Three people died on 2/28
Three people in my life died on February 28th, and in this paper I reflect on their legacies and the question of what truly makes a life valuable and worthy of respect. If moral leadership is defined as “accepting the responsibility to enable others to achieve shared purpose in the face of uncertainty,” they each directly or indirectly played the role of a moral leader in my life as I faced uncertainty, and I mark their impact on me in this reflection paper.
Sunshine, my husband’s grandfather, died on February 28th in 2003 at the age of 86.
Moses, the man of God, “died” during class on February 28th as we read of his death on Mount Nebo at the age of 120.
The Reverend Professor Peter J. Gomes died the evening of February 28th earlier this week at the age of 68.
Sunshine was a God-fearing radio engineer who wasn’t often a church-goer and didn’t often verbally affirm his children. But John and the men in his family credit their perseverant work ethic, nurturing kindness, deep friendships and robust Christian faith to his direct influence. They are strong men with gentle spirits and a fierce love of family. John “fell in love with engineering” at a young age because of Sunshine, and John’s father took over his dad’s radio business as a radio broker – and has seen solid success ever since. I never met Sunshine, but I am often struck by the effect of his life on those around him, and I was glad to marry into the loving family he helped create.
The final evaluation of Moses’ leadership was discussed in class as being overshadowed by mission failure and a gravely inaccurate portrayal of God. Yet his last words of truth-filled blessing, the presentation of Joshua as his ready successor, and his mighty strength even to the end of his life belie this negative interpretation of Moses’ forty years of leadership over Israel. I have been given new eyes to see Moses through this class and a new language and pedagogy for studying leadership through his story. As a result, I will never see my life in quite the same way.
Professor Gomes was not a regular part of my life, but his campus presence through Memorial Church, his approval of my membership to the Harvard Chaplains, and his consistent advocacy on behalf of the Christian Fellowship I served – in spite of my students’ ambivalence about his views of Biblical homosexuality – have strongly made an impression on me. We met once, face to face, and the one impression I remember is that since he perceived a trend among my organization’s staff as eventually leaving Christian ministry after a while – he was glad I was planning on remaining in it for the long haul.
Ironically, 4 years after that conversation, I’m eligible for a study sabbatical, prepared for the possibility of moving with John to a new city, and generally considering whether to stay in vocational ministry or return to academia. I am wondering what God has ahead of me and what I will choose. I don’t see potentially leaving ministry as a problem – if I am genuinely being led to serving God in a different capacity. I’m just not certain that I am yet, so further theological study probably is the next step.
Death imposes a starker reflection and more immediate evaluation of Other and Self onto me, and pushes me towards agency and Action faster given our fragile existence. The strange juxtaposition of hearing about Prof Gomes’ passing late Monday night – just hours after our class discussion of Moses’ death and legacy – just moments after emailing John’s parents in remembrance of Sunshine – makes me want to live with thoughtful intention and confident action, asking God to redeem my mistakes and help me make good decisions. It’s not a time to judge or criticize; it is a time to reflect and be grateful.
March 2, 2011