Tuesday, December 23, 2014


I don't know what the shepherds heard that night so long ago.
     Angelic messengers of God defy my mind, although 
I love to hear the story of the angels from on high,
     and sing about that holy night when music filled the sky.

For if we hear the angel song and know the joy it brings,
     then Christian faith today as then must be a faith that sings!
A song there is for all to sing, yet each one's own must write ---
     a song of faith and hope and love, a song of truth and light.

Have we a Christmas Song, I ask, a message to proclaim?          
     What news have we to share with those who may not know the name
of him whose birth we celebrate each year on Christmas day?
     Is there a melody of works that blends with what we say?

The shepherds heard the angels' song with gladness and good cheer.
     I wonder if our Christmas Song brings joy to those who hear,
and hope to those who have no hope and need a helping hand?
     A song of acts our song must be, before they'll understand.

The Christ of whom the angels sang, a servant Christ was he,
     and if we want to be like him then servants we must be ---
our Christmas Song, a servant song; our gospel backed by deeds;
     our peace on earth, good will to all; its theme:  our neighbors' needs.

What better way to tell the news about the Savior's birth?
     How better to proclaim good will and peace to all on earth?
So let our hearts and voices now blend with the angel throng,
     for what would "Merry Christmas!" mean without a Christmas Song?

From Now, That's a Miracle!

Thursday, December 18, 2014


        A few days ago I started an article advocating the normalization of the relations between our country and Cuba, but some pressing personal matters forced me to put that project on hold. I had planned to urge President Obama to take steps to fulfill his early intention to do that.
President Obama announces is new policy toward Cuba.
        Then yesterday, following Cuba’s release of American Alan Gross, whom they had held prisoner for five years, came the President’s world-shaking announcement that the move toward normalization had begun. It was initially brokered, as it turns out, by Pope Francis. The USA had released three convicted Cuban spies, Gerardo Hernández, Antonio Guerrero, and Ramón Labañino, members of the so-called Cuban Five, in exchange for Gross and an unnamed US intelligence agent, whom they had been holding for twenty years. Even as Mr. Obama was speaking, Cuba’s President Raul Castro, brother of ailing Fidel, was simultaneously informing the Cuban people of the exchange in a tone some commentators called remarkably conciliatory.
        President Obama sees this as a first step toward ending the embargo, an action only Congress can take, because of congressional legislation naming three conditions that have to be met first: 1, the liberation of all political prisoners; 2, the legalization of all political parties, guaranteeing the freedom of the press and of labor unions; and 3) the scheduling of free elections for the Cuban people, with international supervision.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014


Dec. 9, 2014 - Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Dianne
Feinstein is besieged by reporters about the Committee's
summary  report on torture (Saul Loeb/Getty Images)
       The first time I heard about the use of
torture by the CIA in their interrogation of prisoners I was appalled. Such procedures violate international law and are completely contrary to our American values.
        With the release of the 525-page summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s much longer report of more than 6000 pages, I am even more appalled, not just by the totally inhumane and brutal practices employed, but by the reaction of those who opposed the release of the report, whether for fear of evoking retaliatory strikes by terrorist groups or out of a misguided belief that the use of such practices was effective and hence justifiable.
        The report shows clearly that the use of torture was not effective.  But that is not the point! Whether it was effective or not, the use of torture is morally and legally wrong. We lost the high moral ground with our preemptive invasion of Iraq and the use of torture has added to our disgrace. What right have we to complain the violation of human rights by any other nation, when we ourselves our just as guilty? The end does not justify the means, and those who say otherwise are doing our nation a huge disservice.
       As for whether or not the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report should have been publicly released, it had to be! One thing that distinguishes America from her enemies is our willingness to confess our mistakes, to disown whatever illegal practices we engaged in, and to recommit ourselves to the high principles for which our nation has always stood, even when individuals and parties have sometimes strayed from them. Would that other nations would do the same.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014


Prosecutor Robert McCullough
       St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch’s announcement earlier tonight that Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson would not be indicted for the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown was distressfully disappointing but not at all surprising, given McCulloch’s unprosecutorlike behavior with the grand jury. He has acted all along more like Wilson’s defense attorney than his prosecutor.
        That is understandable but not justifiable, in view of McCullough’s close working relationship with the Ferguson Police Department. That said, his role was to convince the grand jury that Wilson should be brought to trial. Instead, he abrogated that responsibility and inundated the grand jury with conflicting evidence that they were supposed to sort out, evidence that was obviously intended to justify the officer’s shooting of the unarmed African American teenager. In so doing the prosecutor in effect transformed the grand jury into a trial jury, whose conclusion sounded more like a verdict than a decision whether or not to indict.  

