Monday, September 30, 2013

The Wide World of God's Glory

Today my family celebrated the life of my father, Richard Donald Leggett (25 IX 1928 to 22 IX 2013), with a requiem eucharist and burial in the columbarium at Saint Michael's Episcopal Church in Colorado Springs, where my parents have been parishioners for fifty years.  The Rev'd Peter Floyd, the Rector, presided and I had the honour of preaching and of committing my father's remains to their resting place.  He was buried with military honours as is fitting for a veteran who served his country in war and peace quietly and faithfully.

Click here to listen to my sister, Nichola Anne (Leggett) Moore, offer her thoughts on this occasion.

Click here to listen to the e-mail message sent by my younger son, Owen Thomas Porter Leggett, whose words express the thoughts of his siblings, Michael David Porter Leggett and Anna Frances Porter Leggett.

Here is the text of my homily on this occasion.

A Homily for the Funeral of Richard Donald Leggett
30 September 2013

Saint Michael’s Episcopal Church
Colorado Springs CO

Readings:  Wisdom 3.1-5, 9; Psalm 23; Romans 8.14-19, 34-35, 37-39; John 6.37-40

+ My sisters and brothers,
may only God’s truth be spoken
and may only God’s truth be heard.  Amen.

         Before I begin my reflections I thank the people of this Parish for their support given to my family over the fifty years we have been members.  Your many kindnesses during my father’s final years will not be forgotten.  I am particularly grateful to Fr Paul and Nancy for your pastoral care and the friendship you have shared with my parents.  Finally, I thank Fr Peter for giving me the privilege of preaching this afternoon and to bury my father’s remains.  I ask his forgiveness if I should say anything that contradicts the view of the ‘local management’.

         When my family and I gathered with Father Peter to plan my father’s funeral, one of the first decisions we needed to make was to choose the readings from the Scriptures we thought would be expressive of our faith, our feelings and my father.  Although I have been through this many times with families, it was the first time I have participated in making these choices for a loved one of my own.

         As we were reading through the suggestions in The Book of Common Prayer, one reading immediately caught the attention of my sister and, without further ado, it became today’s first reading, a reading from the Wisdom of Solomon.  Some of you may have heard it before, but I want to set it in its original context before I say anything else.

         Two thousand years ago the city of Alexandria was home to one of the largest Jewish communities in the Mediterranean world.  Some of the most important philosophers and theologians of the Jewish tradition made their home among the Greeks, Egyptians, Romans and all the other peoples that travelled the ‘Middle Sea’.  For the most part the various communities lived in peace, but in the century before the coming of Christ, civil strife raised its ugly head.  Both Greeks and Egyptians took out their rage on the Jewish community and within a few decades the Jewish community declined to almost non-existence.

         It was during these troubles that a Jewish writer put pen to parchment and wrote the words we heard read today.  The world of his youth had been broad and deep, a community in which all the mysteries of the ancient world were examined, debated and sifted for their meaning to faithful people.  Now he looked upon a community in ruins, his own world smaller than the one in which he had grown up.

         Yet even in this moment of tragedy, the disaster which prefigured all the future assaults upon the Jewish people, the author can offer a word of confident hope regarding those who have died during the riots.  He even dares to proclaim his hope that, at some future day, their world, their beautiful wide and varied world, will be restored.  In verses we did not hear earlier he writes that “(the righteous) will shine forth, and will run like sparks through the stubble.  They will govern nations and rule over peoples, and the Lord will reign over them forever.” (Wisdom 3.7b-8)

         My father was born and raised in the upper Hudson Valley of New York State where my ancestors moved from Long Island in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries.  He was surrounded by the forests and mountains of the Adirondacks where he and his friends hiked, camped, fished and hunted from childhood.  His world was a wide world and he learned early on to fend for himself.  My grandfather was a professional gambler and my grandmother ran a boarding house for the trainers and jockeys who came to race at the Saratoga Race Track.  But in the fall and winter, my grandparents would often travel to Florida to follow the gaming crowd, leaving my father alone to take care of himself.

         High school graduation behind him, my father travelled to Chicago where he studied for a time at then-named Illinois Institute of Technology.  For financial reasons he left the Institute to enlist in the Air Force, hoping to become a pilot, but, having failed the physical for some very small reason, he became a graphic artist and was sent to England where he met my mother and they married.

         The Air Force, in its wisdom, did not honour my father’s request to be re-assigned to one of three bases in New England.  Instead, he with my mother and me was sent to Colorado Springs in 1954 where, with the exception of three years in German in the early 1960’s, he lived for the rest of his life.  It was here that my sister was born, one of those very rare native Coloradans. 

