Wednesday, June 5, 2019

A life led by example

Flowers Jenkins has passed away. Who, you ask? Flowers was one of the finest men I have had the privilege to know. When I started working at the food pantry seven and a half years ago, Flowers was one of the first people I met there. Like many of the volunteers at our pantry, Flowers was in his 80s (I am the youngest member of our pantry's staff). 

Flowers, an African-American man, was one of the most Christian people I have ever known. He lived the principles of Christ's teachings. He volunteered his time, energy, and presence at our pantry for the first six years I've been there, but his service certainly predated me by at least five or six years. His dedication to helping others was paramount.

Quick to wit, smart as a tack, funny, insightful, he was very astute to people's character. 

Flowers loved bringing in articles about the 50s and 60s civil rights movement of which he and his lovely wife were intimately involved. He also shared pages and pages of jokes, most of them corny, but don't we all need a good laugh (and a groaner) at times?

Flowers served in the U.S. Army during the Korean War, and with thanks to President Truman's executive order ending racial segregation in the Armed Forces, he served our nation as an Army officer.

Every week that I saw him, he always asked about my week. We shared stories of our military service (at the time we met, I was still in the Navy). 

Early last year, Flowers left our staff, he and his wife moved to Chicagoland to be closer to their children. He was a great family man and he was a humble father and l loved hearing him speak of his children of whom he was very proud. I only met his wife a few times, but she was always as kind as her husband. 

I thought them the perfect model for a happy marriage, and to be honest, I envied them both.

This morning when I was at the church office, Lou Anne, our church's manager, let me know Flowers died on Sunday. His wife had left a voicemail last night. We all were stunned as he had not heard he was ill. I was then given the unhappy task of letting our staff know of his passing. 

I will miss Flowers and honor his commitment to helping those less fortunate. He was a good man, a very good man, and I can only hope to measure up to the standards he set for himself. Those of us who had worked with him will miss him dearly.

God bless you, Flowers. I think the world will be less kind with your passing.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Pulling the rug out from beneath our feet

I have been a Methodist most of my adult life. I was married in the Methodist Church in 1975 when I was but 17 years old. I found faith there for nearly ten years before moving away. Experiencing a crisis of faith in the 1980s, I walked away in shame and hurt, feeling I was no longer wanted.

In the intervening years, I felt that missing part of my life was beckoning, something I largely kept at bay out of the fear of rejection.

In 1997, I officially met the most wonderful, loving and inspirational pastor of my life. Reverend Mary Hubbard was the pastor for Central United Methodist Church. Unofficially, I had met her on World AIDS Day in 1989 at a candlelit ceremony at the original Central UMC. 

I am not a good Methodist, I am not a good Christian. I don't believe in the Bible. Sometimes I do not believe in God. Sometimes I feel I am a breath away from being an atheist. Like Fox Mulder's poster "I want to believe," I find the want is more than a feeling I have experienced.

Today I am feeling anger and worst of all, hurt and betrayal.

Mary Hubbard baptized me not so long before I was mobilized to Kuwait in 2005, and like a dear friend of mine, Marilyn Kruger, a devout Methodist and a pastor in her own right, both helped lead me down a road of acceptance. Like so many gays and lesbians, we have been brought up to hate who and what we are. 

God hates us, don't you know?

Not long after I separated from my wife in 1982, I found myself in the darkest of funks. Both Phyllis and I were hurting. We loved each other, but not in the ways we both deserved. I told Marilyn one night in a sort of confession that I was going to go to hell because of who I am. She was the first person who told me God loved me for who I am.

So for the short of this, I find myself angry at the developments at this week's United Methodist General Conference. Ever since I was a member at Central United Methodist Church, and now First United Methodist, I have held out hope that my church would come to its senses and welcome its gay and lesbian parishioners and join other faiths and fully embrace us--including its gay and lesbian pastors.

Both Central UMC and (more recently) the First UMC were members of a movement in the United Methodist conference, a movement called 'a church of reconciling faith.' In a nutshell, the movement is an effort to work from within to lead an unwilling church to become a more inclusive religious body.

Today was a huge setback--one that has the power to split the church asunder.

If you did not know this, Methodist pastors can be brought up on disciplinary charges and even fired for performing same-sex wedding ceremonies--or for being gay themselves. A number of Methodist pastors have bravely tried to fly in face of these dangers. Reverend Greg Dell of Chicago's Broadway Methodist Church was nearly destroyed for his brave stance. He was the first Methodist pastor to be charged and convicted of violating church procedures in 1999.

Now 20 years later, and even though marriage equality is the law of the land here in America. Methodist pastors are still forbidden to perform marriage ceremonies. My pastor Mary Hubbard has been on the side of marriage equality for as long as I have known her.

She was virtually run off from Central UMC when she repeatedly told our church council that as much as she wanted to fully administer to our congregation (which was 90% gay and lesbian), she felt she could not and still have a career.

Again, 20 years later my pastor still cannot fully administer to her flock. This week's conference could have put an end to this. But no, my church has decided to not embrace a loving future for all of its members and staff.

