Today is Columbus Day. Its main feature, for more than many, is post office employees have this day to extend their weekend.
But, for reasons “whatever,” I thought of this. Yes, in the maize [which is more prominent than amazing] of political matters, the Broncos getting shredded and the Cubs waiting for 2019 Spring Training [Hey, gotta have some athletic phrasing here], I posed a question…yes, to myself. Maybe it’s because Columbus was a pioneer. Not sure that matters.
I thought of people in my life for whom I have the highest regard and respect, and when I think of them each is playing a flute.
You can anticipate there’ll be fishing guides. I will name them because in many ways their virtue of patience exceeds their skills in fishing: Krane, Keller, Winter, Vertopoulos, Willauer, Ball, Koenig, Hannemann. Yes, there are others, but for these, the memories are vivid. Especially their attitude about the times when the poles bent not a twitch. Somehow they always made lemonade.
The clergy with whom I worked. There are too many, but the ones who made the biggest difference are Fred Trost and Herb Davis and John Thomas. Fred and Herb began my ministry, circa 1966-69, my first steps. St. Pauls Church [yes, it’s the only St. Pauls with no apostrophe—deal with it!]. Truth now seen clearer than ever: those 3.5 years at St. Pauls taught me more about the life and travail of ministry than seminary. Truth 20/10 in my rear view mirror.
But today. For reasons “whatever,” there’s one person. Who is clear and profound. His name is Malcolm Gillespie. Don’t know if I’ve ever referenced Mac.
The time was defined by tension and racism. Not that today, October 8, 2018 is that much, if at all, less. It was the academic year, 1964-65.
Because after two years of seminary I was unclear if my ministerial future included the more practical over the academic, I chose to not return the third and final seminary year. Rather, I went to Carbondale, Illinois, south-central Illinois, to be an intern-college-minister, working with the Student Christian Foundation.
The head guy was Mac. He and Kathy had two children, Alan and Grace. They lived in a house next to the Student Christian Foundation. When I went there I had no idea what a Saluki was, the university mascot. I was pretty sure it wasn’t a social disease, but not totally. Turns out it is an Egyptian hunting dog. Made sense since that south central Illinois area has a city named Cairo.
In those days Southern Illinois University grew, almost beyond measure. They went from about 3,000 to over 15,000 in the snap of a finger. Hey, that’s metaphorical but not exaggerated.
Housing was so tight the only rentable place for me was a janitor’s closet.
Mac’s story became my inspiration. Far more than anything I might have done. It was deep inside how one man could be so reflective of the Christ Spirit. HIS NOT MINE! Sure, there was his support for the car trip to Hattiesburg, Mississippi, loaded with children’s books for a freedom school of African Americans. And yes, a visit to Menard Penitentiary, to meet Bunky Redding and a future with a jazz singer. And the classes at SIU on minor prophets.
But, Mac’s Story became a seed planted in terms of how someone could, day/day, be so inspirational.
First, his wife changed his life and life style. Kathy had polio and was put in an iron lung. She was pregnant with their second child. Grace was born, but the impact of polio was permanent. Kathy was paralyzed, could only move her arms, horizontally, parallel to the ground.
Dealing with that, Mac, a college degree in engineering, rewired their house. Oh, forgot. Their house was a geodesic dome created by Buckminster Fuller, a one-level house. Everything electric was operated by dialing the telephone. Including the meal plates, shelved on a pole over the kitchen table. Kathy became so skilled operating her wheelchair, she could go out for a stroll on her own.
Not once. Not even a hint…and Mac and I became bonded in ministry the full academic year, did Mac ever complain. Other than to say, “Well, life is dealing with life. Not with whining or ruing it.” Think it was Mac who taught me never to spell whine with that “h.”
In that racially bitter world Mac was a prophet in protest. Our Office Manager was African American, SIU African American students felt safe in our SCF center. Mac encouraged me to go to the Hattiesburg Freedom School. He would have gone with me but Kathy took ill.
More than any of that. Mac Gillespie reflected the life and witness of Christ. If I have provided any goodness in my life and ministry, the large influence was Mac Gillespie.
Any public event he was there…event that declared EACH human life is gifted by God. His belief that God is color-blind.
Mac was so much “before the time of liberation,” yet he was never imprisoned by hate or motivated that he was superior to others and needed to hold others under control.
His exemplar life gave me resolve and increased my energy to live fully in a full protest to racism…and no less, homophobia.
On this day—yes, a blog extended, but hey, that’s where and how I am this morning, Columbus Day, wanted to share my gratitude to Malcolm Gillespie…in my very life journey an angel impersonating a human being.