Bishop John Thornton is a great homilist and sermonist. Those of us who have heard and/or read any of his sermons can attest to that. In fact, it is because of us that he began, in 2014, to publish his collections.
His latest volume, Good Seed and Zizania, contains not just sermons but other great writings as well. As he was digging through old boxes to create this work, he came across a poem that was published in Episcopal Life, the National Church’s monthly publication years ago. It’s titled “Did you see Him in the 60’s?” It’s passionate and, typically, sassy. The publication date had to be sometime at the end of the ’60s or in the early ’70s.
For me, it is the essence of the history of that time, that troubling, yet freeing decade that transformed a generation and a nation. As the bishop opened his complimentary author’s copy, I asked him to read it outloud, once gain, to me. It gets better each time. In all of his writings — including this poem — Bishop Thornton doesn’t waver from what is important and what he believes. His perspective on the ’60s is every bit the John Thornton you may know or may want to know and, certainly, his unique way of looking at our world.
With his kind permission, I am able to share it with you.
Did You See Him in the ’60s?
The creeds of Man are
Penciled on restroom walls,
Chalked on sidewalks,
Painted on traffic signs,
Jack-knifed into theater seats,
Pinned on lapels,
Glued to rear bumpers.
Sometimes, they are a lamentation;
Sometimes, an exultation;
Always, a declaration:
Here I stand.
One of the best of the ’60s is
“God isn’t dead –
He just doesn’t want to get involved.”
That says so much about
And lack of it.
The faithless believer – of whom there are many – might say,
I believe in God,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, too,
The whole thing –
But what difference does it make?
The difference is between
Seeing and not seeing,
Hearing and not hearing,
Being alive and wishing you were dead.
Assent to the ancient formulation,
Three in one,
One in three,
May help in getting through liturgies,
But not in getting through life;
And life is what there is to get through –
And get with!
Or, if I were you] –
I would not ask,
Do you believe in God?
Nobody wants to be unpatriotic.
What I want to know is this:
Did you see Him,
Did you hear Him,
Did you, at the very least, read about Him,
As He was creating worlds ex nihilo
And incarnating Himself in human form
In the ’60s?
If you did not,
You just missed one whole decade of
The Mysterium Tremendum’s extravaganza
He was involved in all that,
And unmaking to make all over again
A world He loves
With a love young lovers would be embarrassed by.
Perhaps His providence was too obvious – and too good to be true;
Perhaps it was hidden in the supposed insignificance of everyday things.
Now the ’60s are gone,
One hundred and twenty months,
Three thousand six hundred and fifty-three days
Of good and evil
Chronicled in chronicles
Ten cents each, twenty-five cents on Sunday.
Headlines and fillers too,
Announcing what we did
Each other anno Domini.
Because of what we did to each other,
We have learned a little more about
The history and geography of folly and vengeance:
Dallas, Memphis, and Los Angeles…
Dugway Proving Grounds…
White Sands Missile Range…
The “et al.” is important –
It probably includes our hometowns.
Since AP and UPI did not,
We did not notice much wrong, either;
Though much wrong there must have been.
I doubt that the human race completed the lexicon of horrors,
To which St. Paul gave the title “Principalities and Powers of Darkness;”
But we gave some new meanings to some old words,
In a moment of calculated [and calculating] penitence,
We could wish for the publication of
An expurgated and abridged record of our deeds in the 60’s.
Perhaps our children’s children need never know
What destructiveness their grandparents were capable of.
We might look good
Even though we were not.
Write that on the blackboard of your mind
Three thousand six hundred and fifty-three times.
Someone waved and shouted for recognition.
Now I know that God is,
As I know that the Sun shall rise,
An uncanny and inexpressible knowing;
Though He still eludes and defies me
[And, I suppose, you, too].
I have said, jesting,
This much I am quite sure of:
God loves surprises,
God hates pastels,
And Styrofoam is the invention of God’s adversary, the Devil.
In the fourth decade of my life,
I learned one more thing:
God goes through history
As if it were a masquerade party.
He puts on costumes and faces
And makes us guess who He is.
Was that Albert Schweitzer
Or the Spiritus Creator in disguise?
Was that Martin Buber?
Martin Luther King?
Pope John XXIII?
And millons of unheralded others,
From den mothers to criminal lawyers,
Or the Spiritus Creator in disguise?
At long last,
I think I have guessed His identity.
When you reflect and reminisce about
The madness and miracle-working of the ’60s,
Do not forget what God and Man, cooperating, did:
The Czechoslavakian resistance,
The human heart transplants,
The 3:51.1 mile,
Pacem in Terris,
The German measles vaccine,
The Moon landings,
The DNA molecule’s decoding,
The Peace Movement,
Boston City Hall,
The War Requiem,
Project Head Start,
And Lyndon Johnson’s resignation.
It was quite a decade!
After we have done our penance,
Perhaps we should rejoice.
And Joseph, too!
The spirit of your son
Accomplished some mighty wonders in the ’60s.
Copyright © 2016 +John S. Thornton