Memorial Lecture for W. Douglas Rae, July, 1968

August 24, 2013

Thank you again for your indulgence of my trip down memory lane.  This was the memorial lecture for the services for Dr. Rae, the minister I grew up with who, with great compassion, fiercely defended the ethics of honesty, justice, and fairness for all, and who shaped my life.  This retrospective was inspired by the convergence of Mom’s handing me these 1968 memorial documents this summer, at a time when the world as a whole, and this country in particular, are again wrestling with the same social justice issues as we did in the summers of the late 1960’s.

For any of you who are interested in how this unique church has evolved over the past 50 years, you can see its current web site and principles at http://firstuc.org/are-we-right-for-you/

Celebration of Life

Dr. Joseph R. Walker, Thursday, July 18 1968

This is a memorial service to Douglas Rae.  My great concern is that it shall be a celebration of faith and a cheering remembrance of greatness, not a further descent into sorrow, for our sorrow is deep enough and to spare, God knows.

If I may speak personally for a moment, having stood in this pulpit at other times, I feel strangely cheated as I stand here now, for it was already settled in our family that he was to do this for me.  I wanted him to be the one to say whatever would be said at that time, for I knew he would say it with dignity, grace and genuine friendship and without pious cant.  But that was not to be, for, as usual, he is ahead of the rest of us.

When I think of what I want to try to say, the thing that comes first to mind is Dietrich Bonheoffer’s now famous declaration that, to be a Christian, a man must first and simply be a man; a genuinely fully human being.  Next I remember his description of Jesus as the world’s superlative example and symbol of the Man for Others.  This, Bonhoeffer said, is what we must seek to be if we want to be followers of His.

Douglas Rae was a truly great minister of the gospel and an outstanding churchman.  He could have gone as high up the ecclesiastical ladder as he wished in his denomination.  His standing in his own community is indicated by the peculiarly delicate and important task to which he had been called when he left here.

He believed in the Church.  He loved the Church.  He understood what the Church is and what it is supposed to be, and he had a patient confidence in it in spite of the gap between those two.  But first of all he was a truly genuine, thoroughly human person.  He understood what it means to be a human creature and not God.  He was content to be such and to be that unique human creature he himself was and not someone else.  Being without pious illusions about himself, he was open to his fellow human beings whom he viewed with a quizzical, disillusioned, humorous, usually hopeful, and always generous and tender eye.  His foibles, his tensions, his gusts of anger, his reactions to opposition and disappointment, all of these were truly human.  I think this was one reason why the barriers between him and the rest of us came down so easily.  He accepted himself as he was, and so he accepted us as we are.  He did not have to posture and pose, and that made it easier for us not to posture and pose with him.  He spoke his mind, he said his piece when it was necessary, with that quick little decisive way of his that made it easier for others to drop the mask and do the same.  Also, if he decided he was wrong, he said so with the same unimpassioned candor.  It was this willingness just to be himself that gave him the habit of positiveness and decisiveness which made him a natural leader without the arrogance which so often accompanies leadership.

I had a professor in seminary who had some of this same kind of unadorned manliness that draws people to such men.  Once, in class, he said this: “Young gentlemen, only the grace of God can make a Christian minister.”  But, he added,The primordial manhood in him will determine what kind of minister he is.”

This was Douglas Rae.  He was pre-eminently a man in his own right and in his own way.  Just because he wasn’t “hung-up” on himself, because fundamentally he liked being himself and not someone else, he was free to be a man for others.  Except for a few strict disciplines that he laid upon himself, he did not have himself on his hands; so his interest was always going out to everything and everybody around him.  I do not believe I have ever known a man who, within the limits of human frailty, was more of a man for others than he.  He was for people.  He was for you.  Even if he did not agree with you, he was for you.  Individuals of all sorts and kinds and descriptions were interesting to him, and he was for them.  Terence’s classic aphorism describes him well.  “I am human.  I count nothing human foreign to me.”

