Saints I Have Known — Jerry & Ethel Vanice
SLIDE 3: COUNTRYSIDE COMMUNITY U.C.C.
When I was growing up at Countryside Community United Church of Christ in Omaha, Nebraska I was unaware of how many truly talented people were a part of that community of faith, where I was growing up. Warren Buffet attended with his wife Susan. One of my Sunday school teachers was an executive Vice-President of the Union Pacific Railroad. Another Sunday school teacher, Mark Anthony, was a salesman, but before he went into sales, he had been a lion tamer in the circus. The Sunday school teacher I remember most fondly was Jerry Vanice, who was the President of the Omaha Grain Exchange.
SLIDE 4: IMPORTANCE OF LOVE
Jerry took a genuine interest in the young people in his Sunday School Class, and he always emphasized the importance of love — God is love – Jesus was the embodiment of love, and we are to embody the way of Jesus. When I was a senior in high school, a friend of mine, Dwight Burney, from another church, First Central Congregational in downtown Omaha, set to work organizing an urban immersion experience for young people in the Nebraska Conference of the United Church of Christ. We had two dozen youth come from all over Nebraska for an experience about race and urban affairs. Most of the young people attending were from towns of less than 10,000.
SLIDE 5: PETER KIEWITT PLAZA
Jerry Vanice took an interest in this urban experience for young people, because he felt a concern for racial justice. He offered to take all of the participants to dinner at the Omaha Club atop the Peter Kiewitt Plaza in Omaha, one of the City’s tallest buildings at the time, about a block from First Central Church, where we were spending the night. Twenty-four young people ordering off of the menu of an exclusive club was not an empty gesture.
SLIDE 6: NOW I KNOW WHAT WHITE POWER IS
The Kiewit Plaza is still the home office of Warren Buffet’s Investment Company Berkshire Hathaway. From the top floor we could see the City laid out beneath us. The dazzling lights of the down town as opposed to the more darkened streets of the Near North Side. After a really nice dinner we were riding the elevator down to the street level and a girl from Franklin, Nebraska, population 1,200, said, “I don’t know if I understand Black Power, but now I know what White Power is.” Jerry remarked later that that elevator ride was worth everything he had paid for the dinner.
SLIDE 7: CRISIS OF FAITH – INSTITUTIONAL CHURCH DISAPPOINTING
The memory I most want to share about Jerry and his wife Ethel was after I had graduated from High School, left Omaha and gone on to Yale Divinity School. I was having a crisis of faith over the church. I truly believed that the way of Jesus was the way of life to which God calls us, but the church, the institutional church was at best disappointing. Maybe sort of like people today who claim to be spiritual but not religious, or people who say, “I like your Jesus, but not your church.” I was suffering a crisis of faith because of the tremendous gap between the values of Jesus and the way most congregations behave.
SLIDE 8: AGRICULTURAL MISSIONARY IN UGANDA
And then my mother sent me a newsletter article about a mission project Jerry and Ethel Vanice had undertaken. Jerry felt called by God to use his abilities in mission. He was the President of the Omaha Grain Exchange, he was an expert in agriculture and agri-business. And he felt there was some way his skills and knowledge could be used in mission. He began making inquiries and before long he was offered an opportunity to serve with Technoserve as an agricultural missionary in Uganda. But then he began to have second thoughts. After all he would have to make a commitment for between one and two years of service during his peak earning years. His heart said, “Yes,” his head said, “No!” He wrestled with this call in prayer. Sort of like a “Still Speaking Devotional” written by Mari Luti a couple of weeks ago.
SLIDE 9: DOES GOD KEEP YOU AWAKE AT NIGHT?
My seminary once ran an ad campaign featuring this question—“Does God keep you up at night?” I thought it was awful. So did some other professors. We couldn’t imagine attracting anyone to our school with that hokey tag line. That ad was so successful that I often try to take credit for it. Applicants said it rang completely true. They hadn’t been sleeping soundly for years. They’d fend off God’s insistence during the day, but the Glory of the Presence woke them, trembling, in the wee hours. What made me tremble were the huge sacrifices they made to say ‘yes.’ When I’d ask why, they said they finally just could not not do it. When they reviewed their lives, they realized that they were shot through with a certain inevitability.
