Thank You, Coleman

The last time I saw him, all he could do was say my name.2801

It was a warm Saturday afternoon, late June a year ago, when I sat with Coleman and Irene as I have had the gift of doing just about every year for the past 31 years since I graduated from Colgate University.

Naming. The heart of what Coleman always did.  Heard me out. All the words I poured out in fervent conversations, in times of confusion, discernment and distress.  Read with care the long letters I wrote.  The phone calls we shared. Heard beneath all the words, the essential word I was trying to say, but often didn’t know.  Offered a turning word, a simple question, that opened my awareness to what was required.   Called me to be more than I thought I could be or dare. Made me want to choose again to be a man of faith. To take courage in the midst of the questions and doubts, fears and anxieties. To live into my name.

June 2015 010What Coleman did for me, he did for so many that called him our mentor, our teacher, our pastor. Professor of Philosophy and Religion. Chaplain of our little Protestant community. 26 years at Colgate.

Last Saturday I went back to Colgate for Coleman’s memorial.  To grieve his death this past winter, give thanks for all he has meant.

How do you remember a life?  The kind of life that has touched, shaped, yours beyond any words can say?

I left early morning so I could visit again one of my favorite places in theJune 2015 046 world.  At the top of the campus, a meadow called the “Old Golf Course”.  Today, all that remains, a fire pit at the top, a view down the valley.  Green hills, fields.  Silos and sky.  Especially the sky.   Windswept clouds, gray and white, billowing, climbing the valley, as they are today.

ColemanPulled out some brief reflections I’d written about Coleman years before. Read them aloud.  Wept. A good time and place to weep. Not even sure what I was crying for.  I didn’t want to be here today.   And no place I’d rather be.  Not here in this place of grief, no.  Yes, here in this place of tears of thanksgiving for a life that has touched mine so deeply.

Down the hill, I slipped on my blue suit jacket, straightened my tie.  Walked through the trees to find a place in the chapel. A crowd of strangers. Looked for any familiar faces from 31 years ago.  Rose to sing. “O God Our Help in Ages Past.” “God of Grace and God of Glory.” Listened to beautiful testimonies about a life that mattered because he mattered to us. Had touched, shaped our own.

Heard echoes again and again that what Coleman had done for me, he June 2015 037had done for so many. He listened.  Read our long letters.  Heard us out through the struggles and crises of our lives.  Shared words, old words, from those who echo the Gospel clear – Eliot, Auden, Niebuhr. Heschel, Tillich, King.   Spoke, as they, with assurance, challenge, conviction.  The reality of confusion and despair. He did not mince words.

Instilled in us, a passion. For the life of faith, the life of the mind and the limits of it.  A great teacher in the classroom, the pulpit, the conversations in his book lined office.

466In recent years, a changed relationship. Coleman had been in declining health and we no longer walked down to the Colgate Inn for lunch. No more long conversations, waiting for his every word. But the deep grace of just being together, sitting in silence.

After the memorial, a lunch, and a time for sharing of more remembrances. All I could have said, was finally beyond words.  For how to speak of the way that some like Coleman have shaped our lives?  Without his witness, his presence, I and so many others in my generation might never have been brought to wrestle with the essential questions of faith, “believers, seekers, doubters, yes, as we always are”, as Coleman reminded us each Sunday at chapel. So many of us, never imagined the possibility of ministry ourselves.

After the memorial, the Colgate Inn.  I hadn’t seen Rich for 31 years.  We June 2015 024shared the turns and twists our lives have made.  The questions our lives were asking today.  “What would Coleman say?”, we wondered, as we pondered the various decisions before us.

“Where can we do the most good?”  Yes, maybe. I think that’s it.  Something like that he would ask. And we would know, as maybe we do now, what we must do.

One last walk, up the hill. One last look.  A single bird, crosses the sky.

Thank you, Coleman, for calling my name.

For calling me into the challenge and possibility of who I yet may be.

June 2015 053

17 thoughts on “Thank You, Coleman

  1. Thank you, Peter, for sharing this which dips deep into your journey and gives us a bit more of this man who was such an important part of your life.

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    • Thank you Cathy – A gift to have those in our lives who listen to our stories and with whom we can share them. The gift of community, family, church at its best.

      Peter

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    • Thanks Virginia for writing. Yes, I agree. There are those that we carry a relationship with for a lifetime of our changing, growing selves. They shape us in ways we can never fully know, understand. But they truly are “in us”, and I trust in our own way, we “in them”. It seems to be that very way we speak of being “in Christ” and Christ “in us”.

      Peter

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  2. Thanks, Peter. He sounds like he was a truly great human being. And a great listener. Your post reminds me of a quote from a church bulletin at FCCB from years ago, which I have saved:

    “Broken Things
    God uses broken things. It takes broken soil to produce a crop, broken clouds to yield rain, broken grain to give bread, broken bread to give strength. It was the broken alabaster box that gave forth perfume … and it was Peter, weeping bitterly, who returned to greater power than ever.” – Vance Havner

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    • Carol – what a gorgeous quote. What a quote of the impossible – that indeed it is in the broken that pours forth the gifts of grace. I treasure that quote today and will share it with others. This brokenness from which the seemingly impossible can come,

      Peter

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  3. Oh, Peter–so wonderful. I’m sitting here weeping. “Where can we do the most good?” The exact question I’ve been pondering for a year now. Thank you for this moving story.
    Big hugs to you,
    Debra

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    • Debra – Keeping you and Wes in my heart and prayer in the transition home. And yes, maybe we can sit together with that question – “Where can I do the most good?” and consider it together. It does seem to be a question at the heart of what faith calls us to again and again. To goodness. To place. To now. To that haunting question from the third chapter of Genesis, addressed to me, I know, and I believe to us all: “Where are you?”

      Peter

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    • Thanks for writing, Deborah. And yes, it is relationships like those that Coleman and I shared where you realize again how much we are shaped by our connections with each other, in ways we often can’t name or fully know. We matter and deeply to one another. That I know again is so true.

      Peter

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  4. I am struck with how important mentors are—and often, as Coleman seems to be, very humble and not ‘trying to be mentors’ but just being the wonderful guides and inspirational people in our lives. A wonderful tribute–thank you for sharing. Both of you were blessed to connect with each other, and you were both very important to one another. Isn’t that all we can hope for? Thank you for sharing.

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    • Thanks Brenda. I am really struck by your comment, “Both of you were blessed to connect with each other, and you were both very important to one another. Isn’t that all we can hope for?” Yes, maybe that is it – the simplicity of that, the profundity of that – such connection, such importance we share in each others lives.

      Thanks for the reminder today,

      Peter

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