Matthew 7:13-14

Enter in through the narrow gate, for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and many there are who go in through it. Because narrow is the gate and straight is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it. ~ Matthew 7:13-14

Friday, June 14, 2013

Journey Through Shame

I was reminded of an encounter I had in 1985 at Yankee Stadium in Bronx NY. I was covering the Yankees and other feature stories for the Woodstock Townsman. Wendy and I did a whole back page called Life Acting or Woodstock State Of Mind and a sports page .... you get the idea. Without going into detail about our unusual journalistic approach {maybe on the next anniversary of the festival we can have a special lol}

Here's the story today. I was leaving where the press exits and was just outside in the public area and there stood a small statured man whom I recognized. Then I heard shouts from the crowd heading for their cars " tough break bad you got caught" etc etc etc .... It was Richard Nixon. I stand at 5 ft 7" plus" and he was shorter than me. That was my first surprise. I remember those debates vs John Kennedy. I remember two healthy strong men. Big men in my mind as an 11 year old. He apparently had special seating near where the press sits and we happened to exit at the same place and time. My memory of Mr Nixon from when he was a "big man" was impeachment was not enough. Jail would be right. Its not that I was political but hating Nixon was "the norm" for my culture. I graduated from Northeastern in Boston in 1971 I was there for the riots ,and the student strike, Viet Nam ,and Kent State.  

I was vacationing in Mexico in Sept of 1974 and when Pres Ford pardoned Nixon and it ruined my vacation. In my mind justice was not served............but now this moment I was looking into his eyes . I saw a small man who was in great pain. You see this Mr. Nixon was hunched forward and his head was down. The "tough break Dick" comments were reflecting off his body like a person who had absorbed so many punches he could only know he was punched but no longer feel the punch. My sense was he did not need to hear actual comments of criticism from people because in a real sense that was all he ever heard in his mind, in his heart.....that was breaking. I was quieted.

I met the 37th president of the United States and I know this now because I just flew home last week from the Grand Rapids Mi airport which is named after Gerald Ford the 38th president of the United States.  In 1985 at Yankee Stadium I remember no longer hating Richard Nixon, however I did not know Richard Nixon until I shook his hand and said quietly "Mr. Nixon". 

Looking into his eyes he caught my eye and nodded. We met and He then quietly walked away . I think I remember seeing an official security person escort him to wherever they escort former presidents.
My moment was over....but was it? 

In the Greek language there are at least 2 words to describe time. One is kronos from which we get the word chronological and the other kairos which is about a moment that lasts in such an eternal way that one can grow from it. A God moment, an eternal note that plays in time causing a memory to live now and expand in wisdom and truth.

Wendy and I moved away from Woodstock in 1986. We sold all we had and for us it was much. I went into seminary and much time has passed since then, and that is another story for another time. But one thing is for sure, we have seen the depravity of people. We have seen poverty and lived among it , we've seen sorrow and wept with others and they with us. In 16 years of volunteer work at homeless shelters to go along with 14 years of full time pastoral work and now 12 years as a traveling pastor actor director ....etc etc etc etc......I have never seen a more broken person than Richard Nixon.

In literature what makes tragedy tragedy is the high height one falls from. Richard Nixon certainly fits this description ala a Shakespeare tragedy King Richard the 3rd. Richard Nixon however was greater. Richard Nixon was a man who failed and he knew it. King Richard was one of us.  I saw was a broken man. A man humiliated but he did not stop there he continued with his moment over time and Time and it became his kairos. He was humbled.  He was humiliated into humility and it was beautiful to see. Oh that every poor man would also be "poor in spirit". Nixon's shame became his internal badge for those who mourn and are comforted. "Blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted". He mourned for his sin not yours or mine, but his own.

I do not know when the 37th president died. I assume in the 80's soon after his beloved wife died. I remember one journalist, a former Nixon hater, writing that when he saw how Richard Nixon mourned for his wife, how real that was that he could no longer hate him. Another journalist had a cartoon illustration showing a huge cloud in the sky and a hand reaching out to a Nixon, very much like the one I met that night at Yankee Stadium, with the caption "pardoned".

I never thought of 1985 as the good old days. They seemed modern and worldly, ie a culture getting colder and less friendly, yet it was 28 years ago. In the last 28 years have you seen corruption, ..guilt,.. mendacity, and cover up? What have you seen in Washington lately in scandals?  What I do not see is what I did see in Mr Nixon. I saw shame in him. Where is the shame today? I do not wish shame on my enemy, but if shame happens then covering up shame only fosters more of what causes shame in the first place. Where is guilt, right, wrong, moral immoral? .... We are at the very end of things my friends. 

Times are meaner; Jesus said that about our times "because of the increase in lawlessness the love of most will grow cold". And because the trends are colder the need for the authentic is greater. You can be your own Richard Nixon and be sorry. Only failures can play. There's hope for the losers. Buck the trend and end the game. Stop winning at the losing game and stop losing at the losing game too. Mr Nixon left the game and found life. The only One.