March 16, 2012
Jim Leadon’s funeral
The language of Jesus is wonderfully direct and concrete. He doesn’t say “the objective consequences of economic marginalization can be indirectly causative of spiritual transformation.” He says “blessed are the poor,” as Luke tells us.
Blessed are the hungry. Blessed are those who weep.
And the actions that follow from those words are just as direct and concrete. In the way Jesus reaches out to the lepers and the outcast. In the way he treats women as equals. In the way he welcomes all of us, whoever we are. There is a coherence here. A logic.
Jim was a man of words, but a man of few words, and of precise words. He disliked jargon and cant. How are you, I’d ask him, and he’d always say “still kickin’.” That was Jim, in my experience, that precision, that dryness. And Jim was a man who admired the words of Jesus, and who took Jesus at his word. He was no literalist--his shelves were full of Biblical commentaries--but when Jim read the Beatitudes, he believed them. When he read the parable of the sheep and the goats, he did what Jesus commands us to do. He served the poor, as best he could, “the least of these.” In his commitment to racial equality. In his commitment to the rights of women. In his commitment to all the Church’s great teachings on social justice.
In a way Matthew’s version of the first beatitude fit Jim really well. “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” Matthew says, which is to say, blessed are the humble. And Jim was. He was a quiet and humble man. But he was also a man with a deeply-rooted sense of what is right, and he acted on that conviction, all his life.
Sometimes it’s hard for us to keep our perspective as believers, there’s so much phony language swirling around, so many false distinctions. What the press reports about faith is either scandalous or silly. What our friends seem to think about faith is often depressingly negative. What we often get caught up in ourselves is trivial, or divisive.
But Jim bought this coffin in front of us thirty years ago, Bruce told me, and he kept it in his bedroom. A plain, cedar coffin, with ropes for handles. In his bedroom. For thirty years Jim woke up every morning in the presence of his own death, and not because he was morbid or strange, but because he was Christian. Jesus says that we must die to our false selves before we can we rise into the freedom and grace of the Lord our God, and Jim really tried to do that, given all the failings he of course had, too, as we all have failings. At the end, Bruce said, when he had lost the ability to form sentences, he was still able to say all the words of the Our Father straight through. Our father, who art in heaven, hallowed be by thy name. But this is where Jim was always tending, where his life was always leading him, towards these simple words and this simple faith: towards forgiveness, towards compassion, towards a living in the now. All his life he had been stripping things away. All his life he had been dying, and so all his life he had been rising, and in this sense his physical death only seems to complete a process—his rising wholly and completely into Christ, his fulfilling of who he really was.
Blessed are the poor and blessed are those who thirst for justice. Blessed was Jim and blessed is Jim and blessed are we who knew him. For now he has inherited the Kingdom prepared for him from the foundation of the world. Now he is one with the God he always knew and always served, the God of all justice and the God of all hope.