         Those of us who are married and who have children know that, in some ways, our worlds become smaller with the responsibilities that families bring.  Certain choices are no longer options for us because our families need security.  For some of us the world can become confined to our workplaces, our homes and our vehicles, especially our vehicles, as we transport children from one place to another, one activity to another.  Financial obligations outweigh the occasional desire to leave everything behind and fly off to the South Island of New Zealand!

         But even as I was growing up, my father kept his world as large as possible.  My childhood was spent more in the mountains than in the car, more often than not, Saturdays were spent in South Park or in the prairies east of the city hunting for arrowheads and the like.  From my earliest years I can remember the quiet excitement that accompanied the arrival of the National Geographic with its stories and photographs of a world far beyond my boyhood horizons and the Scientific American with its essays about the world of ideas and American Heritage with its exploration of the American experience.  But as much as I loved these windows into a wider world that came into our home, it was my father who loved them, perhaps even more than I.  They were his windows as well, windows that gave him a broader horizon than the day-to-day demands of being a husband, father and member of the Armed Forces might seem to permit.

         He shared this love of a wider world of wonder not only with his own children but with the children of others.  Few here may know that my father was one of the founders of Troop 66, the Scout troop housed here in the Parish.  Even fewer may know of the years he spent working for my mother with pre-schoolers and school-aged children in summer day camps and trips into the mountains.  My father’s world was wider than the prairies that reach out to the east and taller than the mountains we see from the window behind the altar of this church.  And it was a world that he wanted to share.

         In these last five years my father’s world began to diminish.  Trips to visit his grandchildren in Vancouver were fewer and farther between.  Fishing with his friends and family became more distant hopes.  And month by month, the circumference of his world became more and more defined by the walls of our family home, where he and my mother have lived for fifty years.  I know that this troubled him, because almost every visit I made and every telephone call we shared included at some time his disappointment at not being able to travel and his worry that he would not complete his great work of exploring the history of our family over the centuries.

         In his papers my father left some words he wanted me to share with you at this time.  He wrote

         Jane and I have been blessed with (sixty-one) years and we have many times said that if we had to, we would do it again, maybe a change here or there, but few.  I feel that a lot can be attributed to our friends and family.
         I hope I’ve left a legacy.  I think so.  My children, grandchildren and (great-grandson), yet to make his name.  The Leggett genealogy and the Scout Troop here at St Michael’s, and I often overlook my painting, though I paint a few pictures a year, five to eight; they’re all gone, so there are people out there who appreciate them!
         I have left this world with no regrets or fears and with the words of a well-known Christian carol in my mind and heart,

[Where children pure and happy, pray to the blessed Child,
Where misery cries out to Thee, Son of the Mother mild;
Where charity stands waiting] and faith holds wide the door,
the dark night wakes, the glory breaks,
and Christmas comes again. [1]

         Take care and the peace of the Lord be with you.  Dick.

         My friends, my father knew what the writer of the Wisdom of Solomon knew, even as they both looked at lives that seemed to have shrunk from their youthful dimensions.  From the beginning of creation God set us in the midst of a wide and wonderful kosmos, if we have the eyes to see it, the hearts to embrace it, the faith to venture it.  It is perhaps one of the greatest human tragedies that some people live their lives narrowed by their fears and doubts while other people spend their lives trying to constrain the lives of their neighbours.

         Today, my friends, you and I celebrate our faith in a God whose love cannot be constrained, even by our physical suffering and our own deaths.  We give thanks to God for my father who sought, as best as he was able, to live a life full of wonder in God’s world and to share that wonder with others.  His journey in time and space has come to an end, but, as Paul writes in Romans, “. . . the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us.” (Romans 8.18)  Today we give thanks that the boy who grew up in the wide world of the forests of the Adirondack Mountains has an even wider world to explore.  For this I can only say, ‘Thanks be to God’.  Amen.

[1] Verse 4 of ‘O Little Town of Bethlehem’ which is frequently omitted.  My father only quoted the section beginning with ‘and faith . . . ‘ but I thought that the whole verse was necessary.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Richard Donald Leggett

On Sunday, 22 September 2013, Richard ‘Dick’ Leggett died in the company of his wife, Jane, his daughter, Nichola (‘Niki’) and his granddaughter, Tegan, five days short of his 85th birthday.