I would like to say a word about the quality of his mine–its breadth, its range, its vigor–which always fascinated me when I was with him.  Three words come to me as I think about this side of him.  First, tough-minded.  Second, sophisticated.  Third, prophetic.

He looked cooly and skeptically on a number of beliefs and ideas which many people like to have their preachers speak about in sweetly pious and pretentiously assured tones.  On the other hand, his convictions were usually so rational, so informed, so powerful, that if you disagreed with him you were forced to stand and deliver.  He had the knack of striking directly at the intellect and at the conscience of cutting through verbiage to the core.

Then, as I have said, he was interested in everything, literally almost everything.  To me, one striking facet of this was his sensitive, artistic imagination.  He really felt and understood what our contemporary artists are trying for, and appreciated it.  In this he was just way beyond me.  One got the feeling that he could have been an artist or an architect of high creative talent if he had set his life that way.  But most of all he was interested in everybody, in individuals, in his community, in his society.  Whenever I wanted to know about something that was going on underneath the surface in Bloomington, I went to him.

I wonder if we in Bloomington will ever fully grasp the extent of his impact on our town!  For thirty-three years we have had a minister of high calibre who was far ahead of his time in his understanding or the problems and crises of our society, those things which are now disturbing the country at large.  This is what I mean by saying he had the prophetic mind.  Of course, he did not pose as a prophet.  He did not sit in an ivory tower and toss out oracles.  He did something much more important and effective.  When he saw something that he thought was wrong in our town, or something that needed to be done, he simply moved in on it.  He began to talk about it.  He began to pull strings, and he began to push.  He kept on pushing.  When the chips didn’t fall his way, he would say, “Well, let’s try again some other way.”  His concern for the poor or disadvantaged, for the young, for the old, for the down and out, for racial equality and justice came straight out of the Old Testament and the New Testament prophetic voice.  It was a restless flame in him, and he lit fires all over this town.

He also knew the relation of these concerns to politics.  One thing he did for us, I think, we cannot measure or trace. Laying aside the partisan aspects of politics and disagreements on particular policies, I am rather confident that he, more than any single man, changed the moral climate in which politics operates in our town.  He anticipated by more than thirty years the prophetic spirit which is now stirring and disturbing the church at large and the nation at large.  He taught us ahead of time.  For thirty years he exhibited to us the preacher-citizen at his sensible best.  At first he generated a lot of shock waves in doing so but they have long since subsided.  Now the issues which are causing such upheavals in other towns and other churches cause only ripples here.  In this he literally dragged us into the future, sometimes kicking and screaming.

But I do not think he could have done half as much for the community if he had been merely a reformer or a prophetic voice.  Though the quality of his mind and his impact upon our consciences demanded our respect, it was his constant, quizzical, intensely hopeful concern for individual people that won our affection.  He was a good minister and pastor to this congregation and to a lot of other people in this town.  Somehow committee meetings and projects seldom seemed to keep him from being on the spot when someone needed him.  I wonder how many people there are in this town to whom he has been a pillar of strength in weakness and a strong support in sorrow.  He was too much the modern sophisticate to be shocked by any of the sins and follies that people confessed to him.  Yet he was too committed in his trust in the goodness of life and the possibilities of life to be overwhelmed by people’s woes or follies.  He simply listened, and counseled, and helped, and stood by.

Some years ago I underwent a serious operation.  Someone told him about it downtown on the Square.  He went to a phone, called his secretary, cancelled his engagements, got into his car, and came to Indianapolis.  He was there with y wife until they brought e back, four hours after the expected time.  I wonder how many of us here recall such instances as this?

Underneath all of this there was a rugged courage in the man, sustained by simple faith.  I think he learned much of this in the hard school of pain.  He endured a lot of it off and on through the years.  I once stood by his bed in a hospital when he was suffering a great deal.  “You’re a tough bird, aren’t you?” I said. “You’re darned right I am,” he wrenched out.  And so he was.  And good for him!

Intellectually, I think he stripped the Christian faith down to its simple essentials and possibilities in our modern intellectual milieu.  Then he just tried to live by it.  And that is all I want to say about that.

