CWT 1951-2022

God was merciful to Warren.

Warren knew he was dying. I mean, you and I know we’re dying, too, but maybe we don’t let ourselves think much about it. I think Warren was a little different.

Not many of you know me, but I was one of Warren’s law partners for more than 20 years. When I first arrived at the firm in 1993 he had already been there for 17 years.

He had gone to the University of Florida as an undergraduate and as a law student and he received honors like Phi Beta Kappa and the Order of the Coif. I know Order of the Coif sounds like an award for hair — and most of you are skeptical that Warren could ever have won an award for his hair — but of course the reference is to the wigs worn by lawyers in England, and the Order of the Coif is the honor society for U.S. law school graduates.

So you can see that he was intelligent.

After law school he came to the venerable Jacksonville law firm of Bedell, Bedell, Dittmar & Zehmer, where he worked (through many name changes) for 46 years. (I dare say very few of you have worked in one place for 46 years.) He learned at the feet of some great lawyers, but Cay can tell you it was no picnic.

In the first year or two of his career he was in a trial with Earle Zehmer in Daytona Beach. Some time into the trial Mr. Zehmer had a heart attack and Warren had to continue the trial without him. Other lawyers from the firm came from time to time, but knowing nothing of the case they were only able to give moral support to the young associate. The trial continued for fourteen months before the case settled.

So you can see that Warren was not a flighty person, he stuck with things.

Warren thought a lot about what it meant to be a lawyer — the attention to detail, the need for honesty and professional courtesy — but what he told me early in my career was that lawyers were basically writers who had to explain complicated issues so that they could be understood. Sometimes, though, he would ask me to write something and I would agonize over what exactly he wanted.

Over his career, most of his practice was in the area of construction law — usually litigation in the aftermath of a building project — so he knew a lot about how buildings were built and the roles of contractors and subcontractors, and architects and developers and owners. By their nature these cases are highly technical in nature, and Warren burrowed into the details. He was good at it and he was in the first group of Florida lawyers who became Board-Certified in Construction Law in 2005. He was highly respected as a litigator, and arbitrator and a writer and many of his last cases were arbitrations in which he was one of the arbitrators. He was a very good lawyer.

Being a good lawyer is no guarantee of being a good person, of course, but Warren was both.

In the last few days the Firm has received many emails from people who practiced with or against him, and uniformly they have said things like a “good guy, a smart guy, and always a gentleman.” The staff in the office have reminded me of “Warren stories” including

  • his love of cherry lifesavers (which he would filch from the variety bag before they ever got into the candy jar);
  • his concern for a stray cat hanging by the Bedell Building  —  he would make sure Andrea gave it food and water every day; and
  • his willingness to talk one-on-one until they would say “Mr. Tripp, I’ve got to get back to work.”

One secretary told me:

I have something that I will never forget about him. Years ago, a family friend was going through a tough time with cancer. . . . I wanted to help and so I . . . sent an e-mail here at the firm to see if anyone would be willing to give. Many people did. I did not know Mr. Tripp very well at all, and when I received a routing envelope from him containing a check for a large amount (the biggest donation, in fact), I was shocked. I knew in that moment that he must be an extremely generous and caring person; just a little quiet and introverted. . . . Someone I didn’t know well gave a huge donation to help a person he didn’t know at all. It just meant a lot and I think it shows the type of person he was.

You can see that he was kind.

Smart, persistent, kind.

But he suffered many hardships and in his seventy years Warren learned something that many people never learn. He learned that it wasn’t enough.

  • It wasn’t enough to rise out of poverty and family disorder to graduate from college and law school and become a well-respected professional who worked in an air-conditioned office.
  • It wasn’t enough to have a beautiful, graceful wife and three wonderful children (and later two daughters-in-law and a son-in-law and eventually five granddaughters he doted on).
  • It wasn’t enough to be known as a good man.

These things didn’t heal him from trauma or protect him from suffering and they certainly did not prevent him from becoming ill. If you have beauty, brains, courage, compassion, education, eloquence, wealth or wisdom, you will still come to this same place.

But God was merciful to Warren, in that he let Warren see that he was dying.