Saturday, November 22, 2014


Photo by Isaac Brekken/AP
        Thank you, Mr. President!
        Given the unwillingness of the House of Representatives even to discuss the Senate's bipartisan immigration bill that has been in their hands for a year and a half, your executive order providing temporary relief from the fear of deportation to millions of undocumented immigrant families was the right thing to do.  
        You gave the House every opportunity to act. You warned them time and again that if they did not, you would. You gave them ample opportunity to avoid your having to take executive action, and they did nothing. The Republican leaders said they preferred to work on the immigration bill one part at a time, and when you said you were okay with that, they backed off.
        You have stated clearly that even now they can nullify the need for any executive action on your part by passing the immigration reform bill they already have, or their own version of it. But no, they just want to attack you for doing what you legally could and morally should do to fix our broken immigration system.
        This is only a temporary solution, of course. There is much more to be done and you have acknowledged that. But it is a humane and hugely important first step.You have kept your promise to the American people. Thank you for having the courage of your convictions.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014


        The President should act on immigration.
        He has waited long enough for Congress to bring him an immigration reform bill he can sign. He has said repeatedly that the moment they do, the new legislation will supersede whatever executive action he has taken. In the meantime he has promised to take whatever steps are legally possible to improve our broken immigration system.
       Despite that, and despite the fact that both Republican presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush took similar executive action, for Barack Obama do so would be in the minds of many Republicans and the right-wing media one more example of his “lawlessness” and an impeachable offense.  They have been bashing Barack Obama from the moment he first took office, and their negativity paid off for them in the mid-term elections. It aroused the Republican base and disenchanted the Democratic constituency, who, as feared, simply did not turn out to vote.

Monday, November 3, 2014

WHAT WOULD ISAIAH SAY? (A Preelection Sermon)

[This is a shortened and slightly modified version of the sermon I preached yesterday to the Pennswood Village Interdenominational Congregation, in Newtown, Pennsylvania, where I am in my thirteenth year as Minister of Worship.].

From a Bible card published by
the Providence Lithograph Co.
(c. 1904)
        If Isaiah were alive today, I doubt that he would win the most popular preacher award. He would be in too much hot water with those who think the church should keep out of politics.
        Isaiah was not too popular in his day either, for the very same reason. I can imagine the reaction when he attacked King Hezekiah’s foreign policy and denounced the politicians who were advocating an alliance with Egypt. One of the leaders was a foreigner named Shebna, who had risen to a position of power and influence in the court. Isaiah rebuked him publicly for his arrogance and presumptuousness in building an ostentatious tomb for himself.
        This, incidentally, is the only time in the Book of Isaiah that we find the prophet condemning an individual by name, and I’m sure Shebna’s supporters were infuriated by such blatantly partisan politics. Other prophets, like Amos and Jeremiah, did the same thing on occasion, but most of the time the prophets were dealing with issues and policies and general conditions. That was meddlesome enough, and they often paid a severe price for it.

Friday, October 31, 2014


        It is incredible to me that this mid-term election could result in a Republican controlled Senate, as well as a Republican controlled House of Representatives. What a disheartening prospect that is, even frightening, when you realize how many Republicans would owe their victories to their States’ voter restriction laws and the Koch brothers’ millions.
Mitt Romney sounding off again. Associated Press photo.
        How could any reasonable person see such an outcome as being good for America? What has “the Party of No” done to deserve anyone’s confidence in their ability to govern? Mitt Romney claims such an outcome would end the gridlock in Washington. He conveniently ignores, as he is wont to do, the fact it is his own party that is responsible for the gridlock!
       It is the Republican controlled Congress that has blocked every constructive piece of legislation that has come before the House. They blocked the American Jobs Act, they have opposed raising the minimum wage, they oppose gun control legislation, they have continually tried to repeal the Affordable Care Act, they have blocked the infrastructure bill, they have rejected immigration reform, they have fought campaign finance reform, they have opposed closing the gender pay gap, they have opposed the President’s economic stimulus plan, and they have been against everything and anything the Obama administration has brought to them.