This is a memorial service to Douglas Rae, a celebration of the past.  But one thing I must say and I will say.  He was a great humanist, but he was also a truly Christian man, a man of Christian faith.  He made the ultimate Christian commitment.  It follows that we must make some assessment of the future of a person such as this in the light of the great affirmations of the Christian faith.

Now it is quite true that good is better than bad in its own right, wisdom is better than folly and love is best of all.  It is indeed “wiser to be god than bad, better to be sane than fierce.”  However, standing alone, such affirmations do not make much ultimate sense out of life, expecially in the light of our remembrance of a life like this.  Just to shrug our shoulders at the end of the memorial service and say, “Well, that is all, and that is that!” does not make sense.

The drive of such persons toward human good and their opposition to human evil give the lie to the ultimate pessimism of any such view of the meaning and destiny of human existence.  The temporal immortality of good deeds done and of fond remembrances left behind is very real, no matter what.  Lives of good men do “remind us we can make our lives sublime.  And departing, leave behind us footprints on the sands of time.”  But the waves wash them away, even the biggest tracks, and eventually all tracks.

Ours is primarily an age of repentance, of re-thinking.  It is an age of criticizing, examining everything; of stripping away old shams, superstitions, hypocrisies, wishful thinking, self-delusion.  Contrariwise, it has not been a great age of faith.  Ours will probably be recorded as one of the revolutionary ages just because of this passion for re-thinking.  This harsh, cleansing, purifying discipline which we have been called to undergo in our day has led many of us to be fearful lest the ultimate supports of courage and hope and love have been stripped away also, and to suspect that all we can do, really, is to huddle together to impart to each other a little warmth of human affection and mutual concern in the brief span allotted us.  Then,we whisper, “The eternal night!”

But now that this stripping of repentance has taken hold and has done much of its work, I believe that the tide of ultimate faith in the goodness of life which has ebbed for a season has now turned.  I think many of you will live to be braced and refreshed by this incoming surge.  I do not believe that this is the post-Christian era.  I think we are just emerging out of the pre-Christian era or, perhaps, the sub-Christian or semi-Christian era.  I think some of those who sit here may live to see the first burgeonings of a new Christian era: the rise of a sturdier, more rational and more passionate faith.  I think the dismal, chilling creed of materialism is on the way out.  Animals are nothing but amazingly intricate machines! Man is nothing but a high-lass animal!  I think this is on the way out.  There are straws in the wind of modern thought blowing the other way.

Let me tell you of just one.  J. Bronowski, in one of his addresses inaugurating a new lecture series on “Nature and Man” for the American Museum of Natural Science, says that the old queston of questions has taken many forms.  In ancient times it was the question of the soul; later the relation of the soul and the body; then determinism and free will.  Now in these latter days it is called the body-mind puzzle.  We are fortunate, he says, that in our time we can ask the question in terms that can be answered.  “Can man be both a machine and a self?” Then he gives us the answer, that the human brain is both machine and self in its workings.  The human person is not just a machine.  He givesus his reasons for saying this so lucidly and so simply that his conclusion is almost unavoidable, not in terms of speculative philosophy but by exploring the simple facts of what we know about ourselves and how our brains work.

Now if this is true, then the Christian affirmation about man’s nature, dignity and destiny becomes viable again.  If this is true, then this earth’s human life may be only the beginning, not the end, of the adventure.  It does not have to end.  If this is true, then someday our sorrows now will be like the dimly remembered sorrows of our childhood n the glad reunions of a different tomorrow.  If this is true, the good that good men do here is eternally important because they not only leave it behind to leaven time but they carry it with them into the eternal world.

Paul, in writing to the Thessalonians, sought to reassure them about God’s intentions for their future.  He did so in the pictorial language of his day, the only language he knew.  He thought of heaven peopled with angels and archangels.  He thought of God as making his presence and his purpose known in stentorian tones and with awesome trumpet blasts.  He hoped to see with his own eyes the return of his Lord, literally, on clouds of glory.  All of this picture language has become outmoded for us except as poetry.  But through these ancient images and smbols the Eternal Voice still speaks to our condition as truly it did to theirs.

