More than a Song

The media is playing President Obama’s singing of Amazing Grace in his eulogy for the Rev. Clementa Pinkney.  But the President’s eulogy offers much more than  this song: he calls us to express God’s grace today, in our world; he tells the truth about racism in the United States–about the Confederate Flag, Gun Control, the prison system, poverty–all within the context of faith.

I invite all of my friends: those who have not lost their faith in the church and who seek to express God’s grace with their lives; those who have left the church because it has worshiped its own traditions, because has been too slow to engage the movements for human dignity and justice of our age, because it has loved comfort and feared conflict; and those who see faith as weakness and belief as a sham; I invite all of my friends to watch the entire video of President Obama’s eulogy, or download the full text ( .pdf  |   .docx ): the President puts into words what I believe and what Christians in my life see as the heart of faith.

Slice of Heaven

Mathew 25:37-40
Hebrews 11:1

Last week, I visited Dick and Lois Gifford. Good Norwegian that she is, Lois offered me coffee as I walked in the door; when she brought me coffee she asked me if I’d like a piece of peach-cream pie.

O. My. Goodness. The pie was out-of-this-world good!

So I sat down to talk with Dick, and as we ate Lois’s heavenly pie he told me a story, a slice of his life.

Dick ran away from his home in Janesville when he was 16. His mother died when he was seven, and his father used alcohol to cope with his grief, so Dick needed to get away and make a new start.

He made a bag of sandwiches and took off walking. In the daytime, he walked along the road; at night he slept in the woods. Dick didn’t mention the cold—it was November when he left home—but he said that he was hungry; after two days of walking, he ran out of sandwiches.

Four days later, on his sixth day of walking, he saw a sign advertising malted milk in a Blanchardville cafe. He went inside and sat down at the counter and laid out a few coins.

“How much for one of those malted milks?”

The fellow behind the counter went over and made a malted milk and took it to Dick. “That much,” he said.

Vic Bredeson came over and sat down next to him. People tell me Vic was a big, strapping guy; it appears he had a big heart to match.

“You hungry?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Well then, what would you like to eat?

“I ain’t picky.”

“How about a hamburger.”

“I guess so.”

Vic ordered him two hamburgers and a plate of fries, and Dick ate like a sixteen year old boy who hadn’t eaten for four days.

Vic sat with him at the counter while he ate. “Looks like you might like a warm bed.”

“I guess I might.”

Vic took him to his farm. “He took me upstairs to a bedroom with a nice bed in it and made me feel right at home.” When he came downstairs in the morning, he found that Vic’s wife, who was expecting her first child, had breakfast on the table. After breakfast, Vic took him to the barn to do chores, including milking twelve cows.

Though he didn’t know it at the time, Vic was checking around trying to find his parents and in time he located his father. He let him know that Dick was safe and his father was glad to let his son stay and help out. Several weeks later, his father came to see him at the Bredesons. He saw how good things were for Dick and how well he was doing, so his father wished him well and went home to Janesville.

Dick stayed on with the Bredesons and learned to do chores and to help out around the farm. One day, Vic asked him if he could handle milking and the chores so that he and his wife could go on a little vacation.

“I told him ‘sure, I could.’ Milking twelve cows was nothing for me and I enjoyed doing the chores.”

So the Bredesons went away and left Dick in charge. I can’t imagine a better thing for a 16 year old going through a tough time than to be given some work to do and to be left in charge and to be held responsible. When Vic came home and found what a good job Dick had done taking care of things, he praised him for his work and bragged on him to others.

Dick didn’t much want to go to school, but the Bredesons insisted that he finish high school. He got to play sports. In shop he made Mrs. Bredeson a watering can for the flowers on her porch. “Do you know: she was so proud of that watering can and praised me for my work and made me feel pretty good.”

While Dick was living with the Bredesons, their first child was born. After Dick finished high school, he volunteered for the service and was later deployed to Panama. His service complete, he came home to Blanchardville, where he met Lois, “and the rest is history.”

Dick keeps in touch with the Bredeson family, including the son who was born to them while he was living with the.  He says that the time he spent with them was the best time of his life.

The Bredesons could not have known in advance the difference they would make in Dick’s life. Faith looks a lot like generous openness when there are ample reasons for tight-fisted close-mindedness. But Christ comes to us in the form of hungry strangers and faith is about reaching out to others beyond our own comfort when there is no guarantee of success.

Thank you to Dick for sharing his story and to Lois for her divine pie, and thank you to the Bredesons for their generosity and faithfulness.