Killing Caesar, Resurrecting Lloyd

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Saturday night, the Yellow Springs Theater Company (YSTC)'s production of Julius Caesar gave up the ghost (click here and here to catch up on the series). Reviews were mixed but weighted heavily toward positive. Shakespeare purists were insulted, and legitimate criticisms of the concept and its implementation were given and received. We all left everything we had on the stage, including blood. Ya' know, with the stabbing 'n all.

Last night, I presided over the memorial service of Lloyd Webster Kennedy. Lloyd was born in 1914. He started living in Yellow Springs in 1938, renting a room in the house he would eventually purchase and make his home for 79 years. He was the Johnny Appleseed of our little village, ensuring through planting and maintenance that we have more trees within our village limits than we do people. And when a tattooed, be-earringed, loc-wearing pastor assumed the pulpit of a church he had been a member of for almost as long as he was a local citizen, Mr. Kennedy made himself known. He made introductions the first week I assumed the pulpit, my hair not yet in locs and numerous tattoos, of which Lloyd was fascinated, to come. The second week, he approached me and asked: "Do you remember my name?" I stammered: "Dr…." He shook his head. "No, not a doctor. Just a mister. Lloyd Kennedy. I expect you to remember it next week."

I did.

Lloyd was a tenacious man; in the four years I was blessed to serve as his pastor, Lloyd gave me marching orders three times. The first you just read; the second was work with kids and the YSPD, which I did (although other village-based groups have done much more, as they should, being as they are represented by those who can more accurately describe the challenges youth of color face); and the third was for his memorial last night, and what I am to do for the future of First Presby. Yup. Just weeks away from dying, he wasn't interested in talking about himself or beliefs about what might happen. He wanted to make sure the church is taken care of. That's just how Lloyd rolled.

I wrote in the last installment about how there was a dichotomy in portraying Caesar on Saturday night and then leading service Sunday morning. I noted that I felt the work of God in these two experiences. I must confess a similar happening last night. I didn't know if I was going to be able to gather myself; a hypomania careening toward depression had only a few hours until the crash. My greatest fear was having Lloyd's memorial service be detrimentally impacted by my illness, so I showed half an hour before and I left right after.

But God is good, and from the opening number–a stunningly beautiful rendition of "Longtime Traveller–to the closing song, "My Way," performed by a congregant, longtime friend, and a man who could give Frank Sinatra a run for his money, the Spirit was present. I forgot my anxieties and had the blessed ability to be mindfully present in the moment. Per Lloyd's instructions, we sang more than we spoke. We did go over the 1-hour allotment Lloyd had demanded. I imagine that when I arrive at the pearly gates,* Lloyd will be waiting for me with a word or two about that, but as Lloyd's son said, "He was a taskmaster, but he also was very forgiving."

The sanctuary was packed. PACKED. Many of Lloyd's contemporaries have already gone to the sweet by-and-by, a song sung last night by our very own Soulstirrers. There were numerous pastors who could have given Lloyd a more accurate or apt pastoral eulogy. But with it falling to me, I say thanks be to God for the ways in which the events of life help me enter more deeply into the imitatio christi, the imitation of Christ. Putting on the skin of Caesar was the closest I have come to glimpsing for myself the allure of absolute power. All around the village, people are still saying, "Hail, Caesar!" I generally respond with "Yes, hail me. Hail me." Then we laugh. But being Caesar engaged my ego on myriad levels. Generally, I try to cut people off when they pay me compliments, but I have stopped doing that; I understand that these are words that are meaningful to them and that I should receive said words with gratitude and humility. My challenge then becomes not thinking that I am more important than anyone else.

Below is the eulogy I delivered for Lloyd. I imagine he would say it was too long, even though it is under 500 words. Lloyd had an iron will and was lovingly called "slave driver" by members of the church with whom he worked. He never did so, however, because he wanted to be praised or he wanted to exert power over others. Lloyd sought solutions and action; he believed in community and treating each other with kindness.

Then fall Caesar. And rise, Lloyd.

I honestly don’t know if I ever heard Lloyd say the name, Jesus. But three years ago when there was 7 inches of snow on the ground, Faye and Lloyd, dressed as always in his jacket and tie, were in their usual pew and our mighty dozen had a powerful worship. I got my first “nice sermon” from him that day, which made my heart jump, but that was really the closest we came to God talk when he held court in Westminster after services.

But I stand here today to say that Lloyd Kennedy was perhaps the most truly Christian person I have met in my life. He followed Jesus in all that he did. In his commitment to his work, both professionally and after retirement, in his marriages, the first one with Mary for 53 ½ years and 5 days and the second one with Faye, which enabled him to live the rest of his years, in his words, “happily ever after.” Lloyd was a loving father and family man, a dedicated community member, and a stalwart congregant of this church for three-quarters of a century.

That alone does not make one a Christian; many people in and out of the faith are good, loving persons. For me, Lloyd tops the list because he did it without bravado or the need for praise. He spoke little about Jesus because he was busy doing what Jesus tells us to do. He was a good disciple of St. Francis: “Preach the gospel at all times; when necessary, use words.” Just a few months before he passed, Lloyd was out front of this church overseeing the installation of Kentucky Bluegrass he donated to us because the planted grass was, in his words, “all wrong.” When I visited with him last, a visit that stretched over two hours, Lloyd wasn’t interested in speaking about spiritual matters, he was giving me marching orders for today and for the future of the church.

Please don’t hear this and think that Lloyd was not a spiritual man. He most certainly was; Lloyd knew who Jesus was to him, a good teacher, and he spent his life following those teachings. He said many times that he had lived a good, full life, and that his final years with Faye were a great blessing. For a man who spoke so little about religion, calling his wife a blessing still brings tears to my eyes. Lloyd didn’t need to talk about God because he made God a verb, and for that I say, thanks be to God. Rest in power Lloyd. We’re better for having known you, and we’ll always look for you in the trees. Amen.    

*I don't actually believe that there are pearly gates; click here for some thoughts on the afterlife. Ultimately, I know that I don't know, and Jesus gives me enough to do on this side of the veil without being obsessed with death and its aftermath.

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