I would not have you ignorant, brethren, concerning them that sleep, that you sorrow not as others who have no hope.  For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, them that sleep with Jesus will God bring with him.  For this I say to you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain to the coming of the Lord will not go before them that sleep.  For the Lord shall come from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and the trump of God!  The dead in Christ will rise first, and then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the air.  And so we shall ever be with the Lord.  Wherefore, comfort one another with these words.

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Last Sermon, W. Douglas Rae, May 1968

August 23, 2013

This is the text of Dr. Rae’s last sermon at the First Baptist Church of Bloomington, IN, as reproduced in the booklet of his memorial service in July, 1968.   You can find some photographs of the church at http://firstuc.org.

This is a long document, so you may wish to save it or print it to read off-screen.  I thank you for your indulgence as I share some of the philosophies which have shaped my views.

Call to Commitment

Dr. W. Douglas Rae, Sunday, May 26, 1968.

A week ago we were in New York City with our Christian Faith and Life senior group of high school young people.  We saw a great many things, went a great many places, including Coney Island.  The day we went to Coney Island was a drizzly day and a very cold day.  Nobody was in the water.  There were some men fishing on the pier, but it was a drizzly, damp, cold morning.  And we aw a man, and old walrus or a turtle of a man.  He must have been sixty years of age, and he had all the signs of the old man.  He was short and roly-poly, and came out of the bathhouse barefooted, with a pair of trunks on.  He deliberately put one foot ahead of the other, didn’t turn his head right or left, didn’t look back, looked at the sand, walked diagonally across the boardwalk, which was approximately 130 or 150 feet to the stairway, and then started what was probably about a 1000-foot walk across the sand to the water’s edge–absolutely deliberate, no turning–and everybody on the boardwalk and on the pier was looking at this man walking into that ice cold ocean, wondering whether he would do it or not.  He kept walking, came to the edge of the water, walked in over his heead, turned around, and walked just as deliberately back up across the sand and into the bathhouse.  He didn’t speak to anyone, had nothing to say; but it was the most deliberate piece of acting that I have ever seen.  Now, whether he had been doing this all year around or not I don’t know, but at least he did it on this particular cold day.

And this morning I have a feeling that I am that old turtle, and that for the last three months we have been stripping down, throwing away all kinds of things at our house, getting ready for next Sunday, our last Sunday in the church, and I don’t know whether I can do it as deliberately as this old fellow did it.  The closer I get to the edge of the water the colder it is, and the more frightened I become, but I am walking as deliberately as I can walk.

The text this morning is from the Sermon on the Mount:

The rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew upon the house; and it fell not because it was founded upon a rock.

Now there is no such thing, as I have said to the official family of the church, as an indispensable man, or an indispensable minister.  This church, by the grace of God, has survived–I don’t know whether it is 30 or 40 ministers in a 143-year period; and it goes on.  Over the last 33 years, many strong, independent individuals have left this church; and the church has gone on.  We are now entering another period in the history of the church, and it is a testing period.  It’s not simply testing whatever foundation stones we’ve put down in this three-decade period.  It is testing the foundation stones of this church for 143 years.  It is testing the foundation stones of Christianity itself for almost 2000 years.  Whether or not we can survive–strongly–without too many people jumping off the ship, the period which is ahead of us, which may be six months, a year, or two years before we secure a new minister, is the test of the foundation stones of the church and the ministry of this church.

In the New Testament there are two word used for church.  One is “koinonia” and the other is “ecclesia.”  “Koinonia” suggests, at least most people who translate it think it suggests, fellowship, the fellowship of believers.  We are not really clear on what it means, but it points to a unique life, a community existence of men and women who have banded together under one name, with common value systems, with many differences of opinion, differences of personality, who have discovered in their coming together something that they cannot find alone.  To use the old illustration, there is some music which you can play on a violin by yourself–solo; and there is some music you cannot understand unless you play as part of an orchestra–a 100-piece orchestra.  And so there are some things you cannot understand unless you are a part of a family, and in the Christian community unless you are a part of a Christian community.