Saturday, October 18, 2014


Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker
       Too many American voters have short memories.
       Take the Wisconsin electorate as an example. In April, 2012, more than a million Wisconsinites signed a petition to recall Governor Scott Walker. They were infuriated by the Governor’s attacks on the public service unions, by his administration’s misleading preelection tactics, by his enactment of a restrictive voter ID law and a law requiring women to have an ultrasound before having an abortion, and by his continual misrepresentation of the facts.
       Thanks partly to an inordinate amount of special interest money from out of State, Walker survived the recall election. Perhaps an even more important reason for the failure of the recall was the reluctance of many Wisconsinites to go that route. According to the exit polls the majority of voters were concerned about the divisiveness of the election. Two fair-minded friends of mine whose opinions on the matter I had sought, responded along those lines. Their feeling was that the better solution was to vote the Governor out of office in the next election.

Thursday, October 2, 2014


My grandson, Seth Olsen, writes beautiful poetry. Here is a sample. He sent me this poem a couple of days ago, and with his permission I am posting it on Minding What Matters, for I am confident that you will find it as profoundly moving and thought-provoking as I did. I am adding Seth's name to my list of Guest Contributors, in hopes that he will continue to share his artistic gifts with us from time to time. Be sure to read the entire poem.

Time is gentle;                                                       
and when we need compression
for our gaping wounds,
we cry for it to push harder,
and we fear that it will let us bleed out;

But time is gentle,

and it meets our cries
with the caress of soft hushing,
until finally we fall asleep,
and it abandons us to our dreams,

where we toss and turn,
confined to burn inside a mind
that just might never learn,
no matter how many times it awakens.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014


The Dinky
        What Princetonians affectionately call “The Dinky” is a two-car train that runs back and forth between Princeton and Princeton Junction, where passengers then transfer to a New Jersey Transit or Amtrak north-bound or south-bound train. Princeton Junction today is one of the busiest NJT stations, with thousands of commuters heading to New York or Philadelphia and many points in between throughout the work week.
        The Dinky, also locally dubbed the “the PJ and B” (Princeton Junction and Back!) has been operating for 149+ years. It doesn’t look much different today than it did that Saturday morning of April 26, 1947, as I waved good-bye to my fellow Nassoons and watched the little train disappear around a bend in the track. I wanted in the worst way to be on that train, en route to Wellesley, Massachusetts, but I had to snap out of my sad mood in a hurry, for the Princeton baseball team had a game to play at 2:30 that afternoon against an undefeated Army team. I had no idea, when I woke up that morning, how totally different the day would turn out to be from what I had resigned myself to expect.
        What follows next is my best effort to recall the incredible sequence of events that took place on that fateful Saturday. I wish I could relate the story in precise detail, but I can’t. There are, however, some parts I do remember quite vividly, and there are also established facts and helpful clues that enable me to surmise, deduce, assume, or make some reasonable guesses about the forgotten parts.

Thursday, September 11, 2014


Janay and Ray Rice holding press conference
        Domestic violence is a serious problem in our culture. It is usually hidden from public view. Not so in the case of Ray Rice.
        The recently released video taken by a security camera, showing the Baltimore Ravens’ star running back knocking his then fiancee Janay Palmer unconscious in an elevator back in February has evoked a storm of outrage at the act itself, outrage at NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s failure to investigate the incident more thoroughly after seeing an earlier video of Rice dragging her out of the elevator, outrage at the League’s initial lenient disciplinary action of just a two-game suspension for Rice, and outrage at the Ravens’ management and coaches for not immediately denouncing the act more forcefully.
        Even though the couple had had a physical altercation in Atlantic City and had both been arrested by the police and then let go, and even though the couple are now married, and even though the athlete has publicly denounced and apologized for his own actions, and even though Janay is outspokenly supportive of her husband, nothing has assuaged the public anger generated by this incident.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014


        The spring of 1947, my final semester as a Princeton undergraduate, was in full swing. I could not have been busier, with the baseball season underway, a heavy class schedule to keep up with, senior comprehensives and final exams looming on the horizon, my senior thesis to complete, and Nassoon engagements, rehearsals, concerts, and business affairs demanding an inordinate amount of my time.
        All the while I was maintaining an intense correspondence with Margie, my most enjoyable activity by far. We were, as the saying goes, madly in love. On her birthday the Nassoons serenaded her with our own special arrangement of “Happy Birthday to You.” We sang it through once straight vanilla, and then again with the melody buried somewhere in the midst of the wildest six-part chords anyone ever heard. She loved it!
        The Nassoons’ concert schedule had been filling up to the point that we were having to turn down some invitations. We had been booked since way back in October for the Wellesley Senior Prom on Saturday, April 26. It was beginning to look, however, as if we might not be able to muster up a full complement of Nassoons for that occasion because of various conflicts that had developed, including the fact that the Princeton baseball team was scheduled to play at home against Army that same afternoon. Only if the game was rained out would I be able to make it to Wellesley!