—-

Most of you know how important music was to Warren.

Many of the stories he would tell were about music and musicians. He had known some of the members of Lynyrd Skynyrd and had seen many bands and concerts. (He told me the almost unbelievable story that he had seen Jimi Hendrix open for The Monkees in the summer of 1967, and I looked it up and it was true.) He kept up with the music world all his life.

In his last weeks he made lists of songs and Scriptures he wanted to be part of this service. Almost none of them were “obvious” songs for a funeral — not “Amazing Grace” or “How Great Thou Art” or even “Shall We Gather at the River?” Warren drew on music that had touched him and he ruminated on the lyrics. (Warren was a world-class ruminator.)

As the family was talking about how to incorporate the list into this service, his son Tyler made an insightful observation that Warren was using these songs to build a narrative for us, to tell a story about his life. And so I realized that I had one last writing project from Warren.

The story is about dying, of course.

Listen to the lyrics:

     Everybody I talk to is ready to leave 
        With the light of the morning
     They've seen the end coming down long enough to believe
        They've heard their last warning
     Standing alone
        Each has his own ticket in his hand 1 

You can see your death coming, and it is a destination everyone travels to alone.

When my body won't hold me anymore
	And it finally lets me free
		Will I be ready? 2

We know it’s coming, but will we be prepared?

Warren was prepared (he was always prepared as a lawyer), he knew he was, but that did not take away the question. It doesn’t take away the question for us, either.

And Warren wanted us to be comforted today

When I go, don't cry for me
	In my Father's arms I'll be
The wounds this world left on my soul
	Will all be healed and I'll be whole 3

All the trauma and illness and suffering — all healed:

So weep not for me, my friend, 
	when my time below does end
For my life belongs to Him, 
	who will raise the dead again 3 

And with that healing, maybe what we do here today isn’t that critical:

It don't matter where you bury me
	I'll be home and I'll be free
It don't matter, anywhere I lay
	All my tears be washed away
		All my tears be washed away 3

Warren is home. Warren is free. And his tears — many shed in private — have been washed away — all of them.

One of the other songs 4 talks about what remains of our earthly suffering and says that the only remaining scars in heaven will be Jesus’ scars. You see, it is part of our faith to believe that the sufferings of Jesus have purpose. That purpose is to reconcile us to God.

You see, God has no reason to be drawn to us — we rebel against him and curse him and (worst of all) we turn our backs on him. God has every reason to condemn us.

But Jesus . . .

Jesus — the one through whom the universe was made — entered that universe as a mere human. He started as a baby, even, born in poverty in an unimportant country which was under the dictatorial rule of Rome. His life was a hard life and though he distinguished himself as a brilliant teacher and as one who was zealous for the one true God, his own people rejected him and turned him over to be killed by the Roman machine.

His death — as a willing victim — is what has the power to reconcile us to God. The apostle Paul wrote:

If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old [life] has passed away; behold, [a new life] has come. . . . [through] Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their [sins] against them . . . . We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.

2 Corinthians 17-20.

And so back to Warren’s songs:

Gold and silver blind the eye
	Temporary riches lie
Come and eat from Heaven's store
	Come and drink and thirst no more 3

Warren is saying this in his song story — it is so easy to get lost in the things of this world, please, please, come and be reconciled to God through Jesus.

And listen to this

Jesus has overcome
	And the grave is overwhelmed
The victory is won
	He is risen from the dead 5

Jesus was executed, and he died and was buried, but that was not the end for him! It is not the end for us either.

Jesus was raised from death and Jesus will raise his own as well:

And I will rise when He calls my name
No more sorrow, no more pain
I will rise on eagles' wings
Before my God fall on my knees
	And rise, I will rise 5

Death is not just the end of tears, the end of pain. For the one in Jesus’ hands, it is the beginning of a new life, an eternal life of praise.

Warren wanted you to know that, so he gave us all a list of songs and he asked me to make a sermon out of it.

I hope I got it right, old friend.

