Bill Raspberry: 1935 – 2012

In 1988, as a new kid in Washington and having read William Raspberry’s columns for several years, I called him at his Washington Post office. I told him I was new in town and found myself in charge of a very high profile event honoring some African-American family champions. I said, “Mr. Raspberry, I’m white and I’m from Kansas. I can’t help that. But I don’t want to do anything stupid or embarrass anyone. So I’m asking you to help me.” He laughed and said, “Come on over and have lunch with me.”

I found a true friend that day. We talked long and deep, exploring some of the deep caves of the human experience. The event was a success, in large part because of his coaching. More than that, he became my tutor; he helped me understand and navigate the Washington mirages, whirlpools, and smoke.

Our friendship was a measure of his character. He was a well known and respected Washington figure and I could not help him or hurt him; he did not need to give me anything. But he gave generously and continued to do so for a quarter century.

Over the next seven years, we met often for breakfast, lunch, or in his office. Nothing changed when he won the Pulitzer Prize in 1994. Bill was fairly liberal in his politics; I was fairly conservative. But the political chasm was never an issue. We discussed our differing perspectives with no fear of ridicule or polarization. He, a liberal, often encouraged me to submit my more conservative perspectives for publication.

When we left Washington in 1995, Bill was one of the few Washington friends who kept in touch. In 1997, he interviewed me for one of his columns. After that, he interviewed me three or four more times. Bill is a primary reason I was accepted as a writer.

In the past 17 years, I never went back to Washington without seeing Bill. We always met for long lunches and honest conversations. He was one of the most honest people I ever met. Every spoken or written word that came from Bill Raspberry was true. You could trust it; it came from an honest heart.

The last time I saw him was for a two hour lunch on October 24, 2011, the 67th anniversary of the sinking of the USS Princeton (my dad’s ship). Bill and I talked about our fathers that day. As I told one story about Dad, I wept. Bill’s eyes grew red and he just silently nodded. It was a classic Bill Raspberry moment; pure empathy and deep respect for the secret places. When we parted, he hugged me. I felt a chill in the air as I walked to my car.

A few weeks ago, he stopped replying to emails. I knew he was sick; I asked when we could talk. He did not respond. His silence concerned me deeply.

For two weeks I’ve felt like I should call. But I was busy. Bill died yesterday.

I am forever grateful that this great man’s path crossed through my life. I cherish the memories of Bill’s great kindness, humor, generosity, and care.

Two years ago, he told me that he had prostate cancer. He wanted to talk about God that day. Every time we met after that, our conversation always came back to God. I tried to help; I do not know if I did. But I’m confident that someday Bill will tell me. He is unfailingly honest.

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Of Gods and Men

The French movie, Of Gods and Men, tells the true story of a small group of Trappist monks at a monastery in Algeria.

I do not remember ever seeing a movie that is such a perfect description of “The Church.” The monks are clearly “called out” of the “world.” But they also know they are inescapably related to the people of their time and place. As Catholics in a Muslim country, they do not proselytize. They respect and serve everyone; no “us” vs. “them” attitude at all.

And the time and place are being roiled by change. Poverty, government corruption, and terrorism threats are all growing. And they are acutely aware of their increasing age and infirmities. The men feel all kinds of contractions; they know they are being squeezed out of the womb of earth.

The contractions come faster when Islamic terrorists murder some migrant workers nearby. Then the terrorists arrive at the monastery. Decisions must be made. Will they remain at the monastery or will they seek a safe place?

The monks walk in a clear sense of place. They pray, sing, work, get sick, and play here. This furniture, these faces, this land, this village. No consideration of this place as a stepping stone to a better place. They don’t download monastery models that seem to “work” in the seminaries or cities. These men are possessed by a farm country kind of commitment to people and place.

When these devout men take counsel together, every line rings true. We do not hear one ounce of pietism, heroics, or drama. They grapple with real issues, they irritate (and rebuke) each other, they search for truth and direction. But, beyond it all, they rest in the depths of love. For Jesus and for one another.