Monday, September 8, 2014


L to R: ABS Music Director Emeritus James Litton,
Francois Girard, Dtin Hoffman, and Fernando Malvar-Riz.
        The world-renowned American Boychoir is featured in a new movie entitled Boychoir, directed by Francois Girard (The Red Violin) and starring Dustin Hoffman, Debra Winger, Kathy Bates, Josh Lucas, and a new young man, Garrett Wareing, who may be destined for stardom.
       The film premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 5 and received some rave reviews, including this one from Roger Friedman's "Showbiz."
        Fernando Malvar-Ruiz, Music Director of the American Boychoir, was engaged to be the Music Director of the film, and coached Dustin Hoffman, who plays the role of the Music Director, in the art of conducting.
        With a star-studded cast, a heart-warming story, and exquisite music throughout, and judging from the reaction to its premier, Boychoir could well turn out to be a very popular film. It is due to be released sometime next spring.
        I can't wait to see it!


Saturday, August 30, 2014


They even criticized him for appearing in a tan suit!
        No matter what happens, good or bad, the Republicans find some way to fault President Obama. In all but one respect they are consistently inconsistent, the exception being their rigid determination to see him fail. To that end they consistently misrepresent his words, quote him out of context, and impugn his motives, while in so doing they often contradict their own previously held positions.
        This has certainly been true regarding foreign affairs. Instead of cooperating with the President in dealing with the highly complicated and extremely challenging situations that have arisen, including especially the ISIS menace, they second guess and criticize the President's every move, every word, what he says as well as what he doesn't say. They blame him for what is happening in Iraq, conveniently forgetting that it was not Barack Obama who got us involved in Iraq in the first place.
        They jumped all over him two days ago for saying we do not yet have a strategy for dealing with ISIS; that obviously did not mean he and his military advisers have not been seriously weighing their options. It is understandable that they have not yet come up with a way of assuring that the Syrian and the Iraqi governments will be able to assume responsibility for gaining and maintaining security in their respective countries. That has to happen before permanent peace can be established in the region. With Syria engaged in a civil war and Iraq involved in a recent change of government any strategy on our part is highly complex and demands the most careful thought. We have to be prepared, moreover, to bear the consequences of our actions. This is not a time to shoot from the hip, as some hawkish politicians would do without counting the cost.

Monday, August 25, 2014


        Some people talk too loud in public places.
        My wife Margie insisted our children use what she called their “restaurant voices,” wherever we happened to be dining. It meant projecting our voices just across the table and no further. People in nearby tables or booths would have had to strain hard to eavesdrop on our conversations. Table manners were important to Margie.
        For fifteen years we spent our summer vacations participating in national conferences of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, thirty-one in all. Margie and I and our four children would travel back and forth across the country in our station wagon to Estes Park, Colorado, and Ashland, Oregon, and wherever else a conference was held throughout those years.
        My parents could never understand how we could enjoy being cooped up in a car with four young children for so many days, but for us those were really happy times. We loved being together in the car, playing games, singing, telling stories, and enjoying the scenery along the way. Believe it or not, there was never any fussing. The children enjoyed each other immensely, and the whole experience was always memorable for them. Staying in a motels was a daily highlight (there had to be a pool, of course!), as was exploring the towns where we spent the night. Often we would go bowling, or play miniature golf, or find an appropriate drive-in movie. The trip itself was our family vacation.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014


        Last Friday night, August 8, the Baltimore Orioles and their fans (43,743 paid) had a huge celebration at Camden Yards, marking the club’s 60th season in the American League.
        As the Orioles’ first Public Relations Director and the last surviving member of the original front office executive staff, I was given the great privilege of throwing out the first pitch before the game between the Orioles and the St. Louis Cardinals. That was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for me and my family, all four generations of us!
        My sons and grandsons captured the moment on their cell phone videos and cameras, including the two photos to the right. After being anxious not to embarrass myself by throwing an errant pitch, I somehow managed to get the ball over the plate. That was a great relief, and from then on I could relax and enjoy the game.
        The Orioles obliged with a resounding 12-2 victory over the Red Birds in an offensive tour de force featuring six home runs. The O’s are currently leading the Majors in that category. The post-game show was spectacular, as the largest group of  Orioles’ Hall of Famers ever to gather were introduced and their exploits dramatically displayed on the big screen and even more amazingly on the wall of the famous Camden Yards Warehouse. Among the legendary diamond heroes were the five living Orioles in the Cooperstown Hall of Fame, Brooks Robinson, Jim Palmer, Eddie Murray, Frank Robinson, and Cal Ripken.