SLIDE 10: WHOM SHALL I SEND? It’s not only seminarians who sense that inevitability. All kinds of people have felt sort of doomed to discipleship. We like to
think we choose our paths in life, and theoretically we do. But, as Mark Wilson observed, when you find yourself trembling in the presence of the true and living God, choosing seems irrelevant. Instead, when God asks, “Whom shall I send?,” you tell God to send you, even ‘though it never before entered your mind that you could be ready, willing, or able to do any such thing.’ Once you get a glimpse of God’s glory, it’s already too late for choosing. Your feet discover a will of their own, your hands drop the nets by the shore, and off you go, trembling, terrified, and glad.
SLIDE 11: WHAT WOULD YOU DO IF YOU WEREN’T AFRAID?
Jerry Vanice had a glimpse of God’s glory that would not let him go, and so despite fears and doubts he and Ethel went to Uganda for two years. In Uganda Jerry first tackled the problem of how to make fence posts in an area with no trees or wood. Unfenced cattle were eating the grain people needed to survive. He came up with a method of making fence posts from mud. Then Jerry noted that the farmers in his area had to haul there grain 20 twenty miles to a mill, a day’s journey, where it could be ground into flour. Jerry helped them construct a hammer mill that reduced their time in transportation and the cost of producing flour. After working with local authorities Jerry finally helped the Ugandans create a grain exchange, where farmer’s produce could be bought and sold freely for fair prices. These three ideas were important practical projects that improved the lives of the people with whom Jerry and Ethel were working.
SLIDE 12: GOD LOVES US ALL
Jerry spoke movingly of an Easter Sunrise Service in the bush in Uganda, where he and Ethel were the only non-Africans attending. In the light of that African sunrise, as they shared communion with the people of their village, Jerry and Ethel truly knew that God is everywhere calling to all people. The color of our skin does not matter God loves us all.
SLIDE 13: RUSSIAN CROP FAILURE
In telling his story Jerry saved what he believed was the best part of his story for last. He said, “When I was trying to make up my mind whether or not to answer the call to serve as a missionary, I was anxious and concerned about all the income I was afraid I would lose while I was in Uganda 1971 – 1972. Well I returned to the States early in the fall of 1972, when the Russians experienced a huge crop failure, and President Richard Nixon allowed the Russians to enter the U.S. markets to buy grain. I returned just in time to handle more grain orders that fall than I had ever serviced in any previous two year period. Everything I thought I was going to lose I made up in less than a year’s time. In looking back on it I realize how little faith I had. When we respond to God’s call to mission, God will take care of us, we have to have faith.”
SLIDE 14: GOD STILL WORKS THROUGH PEOPLE OF FAITH
When I heard Jerry’s story, I realized that even though congregations may from time to time disappoint us, God is still working through people of faith like Jerry and Ethel Vanice. All those lessons about love Jerry had shared with his Junior and Senior High classes were for real, because Jerry was for real. Jerry’s story helped to get me through a faith crisis. The validity of the way of Jesus cannot be proved or disproved by how congregations behave, but by the love and service of good people of faith who are willing to respond to God’s call. Good and faithful church people do make a difference in the world. And when God asks, “Whom shall I send?,” with trembling hearts we answer, “Here am I send me!” God doesn’t always promise that the Russians will jump into the grain market, but if we have the courage to respond in faith, God will take care of us.
SLIDE 15: IN THE END OUR STORIES ARE ALL WE GOT
I tell this story today, because unless it is shared, it will be lost. If we do not pay attention and share our stories, they slip through our fingers and vanish. And as the lead character in the novel Jabbok said, “In the end our stories are all we got.” So let us remember the saints like Jerry and Ethel Vanice, who responded, “Here am I send me!” For in the end our stories are all we got.
Saints I Have Known: Tilford Dudley
SLIDE 3: STORIES SHARED SO AS NOT TO BE FORGOTTEN
After forty years in the ministry I have begun to appreciate that there are some stories I have to tell, that if I do not share them, they will become lost – forgotten. So this morning I would like to share with you the story of a Saint of the church I had the privilege to know when I was a very young man – Tilford E. Dudley.