NOTES:  1. Jackson Browne, “For Everyman.” 2. Robert William Crawford, Scott Yancey Avett and Timothy Seth Avett, “No Hard Feelings.” There is much in this song about being reconciled to other people and letting go of wrongs done against you. It is worth ruminating on. 3. Julie Miller, “All My Tears.” 4. John Mark Hall, Matthew West, "Scars in Heaven." 5. Chris Tomlin, Jesse Reeves, Louie Giglio, Matt Maher, “I will rise.” The last song was Randy Houser and Craig Monday, "Lord, Lead Me Home," which fit the message, but not the time we had been allotted. [Youtube link] The lyrics are available below:

Communion Prayer

June 5, 2022

Tomorrow, of course, is the 78th anniversary of D-Day. There are not many people alive who were alive and aware then and fewer still who were there on the beaches of Normandy, but almost all of us have experienced that event through films like “Saving Private Ryan.”

The soldiers on June 6, 1944 knew that many of them would die, as every person dies. More than 6000 Allied soldiers perished that day, along with a similar number of German troops. Tomorrow we will commemorate that day.

But today we come as a body to commemorate the death of one man, Jesus. We do this through the act of eating and drinking, something that every one of us does every day.

There was a time in Jesus’ life soon after the event we call the “feeding of the 5000.” Having crossed the sea of Galilee, Jesus was in Capernaum, and the people came to him. In teaching them, he said “You came looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate all the bread you wanted. Don’t work so hard for temporary food, but apply your efforts for “the food that endures to eternal life,” which I will give to you.

This didn’t make much sense to them at first and they asked him questions and Jesus took them back to the crux of the issue – the need to believe in him. Strangely enough the audience saw a connection with the nation’s time in the wilderness in Exodus and Numbers and they said why should we believe in you? “Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, He gave them bread from heaven to eat.”

And Jesus said the Father gave them “bread from heaven” as he is giving it to you now! “For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” John 6:33. They understood he was talking about himself and they said “Lord, give us this bread always.”

  • Jesus said to them, I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.

John 6:35-40.

That did not go over well with the religious establishment – because essentially Jesus is saying “I am God’s blessing like the manna was God’s blessing,” and if the truth were known the Jewish leaders were used to thinking of themselves as God’s blessing on the nation.

The conversation quickly deteriorated, with Jesus saying this

  • Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me . . . . whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died.  This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die.  I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.

Now this was very offensive, and it got worse when Jesus said

  • Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever. 

John 6:53-58.

This teaching was the context for Jesus’ last supper with the disciples, a Passover meal.

  • Physical life is sustained by physical food, but eternal life is dependent on true food and drink.
  • That true food and drink is Jesus – sent from the Father as surely as the manna was sent.
  • The person who feeds on Jesus will live.

If the deacons would come now and pass the bread. Please hold it and we will eat together.

[Prayer]

Luke writes:

  • And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.

Luke 22:19.

And now the deacons will bring the cup. Please wait until all have been served and we will drink together:

[Prayer]

  • And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.

Luke 22:20.

The person who feeds on Jesus will live.

Flannery

Today would be Flannery O’Connor’s 97th birthday.

  • “I have found that violence is strangely capable of returning my characters to reality and preparing them to accept their moment of grace. Their heads are so hard that almost nothing else will do the work. This idea, that reality is something to which we must be returned at considerable cost, is one which is seldom understood by the casual reader, but it is one which is implicit in the Christian view of the world.” Mystery and Manners, p. 112.
  • “The stories are hard but they are hard because there is nothing harder or less sentimental than Christian realism. I believe that there are many rough beasts now slouching toward Bethlehem to be born and that I have reported the progress of a few of them, and when I see these stories described as horror stories I am always amused because the reviewer always has hold of the wrong horror.” Mystery and Manners, 117.
  • “Wise blood has to be these people’s means of grace—they have no sacraments. The religion of the South is a do-it-yourself religion, something which I as a Catholic find painful and touching and grimly comic. It’s full of unconscious pride that lands them in all sorts of ridiculous religious predicaments. They have nothing to correct their practical heresies and so they work them out dramatically. If this were merely comic to me, it would be no good, but I accept the same fundamental doctrines of sin and redemption and judgment that they do.” The Habit of Being, p. 350.

I recommend again Jonathan Rogers, The Terrible Speed of Mercy: A Spiritual Biography of Flannery O’Connor (Thomas Nelson 2012) [link].