We think of individuals, in a one-to-one, person-to-person relationship.  Beyond the walls of the church there are things we can do which establish our Christian witness and our Christian convictions.  But we have not given up–despite all the prophecies of the death of the church–the need for community and the need for a locus, a place, that we return to to express our Christianity.  This community, this “koinonia,” is both local and universal.  It is both weak and powerful.  It is made up of saints and it is made up of sinners, and it’s this paradox which binds us together and which makes the community of the church strong, that it can contain within its walls both the weak and the strong, perfection and imperfection; and if ever the church becomes absolutely perfect then it is absolutely too small for the spirit of Christ.  Because the paradox of the church is that we are sinners, all of us, that we are all caught with the very conditions of human life; we have to accept them.  We have to accept our own imperfections ultimately before we can accept the imperfections of others, and we have to accept the imperfections of the church of which we are a part.

It is very easy for ministers these days to slip into the misery school and lament the passing of the church–and it is passing.  The attendance figures are dropping; thousands of churches all over the world are empty.  It is very easy to talk about embalming the church and condemning it to burial.  But the church has a certain genius–as Jesus spoke of it–a leaven in the lump, a certain yeastiness.  There have been many periods in the last 2000 years when the church has become insipid, when it is lost its thrust and its power and its strength and its life; but it has risen again, come to life, and this message of hope that the church dies and rises again over the centuries is basic to our gospel.  Here in this church we have been preaching not only this hope but we have been preaching and writing a sermon together, and this is the sermon I am talking about this morning.  We are not always agreed on it, but in general this is the sermon and the direction; and we’ve put it into wood and into stone so that no matter whether anybody is in the pulpit or not the sermon is being preached.  It is being heard, and as long as men and women meet in this building they will see and hear the sermon which for some 50 years we have been attempting to write in this church.  It’s not always easy to read and it’s not always perfect.

We begin with the communion table.  It’s long, made of solid walnut, and it’s not just a piece of furniture.  There are many who have misgivings about the communion service itself, that the phrases belong to another era–drinking the blood, taking the cup, eating the bread and the body–that these do not speak to our time.  But this table represents a need, the basic need of the church to gather together about this table once a year, once a month, because it is the table at which we hep each other to be honest.  Here, by our coming together around this table, we are confronted by the gathered church, by the judgment of each of us, by the forgiveness of each of us, and by the love of God, and as I said to the official family of the church, if I had one text to throw at you it would be, Forsake not the assembling of yourselves together.  It will be very easy for this church to disintegrate in terms of attendance during the summer months.  The pall, the uncertainty, may stretch into a year or two years.  But we must come together, and this table stands as that great message of the church that it must gather in the name of Christ about the table.

A second object that is not furniture either is the pulpit itself.  This pulpit has been a very wonderful pulpit for me.  I suppose I could say I cut my teeth on it.  When I preached my first sermon here I was frightened to death of two sermons a Sunday, wondering how I could go on for a year.  The thing that I like about the pulpit is that with only one exception, an exception I have told you about before, I have never been throttled.  Nobody has ever told me what to say or what not to say.  This has been a free pulpit.  And I did not make it free.  You made it free.  The minister who comes needs the same kind of freedom from this pulpit.

