Monday Devotional
February 22, 2021
Dear Friend,
 

Upfront, let me begin by saying this is an incredibly difficult devotion to write. I can already hear the voices of people saying, “Why did he go there?” This is a topic filled with a lot of heat and opinions. And that is why I believe it is important to address. Although there are thousands of safer topics about which to write, the role of a leader is not found in taking the easy road but in addressing the difficult challenges confronting us all.

Rush Limbaugh, a powerful conservative voice on American radio, passed away this week from lung cancer. He built a huge following for his daily radio show through blunt political observations and sharp-witted criticisms. His followers found him engaging and entertaining. Each day he offered three hours of conversations with his listeners, needing to keep the content fresh and lively. The ability to come up with engaging content three hours a day, five days a week is an admirable feat.

Just as Limbaugh held very polarizing positions on his radio show, he himself was viewed through the same lens. Folks either loved or hated him. And this became evident in the conversations that followed the news of his death.

I have mentioned some of his accomplishments above and how he created a radio following of more than 15 million followers on his radio program. Some of these followers pointed out that they didn’t always agree with everything he said, but they felt that he spoke for them in a meaningful way. Those who disliked Limbaugh pointed out some of those distasteful things that he said, some of which he later apologized for and some of which he forever owned. In the early years of his program he had a segment that celebrated the death of people with AIDS. Sometimes his attempts at humor were hurtful and offensive as when he spoke about the White House dog and showed a picture of the daughter of a president. His statements were often labeled as sexist and racist. Many were offended by his attacks on Michael J. Fox and the insensitive mimicking of the tremors associated with Parkinson’s Disease.

His fans could cite more accomplishments; his detractors could cite more offensive statements. For our purposes, the question is how do we respond? 

Upon Limbaugh’s death I was reminded of a funeral I conducted several years ago. While speaking with that family and asking them to share their memories, they began by telling very lighthearted stories about the deceased. He was quite the practical joker and had a great sense of humor. Once while playing hide and seek with his grandkids, he hid in the dishwasher. He remained there for almost an hour while everyone struggled to find him. They laughed remembering this story.

But then they got quiet. His wife who broke the silence. She said bluntly, “He could be a mean drunk.” Anyone who knew him was aware that the first drink or two led to laughter and playfulness. But then added drinks led to cruel statements, criticisms that were abusive and the kind of actions that hurt those around him.  Alcohol brought out a different side of him. The family affirmed both aspects of this man and agreed that if the funeral was to be accurate, all of this needed to be stated. He was all of these things and more. 

And so in the remembrance of his life, I shared all of these things in his funeral. The grandkids delighted in hearing about his playfulness. His wife, children and friends nodded when we talked about his alcoholism and abrasiveness. To have ignored either of these would have been to ignore the reality of a complex life.

I recalled that funeral as I thought about Rush Limbaugh and how to remember his life. I can say with sincere honesty that I offer my condolences to his family and friends. I am sorry for their loss. I take no delight in his passing. To do otherwise would be inconsistent with the faith I profess.

But I must also remember those hurt by his statements. I am sorry for the pain they experienced because of his insensitivity. Their hurt is real and must not be ignored.

How does one respond to the death of a complex human being (and let’s be honest here, who among us isn’t complex in our own ways)? We respond faithfully. We mourn with the family and friends who are saddened by the death. Their grief is real. We can express our sincere condolences for their loss and honestly mean it. And we also mourn with those who have been hurt by the things he said and the actions they prompted. Their hurt is also real and needs to be acknowledged. We respond to the loss by being present with all who are grieving. We speak lovingly and honestly. To do so bears witness to the kind of people we are and the values we hold.   

Peace,
Howard
 

Due to the increasing infection rates in our community and throughout the state, we have discontinued the 8:30 a.m. in-person service on Sunday mornings. For the safety of all, we encourage you to participate in the online service each Sunday at 10 a.m. If you need help accessing this service, please contact the church office and we’ll be glad to help in whatever ways possible.

We are offering a Lenten Sunday school class using Amy-Jill Levine’s book, “Enter the Passion of Jesus.” The class will be held on Sundays at 11:00 a.m. Copies are available at the church office or you can purchase a copy through the local bookstore, Viewpoint. Please contact Howard or Sarah for the online invitation to participate.

Would you like to receive ongoing updates of prayer concerns and funeral notices within our congregation and community? We are working on a way to send regular updates to those who would like to receive such notices via email. If you would like to be included in this, please email Pastor Howard or Pastor Sarah.

Pastor Jen is putting together a book study around the book, “The Hopeful Parent.” If you would like to participate in this study or would like further information, please email Pastor Jen. Time and date for the study will be determined by participants.