Monday, July 28, 2014


        I need to back up a bit to early December, 1946. Clear the Track, the eagerly anticipated Princeton Triangle Show, was shaping up very well. The cast was excited and confident the show would be well received. 
        Because there were so many quick costume changes, we needed more than one dress  rehearsal. The show opened in Princeton on Saturday, December 14. With a matinee and an evening performance at McCarter Theater. I got Margie a ticket for the evening performance,  and she absolutely loved it! Both audiences instantly rose to their feet for boisterous standing ovations at the end. Margie accompanied me to the opening night party hosted by the Triangle Club for the cast and everyone connected with the show, and their friends and family members.
        In October the Nassoons had been entranced by the Triangle veterans’ enticing tales of THE TOUR. We could not imagine how much fun it would be in the various cities where we would be performing, they told us. In addition to the exhilaration of appearing before wildly enthusiastic audiences of alumni and friends, we would be royally entertained everywhere, with fantastic meals and parties, music and dancing, and GIRLS! It sounded wonderful!

Saturday, July 12, 2014


One exception to the rule!
        I mentioned in an earlier post (see How We Got Started) that the Princeton Nassoons’ rehearsals in the fall of 1946 were strictly private. Because we were starting from scratch, so to speak, and because we wanted to meet the standard of excellence established by our predecessors prior to the World War II hiatus, and because the expectations of the University community for the new Nassoons were very high, we did not want to be heard by anyone until we were ready to make our formal public debut, which was scheduled for Friday night of the big Princeton-Dartmouth weekend.
        There was one exception to that rule, however, and her name was Margie, nee Margaret Frances Childs, daughter of Harwood L. Childs, Professor of Political Science at Princeton. This is how it came about. Margie and I had dated regularly when I was attending the Midshipmen-Officers Course at the Naval Supply Corps School at Harvard and she was a student at Wellesley.
        At the end of WWII, shortly after our ship had arrived at the Philadelphia Naval Base in the late spring of 1946, I made an appointment to see the Dean of Admissions about returning to Princeton the following fall to complete my undergraduate education. As I was sitting on a bench

Monday, July 7, 2014


The first letter in Margie's file of my letters to her. Months
before, while I was overseas, I had written another letter,
which she never received. I had also sent her a Christmas
card in December, 1945, which she did receive. 
        Margie and I saved all the letters we ever wrote to each other. She had numbered and put my letters to her in chronological order, beginning with one I had written while still on board ship at the end of World War II. I had arranged her letters to me in chronological order as well, and all of our letters were stored in shoe boxes in the basements, attics, or closets  of our various homes. The shoe boxes were neatly packed in a much larger box, which was carted off by different moving vans, untouched and unopened, along with our other belongings, as we moved from place to place. In the nearly sixty-six years we were married we lived in 14 different apartments or houses in five different States.
        When Margie’s terminal illness was diagnosed, I brought up the boxes of letters from our storage bin in order to search for a particular letter I had written to her after we had been dating for some months. We both remembered the letter because it was the one in which I first told her that I loved her. In fact, it was the first time I had ever committed myself to any girl, especially in writing. It was easy to find, because Margie had "starred" it.
        No one but the two of us had ever seen any of our love letters, but I intended to make copies of that one letter for our children, after Margie died. I wanted them to know when, how, and why I fell in love with their mother. My good intentions were postponed, however, because of all the

Friday, July 4, 2014

Time for a musical interlude.

I've been an admirer of the Dutch conductor André Rieu since before he became popular in the United States. He is also an accomplished violinist, as you will see and hear, if you click on the above video. It is taken from a 2012 DVD entitled "André Rieu - New York Memories- Live at Radio City Music Hall."

Even if you have seen it before, it's worth watching again. If you haven't seen it, I'm sure you will enjoy it as much as the audience did that night. You will see that Maestro Rieu touched their hearts, as he does mine and will yours, with his beautiful rendition of I Did It My Way, a song made popular by Frank Sinatra, another one of our famous "Jersey Boys."