Whether there is somebody standing in this pulpit or not, it is speaking tremendous words, not only the words of the Bible but the words of life, the word of God ministered through the voice of a minister, the words of love and compassion and comfort to people who are in trouble, the fearless words of prophecy concerning the times in which we live, the sins of our age, the sins of our society, its greed and political manipulations and all the things that destroy the society in which we live.  This needs to be kept the free pulpit and I hope that there will not be a committee, nor a board, nor a group that will ever stop a man from speaking the truth as he sees it from this pulpit, that it shall always be free, that there shall be no littleness in it, that even the words of denominationalism shall never muzzle a man.  We have entered into a day far beyond any little denominational loyalty.  Whether we are Baptists, or Methodists, or Presbyterians, or even Christians is immaterial.  Most of the denominations have accepted the distinctive contributions of the Baptists to the Christian reformation of the Protestants.  Even the Catholics have accepted many things which we taught for years.  We are coming into a period when that particular label can be more of a stumbling block than anything else.  From this pulpit we ought to hear the word of God without its being trimmed to suit any small denomination, whether it’s the Baptist denomination or some other.  This pulpit is beyond that.  But above all, whenever you see this pulpit with the sword on the front of it–I came not to bring peace but a swordremember that the word of truth spoken freely from the pulpit is as a sword dividing us one from another at the same time that it brings the great messages of love and hope and faith and justice.

Add to these two pieces of the sermon the two offering stones which we placed here.  As some of you may or may not know, we had a problem what to do with the offering.  It could be brought up and presented to the ministers and they could place it on the communion table.  We felt that was not the place for the offering.  The ushers could place it under the cross, or over here at the pulpit, but these places seemed a little too obvious.  And so we made these two fine offering stones.  We had never seen offering stones in anybody’s church before, but there is an inscription on these two stones which carries a very real and vital message, and this is the message of the offering.  It’s not Freely ye have received, freely give.  It is simply stated.  First be reconciled to your brother.  I will never forget a particular funeral service in this church when a brother who had not been reconciled sat squarely in front of that one stone and stared at it during the service.  First be reconciled to your brother–there is no other way to worship in this church.  I hope there never will be another way.  First be reconciled to your children; first be reconciled to your wife or your husband; first be reconciled to those who are different from you, other races, other nations.  First be reconciled, and if you are not reconciled, keep your money in your pocket.  Do not give it until you have made that pilgrimage of reconciliation in your life, because if you do not do it then everything you do for the church really turns to ashes.  The other stone has the remaining words of the text:  then come and offer your gift.   These stones we mean to preach the third point of the sermon over and over and over again so no one forgets it, that this is the way we have to worship.

Over to my left are the flowers.  Three men of our church who have constructed various things for us built this place for flowers–I want to call it an altar.  They completed it yesterday.  I think the flowers in the church need to stand not only as something beautiful which is here today and gone tomorrow, which is very fragile the way life is fragile, but they need to say to us, “Here is something you cannot make with all your plastics and all your arts and all your skills.”  You cannot make these flowers.  At least, if you make the in imitation they cannot reproduce themselves; they do not have the seeds of life within them as these do.  I want the fowers to say, “Here is a spot of beauty, something you cannot buy, something you cannot package, something you cannot haul away in a truck.  A million dollars will not really buy it if you do not have the eye for it.”  And the church needs to constantly say to the world, “There is something in this world that’s more than money.”  We are living in a very materialistic period.  I think it is all around us, but our particular society has outdone almost all other societies in its ability to give material goods to the great masses of our people.  Many of us have become obsessed by them, enslaved by our cars and our houses and everything else.  The church always calls us back, to this gift of beauty in the flowers.

To my right are the plantings, the green plantings which have been with us from the very beginning of this new building.  I am always amazed when people go through the building–how they must go up to the plants and feel them to see whether they are real or not.  I hope they will never discover they are not real.  They are real!  And they represent the whole celebration of life which is the worship service itself.  They represent the growing edge–all those leaves as they come out month after month.  There is growth here, there is life here.  The plantings to the right have a minimum of sunlight and yet they survive, and I hope they speak to everyone who is struggling with his life, with darkness in life, saying that you, too, can survive, that you can reach for light, and that there is to your life and to the life of this church an edge which is always growing and always changing.  And if this change which is coming to all of us us next Sunday has something to say to us, let it say that this is the condition of being alive, that you have to change, that you cannot always have it the way it was, that you have to tell it the way it is, and you have to live it the way it is, that there must be a growing edge and when the growing edge is gone, death is there.