I first met Tilford in 1969, when I was elected as a member of the Council for Christian Social Action of the United Church of Christ. He was at that point the Director of the Washington Office of the Council, and I worked for him as an intern for a semester in the spring of 1970.
SLIDE 4: FRANKFURTER’S HAPPY HOT DOGS
Tilford was born in 1907 in Charleston, Illinois. He grew up first as a Methodist and attended Weslyan University, and then attended Harvard Law School, where he graduated cum laude in 1931. He returned to Charleston to pursue a General Law Practice, until he was contacted by one of his former law professors Felix Frankfurter in 1934. Professor Frankfurter was an advisor to the newly elected President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. President Roosevelt was frustrated with the lawyers in the Justice Department, so he asked his friend Felix Frankfurter to assemble a team of young legal minds in the Agriculture Department. This legal brain trust became known as “Felix’s Happy Hot Dogs.”
SLIDE 5: THE MESSIAH SORTS OUT THE NATIONS
During this initial period in Washington Tilford found himself attracted to the Congregational Church because of their outstanding advocacy for social justice. The guiding scripture for Tilford’s career was Matthew 25:31-46. What Tilford saw in this passage that so many people miss is that when the Messiah sorts out the sheep from the goats, he is not sorting out individuals. The Messiah is not saying, “Hey you Mary Allen, and you Bill Green, and you Judy Cameron, come on over to my right hand side.” Nor is the Messiah saying, “And you Bob Hurst, and you Bill Tucker and you Fred Phillips, you go over to the left.” No the Messiah is not sorting out individuals. Rather the when the Messiah comes for judgment, he will sort out the “nations.”
SLIDE 6: PUBLIC POLICY FOR THOSE WHO FOLLOW JESUS
And what Tilford understood in that passage about the sorting out of the nations was that public policy is an important area of concern for those who would follow Jesus. Public policies that leave people hungry, homeless, without clean water or medical care are appropriate concerns for people of faith to address.
SLIDE 7: ADVOCATE FOR CIVIL RIGHTS
When Tilford left government service in 1944, he went to work in the labor movement to try to address the political inequality between labor and management. During this period of his career in 1954 he joined with the great United Church of Christ theologian Reinhold Niebuhr in opposing the Communist witch hunts of Senator Joseph McCarthy. He became Director of the Speaker’s Bureau of the AFL-CIO and from that position became a tireless advocate for Civil Rights. He was very important in bringing organized labor into the fight for the Civil Rights Bill of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
SLIDE 8: HAD TO OPPOSE LYNDON JOHNSON
As a follower of Jesus and a person of conscience Tilford was deeply, deeply troubled by the Vietnam War. And in 1968 he was placed in an impossible bind. He had become the chairman of the Democratic Party for the District of Columbia, and for reasons of conscience he could not support Lyndon Johnson’s bid for re-election. And anyone who stood up to Lyndon Johnson was going to pay a price. George Meany the legendary President of the AFL-CIO fired Tilford.
SLIDE 9: A VOICE FOR SOCIAL JUSTICE
Happily for the Council for Christian Social Action of the United Church of Christ right then we needed a Director for our Washington Office. So Tilford became the voice of social justice in Washington for our United Church of Christ. About a month ago I reported that the United Church of Christ had helped to save the phone bank for the New Mobilization to End the War Committee a week before their half a million person March on November 15th of 1969, well Tilford helped to make that happen.
Now the memory about Tilford I want to share that might become lost dates from the winter of 1969 and the spring of 1970. As a lame duck President, Lyndon Johnson had tried to nominate his friend Abe Fortas for the job of Supreme Court Justice. Conservative Senators held up that nomination and finally brought about Fortas’s resignation from the court over ethics issues. So as Johnson was leaving office in January of 1969 there were only eight justices on the Supreme Court.
