03 April 2014

Stan Thornburg

I was so tired when I got home this evening that I decided to lie down and get a couple of hours of sleep before sitting down to this homemade computer and pounding out something profound for you. Before pounding, however, I happened to notice a new item in my e-mail. I didn't even have to open the e-mail: the subject line and one-line preview were enough. It was from our yearly meeting superintendent Becky Ankeny. Subject: Stan Thornburg. Preview: "Friends, Stan passed away at 3:30 today. I know his family appreciates your p..."

There'll be nothing here coherent today.

If you knew Stan, the memories are surely flooding back at this very moment. Tears, too, mixed with laughter as we remember one of the funniest and most profound public Friends of our time.

My first memories of Stan are from a Quaker retreat in the mid-1980's, a retreat on the "future of the prophetic ministry." We met at a strange motel in St. Charles, Missouri, the Noah's Ark. Part of the place really looked like a cartoon ark, with huge fiberglas animals. The oddest thing to me was the fact that, when we were in the conference room for our retreat, the windows were decorated with animals looking at us from outside! It was at that retreat that I heard Stan talking about the "Whamo Theory of Grace," which I summed up this way in a post on evangelical machismo: "...We ratchet ourselves up according to external measures of religious adequacy while God, at the top of our stepladder, waits with a big hammer to clobber us whenever we inevitably stumble."

He also told us about the time, early in his pastoral service, when his Friends meeting back in Kansas received a donation request from a big celebrity-led church, promising that the contribution would result in tenfold blessings for the donor. Stan's little Quaker church wrote back to Big Dollar Church with their own request for a contribution, pointing out that by the original logic, that was the best way for the big church to get blessed. A mere $100,000 to the Quakers would net a million for the big one.

A few years later, Stan came to Earlham College and gave a talk "on being a safe male." Our Indiana Yearly Meeting superintendent, David Brock, was on hand for that talk, I remember; probably not a coincidence, because Stan was a speaker for our next annual sessions. The talks he gave at those sessions were extraordinary, perhaps the best conference sermons I've ever heard, and I've heard a lot! I hope they're preserved somewhere.

Somewhere along the way, Stan began writing for Quaker Life--before the advent of online archives, sad to say. I remember him writing about a visit to a hospital: seeing the "admissions" desk, he walked to the desk clerk and started confessing his sins.

For about a dozen years, Stan was pastor at Reedwood Friends Church, who are the lucky custodians of dozens of tapes of his sermons over those years. I used to listen to those cassettes while driving--practically the only reason I would look forward to long car trips. How I've wished that I'd kept my copies of those tapes.

In more recent years, Stan kept a sporadic blog, Born to East Toast, which is a good sampling of his approach to the Bible, to humor, and to surviving long hospitalizations. He also wrote a year-long blog series about "the slow but steady progress of my understanding of GLBTQ folks," which probably complicated his relationships with some in our yearly meeting.

I'm sitting here finding it hard to stop writing about Stan. If I stop writing, I'll have to sit back and actually absorb the news. Here's what I'll do: First, provide a link to the PDF article on open worship that might be the most widely-circulated piece he wrote. Second, quote Stan himself, on the Lenten journey to Jerusalem:
Everyone is invited on this journey! It belongs to no one faith or sect. We will weather the betrayal, suffering, and sacrifice together. Come, join the throngs across our globe on this wonderful, terrible, trek. We will stand stunned into silence before the tomb. We will go crazy with celebration when death’s door makes way for resurrection power.

We will be forever changed.

A Muslim who has been "active in London's faith scene for some time," writes, "We should revive the East End’s Christian spirit." Several Anglicans respond. (Thanks to Fulcrum.)

Churchill Malimo of Friends World Committee for Consultation asks, "What is eating Africa today?"

Friends General Conference launches a Web site for the New Meetings Project.

It has been years since I've written about torture, but this Washington Post report brings back all the anger, shame, and sorrow.

"The Trouble with Men." And while we're on that general topic, "Gender and headship in eschatological perspective" and "Will there be gender inequality in the resurrection?"

Stan, the circle will be unbroken.


Nancy Thomas said...

Thank you, Johan, for this blog. We have been half-way expecting this news for a long time, but, even so, we find ourselves shaken emotionally. Your article captures something profound about Stan, and that helps us grieve. We will miss him for a long time.

Jill said...

Thank you for sharing. His passing made me dig out notes I took from a sermon at Reedwood _24 years_ ago. I still remember the day, the hour, the notebook is long gone, but I saved those notes forever. He was like no other.

Unknown said...

Johan, thank you for sharing these thoughts. It's really meaningful for me to hear more of these stories. I really looked up to him.