And still, my church has decided I and my brothers and sisters are not worthy of God's love. Earlier today, while I was working at the food pantry, I had a number of conversations about this topic. One of my friends told me she feared this would split the church apart. I think that is a fair claim.

My church is beginning to feel like the promised land being denied to the Jewsand a rug being pulled from beneath my feet. I am reminded of a movie line, "I wish I knew how to quit you." If it were only so easy.

I told another of my colleagues that if I were ever lucky enough to marry, I would want MY minister to officiate, leading us through our vows; I want to marry in MY church; and to marry in front of my church family.

Today, my church said no.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Remembering Rodney

Last week I told you all how saddened we all were learning that our colleague from the food pantry had died the previous weekend. Today I learned how and where he died.

It appears Rodney was walking down Michigan Street late Saturday night and he stopped by a closed convenience store, sat down and leaned against a dumpster. He was inebriated, he fell asleep and never woke up. He froze to death in his sleep. He was found Sunday afternoon.

If there is any light in this awful tragedy, it is that he probably felt no pain as he succumbed to the winter cold, but as I feared, he died alone. I am in tears as I remember, in spite of this personal failing, what a good man Rodney was. God rest his soul.

Since there were no services held for him, those of us who loved him intend to hold some sort of private memorial gathering at a date to later be determined. 

I don’t know if there is a heaven. If there is, Rodney, I know you are there. If there is not, at the very least, I can say you made a difference while you were here, you were loved and shall not be forgotten.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Happy New Year? Remembering a friend

I would have preferred to start off this year with something more fun. Instead...

I was deeply saddened to learn that someone "in our family" passed away Sunday. Rodney Hetzell was part of our church family at the First United Methodist Church Food Pantry. I have known Rodney for nearly as long as I have been a volunteer at our church (seven years in February).

Not only was he a faithful helper at the pantry, but he regularly attended church services, often talking about one of Pastor Mary Hubbard's homilies.

Rodney deeply cared for the disadvantaged and disenfranchised. I sincerely doubt he would have considered himself disadvantaged. Why else would a homeless person work so diligently for others?

Rodney was 51 years old--and homeless (but still found it in his heart to help the pantry). He was a bundle of energy. I don't know of what Rodney died but I am guessing his inner demons (alcohol) finally overtook him. He just could not escape the drink.

Rodney stopped by the church a few days before his death looking for a place to stay. In the end, he was able to secure a stay at a local shelter for one night only. He recently mentioned he had slept on the streets one night last week.

I will remember his sense of humor. One of his favorite things to do was when he, Maggie and I went to the Northern Indiana Food Bank for our weekly purchases was to find some extraordinarily odd item. One week it would seaweed pasta, the next pigs' feet, or some other odious food item, knowing full well the items might end up on our shelves for weeks before some brave soul would take them.

I kid you not that he found something odd every single week... and he would laugh his head off about it. He delighted in this and with it, we laughed too.

Rodney and I both worked for the county election boards. We had some interesting debates, with affectionate jabs at each other's political leanings.

Recently, Rodney broke his foot. He blamed it on his clumsiness but we all knew it was because he had drunk himself into a stupor. Many of us, Maggie, in particular, did everything we could to wean him off the drink, but as we all know, only the victim can do this--and they have to want it badly enough to do it.

He never got over the loss of his parents with whom he was close. Rodney had one estranged brother in Pittsburgh but they had not had anything to do with each other for years.

I weep knowing Rodney was all alone here (aside from his friends) and sadly, he was probably alone when he died.

Rodney may have been homeless, but his keen intellect and curiosity were boundless. Often I would find him looking at books or on a computer at the downtown library.

This morning at the pantry, we took a few moments to remember him. We all are saddened and mourn him most deeply.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Happy Armistice Day... aka Veteran's Day

Tonight my friends and I excercised what has become an annual tradition for us. For the past eight years we have dined out, usually with our friend Thomas (who is a USAF vet) for Veteran's Day. In my circle, two of us are vets, five are not.

It has been, for us, a way to celebrate AND to honor, not only Tom's and my service, but also to see the countless other veterans who have served for whatever reasons they hold dear... young, old (especially the old), we all gather in fellowship.

It is not for a free meal, but for us a way of reliving the cammaraderie we felt while serving.

This Veteran's Day is the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day, marking the end of the war to end all wars, World War I. None of our veterans of that great war survive today. The numbers of our World War II vets dwindle with each passing day as do our Korean War vets. I honor them each and all.

Today, I am heartened to see the many companies who go out of their way to honor us vets. It was not so long ago that many of our Vietnam War vets, who answered the call, came home to find a nation that dishonored (some of) them with utter hate, disrespect and even violence.

This is the month where many of us express for what we are most thankful. While many offer their thanks for our service to country, I want to counter that with my thanks for friends, family and for the opportunity millions of us have enjoyed: the honor was ours to have served a nation and a people we love.

Happy Veteran's Day!