Wednesday, December 29, 2021

My Brother Richmond's New Book

To honor Richmond after his death, our family finished having his new book Frozen Ghost published. He had turned in his final draft to the self-publishing company, so we picked up the ball. I wrote a foreword for his book and approved the final drafting stages.

It is now available for purchase online. Here is a link to it on Amazon. You may also find it on Barnes and Noble here.

Below is the foreward I wrote for his book. May it honor him, and may he rest in peace.

Foreward

When I read Richmond’s first book, The Deviants, I was sure it was the wildest thing I had ever seen. Yet his subsequent books, Your Yesterday Is My Tomorrow and Witch Hunt, never failed to take me on voyages through unconventional waters. His writing is gripping, if out of the ordinary.

Even as his fourth book, Frozen Ghost, was in the process of publication, Richmond’s life ended too early. He died suddenly of a heart attack after spending the day with family touring the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, informally known as the “Lynching Memorial,” in Montgomery, Alabama. On his very last day, he was longing for justice, something that was deeply important to him.

My father, my other brothers, and I decided to honor his life and memory by following through with his plans to have this book published. It is with bittersweet joy that we share it with you.

I could tell you about Richmond’s relentless love for God, for Christian theology, for world religions, for philosophy, for social justice, and for the Church. I could tell you about his amazing academic accomplishments. But what I really want to tell you is this. He had a brilliant and beautiful mind.

I sometimes say he could waltz into a room and teach a course in world religions that would knock your socks off, but he might not be able to find his own socks. The unfolding of his beautiful mind started when he was teaching and involved in his first doctoral program, before mom died eighteen years ago. I say that not to call attention to his suffering. I say that because more than anyone I know, he was an overcomer. This is what inspires me the most about his life.

No matter what the obstacles, he was eternally fascinated with theology and philosophy and loved to find hints of it in movies and fiction. He refused to stop creating. He finished a Ph.D. at Purdue in philosophy and literature, and this was his proudest moment. He simply loved to write.

I once told him that his writing “defied genre.” He took that as a huge compliment, which it was meant to be, and then used that phrase on the back cover of a subsequent book. The threads he could weave between philosophy, comics, vivid memories, fantasy novels, painful past experiences, science fiction, and theology gave me insight into the beauty of his mind. Writing was his way of making sense of things, of finding peace, and of blessing the world.

As I read this book, I mused on his story of the broken mirror, and Richmond saying, “I just looked at it and it broke!” I know that really happened, for I was the brother who teased him about it for years. I pondered the technical term “audio pareidolia” he mentioned, clearly a symptom of his condition which he had become educated about. I vividly remembered conversations we had about the voice of Diana, who was speaking to him from across the stars. As always, I found reminders of the intricate way he wove various threads of his life together through writing. It is truly a tapestry.

I have learned more from my brother Richmond than anyone I have ever known about courage, determination, and relentless creativity. I’m delighted that after that long mental, intellectual, and philosophical journey of his beautiful mind, he had unwavering faith. In recent years, he loved going to church and being involved in teaching Sunday School, singing in the choir, and ministries of addiction recovery.

He died too early. But my heart is full of gratitude that he died happy, stable, creative, and excited about this book.

Richmond would have been thrilled to know that at his funeral, I would close my brief remarks with the famous quote from Captain Kirk at the funeral of his dear, Vulcan friend Spock. “Of all the souls I have encountered in my travels, his was the most … human.”

And it was.

Stephen Pierce West
Brother of Richmond Pierce West
August 2021

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

The Four Christmas Words



It's occurred to me (after years of exploring the Christmas stories in the Bible every year) that if each unique gospel writer had one word for Christmas, they might be these words. May it bless you and your family during this holiest of weeks.

LINEAGE - Matthew's Christmas word might be just that, "lineage." Generally speaking, his gospel gift is summed up in his favorite phrase,"this was done in order to fulfill what was said by the prophets ..." His gift is to show us how Christmas, and Jesus in general, fulfills Old Testament longing. Unlike the other gospels, he starts with the genealogy of Jesus (outlining 14 generations from Abraham to David, 14 generations from David to the Babylonian exile, and 14 generations from the exile to the Messiah). His point is it was clearly the plan of God that Christ would come and fulfill the prophecy of being a Messiah from the house and lineage of King David. He quotes scripture about how the virgin birth fulfilled prophecy. Unlike the other gospels, he also has the story of the magi (I hate to mess with your Christmas decor, but we don't know that there were three of them and they didn't make it to the manger, they came to the house they were staying as late as a couple of years later). Again, this is about fulfillment of prophecy. Matthew's Christmas story is all about that.

LAUNCH - If Mark has a Christmas word, it might be "launch." Why? He launches right into the message of John the Baptist, who prepared the way for Jesus to show up in ministry. Yes, it's true ... he doesn't even talk about Christmas at all. This makes sense, in light of the general impetus of Mark. His favorite word in the gospel seems to be "immediately." Jesus is always going and doing, and the kingdom of God is ushering in. So it's not just that he launches into the message of John and Jesus without a single story about Christmas, he believes that Jesus is launching the kingdom of God into our midst without delay.

