7 june 2018: abraham, martin and john

This week, I’m having my own personal harmonic convergence. 

This week, 50 years ago, Robert Kennedy was killed. I thought of that as I was stuck in traffic for two hours on Wednesday. In a 7-mile stretch of cars lined up behind two semis that collided and caught fire, I killed time reading news articles and googling YouTube videos of some of the songs I loved back then. Joan Baez, Simon & Garfunkel, Peter, Paul & Mary, John Denver and Cass Elliott. I was just a kid, but I remember. One particular song, Abraham, Martin and John, was the subject of a New York Times article (in part because Dion, the artist who recorded it, is now a giant Trump fan). 

Anybody here seen my old friend Abraham,
Can you tell me where he's gone?
He freed a lotta people, but it seems the good they die young

I just looked around and he's gone.

Anybody here seen my old friend John…

Anybody here seen my old friend Martin…

Didn't you love the things that they stood for?
Didn't they try to find some good for you and me?
And we'll be free, 
Someday soon it's gonna be. One day.

Anybody here seen my old friend Bobby,
Can you tell me where he's gone?
I thought I saw him walkin' up over the hill
With Abraham, Martin and John.

So, there was that. Then, two birthdays. My brother David, born this week in 1968, his birth the day before Bobby was shot, that birth and that death closely linked for me, not ideologically, but somehow cosmically. I rarely think of one without thinking of the other. 

The other birthday was Ben, the husband I’ve never met of my friend Mary, with whom I went to church camp in 1971, when we were 11. 

Mary lives in California and we haven’t seen each other since middle school. But I remembered that week at camp, the counselors who played guitars and sang for our evening devotions. One night one of the songs was “Abraham, Martin and John” recorded by Dion, written the day that Robert Kennedy was shot.  

I remembered our college-aged counselor, Janet, listening to the song and crying. 

On a whim, I called Mary this week, because of her husband’s birthday and camp memories, and because this song was on my mind. But before I could share my memory of camp, she said her one clear memory of that week was that song, during vespers by the lake, and how our counselor cried and told us what good men Martin, Bobby and John were, and the important things they worked for. 

That camp experience, it turns out, was important for us both. And that song was a key, in ways neither of us can completely understand. Except that someone showed us her heart and told us what is possible when good people act. 

This spring, we’ve been observing the 50th anniversary of the death of Dr. King. And these past few weeks, we’ve been participating in a re-ignition of the Poor People’s Campaign, his movement to end poverty and become a better country. 

So I’ve been pondering what shapes a conscience, what shapes a consciousness. 

Last week, as I was training interns, one of them asked me how I came to care about social justice, about an end to poverty. 

I didn't have a really good short answer. And the reality is that my childhood was probably less "socially astute" and more "there's something happening here; what it is ain't exactly clear." 

But any long answer, a complete answer, surely would include reflection on 1968, the year of two assassinations, a never-ending war in Southeast Asia, plus Rowan & Martin’s oh-so-political Laugh-In, and an 8-year-old church kid with a budding awareness that she was called to ministry. 

And it would include that moment at camp in 1971, Janet’s tears and counselors’ guitars. Anybody here seen my old friend Bobby?

These past couple of weeks, we’ve been inviting families and kids of Woodside to consider a week at camp. I hope they will. You never know what moments may last forever. 

With you on a complicated journey, 

-- pastor deb