Uncle Billy

It’s been a hard year for our family.   I have mentioned my uncle Warren, my mother’s brother, who passed away around New Years, and my father’s sister, my aunt Norma, who passed away in December.  My dad also lost another brother, my uncle Billy, earlier this year.

If uncle Warren was tough and strong, uncle Billy was always sentimental.  One early memory I have of him is at a family picnic.  He plucked a leaf from a tree and held it up to the sun and admired it’s intricate design.

“How could anyone say there is no God,” he marveled, “and look at this?”

We had family reunions in May or June, and a lot of my early memories run together.  It was always at a park and everything was green.

I was in elementary school and had read something in a Sunday School paper explaining the concept of the trinity using the concept of water existing in three forms: vapor, ice, and liquid.  The analogy is not very accurate, not very profound, and probably subject to heretical interpretations–and I can’t say it made a profound impression on my own life.  It was just something I had read as a child and was able to quote without investing much thought.

At one of the family gatherings Uncle Billy was in one of his contemplative moods, wondering about the mystery of the Holy Trinity.  I said, “Oh that’s easy, it’s just like water …”  It must have made more of an impression on him than on me.

That was over forty years ago, but Uncle Billy remembered it throughout the years.  He would point out to other relatives that when I was only a child I explained to him the mystery of the Holy Trinity.

Uncle Billy served a career in the army, living many years in the Philippines.

One of my other early memories–I think I was in the sixth grade at the time–was when my uncle Raymond was killed in a truck-train accident.  It was during the Vietnam war.  He was 23 years old and had been injured in combat and returned home to recuperate.  It was in May and he had gone into town with a friend to buy strawberries for his mom.  Evidently they didn’t see the train.

Raymond was a twin, uncle Robert is still living.  They were my dad’s two youngest brother, Billy was next.  He was stationed overseas when the accident occurred.  I remember standing outside the church with the family waiting for him to arrive.  The army flew him there in a helicopter, which landed in the grass outside the church.  I still remember seeing him in uniform with tear-stained face as he emerged  beneath the whirling blades.

My dad’s family were all brought up in the church and always believed in God.  A few years ago–it’s probably been twenty, time passes so fast–uncle Billy was in town and called me.  He had become convinced of his need to receive believer’s baptism and asked me to do the service.

The last time I saw uncle Billy was at a family reunion, it will be two years this June.  He was suffering from congestive heart failure and very weak at the time.  But he was glad to be surrounded by his family, and we were all glad to see him again.  He was reminiscing about his father, whom he called “the greatest man that every lived,” and about his brother and other relatives who had gone on, and about the little boy that explained to him “the mystery of the Holy trinity.”

Government Takeover of Textbooks?

OK, not really–but there are new federal regulations that require colleges to list their textbooks with the course listing.  Since our line schedule comes out next week, I have to select books now for fall classes.  Here’s what I will be using:

For a new course on Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Life, Thought, and Influence, I will require the following:

  1. Letters and Papers from Prison (Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, Vol. 8).
  2. Ethics (Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, Vol. 6).
  3. Stephen Haynes, Bonhoeffer for Armchair Theologians.
  4. Jürgen Moltmann, Jesus Christ for Today’s World.

The new edition of Letters and Papers is due out this June.  It is nearly twice as long as the prior English edition–and will unfortunately be much more expensive.  But the Bonhoeffer Works volumes are magnificent editions, carefully edited and translated with helpful introductions and annotations.  The English series is nearing completion, following the German editions which appeared throughout the decade of the nineties.

The book by Stephen Haynes is also new and I haven’t seen it yet–I’m walking by faith here–but I assume it is of the same quality as his two prior books on Bonhoeffer.  Finally, I am using one of Moltmann’s little volumes because the course deals with Bonhoeffer’s influence.

Professor Moltmann spoke in 2008 at the Prague Bonhoeffer congress on Bonhoeffer’s influence on his own life and theology.  He mentioned that he was originally a bit put off by the formal and “churchy” language–Moltmann himself was brought up in a secular household and came to faith as a prisoner of war after an American army chaplain gave him a New Testament and Psalms.  He joked that his first reaction to Bonhoeffer’s Life Together was that after his years in prison camp, he had had quite enough of life together.

The book Jesus Christ Today is professor Moltmann’s attempt, some forty years later, to answer a question Bonhoeffer raised in one of his prison letters,

Wer ist Jesus Christus für uns heute?  Who is Jesus Christ for us today.

One answer is given in a chapter on Jesus Christ and Torture.  Jesus Christ is the brother of the tortured and the judge of the torturer.