Sunday, April 21, 2013
Tomorrow is the 19th anniversary of the death of Richard Nixon, whom I served for 14 years as his personal secretary and last chief of staff. I can hardly believe it has been almost two decades since I held his hand and kissed him on the forehead while saying goodbye in a small, dark room in the ICU at New York Hospital. Those private moments remain fresh in my mind because of the sacred separation of his spirit from his body that I felt as his heart monitor went flat.
Because of the passions of the Cold War, Vietnam, and Watergate, and especially the secret White House tapes, history’s assessment of him will always be complicated. Some of his worst moments and those of felonious assistants such as Bob Haldeman are on display in tonight’s documentary on the Discovery Channel. But there was another side of our former president that I was privileged to see as he traveled the world, wrote many books and articles, and advised all of his successor presidents.
The days before his devastating stroke were full and joyful. He worked on his final book, Beyond Peace. Two days before he was stricken, he was among friends and family at the wedding of a family friend in Westchester County. The day before, his younger daughter Julie Eisenhower spent the day at his home in Park Ridge, New Jersey, which had felt empty indeed since Mrs. Nixon’s death in June 1993.
I’ve thought of him each day since. To focus his own thoughts, President Nixon wrote notes to himself constantly, including daily Kathy-dos. Here are the two from April 18. When we’d covered a matter, he crossed it off the list. On the shorter list are a couple of items he never had a chance to ask me about. Maybe later, Mr. President!
Monday, March 18, 2013
Sky’s comin’ down again
I get so tired
Of these same old blues
Same old song
Baby, it won’t be long
‘fore I be tyin’ on
My flyin’ shoes
This post was first published in the Lent 2013 issue of the parish newsletter of St. John's Church, the Vaya Con Dios.
Friday, January 25, 2013
This post was first published in the parish newsletter of St. John's Church, the Vaya Con Dios.
Thursday, December 20, 2012
At such moments, does your mind work like mine? If I’m near home, at first I think, “Maybe they’re going to our house!” If I’m near work, I think, “I hope there’s nothing wrong at St. John's!” Once these brief visions of incendiary toasters or Advent wreaths recede, I pray that everyone is okay wherever the firefighters are headed and give thanks for all the people in the world who make a vocation out of rushing toward danger.
We’re usually not the victims when horror strikes – until we are. On the Monday after Newtown, I tried to imagine what St. John’s School parents were feeling at drop-off. Their heads probably assured them that their children would be safe on our campus. Their hearts warned that the parents of Sandy Hook Elementary School had made the same assumption.
To the extent that safety is a state of mind, we’re in more a dangerous state this Advent and Christmas. That same Monday at least enabled St. John’s School to thank some of those who risk their lives on our behalf. U.S. Marines and their families visited campus for a chapel service and meetings with our students. Kristen Lanham, Cindy Farnum, and other organizers of our annual Operation Christmas Spirit sent our guests back to Camp Pendleton with presents, food, and clothing.
Preaching in a church packed with students, colleagues, and our guests, I told my fire engine story in the hope of reassuring children who had been hearing about Newtown all weekend. While bad things do happen, we’re pretty safe. If we’re still worried or scared, it helps us feel better when we count our blessings, care for someone else who’s suffering, and give thanks for those from Afghanistan to the neighborhood firehouse who pledge themselves to safety and service.
Worry and fear won’t keep tragedy away, but planning and preparation may. At St. John’s School, we have regular fire and lock-down drills. At the national level, an urgent conversation is underway about the gun violence that marred this year more than any in recent memory. What can we do as one nation under God to deter such acts? It won’t be a thorough conversation unless everything’s on the table, including mental health education and treatment, the prevalence of semiautomatic weapons, and the way video game and television violence influences troubled people.
What might help most of all would be paying more and better attention to one another in our fractious, individuated society. Faith communities such as St. John’s can contribute by modeling how to conduct civil dialogue on difficult issues, build and sustain mutually supportive communities, and care for the lonely, despondent, and marginalized.
Thinking there’s nothing we can do after a moment like Newtown would inflict tragedy on tragedy. As Charles Dickens wrote in A Christmas Carol, “Any Christian spirit working kindly in its little sphere, whatever it may be, will find its mortal life too short for its vast means of usefulness.” Every one of us is part of the solution, capable of accomplishing far more of God’s just and righteous purposes than we usually imagine. But how could it be otherwise at Christmas, as we prepare to celebrate our enlightenment and empowerment in Emmanuel, God with us?
This post originally appeared in the Vaya Con Dios, the St. John's Episcopal Church newsletter.
Thursday, November 22, 2012
Tuesday, September 4, 2012
With that, The Episconixonian -- with books to read, songs to learn, and weddings to conduct (especially my elder daughter's on Oct. 6) and to ensure that during the next nine weeks an obsession with politics doesn't crowd out attention to ministry -- begins a campaign-season hiatus.
I'll conclude by saying I was surprised that the Republicans risked reprising Ronald Reagan's 1980 question -- "Are you better off today than you were four years ago?" -- and also that the Democrats took a couple of news cycles to figure out how to answer it. I unhesitatingly answered yes, since four years ago, I was considering signing up for firearms training in preparation for the apparently imminent meltdown of the global financial system and the return of a hunter-gatherer-barter-based economy. But I'm a worrier.
For now, it's good enough for me that Ben is better off than he was four weeks ago. God is good!
Friday, August 31, 2012
Mitt Romney wrapped the most important speech of his life, for Thursday night’s session of his convention, around an extraordinary reinvention of history — that his party rallied behind President Obama when he won in 2008, hoping that he would succeed. “That president was not the choice of our party,” he said. “We are a good and generous people who are united by so much more than divides us.”
The truth, rarely heard this week in Tampa, Fla., is that the Republicans charted a course of denial and obstruction from the day Mr. Obama was inaugurated, determined to deny him a second term by denying him any achievement, no matter the cost to the economy or American security — even if it meant holding the nation’s credit rating hostage to a narrow partisan agenda.
Kellie Ferguson, the executive director of Republican Majority for Choice, would like to see the GOP shift from banning abortion to finding common ground in order to reduce the number of abortions. She’s been dismayed by recent GOP attacks on family planning (the attempts to defund Planned Parenthood, for instance), which she finds irrational. “If you make it more difficult for women to access planning services, you end up with more unintended pregnancies and more abortions, which ends up costing taxpayers money. So, among other problems, it’s not fiscally conservative.” (The Guttmacher Institute estimates that every dollar spent on family planning saves taxpayers $4.)