SLIDE 10: NIXON SOUTHERN STRATEGY
With the election of Richard Nixon the new President wanted to strengthen his “Southern Strategy” by nominating a conservative segregationist to the Supreme Court – Clement Haynsworth, a Federal Judge from South Carolina. A coalition of civil rights groups opposed Haynsworth’s nomination, because of his segregationist views. In the process of hearings there were also some judicial ethics irregularities that were uncovered, and the Haynsworth nomination was defeated 55 to 45 in the Senate.
SLIDE 11: JUDGE G. HARROLD CARSWELL
So President Nixon sought out an even more conservative segregationist, G. Harrold Carswell, a Federal judge from Florida. Because he was such an outspoken segregationist decisions of Judge Carswell had been overturned 58% of the time by higher courts. There were also troubling stories of his court room behavior, forcing a young African American civil rights attorney to argue his case to the back of the judge’s chair. But in the spring of 1970 Judge Carswell appeared to be headed to confirmation. Liberal Republicans in the Senate who had voted against Haynsworth were claiming they could not vote against the President twice.
SLIDE 12: MARGARET CHASE SMITH & RICHARD SCHWEIKER
At that point Tilford was asked by the NAACP and the civil rights coalition to work on Senator Margaret Chase Smith, Republican from Maine, and Senator Richard Schweiker, Republican from Pennsylvania, because the United Church of Christ has some strength in those states. In fact Richard Schweiker grew up in a Schwenkfelder congregation, a very small German reformed sect, who have since fully affiliated with the United Church of Christ.
SLIDE 13: WE ARE IN YOUR HANDS SIR!
I especially remember a delegation of church people Tilford helped to bring down from Pennsylvania to meet with Senator Schweiker about the nomination of Judge Carswell. The Senator explained he was being pressured by the White House, and it would be hard to vote against the President twice. And then I remember an elderly African American Pastor got up and addressed the Senator.
He said, “Senator I know you know what is right. I knew your Father. You know this Judge Carswell will rule against our people, and he will try to take away the civil rights we have worked so hard to gain. We are in your hands sir, and we are depending upon you to do what is right!”
As that African American Pastor looked the Senator in the eye, I saw Schweiker wince. Those words hurt. And I turned to Tilford and said, “I think Schweiker will vote against Carswell.” Of course Tilford wasn’t so easily convinced. He knew there would be much more pressure brought to bear on the Senator before the day of the vote, and the White House has immense power.
SLIDE 14: JUDGE HARRY BLACKMUN
But in the end the Carswell nomination was narrowly defeated. And the NAACP credited the work of Tilford Dudley in that effort by giving Tilford its highest award. President Nixon was so embarrassed by the defeat of his second nomination that he told his aids to find someone, anyone, who could get confirmed.
Now this story may seem trivial. But in the postscript we discover that the third nominee to the court, who was confirmed by the Senate on a unanimous vote, was Judge Harry Blackmun, a life-long Republican who on the Supreme Court became one of the leading voices for civil rights, and the rights of women. He wrote the majority opinion in the epic case Roe verses Wade.
SLIDE 15: SCHWEIKER, REAGAN, TIP O’NEIL
In a further postscript Senator Richard Schweiker who voted against the Carswell nomination went on to become the Secretary of Health and Human Services under President Ronald Regan. In that position he worked with House Speaker Tip O’Neil to reform Social Security and Medicare to insure their solvency. It turns out that Tilford E Dudley, following in the way of Jesus as God had given him to understand that way, helped to change American history.
SLIDE 16: IT IS ALWAYS DANGEROUS TO CLAIM TO SPEAK FOR GOD
Now allow me to note that whenever the church becomes involved in politics and public policy there are dangers. Ministers and theologians in particular have in the past made lousy governors and magistrates. A little bit of power corrupts, a lot of power can corrupt absolutely. And in the public arena it is always dangerous to claim to speak for God. God doesn’t take sides in politics any more than God takes sides in wars.
