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Friday, September 24, 2010

A Fisherman's Tale

Funeral Liturgy for Charles G. Michael
Friday, September 24, 2010
St. Peter's Episcopal Church
Isaiah 25:6-9, Psalm 121, Romans 8:31-39, John 11:21-27

"Martha said to Jesus, 'I know that he will rise again in the resurrection 
on the last day.'  And Jesus said to her, 'I am resurrection, and the life.  
Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live.'" (John 11:24-25)

On September 3, 1925, the world was forever changed.  That day is a special day for so many of us, it is the day Charles Granville Michael came into the world.  He would grow up to change the world in only the way that he could--quietly, patiently, with love and gentleness. 

Early in his life, he came to know words like sacrifice and offering, words that my generation is only now beginning to understand.  Charlie was determined to join the war effort and secured a phony birth certificate in order to reach the legal age to join the US Navy.  At the tender age of 16, he left the comfort of home in Grayson, Kentucky, said goodbye to his mom and dad, and set out for a world adventure.  He would tell you that he was too young, too naive, and too green.  But he heard the call of service and deep in his bones he had to answer it.  Following the bombing in Pearl Harbor, Charlie was sent to the Pacific theater where he served faithfully for 8 years rising to be a bombardier flight pilot.  If you never saw the anchor tattoos on his forearms, you would never know of his daring journey in the Navy.  He never, ever talked about it. 

This past June, when the cancer was visibly taking over, I was able to spend a lot of time with him. I prodded him for information and stories about the war.  I even asked him if he ever had any regrets, to which he broke down and said that he knew so many men who died and could not let it go.  We never spoke about it again.

Following the war, Charlie returned to the tri-state area to build a life for himself.  The beautiful Nancy Mary Philip caught his eye and they married.  For 52 years, Charlie and Nancy would tear up the square dance circuit in a beautiful dance of true love and companionship. Because of whatever happened during the war, Charlie refused to take the Government's GI Bill.  He was determined to earn his own way in the world, again on his terms.  He found work at a local steel shop, Steel Products, and began as the low man on the totem pole, welding and fabricating steel out in the hot, hellish heat on the shop floor.  

He dabbled in television and small electronic repairs, as it feed his fascination with circuitry and engineering.  This would later serve him well as he invented train engine testers that were quickly purchased by CSX.  He had no formal training in any of this, for he had an insatiable hunger for knowledge--he wanted to know intimately why and how things worked.  It fed his scientific mind.  Charlie was smart and his inquisitive mind was going to serve him well.  Yes he would make mistakes, but he would mull them over and learn from what they had to teach him.

Eventually he was able to buy ownership of Steel Products and expanded the business.  His success model was simple:  he lived the 'golden rule.'  He was quite proud of the fact that his men never unionized--he knew exactly what it was like to work in the shop and prided himself on knowing from bottom to top what each man was required to know and do.  He cared deeply for his men and treated them like extended members of his family. 

Charlie's family was growing too.  With a son, Peter, and daughter Pam, the Michael family, I imagine, was the American family of the 50's and 60's.  When he could keep Nancy from secretly re-carpeting the house or control his emotions when he'd discover a house filled with new furniture, he managed to build a family and a business, grounded on his life of faith.

Charlie was a fisherman.  He loved to fish.  It didn't matter to him what he'd be catching, so long as the fish were biting.  Fishing, he believed, was the reward of patience.  Sure it was time away from the demands of work, but it was his way of putting the world in perspective--focusing on learning what Mother Nature had to teach about creation.   

A son, a brother, a husband, a father, a grandfather, and a great-grandfather, Charlie cast his net wide into the world and all the while helping to shape a small part of it in the process.  His was a life of seeing Christ in every person he met.  No one ever felt like a stranger to him.  I doubt there is anyone here today that did not get a hug, a friendly kiss, or his incredible smile greeting them every time you met him.  From bishops to star football coaches to the local wait staff at Bob Evans, Charlie treated every one, every one as a sacred, special human being without exception.  Life, for Charlie, was about living and loving, giving of himself to others because this was all he knew.  Even in death, Charlie has given his body for medical research; those lessons learned at such a young age stuck with him all his life.   
Jesus was a fisherman too.  He cast his nets and caught the whole world.  Time and again when the disciples failed to understand Jesus, he implored them to cast their nets to other side, only to pull in a tremendous catch.  Jesus was no stranger to death either.  The story of Lazarus is, I believe, one of the more intimate stories of Jesus in the Gospel accounts that has something to say to us today about life and death about living and loving.  Jesus wept at the tomb of his dear friend, grief and suffering--something so profoundly human--overcame Our Lord.  But, something even more deeply powerful was in store for Lazarus:  resurrection.  After four days of lying in the tomb, Lazarus was called forth to leave behind the sealed tomb thereby showing the glory and power of God. 

Death, we know, is not our end.  If the Easter story ended on Good Friday then the whole Christian narrative would be radically different.  But it does not end at the cross.  Death is forever swallowed up by life.  The Easter proclamation forever marks us as people of life and light.  When we dip our toes into the waters of Baptism, Christ makes an eternal claim on our lives.  That claim does not end in death.  Death is but a means, it is not our ultimate destination. 

Paul, in his letter to the Romans makes clear to the Christian community that
God's love for us is manifest in the person and work of Jesus Christ.  "For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord."  Nothing, nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ.  No matter how hard we try, no matter what challenges we face, God's love abides. 

We live to see the beatific vision, to be face-to-face with the risen Christ,  raised by Him as citizens of the Kingdom of God.  To delight in the heavenly banquet that Isaiah so eloquently describes, is the feast of our lives brought to fulfillment in the heavenly Jerusalem.  And our invitation is wide open to all of God's children.  Life conquers death.  The light of Christ overcomes the darkness.  And especially now, we struggle to live into that reality each and every day of our lives. 

But the Good News is quite simply this:  "Even at the grave we make our song Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia."  What Christ has accomplished for us is eternal life, it's worth singing about today and everyday.  Yes the Easter life can be a struggle at times, but we don't have to go it alone.  We have Christ, the Lord and Author of Life who binds us together in the earthly Church.  When we break bread and join in fellowship with one another, we find the source and summit of our lives made whole in Christ.   

Charlie's theology was very simple and yet powerful.  He always told me to live my life by giving others their flowers now, and not at their graves.  Let people know that you love them, he said, and show it.  This is how he lived his life.  This is his powerful story, told to us by his many, many deeds. 

My sisters and brothers, today we are those seedlings, little flowers nourished by Christ through Charlie's witness.  May we live to be the sweet perfume of the Holy Spirit, radiating life, beaming love to every one, everywhere.  Amen.               

Monday, September 20, 2010

Poem: A Travel Advisory for Pilgrims

A Travel Advisory for Pilgrims of Love in a Time of Terror
By Heather Murray Elkins

Pack only what you need and are willing to share.
Leave every weapon except Truth at the border.
When it comes to currency be wise.
Avoid gold
Carry copper instead
The guard dogs of Ceasar can't track its trace until it's too late.
Any penny is a common wealth, and two cents builds trust.
Every true sense of liberty (hammered by wisdom and wired with the Gospel)
Conducts electric vision
With malice toward none, charity toward all...
The hidden assets of the widow's might.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Pope pays tribute to Newman's contributions