Enlarge your screen.


        When King Hezekiah became critically ill, the prophet Isaiah paid him a pastoral call of sorts, with this message from God: “Thus says the Lord: Set your house in order, for you shall die. You shall not recover” (II Kings 20:1, NRSV).
        How often people are told to get their affairs in order when facing the likelihood of their death. One wonders why people have to wait to be told they are going to die before putting their affairs in order. We all know we are going to die sooner or later, so why wait? Would life not be smoother and less stressful if our affairs were always in order? That’s easier said than done, of course.
        But that’s another subject. What I want to discuss in this article is the relationship between a couple’s putting their affairs in order and their coping with the reality of being separated by death. When death comes suddenly and unexpectedly, all of the survivors are confronted with the devastating, sometimes even frightening, reality that their loved one is no longer there to respond to their questions or to share their joys, their sorrows, their worries, their dreams. They have been deprived forever of their accustomed access to a precious source of information they may have taken for granted all their lives. That’s what makes losing a beloved parent so difficult for the children, not to mention the sheer grief of their loss.

Monday, June 30, 2014


The Supreme Court of the United States
        There has been so much going on in our nation and the world about which I should like to have been commenting, but I have resisted the urge, having resolved to complete my current series of articles reflecting on the continuing experience of grieving the loss of my wife Margie, who died of leukemia eight months ago today.
        Although I have more to share on that deeply personal subject, I cannot help departing briefly from that resolution in order to comment on today’s decisions by the United States Supreme Court, coming so soon after some of their other disturbing rulings. I used to have such great respect for that august body, that had always symbolized for me the highest principles of impartial justice. But the Court’s actions today reflect once again the political partisanship and ultra-conservatism of the majority of the Justices.
        The Court voted five to four to permit business owners on religious grounds to deny their female employees coverage for birth control, coverage that is included in the Affordable Care Act. It is significant to note that the three female Justices —Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan, and Sonia Sotomayor—  along with Justice Stephen Breyer dissented.
        The ruling evoked strong negative reactions from most women’s groups, who see it as

Wednesday, June 18, 2014


Throughout all our experiences of death Margie and I always had each other with whom to share our grief. Now I must grieve for her, without her. I talk to her often, and tell her things, as I always used to do, but there is no response. That’s when the awareness of her absence is hardest to bear.
But the theological dimension of my love for her is helping me to cope. What I mean by that expression is my awareness that to love and to be loved are gifts of God, for which I am immensely and constantly grateful to God, and because of which I can never take any friend or loved one for granted. It was our shared theological understanding of love that enabled Margie and me to savor our love for each other, as described in my earlier post (see SAVORING LOVE). We realized that “love is from God,” as John put it so directly in his first letter (4:7).
The theological dimension of love also includes taking seriously John’s affirmation that “God is love” (I John 4:8b), and since God is eternal, God’s love is eternal. In the months following the diagnosis of Margie’s fatal disease, we took comfort from the thought that because our love was a gift of God’s love, then our love, too, must be eternal. Death cannot destroy it. What form it will take, I have not the slightest idea. But that it will continue beyond this life as part of God’s love, I am convinced, because God’s love is eternal. That was the most comforting thought to both of us.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014


We were meant for each other. 

During the final months of her life Margie and I talked often about ultimate things. What made our love for each other so strong was our common faith. We prayed together often —while driving in the car, at mealtimes, often spontaneously in response to something good or bad that had happened, and every night at length. Our bedtime discussions and accompanying prayers were especially meaningful to us both. We savored our love for each other. We both were certain we were meant for each other, that our marriage was literally made in heaven. When I fell in love with Margie I had the feeling I had loved her before I ever knew her. She was the faceless girl of my dreams, the someone I was always hoping I would meet some day.
I say “faceless,” because unlike Walter Mitty I had no mental image of my “dream girl.” So when I finally did meet her, it was not as if I had seen her before. It was not love at first sight. We liked each other instantly and enjoyed each other’s company, but neither of us was thinking “This is it!” We were dating about once a week, when she was a sophomore at Wellesley and I was a newly commissioned Ensign, soon to be heading overseas.
One day many months later, while off duty aboard ship somewhere in the middle of the Pacific, I
was leaning on a rail, staring at the ocean, and daydreaming about all the girls I had known. Somebody had suggested that I had already met the girl I was going to marry. That intriguing idea had precipitated this extended reflection on all of my past female acquaintances, starting with my earliest puppy loves

