunes up for the morning.  Tune to the “A.”  Some things do remind one of stability.  Abide…

 

Sweet corn, ripe tomatoes, sweet music and poetry abide.  Justice will prevail.  Our belief in respect and decency will survive this cruel passage.  It is clear in the acts of human compassion evidenced in the places of unimaginable destruction.  From St. Johns, a family shares space under their tarpaulin.  One visits a nearby hospital — just a brief word, a smile and a prayer.  We applaud as early response teams arrive in Texas and Florida, and ahead of them are thousands-upon-thousands of cleaning kits, (flood buckets), arriving along with a piece of our hearts.

How will we know the way?  What direction and pace shall we travel?  Poetry directs us beyond the limits of here and now.  Friend Walter Wangerin, Jr. calls our name:

The Wanderer*

I am the World-Rim-Walker.

I tread the sheer crags

Where night and daylight

Contour one other.

So we journey ahead as Rim Walkers toward the Eternal.  Between the tragedy and treat offered in the daily news cycles and our truest hope found in the dignity of human beings at their best.  Here and there… we move forward.

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Bloomington Farmers Market

These are our compass points.  Smiles and greetings.  New friends met and old friends greeted.  Fresh eggs, ripe tomatoes, kale and spinach now join honey, music and poetry to point to our pathway ahead.  We journey together fellow Rim Walkers

May your late summer be filled with laughter, joy and the reminders of taken-for-granted beauty all around.  Together let us continue to walk in ways that rebut and rebuke the vapid efforts to divert us from the ways of our truest hope.

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*Poem The Wanderer is from “The Absolute, Relatively Inaccessible” by Walter Wangerin, Jr., Eugene, Oregon, Cascade Books, 2017.