Dick was born on 27 September 1928 in Saratoga Springs, New York to Donald and Vera Leggett.  He was proud of being a member of a family who were among the earliest European settlers of the American colonies.  After two years at the Illinois Institute of Technology, Dick enlisted in the United States Air Force and, after his basic training, was assigned to the headquarters of the 3rd Air Force in Ruislip, England.  While in England, Dick met his wife to be, Thelma Jane Broom, and they married on the 29th of June 1952.  Their first child, Richard Geoffrey, was born on 27 April 1953.

Although Sgt Leggett requested reassignment to one of three bases in New England, the Air Force, in its wisdom, assigned him to NORAD in Colorado Springs where their second child, Nichola Anne, was born 22 March 1955.  Dick remained in active service until 1971, except for a three-year tour in Wiesbaden, Germany.  After retirement he served for twelve years as an educational materials specialist at Coronado High.  In this experimental position he became popular with the students for his cheerful and enthusiastic support of their projects.  He also was well-known as ‘Uncle Dick’ working with his wife, Jane, at Play School, later Children’s World, taking the children on camping and hiking trips throughout the Front Range and sharing his passion for the mountains with the children.  Dick retired in 1990 for good after a number of years working with various defence contractors.  During his retirement Dick found joy in water-color painting, genealogy and trips to his grandchildren in Canada.

He was among the founders of Scout Troop 66 at Saint Michael’s Episcopal Church and was later presented with the Saint George’s Medal by the Pikes Peak Council in recognition of his leadership.  He received the Saint Michael’s Award in recognition of his service to his parish.  In 1992 the Air Force recognized his dedication and devotion to the mission of the Armed Forces through his civilian defense work.

Dick is survived by his wife of sixty-one years, Jane, as well as his son, Richard Geoffrey Leggett (Paula), and his daughter, Nichola ‘Niki’ Moore.  He was proud of his grandchildren:  Tegan Downing (Jason) and David, Anna and Owen Porter Leggett.  He was devoted to his great-grandson, Brayden Downing.

A celebration of his life will take place at 2.00 p.m. on Monday, 30 September 2013, at Saint Michael’s Episcopal Church, 7400 Tudor Road.  In lieu of flowers contributions are requested to Saint Michael’s Episcopal Church for their graduating high school students’ scholarship fund.

Friday, September 27, 2013

We Stand on Holy Ground

We Stand on Holy Ground:
A Reflection on the Feast of Michael and All Angels

Lectionary Texts:  Genesis 28.10-17; Psalm 103.19-22; Revelation 12.7-12; John 1.47-51

            In 1977 I had what I can only describe as a mystical experience.  I was sitting in the choir loft of my home parish of Saint Michael the Archangel in Colorado Springs, Colorado.  We were celebrating our patronal festival and Bishop Frey, our diocesan bishop, was present to preside and preach.  I remember him beginning his sermon and then I found myself somewhere else.

            My sense of vocation to the ordained ministry began in its most conscious dimension when I was in high school.  During university I followed the advice then being offered by the Episcopal Church that potential ordinands not study theology or philosophy but undertake a solid arts degree.  So I majored in modern languages at the University of Denver and completed a degree in German with minor areas in French and secondary education.  My diocese had a policy of not sending recent university graduates to seminary, preferring that we get some experience of the ‘real’ world before entering seminary.  So I worked for a year at J. C. Penney, then a year as a teaching assistant at the University of Denver and, in 1977, began teaching German and French at Regis High School in Denver.

            But on that Sunday a clear voice spoke to me and said, “Time to go.  Start the process.”  When I returned to Denver, I began the application process and told the Principal of the high school that I would not be accepting his offer of a multi-year contract. The rest, as they say, is history and now, some thirty-six years later, I can still hear the same voice and remember almost every detail of that moment in my life.

            Since that day I have had other experiences when I was deeply aware of being on holy ground.  All have been fleeting; I was aware that trying to hold on to them would be fruitless.  All have been both comforting and disturbing.  One such experience, while I was attending General Synod in Ottawa in 1995, led me to set aside my previous views about the place of gay and lesbian disciples of Christ in the life of the church and to become an advocate for the full inclusion of these my sisters and brothers in the life of the community of faith.  That moment has led me on a path I would never have imagined and has surprised many of my oldest friends, especially those who knew me in seminary.

            I do not intend today to explore whether or not there are angels.  It seems to me that this is a pointless argument.  The word ‘angel’ comes from the Greek word ‘angelos’ which means ‘messenger’.  I cannot imagine any religious believer who cannot affirm her or his conviction that God does indeed communicate with us in many and varied ways, often using messengers, some ‘with skin on’ and some without, to share wisdom with us.  Richard Hooker, the great Anglican theologian during the reign of Elizabeth I, wrote that God has many ways of conveying wisdom to us and that it would be sheer ingratitude not to thank God for all of them.

