Archive for March, 2009

Now It All Makes Sense

Saturday, March 7th, 2009

Well, it’s been a difficult month, but I’m ready to step up to my soapbox
once again …

It’s interesting how much you learn about your family when someone dies; my father died February 13 from complications from surgery, and I was privileged to give the primary eulogy at his funeral service. Obviously I knew my Dad in ways the 600 or so other people attending didn’t, but I learned a couple of things about him as others spoke — things that well explain “how I got to be this way.” I praise God for what he passed along to me. Your response may be different.

I learned from Dad’s old friend and University of Arizona journalism colleague that the reason Dad was fired from his first job in Tucson, as a reporter for the Tucson Daily Citizen, was because he refused to acquiesce to his editor’s demand that he write a story about how comparatively well Blacks were faring under South African apartheid. This would’ve been in the mid-60s, before most Americans knew or cared much about the plight of those oppressed by apartheid, which was lamentably supported by Dutch Reformed Church members in power. Dad lost his job because he refused to write what he was told to write by an editor who had just returned from a junket to South Africa. I grew up knowing that he’d been fired, and I assumed it wasn’t for anything bad; my father’s integrity was unassailable, and he was a smart guy. But I only found out at his funeral that his principles cost him.

I wasn’t surprised. I grew up in an activist household. I related in my eulogy how we boycotted Gallo wines, lettuce, and grapes during most of my childhood in support of striking migrant farmworkers; Jeff and I have contributed for years to the United Farmworkers union founded by Cesar Chavez, and exposure to the farmworkers’ struggle was one of the primary reasons I began my ministry in the 1990s to undocumented Mexican workers in Snohomish County, Washington. I knew he was proud of me; I also knew he wasn’t at all surprised that I’d plunge into the struggle with everything I had.

Our family activism didn’t begin or end with boycotting wine and produce. We protested the Vietnam War together, spending at least a couple of Christmases with other war protesters, singing and holding up our candles and knowing that the adults could be, and often were, arrested. We collected food, clothing, and furniture for poor neighbors, spent untold hours canvassing and phoning for Democratic candidates, and devoted an enormous amount of time, through both the NAACP and the “A” Mountain Area Council, to improving conditions in the all-Black neighborhood across the street. I’m a member of the NAACP still. And while too many of his activist friends have died, those who attended his funeral remembered who Dad was. More than a few said I reminded them of him.

It wasn’t until his mother died in 1997 that I discovered just how much of Dad was part of me. My cousin sent me some geneology and family history stuff that chronicled my great-grandmother’s and my great-great grandparents’ work as Protestant evangelists, temperance zealots, and abolitionists. Both my great-great and my great-grandmothers were osteopathic physicians; both were preachers. I have the science and math skills of a marmot, but the gift God has given me in the pulpit and on the soapbox is something He used in my preaching, agitating, fighting, and truth-telling female relatives, and while my Dad didn’t come to Christ as Savior until he was 60 or so, he was a fighter and a truth-teller and was braver, far braver, than every little girl thinks her father to be.

That’s who I mourn, and that’s the guy who taught me that the pen truly is mightier than the sword and that words turn hearts and overthrow evil. So rest in peace, Dad, and I’ll see you soon. I promise, because He promised.