 

Then there are the words inscribed over the chancel:  One is your master, the Christ, and you are all brothers.  I have preached on these words on several occasions.  We chose these words with care.  They speak to the whole question of differences and poverty and trouble.  One is your master, the Christ, and you are all brothers.  It was Harrington who first made us aware how poor people are, how many millions of poor starving people there are within the borders of the United States.  A church like this, sitting on a little knoll on the south side of Third Street, can beome a sort of gem, a little architectural thing which you look at, you carry around on a pillow.  If it does, it’s lost its real reason for being.  Its real reason for being is to reach out to wherever there is need, human need and poverty, and if we stop reaching out to the poor, this church will lose its reason for existence.  This church is not just a sounding board for preachers.  This is not a preaching station.  This is a congregation of men and women who have committed themselves as a community and who are concerned for the poor, and if we ever stop being truly concerned, individually, and corporately as a congregation, we will have missed what we are here for as the followers of Christ.  The poor heard Him gladly.  The poor are not sitting in our congregation, in our pews–they may never sit in our pews.  Our class consciousness may make it too uncomfortable for them to be part of this church, but it should never be said that we do not in this church reach out with money, with compassion, with love, with our ministers, with our people, to anyone in need; that we ever deny that the need exists.  We are tackling poverty as poverty has never been tackled before in the history of the world.  We have made many mistakes.  There are many things we do not know about how to meet poverty, but we are at least trying and this church is trying, and I hope it keeps on.

The last place is the cross, which as you know is made of African mahogany, bound with black steel, prophetically speaking to the crisis of the races.  My own opinion is that this particular symbol–not only because of its history in the Christian Church as a cross of suffering and love, redemption and reconciliation–speaks to our time and it will speak to this church for the next fifty years of a problem, a white problem, a black problem, which is not going to go away.  Many of you are tired of picking up your newspapers every day and reading one to ten or twenty stories about the race question.  If I hear one criticism more than any other about the minister, it is that I have been hitting you over the head with the question of the race problem.  I haven’t meant to do it, but I think that no matter if we are black or white this is the point at which whether or not we are Christian is tested by fire.  The tests up to now have been simple tests, not very difficult.  For twenty years we have had people of other races as members of this church, members of our boards, officers in the church; these are comparatively simple things.  They stand merely as a sort of symbol to the world that this church has been alive for the past twenty years on this particular question.  We have done many other things about it, but the worst is yet to come.  With people buying guns, stockpiling food in their houses, with the polarization of the whites on one side, and the blacks on the other, we have no idea what is ahead of us.

On the boardwalk of Coney Island I talked to a man who was a Jew who had a souvenir store, souvenirs which sold for 50 cents or a dollar and which were probably worth two cents or a nickel.  He had been on the boardwalk for over 20 years.  Coney Island has changed since the fire, and this man said to me, “Were you here Easter?  Do you know about Easter??”  I said, “No, I am from Indiana,” and he said, “If you are from Indiana you don’t know anything about the problem.”  I said “Well, I was born in New York and grew up in New York, and I think I know something about the problem.”  He said, “Well, Easter Sunday, a hundred or two hundred thousand Negroes came to Coney Island and they filled our stores.  They said terrible things to our women.  I closed the store at four o’clock in the afternoon.  I was frightened.  I didn’t know what to do.  I’m really a liberal.  I’m a Roosevelt liberal.  I’m a liberal from way back.  I’m a Jewish liberal.  But if you would hand me a crd today to sign to join the Ku Klux Klan, I’d join it.”  And that is about the most frightening thing I have heard except all the sick jokes about Martin Luther King’s death.