SLIDE 17: PUBLIC POLICY AND THE WAY OF JESUS
But I think Tilford had it right. Those of us who want to follow the way of Jesus, when we live in a democratic society, we have an obligation to consider how public policy can appropriately be addressed by the teaching of Jesus. Loving my neighbor is not simply a matter of taking care of the person living next door to me. Loving my neighbor involves how public policy impacts the treatment of the poor, and whether or not the hungry have enough to eat, and how we take care of our mentally ill and homeless people. Loving my neighbor doesn’t just visit people in prison, it questions whether or not prisons should be run as for profit enterprises. Loving my neighbor includes a livable minimum wage.
SLIDE 18: YOU DID IT TO ME
And then the blessed will protest, “But Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?”
Then the Messiah will say, “I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.”
Praying for America
SLIDE 3: TRIBALISM AND VIOLENCE
Our scripture this morning is about the moment, when David became the King of all of Israel. Before Saul the Israelites had been twelve distinct and separate tribes, related to one another by some common history and common enemies. But those twelve tribes were fiercely independent and suspicious of one another. They did not give up their individual freedoms easily. A good analogy is the tribalism and violence we see in the Middle East today. Sunni fights with Shiite, who fight with the Alawites and the Wahhabis who don’t like the Druze, and everyone hates the Jews. It’s a mess. Can’t tell the players without a score card.
SLIDE 4: NO INDEPENDENT JEWISH STATE UNTIL 1948
Ancient Israel was a patch work of tribes, with Canaanites living among all of them. They only came together to form a common defensive front against their mutual enemies the Philistines and the Egyptians. For a brief period during the Kingship of David and then Solomon, the twelve tribes of Israel were united and maintained an independent State, with a common capitol, culture, temple and religion that began to flourish. But by the end of the reign of Solomon the rivalries and independence of the individual tribes re-asserted themselves. The Kingdom of Israel broke into two a Northern Kingdom and a Southern Kingdom who proved to be too weak to ultimately fend off their common enemies. First the Assyrians, then the Babylonians, and the Persians, and after the Roman invasion in the First Century BCE, there never was an independent Jewish State until 1948.
SLIDE 5: DEEP DIVISIONS IN OUR AMERICAN LIFE
On this Fourth of July weekend reflecting upon the tribalism and the deep divisions of the Kingdom of David and Solomon I am prompted to consider the very real need to pray for our own nation. Our United States has experienced deep divisions in its past. An example of just how deep those divisions run is that early on in the history of our country, we would have said, “The United States are,” rather than “The United State is.” As a people we thought of our country as a collection of sovereign entities, rather than a single nation. Not until the time of the Civil War did the standard usage change from “the United States are” to “the United States is.” Even today there are some people who still try to claim that state sovereignty trumps our national law.
SLIDE 6: DEEP TROUBLING DIVISION OVER SLAVERY
We need to note that our Republic began its life with a deeply troubling division over slavery. Attitudes of racism developed in response to the need to justify our nation’s “peculiar institution.” And we even fought a devastating Civil War trying to resolve the issue. Racism, however, runs deep in our American psyche, because race was also employed to justify the oppression of our Native American population. And as white settlers expanded into the west and the southwest rationalizations like “manifest destiny” were employed to justify the displacement of Native Americans and Hispanics from their lands occupied by Caucasians. Race and economics have always been closely associated, and much of the emotional energy that fuels the issue of race is associated with wealth and class.
SLIDE 7: LINES OF CONFLICT RUN DEEP
We are a nation of many tribes, and the lines of conflict run deep. In recent months we have witnessed the collision of many emotionally laden symbols of our conflicts, African Americans and the police — Ferguson and Baltimore, the conflict over the Confederate Battle Flag, resistance to the Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage – some counties refusing to issue any marriage licenses at all, so they do not have to issue licenses to same sex couples.
Then there was the mass murder at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina – one of the oldest African American churches in America and a symbol of civil rights. And while we can rationalize that the white shooter may have been mentally ill, as he was shooting ten people and killing nine he reportedly shouted racial epithets and said, “I have to do it. You rape our women and you’re taking over our country. And you have to go.” And lest we believe that the Charleston shooting was a completely isolated incident, let us note that seven predominantly African American churches have been burned across the South since the Charleston shooting on June 17th.