Near the end, they gather for fellowship around a table. One brother brings wine, a small tape player, and a cassette tape of “Swan Lake.” Facing death, they know that Jesus is their safe place. Just to be with Him together is enough. Without a word of dialogue, we see all we need to know in their laughter and tears as the camera moves around the table. Because I have long known that kind of bond with men, that scene was one of the most resonant things I’ve ever seen in a movie.

Perhaps the most riveting truth of this movie is that the monks refuse to let external pressures mold, motivate, or define them. They are devoted to their Lord, to one another, and to their place. They will do what they do and do it where they live. Why should it be more complicated than that? Why should our role and purpose keep “reinventing” or “innovating” just because of change going on around us?

These men clearly see (and say) that to follow Jesus is to die. So, what is the big deal about facing death…like this afternoon? Wasn’t that bridge crossed long ago?

If anyone ever asks me to recommend a movie that accurately portrays Christian faith, I’ll be quick to point them to this film. Other movies — like A Man for All Seasons, Places in the Heart, or Dead Man Walking — have given brief (and quite wondrous) glimpses. But Of Gods and Men is a long and profound meditation on living by faith.

Of Gods and Men stands as great moviemaking and more. It is a grand portrait of how to live upon the earth: With Him. Here. Now. Together.

NOTE: The title comes from Psalm 82: 6-7: I said, “You are gods, And all of you are children of the Most High. But you shall die like men…”

Perhaps a better translation for the plural “gods” might be “judges” or even “my judges.” In other words, those called by God should live on earth as plumb lines in the midst of vertigo. But they will always be subject to the same rules and conditions as the “earthlings.” We will all die the same way.

The movie is available on DVD (English subtitles)

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Seen & Heard Today

The great Kinky Friedman has endorsed Rick Perry for President. His announcement column in The Daily Beast is one of the funniest things I’ve read.

John Miller is a great writer.  He has written five books and many newspaper columns.  But, this piece — explaining why he returned to Michigan — is probably the best John Miller piece I’ve read.  This will resonate with anyone who has — or has not — returned to their home.

We all die.  For that reason, this article from Kiplinger’s Magazine is essential.  It gives succinct and clear information on what to do when your spouse dies.  Just excellent.

This video is so inventive and uplifting and…insightful.

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Seen & Heard Today

Very good article on fonts and other design details.

This piece — 10 Technologies that will change the world in the next 10 years — from Infoworld is just jaw-dropping.

Ever wish you had a phone number for a company?  Now, you do.  This site gives an excellent consumer affairs list for many American companies.

The Internet Monk is essential daily reading for me.  From a recent, and excellent, essay on grief:

Grief is like a serious injury. A person with whom I have a bond is gone. That bond has been severed, leaving a deep and tender wound. It hurts. It is sometimes hard to find relief. I have to do what I can to relieve the pain, clean and dress the wound, protect it, and give it time to heal. I must adjust my life to allow for it, and it’s a damn inconvenience, I’ll tell you. Whether or not the person who died “is in a better place” doesn’t change any of that. Grief is not selfish, but grief is about me.

I often compare grief to losing a limb. If my leg were to be amputated or lost in an accident, my life would be irrevocably altered because of that loss. I simply could not live the way I did before. Furthermore, it would hurt. It would be hard to come to grips with my new reality mentally and emotionally. I might even think that God had treated me unfairly. I would be forced to accept new assignments from life—to heal, to rehab, to learn new habits and ways of getting around, to learn what new kinds of support I will need from those around me. Perhaps I will get an artificial limb and learn to do even more than I could before I lost my leg. Perhaps I will develop the desire to help others who have gone through the same experience. Who knows where this road will lead? All I know at the moment is that I’ve taken a turn somewhere and I’m not in Kansas anymore.

Many of you have navigated more grief than I’ve met in life.  But I can certainly see the truth in these lines.

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