            What I do want to explore is the notion of ‘holy ground’.  The environmental crises of the twentieth century and the continuing crisis in these early decades of the twenty-first have spiritual dimensions as well as natural and economic.  We are becoming increasingly aware of the precious gift of this planet and, as a sign of this growing awareness and concern, the General Synod of 2013 added a sixth promise to the baptismal covenant committing us to care for the earth and to be stewards of God’s natural bounty.  But ‘holy ground’ also implies a place of encounter with God, a ‘thin place’ to use an ancient Celtic term that describes a place where the material world and the world beyond meet.

            In today’s reading from Genesis we meet our old devious friend Jacob who has just cheated his older brother, Esau, by stealing their father’s blessing and is now on the way to find a bride.  Jacob finds a place to stop for the evening, not a very hospitable spot from the description, but perhaps secure from night marauders.  We all know what happens next:  he dreams and learns that God has bigger plans for him than Jacob can imagine.  In this desolate spot, far from any religious shrines, Jacob discovers ‘holy ground’ and his understanding of the future is changed forever.  One can imagine his feelings as he continued his journey:  Will this night bring another revelation?  Will this place also be holy ground?

            We then hear the words of John the mystic whose writings we know as ‘the revelation to John’.  These words, written during a time when the persecution of the Christian people was beginning in earnest, are filled with images of war and violence, pestilence and divine retribution.  Some Christians delight in the image of non-believers suffering the torments of hell, while others take today’s reading as a justification for viewing the world as belonging to the devil.  It is this belief, prevalent among some Christians, that I want to challenge.

            If I were to describe two competing visions of the earth held by Christians, I would begin by saying that some Christians believe that the world is in the hands of the devil and that any good we experience comes only as divine intervention, an occasional surprise attack on the devil’s stronghold.  On the other hand, there are Christians who believe that this world is good, precious in God’s sight, and that evil is a disruption.  I cheerfully affirm the latter belief rather than the former.  This world is good and humanity, redeemed in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, has been restored to our right relationship with our Creator.  Whatever evil we experience in this world is not because the world is in thrall to the devil.  Evil is the consequence of human choice and often human inaction.

            To believe that this ‘fragile earth, our island home’ is not holy ground is the foundation of a theology of human powerlessness.  Although the phrase, ‘the devil made me do it,’ began its life as a joke on an American television programme from the 1960’s, it can be used to excuse human beings from being who we are, creatures made in the image of God and called to become like God in our actions and relationships.  Knowing that I inhabit ‘holy ground’ creates a moral obligation to use my God-given knowledge and skills to create rather than destroy, to re-build rather than tear down, to embrace rather than cast away.  Whatever power evil has, it is a persuasive power not a coercive one.  And each day I have the opportunity to choose to tend this garden rather than pillage it.

            One of my ‘desert island’ texts, my personal canon of Scripture, are these verses from 1 John:  “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.  The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him.  Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.  And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.”  (3.1-3)  We are God’s children now.  This is holy ground now.  What it will be is in God’s hands --- and in ours, if we choose our better natures.

            As I write these words, we are living in the immediate aftermath of terrorist attacks in Kenya and Pakistan, the latter an attack on a congregation of my own religious tradition.  These attacks are evil, but they are not the result of living in an evil world where we long for release into some ‘better’ world beyond this life.  These attacks are the result of people who, regardless of their religious affiliation or lack of one, cannot see this world as holy ground and other human beings as children of God.  While the perpetrators of such actions cannot escape responsibility for their actions, we are all challenged to ask ourselves how we might live today so that some of the conditions that give rise to such anger, such hate, such disregard will cease to exert their influence on our sisters and brothers, whether at home or abroad.

            The voice that spoke to me thirty-three years ago was a voice that continues to speak throughout this world through the witness of religious communities, Christian and non-Christian, and through the witness of non-religious communities who share our commitments to the earth and its creatures.  To all of us God sends messengers, some of them prophetic human voices, some non-human voices whose message we struggle to comprehend.  But I know this:  God is not silent and this world is not the devil’s possession.

            Let us give thanks for God’s messengers.  Let us reaffirm our commitment to live the faith we proclaim.  Let us resist evil confident in the hope that God sets before us.  For we shall see angels ascending and descending upon Son of Man and we shall join them in celebrating the new heaven and the new earth God is already bringing into being.  Amen.