LOWLY - If Luke has a Christmas word, I suppose it would be "lowly." Ah, yes, most of the Christmas narrative is here in Luke, because of his general concern for the least, the last, and the lost ... for the oppressed and neglected (from woman to Gentiles to Samaritans, plus parables such as the lost sheep and the lost coin). It's no accident, then, that he would be the one to tell the story of the shepherds being visited by the angels, not to mention the details about the poverty and lack of influence of Joseph and Mary, and the fact that Jesus was born in a stable out back. All that is meant to point to something about God's favor for the poor and needy. Even the canticles (the songs of Elizabeth, Mary, Zechariah, and Simeon) are about both fulfillment of prophecy and about God's regard for the oppressed and the lowliness of his servants. For Luke, every aspect of the narrative is about this.

LOGOS - Well, if we are going to stay with the "L" theme it's obvious what John's Christmas word would be. It would be logos, the Greek New Testament word for, well, "word." He tells of Christmas as a poet, not a storyteller. We don't get from John details such as stables, local politics, or taxes, and there are no wise men or shepherds. Instead, it's rich and beautiful theology that has shaped our spirituality on every level. He starts out, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." Theologically, he describes how Christ is the very word God spoke to set creation into being. He muses on how this life was the light that shines in the darkness, which will never overcome it. John the Baptist is a "witness to the light," Then he says, "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us," theologizing on the incarnation and the humanity/divinity of Christ. John's version of Christmas takes a deep theological plunge, even if it doesn't help with setting up your manger scene!

So, if you had a word for Christmas, what would yours be?

May you have a wonderful, wonder-full Christmas.

Thursday, December 9, 2021

Commencement Prayer and Blessing


I was honored with the invitation to lead the invocation and benediction at the commencement exercises of Jacksonville State University on Friday, December 10, 2021. I share it here with you so that you can join us, wherever you are and whenever you may pause, in the grand circle of prayer.

INVOCATION

Let us pray.

God of Infinite Wisdom,

We pause at the beginning of these ceremonies to honor the one from whom all blessings flow. We gather here today to celebrate a major step forward, into new places with new people and new experiences. Let us not forget the blessings that have flowed so richly behind us. We thank you for the knowledge gained, the life lessons learned, and the relationships forged in this place.

We thank you for the grand institution of Jacksonville State University, which has created space for us to build a strong foundation for life. We thank you for the faculty and staff who have given of themselves freely, and for the families and friends who have cheered us on to the finish line. 

God of the journey, may these commencement exercises be exactly that, a “commencement” – a new beginning, a fresh start. May it be less about pomp and circumstance and more about life’s purpose in all circumstances.  

After the robes, tassels, and mortar boards are set aside, may we remain clothed with courage to move on to new adventures. May our next steps be not so much about pursuing a career as about discovering a vocation, for life is not about getting what we want but about becoming what we were created to be.

May this diploma we hold in our hand today be more than a piece of paper. May it be a blank palette on which a new work of art is formed by the hand of the living God. May the God who began a good work in you be faithful to complete it.

And for those who walk across this sturdy stage today, may it serve as a threshold to a whole new season of life. We ask that you light us on fire, fill us with breath, strengthen us with spirit, and set us on a brightly lit path. 

And now, with deep respect for all faiths that might be represented here, I offer this prayer in the name of my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

BENEDICTION

Now that the applause is quieted and the speeches concluded, may your voices rise up to pronounce peace and justice in this world. May you find a profound sense of purpose in your vocation, in your families, and in yourselves. May you spread kindness, generosity, and virtue wherever you go. May you go and set the world on fire.

And above all things, may you be the YOU that you were created to be. 

Amen and Amen!


Wednesday, November 10, 2021

What’s Distinctive about Wesley’s Communion Spirituality?


This was my presentation “Taste and See” at Bluff Park UMC this morning. What an honor to be back at one of my “home churches.”

It is on FIVE WORDS that describe what is distinctive about Wesley’s communion spirituality:

1. Presence (sure and real)
2. Remembrance (experience anew)
3. Perfection (in love)
4. Foretaste (of heaven)
5. Becoming (the body)


Friday, November 5, 2021

I’m staying in the UMC



A friend posted this on Facebook:

It is my prayer that the United Methodist Church would stay together. I have no desire in leaving it. I feel God called me into this particular church for many reasons. One of the reasons I have loved this church so much is the inclusiveness. As followers of Christ we are to love our neighbors, and love covers a multitude of sins. I pray that we can stay United and work out our divided differences. I feel that if each person would break bread with someone slightly different from them we would truly be the hands and feet.

This is my response.

I completely agree with you. It breaks my heart that a breakaway group (10-15% of the UMC) is planning to leave, but I am grounded here and staying in our beloved denomination, and I believe the UMC has a bright future. It’s my home. And as we move forward, I believe fervently in Jesus’s radical love and inclusiveness. That overshadows all diversity of thought on controversial matters.

Those planning to secede are making a big deal about culture war issues that are not even mentioned in the gospels or historic creeds. So they draw a line in the sand over distinctions that were not important to Jesus or the historic church. I believe we should embrace the love of Christ, interpret other scripture through the lens of Christ, equip people to make ethical decisions based on their personal journey with Christ, and stop pointing out everybody else’s “sin” when the matters at hand are open to theological interpretation. I believe the answer is to let local churches practice their faith and make decisions in their local context. We can all move forward together in joy.

I encourage people reading this to check out Stay UMC that I helped create.