Did You See Him in the ’60s?

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.

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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

Man’s faith

And lack of it.

The faithless believer – of whom there are many – might say,

Sure,

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!

I

[I, myself,

Or, if I were you] –

I would not ask,

Do you believe in God?

Everybody does;

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 electing

And blessing

And disciplining

And cursing

And incarnating Himself in human form

In the ’60s?

Did you?

If you did not,

You just missed one whole decade of

The Mysterium Tremendum’s extravaganza

Called “History.”

He was involved in all that,

Making

And remaking

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.

 

II

Now the ’60s are gone,

Ten years,

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

With

And for

And to

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:

Prague…

Chicago…

East Berlin…

Palomares…

Owerri…

Watts…

Salisbury…

Selma…

My Lai…

Dallas, Memphis, and Los Angeles…

Jerusalem…

Dugway Proving Grounds…

Havanna…

White Sands Missile Range…

Santa Barbara…

Et al.

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,

Like

Slavery,

Tyranny,

Assassination,

Atrocity,

Genocide,

Pollution…

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.

Kyrie eleison!

Write that on the blackboard of your mind

Three thousand six hundred and fifty-three times.

 

III

Still,

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?

U Thant?

Paul Tillich?

Malcolm X?

Rachel Carson?

Martin Luther King?

Alexander Dubček?

Pope John XXIII?

Kenneth Skelton?

Jim Ryan?

John Kennedy?

Art Hoppe?

Neil Armstrong?

Kilmer Myers?

Godfrey Canbridge?

Fred Shepler?

And millons of unheralded others,

From den mothers to criminal lawyers,

Or the Spiritus Creator in disguise?

Al last,

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 Pill,

The Czechoslavakian resistance,

The human heart transplants,

The 3:51.1 mile,

Pacem in Terris,

The laser,

The German measles vaccine,

The Moon landings,

Silent Spring,

The DNA molecule’s decoding,

The Peace Movement,

Boston City Hall,

Laugh-In,

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.

Ave Maria!

And Joseph, too!

The spirit of your son

Accomplished some mighty wonders in the ’60s.

Copyright © 2016 +John S. Thornton

 

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