Tuesday, June 10, 2014


I must begin what I have to say about the intertwining of faith, love, and grief by sharing very briefly my own internal faith journey. I can never remember a time when I did not believe in God. My faith in Jesus Christ came much later. It was an intellectual struggle, as I wrestled with the paradoxical nature of faith. On the one hand, there are many texts in the New Testament that would lead one to conclude that faith is our responsibility, that we can make ourselves believe. Jesus often commended people for their faith, or rebuked them for their lack of it.
There are, on the other hand, an equally impressive array of texts that suggest that faith is a gift of God, that it is not something we can make ourselves have, but something we find ourselves with. Jesus said, for example, “No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me” (John 6:44, NRSV).
We can see the paradoxical relationship between grace (God’s gift) and faith (our struggle) in such texts as Ephesians 2:8, where the Apostle Paul writes “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God” (NRSV); and Romans 8:28, “We know that in everything God works for good with those who love (God), who are called according to (God’s) purpose” (RSV).
We think it's all up to us.
After a prolonged wrestling match with what I now view as a pseudo-paradox, I came to realize that ultimately faith has to be a gift of God. We depend upon the God we believe in to give us the faith to keep on believing. That is an unavoidable tautology. All of our “reasons” for believing are at root tautological. They are all faith statements, and faith statements are not self-evidently true. If they were, we could prove the existence of God and every reasonable person would be a believer. If my faith in God depended totally upon my ability to prove God, I could no longer believe in God.
While we are struggling to believe, we think it is all up to us. But the moment we find ourselves believing, we realize that our faith is a gift, that God was there before we ever started to believe, and that our Christian faith was the work of the Holy Spirit prompting us to accept what God was offering us in Christ. That, by the way, is exactly how Jesus said it would happen.
However one may come to it, the decision to accept Jesus Christ as one’s personal Lord and Savior is the freest decision one can ever make. No one else can make it for us, or force us to make it. If we can’t make ourselves believe something we can’t believe, we certainly can’t make someone else believe. A decision of faith cannot be coerced.

Friday, May 30, 2014


        This is the fourth in a series of articles on my experience of grieving. Scroll down to see the others.  


        Ruth Kuhnle was the very capable secretary at my first church, the Oak Lane Presbyterian Church of Philadelphia. She and her husband were special friends of ours, and we continued to stay in touch after our move to Princeton, then out to Indianapolis, then back to Princeton.
        I had not been long on the faculty of Princeton Theological Seminary when Ruth called with the sad news that Bud had died. They had been retired only a short while and were living outside of Philadelphia. She asked me if I would conduct Bud’s funeral and burial service, and of course I said I would. Bud was not a church member.
        During my pastoral visit with Ruth and her two grown children, as we were planning the services, we had an opportunity to reminisce a bit about our Oak Lane days. I remember thinking at the time how well Ruth seemed to be dealing with her loss, as she laughed about some of the funny things that happened in the church. I know now how much she must have been grieving inwardly, as a line from a once-popular song put it, “laughing on the outside, crying on the inside.”
        In the weeks and months that followed we talked on the phone a few times, and Margie and I paid a call on Ruth one Sunday afternoon. It had been about seven months since Bud died, when I received a heart-wrenching letter from Ruth describing the immense grief and loneliness she was experiencing. She implored me to tell my students, who were preparing for ministry, to be aware that those who have lost a beloved spouse will still be grieving after the flurry of support they received in the first days following the death of their loved one has tapered off. “I’m missing Bud now more than ever, and I have no one around with whom to share my grief. I had lots of support in the beginning but now I feel so all alone.”

Monday, May 26, 2014


        This is the third in a series of articles on my experience of grieving the death of my wife Margie. Scroll down to see the other two articles, entitled Living in Two Worlds and Anticipatory Grief.

Andy, Ricky, and Ellen

Savoring love is the only term I could come up with to describe a phenomenon I discovered many years ago and have been experiencing ever since. Let me briefly describe the events leading up to that discovery.
The day before the van arrived to move my family and me from our house in suburban Philadelphia to our new home in Baltimore, our children’s pediatrician, Dr. Harold Medoff, felt it necessary to admit our son Ricky to the University of Pennsylvania Hospital for tests. Ricky had been extremely weak and pale following a severe case of chicken pox, from which his older sister Ellen and younger brother Andy had recovered in normal fashion.
While I was in Baltimore awaiting the movers, my wife Margie stayed overnight with friends back in Havertown, so she could spend the day at the hospital with Ricky. In the midst of that hectic moving operation, there came a telephone call from Dr. Medoff to inform me that Ricky had been diagnosed with leukemia, which was at that time a death sentence. There was no hope of a cure.
My first question upon hearing that devastating news was “How long. . .?”
“We can’t know for sure —maybe months, maybe weeks,” was the reply. “It depends upon how he responds to the treatments.”