SLIDE 8: RESURGENT KLU KLUX KLAN
A resurgent Klu Klux Klan has asked for a permit to hold a rally at the South Carolina State Capitol to protest calls for a lowering of the Confederate Battle Flag there. The Klan has referred to Dylann Roof, the alleged shooter at the Charleston Church as a “young warrior.” Robert Jones, grand dragon for the group, said on Monday that the Klan is a civil rights organization dedicated to white culture and history as symbolized by the rebel banner.
During a phone interview, Jones gave words of support for Roof, saying he erred in going after black people while they worshipped. “He was heading in the right direction; wrong target,” Jones said. “He should have actually aimed at the African-American gang-bangers, the ones who are selling the drugs to white youth, the ones who are robbing and raping every chance they get.”
While many people would point out that the Klu Klux Klan is a fringe group, I would suggest that in an exaggerated way they reflect deep seated prejudices in our American psyche. The conflicts and divisions of our nation run deep.
SLIDE 9: PRAY FOR THE HEALING OF OUR NATION
Now I raise all of these issues on this Fourth of July Sunday, because I want to encourage everyone to pray for the healing of our nation. As a country we have our problems, but there is also wonderful goodness in the people and the institutions of this land.
SLIDE 10: AT OUR BEST WE REFLECT THE VALUES OF UNITED CHURCH
We have done more to preserve individual diversity, freedom and initiative than almost any other nation on earth. As a result we are one of the most creative and inventive cultures on our planet. We have brought together people from more different racial, ethnic and spiritual backgrounds than any other nation on earth. When we are at our best our United States reflects the values we hold dear at United Church: “No matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey you are welcome here.” The United States is an experiment to see if human beings can respect diversity and individual differences, and maintain a form of democratic self-government at the same time. And given our human propensity to identify with our own tribe over against all others, democratic self-government that respects diversity and individual differences is not easy.
SLIDE 11: BECOME A MORE COMPASSIONATE AND JUST SOCIETY
We do not want our nation to come apart. We want to learn how to live together in peace and mutual respect, preserving everyone’s right to be stupid and even wrong, so long as we do not trample upon the rights of others. Individuals or groups who threaten others with violence or intimidation or burn churches cannot be tolerated. In praying for our nation we need to ask God for the healing of our prejudices and racism. We can pray for less polarization in our civil society, and a willingness to forgive and tolerate others. We can ask God to help us become a more compassionate and just society. And so allow me to invite you to join me in prayer for our United States of America.
SLIDE 12: A PRAYER FOR OUR UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
Oh, God of the Universe, and God of all nations, we come before you this special weekend on the birthday of our United States to pray for our country. We pray especially of our nation, because as citizens of this land, we have a special responsibility for the behavior and the destiny of the United States.
SLIDE 13: THANKS FOR INCREDIBLE NATURAL RESOURCES
We begin by thanking you for the incredible natural resources with which you have blessed our land – beautiful mountains, rivers and forests, fertile fields and lush plains that supply us with food, parks, building materials, homes, and factories where people live, work and play. We pray that we might keep the environment you have given us clean, so that generations to come will be able to breathe our air and drink our water.
SLIDE 14: THANKS FOR DIVERSITY OF OUR POPULATION
We thank you for the diversity of our population coming here from all over the world seeking opportunity and a chance to thrive. We pray you help us all learn to live together in peace, respecting the unique contributions that each race, ethnic group and spiritual tradition brings to the rich mix of our combined cultures. We pray that our diversity might become a source of strength and creativity in our common life together.
SLIDE 15: HEALING AND FORGIVENESS
We also pray for a healing of our nation. We ask forgiveness for past injustices and the oppression of people based upon race, class, color, religion, ethnic origin, or sexual identity. Help us to become a society that offers equal opportunity to all of its citizens. We also pray that as a nation we become a more compassionate people, reaching out to the poor, the least and the lost.
SLIDE 16: LIVE IN PEACE WITH OTHER NATIONS
On this anniversary of the birth of our nation help us to embrace the best ideals of our people — aspiring to truth, justice and a helping hand to one another in our common life together. And may our commitment to freedom, justice and diversity become an inspiration for others as we learn to live in peace with other nations. Amen.