Remembering the Saints

Of all the words or phrases ever used to describe me, (don’t feel the need to respond as if that’s a question, snort), “hopeless romantic” is probably not one. But you know it’s in there somewhere – that touchy feely get teary at videos of babies and puppies and kittens and old people and sunsets and memories and all those commercials with those huge draft horses that, even though they’re advertising alcoholic beverages, just strike at the heart. Especially the one where the little blond Lab puppy accidentally gets into the horse trailer and gets lost and has to find his way back home and the wolf growls at him and the horses hear him bark and they break out of their stalls and have his back and he leads them back to the barn just as the sun breaks and the rancher who’s been searching for him looks out the window.

It’s almost too much for me.

So that’s also my excuse for the Celine and Josh video of “The Prayer” at the head of this blog. Sometimes I think we simply need to be a little sappy, to let our hearts “feel all the feelings” and be reminded that as hard as we work to make things right and good and just, we also need to look around at all the things that are abundant in beauty and depth and blessing. 

In the last couple of weeks, a clergy leader who spent his ministry primarily in the Kansas West Annual Conference passed into God’s eternal presence. I did not know the Rev. Mark Conard personally, but I know people who know him – clergy I admire and respect and for whom he was a mentor and friend. I believe I know him from afar as a person with a spirit of humility and heart of service and compassion, a keen intellect and generous sense of humor. He was a man who knew when the work of the church as an institution was deeply in need of a nuanced understanding of a risky and prophetic leadership that would move us into the next chapter as a denomination and, more importantly, as disciples of Jesus.  What I also know is that those many friends, peers, and colleagues for whom he was mentor, have an empty corner of their hearts that he will always occupy, simply now from a different place.

My heart breaks a little at his passing because Rev. Frank Dorsey was that friend, colleague, and mentor for me, and I’ve not quite and probably won’t completely heal from his passing. I revere in so many ways the clergy who have gone before us. So many who have fought for justice in whatever forms that took in their lifetimes and chapters of leadership. Their witness is unique and serves as a living call to those of us who follow to share that same humble and courageous witness in our day and time.

Today, November 1, is All Saints Day. It strikes me each year, and each year a little differently. It brings an often broader perspective on the work that we do together as people of faith and the long arc of history, that as Martin Luther King, Jr. put so articulately, “bends toward justice.” So many of those who have passed before us worked diligently for that justice, not perfectly, but authentically and with deeply-felt passion. We, too, don’t work perfectly, but yet with a deeply felt passion for those whose voices are not always easily heard.

Theologian Walter Brueggeman says, in essence, in his book entitled Hopeful Imagination: Prophetic Voices in Exile, that the biblical prophets were most effective primarily because they loved so deeply the people God called them to bring to account. So their often harsh words and starkly pointed truths about the faithful community that was ignoring the needs of the poor, the widow, and the orphan, were shared NOT out of hatred or hardness of heart – which would have been easier, I think – but were levied in relation to the people who they understood as beloved family. This beloved family, for whom their hearts broke just a little bit or a lotta bit, and realizing the hardship they were bringing on themselves through the ignorance and arrogance of their self-satisfied sense of superiority. We all need to hear those prophetic voices at different times in our lives that love us enough to call us to account, that confront us with our particular sense that we are somehow different from those we consider “other”.

There is a deep beauty that goes beyond hopeless romanticism, that is seen through the sometimes teary eyes of those who remember being loved and cared for by those whose strength came not only from saying what we wanted to hear, but being willing to say, with deep empathy, those things that we needed to hear to move toward greater beauty, depth, and blessing than we might have imagined for ourselves AND for those around us.

So let Celine and Josh increase your hopelessly romantic quotient for today. Let the puppy and draft horse video soften your heart and remind you that friendship and loyalty is still living and breathing. And remember those faith-filled leaders whose shoes we can never fill, but whose unwavering belief in us gives us the courage to continue the work of Jesus in our day and time.