We have not seen what is coming.  We do not know what is coming.  We can hope for some unexpected twist and turn of events that may redeem us before we destroy our society, turn it into a couple of concentration camps.  But it is here–and prophetically we have seen in this church that this is the place where we are going to be tested.  In Bloomington I have never known so much hatred, so much prejudice against blacks as there is now.  I have never before heard people speak with such feeling against them.  On the other side of the fence, I have not before heard blacks speaking against whites the way they are speaking in Bloomington today.  Now Bloomington is a microcosm.  This is a very small segment of the problem.  We may never know what will be known in Detroit, Newark, Gary, Chicago, New York, but as a Christian member of this community you cannot glibly dismiss this problem and say “I am sick of the race question.”  The race question is the world’s question.  It is an international question.  It is part of the question in Vietnam.  It is a question for all of us, and our Christianity will be tested by how well we do our homework and how much there is in us of the realism of Christ and the love and spirit of Christ.

The rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat upon the house.

 

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They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings as eagles, they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.   Isaiah 40:31

 

This sermon was delivered from notes rather than from a manuscript, and the text as it appears here was taken from a tape recording.

 

 

Astroweather, Aug 2013

August 23, 2013

If you’ve been paying attention to the astro-weather of the past few years, you’ve heard plenty about the Uranus/Pluto squares and how these patterns are repeating themes from the 1960’s when the current cycle began.  Aspect cycles begin when two planets come together (a conjunction) in the sky at the very same degree.   Like a New Moon, which is when the Sun and Moon conjoin, these patterns begin a new cycle.

The cycles we saw in the 1960’s included a huge shift in the how society saw its relationship and responsibilities African Americans in our civil discourse. The dark American history of enslavement resulted in a culture that put huge barriers before people of color attempting to participate in the civil life of our country.  The civil rights movements of the ’60s resulted in a series of laws that prohibited different treatment of individuals based on the color of their skin.

Also in the 1960’s we had the frightening overreach of J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI; the controversially released Pentagon Papers exposing the machinations behind the Vietnam War; an increasing awareness of the gap between rich and poor Americans.  These are all themes we are seeing repeated–in the Chelsea Manning war whistleblowing, the Edgar Snowdon NSA spying papers release, the huge and growing gap between the rich and poor in this country… and in the horrifying murder and subsequent verdict in the case of Trayvon Martin, coupled with huge roll-backs in civil rights protections for voters.

This was brought home to me personally when I visited Mom this summer.  She handed me a booklet which contained the last sermon of the minister I grew up with, and the memorial service sermon after his death.  These events took place in May and July of 1968, and both speeches specifically addressed the issues of OUR times.  Referring to the racial unrest of the 1960’s, Doug Rae (1908-1968) pointed out that the cross in the church, hanging above the words “One is the Master, the Christ, and you are all brothers” was made of African Mahogony and bound with black steel.  He said “This particular symbol…..  will speak to [us] for the next fifty years of a problem… which is not going to go away.”

Today, despite (or perhaps because of) having the first African American President of the United States, a virulent racism is again erupting in the public and private arenas of this land.  Frankly, I see it as the last of the roaches coming out from behind the woodwork after the exterminator leaves, but the effect of this ugliness is just as horrible for the individuals and families affected.  And the result is that we all can see clearly that 47 years after that sermon was given, we have still not resolved the issue.

Astrology tell me that we will come closer–closer to closure, understanding, and learning how to live with all of these issues.  And astrology tells me that 2013 is one of the big turning points in these struggles for fairness and justice.

The next article will address the factors that make this year–even what’s left of it–so important to these issues.  But first, I wish to stress the underpinnings of my beliefs.

Dr. Rae was a Baptist minister in a college town in Indiana.  It was his only ministry, and it lasted exactly 33 years.  He didn’t preach dogma: he preached caring action.  I grew from every sermon he preached, but I didn’t learn much about traditional Christian faith.  When I was 16, I got up the nerve to ask him if he believed in God, and if so, what is it??  He paused a moment and replied “The closest understanding I have of God……is what Albert Schweitzer called ‘reverence for life’.”  I looked up the quote later.  It is: ”

I can do no other than be reverent before everything that is called life.”  This seems as good a guiding principle as any, to me.(Note:  Texts of Doug Rae’s Memorial Service and last sermon are reproduced in the blog.  Go to the home page to see the blog titles.)