Friday, May 2, 2014


        This is the second article in my series of posts on my experience of grieving the recent loss of my wife Margie. My next article will be entitled "Savoring Love."

Like most pastors I have read many books and articles about grief. In her first classic text, On Death and Dying (Simon and Schuster/Touchstone, 1969) Swiss psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross identified five stages of grief (1. denial and isolation, 2. anger, 3. bargaining, 4. depression, 5. acceptance).
The girl I married . . .
Some still want to impose those five stages on the grieving process and have applied them even to what has been called “anticipatory grief.” More recent writings have moved away from such a linear approach, with which I was never comfortable. I have never felt any anger about my wife Margie’s death. Perhaps I would if it had been the result of someone’s incompetence, or negligence, or violence, or failure in some manner.
Nor have I felt any sense of denial or isolation, and I certainly wasn’t trying to bargain with God. I was always hoping that some new miracle drug or medical process might be found in time to cure her or at least prolong her life, but from the first moment we received the diagnosis of her fatal disease, we both accepted it. We were in “stage 5" from the start, if you want to call it that.
As for stage 4, I am sad but not dysfunctionally depressed. Sadness can cause one to feel depressed at times. It’s the periodic realization of the never-again aspect of a precious relationship, the ever-present absence and the ever-absent presence of one’s beloved spouse, that causes a sinking feeling in one’s heart. I’ve had moments of feeling depressed, but I certainly haven’t gone through any stage of depression. Counting my blessings dispels my momentary depression, but not my abiding sadness.
I mention these things because some people might want to think of anticipatory grief as a “stage.” It is a stage only in that it obviously occurs before one’s loss. I want to talk about it not as a stage but as recurring emotional experience, and not theoretically but experientially.

Sunday, April 27, 2014


        The is my first post in many weeks. It is the first of a series I want to write about the experience of losing the love of my life, my wonderful wife Margie, who died on October 30, my mother’s birthday. As one who has counseled many others over the years in their times of bereavement, I know that everyone’s experience of grief is unique, even though there are some aspects of the grieving process that many people share in common. My purpose in writing about my own experience is twofold. I’m hoping that some people might find it helpful in their struggle to understand and cope with their own grief. At the same time, I feel that it will be therapeutic for me. My next post will be about anticipatory grief.


        I have been living in two different worlds ever since my wife Margie died. There is the external world, the world “out there,” the “life goes on” world. I have been functioning fairly normally in that world right from the start of my life as a widower. There were so many things that had to be done immediately, having to do with notifying people of Margie’s death, writing the obituary, planning two memorial services and three receptions, attending to matters relating to her burial and the grave side committal service, family gatherings, responding to people’s notes and cards and memorial gifts, and searching for and sorting out the things that had occupied her life until her final days.
Those and many other activities required some reordering of my own priorities. I had to give up my daily blog posts, after posting a personal note explaining why my followers had not heard from me for a while and probably would not for some time to come. I posted one Christmas poem, and that was it. I was determined, however, to continue my responsibilities as Minister of Worship at my congregation at Pennswood Village. Though I missed Margie’s companionship in my weekly commute to Newtown, Pennsylvania, having to preach every Sunday helped me to keep an outward focus, when I could easily have become too absorbed in my own grief.
Much of my time was spent catching up with financial matters that Margie had always attended to, until her declining health prevented it. I have always done our income tax returns, while she used to pay most of the bills. We were an efficient team, but our medical and other bills had piled up and it took some time to sort all that out.  Our Federal and State income tax returns were a huge challenge this year, and very time consuming, but I was able to beat the deadline, thanks to TurboTax. Anyway, that’s why I haven’t been posting for several months.
All of that has to do with the first of the two worlds I’m living in, the “outer” world of my daily life. At the same time I have been living in another world, an internal world, a private world of constant sadness. It’s always there, like a heavy weight on my heart, even when I’m absorbed in the activities and obligations of the outer world. Ever since the devastating first couple of days following Margie’s death, I have been both a participant in and an observer of the experience of grief. It’s as if I’m standing outside myself, observing myself in the act of grieving.