No body

Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.

Attributed to Teresa of Avila

Reading & viewing links

current reading and viewingMore than usual, sorry, I usually post when I have three, this time I have five for you. Please don’t miss the last one.

Stephen L. Carter, “How We Got to Capital-B ‘Black’: America’s long conversation about race has often stumbled over which specific words to use,” BloombergOpinion (July 1, 2020) [link]:

small quotes blueSo black is now Black. In the wake of the protests following the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and too many others, editors everywhere have decreed with sudden and remarkable unanimity that the formerly common adjective referring to African Americans will henceforth be a proper adjective.

I’m all for the change. Yes, as a card-carrying Grammar Curmudgeon I have a few curmudgeonly concerns. But before we get to that part, let’s do a little history.

Over the past half millennium, the U.S. and its predecessor colonies have invented all sorts of ways to refer to the Africans they bought and sold and their many generations of descendants. Many of those terms were derogatory at the time; most are considered derogatory today. The nation’s difficulty in finding the proper word to describe a people dragged unwillingly to its shores itself mirrors the difficulty the nation has had in digesting the original crime.

Carter continues to look at the history and significance of the usage, with his usual insight. Alas he is behind the Bloomberg paywall, and (so far as I am aware) his earlier columns are not released after a period of captivity like some other writers. See, e.g., Peggy Noonan [link]. Choose your one free article for the month wisely (now I will have to wait until August).


Sarah Willard, “Remember This,” Blind Mule Blog (June 29, 2020) [link]:

small quotes blueIn January I wrote the word Eucatastrophe down on a scrap of paper and propped it up on my desk. A sudden turn of good events, it means, which ensures the protagonist does not meet some very probable doom. It was with barely a mustard seed of belief that I wrote it down. Really I just liked the way it looked on paper. I didn’t name it and claim it. I didn’t presume to pray for it. I was, in fact, avoiding it personally.

Great word, Sarah, and one we need to remember. She gives us a scrap of story about unexpected grace.


Nadia Nadim, “The Outsiders,” The Players’ Tribune (June 18, 2020):

small quotes blueAlthough I’m encouraged by the Black Lives Matter protests, I still feel that too many people have become numb to what’s going on in certain parts of the world. Take one of them aid campaigns about Africa, where children are suffering from hunger. People see it, in the literal sense, but they don’t really see it. You know? But then let’s say that you live in Denmark, where I arrived when I was 12, or in any other privileged country. If two Danes die or get killed in Africa or Syria or wherever, that’s suddenly big news. You’re like, “Oh my God. They were Danish!!” 

This is a different story than we are used to.


Rebecca Manley Pippert, Stay Salt (2020) [link]:

small quotes blueOur task is learning how to apply all that we have received from God so that we can witness to the truth about him in ways that are effective and that truly connect with people today. We do not need to get angry, shouting at our culture. We do not need to feel defeated, staying silent in our culture. We can be hopeful, as we share the message that the whole word so desperately needs to hear. To put it another way, we can still be disciple-makers. We can—we must—stay salt!


Voddie Baucham, “Racial Reconciliation,” YouTube (2019) [link]:

small quotes blueIf God can reconcile those who have real and God-ordained distinctions between them, He can certainly reconcile people who have arbitrary and artificial differences and distinctions between them.

This is a very powerful sermon—by the way, Dr. Baucham is not (1) saying there is no problem, or (2) reading books is worthless, or that (3) we can experience no peace with non-believers. What he does say is worth multiple hearings.

Dr. Baucham has many online sermons—does anyone have other suggestions? This was the first I had heard.

Returning to reality

O'connor TSOMI have been reading about Flannery O’Connor in Jonathan Rogers, The Terrible Speed of Mercy: A Spiritual Biography of Flannery O’Connor (2012), which is excellent.1

During her life O’Connor was often rebuked for the violence in her fiction, but she explained how it was not at all inconsistent with her Christian faith:

small quotes blueI suppose the reasons for the use of so much violence in modern fiction will differ with each writer who uses it, but in my own stories I have found that violence is strangely capable of returning my characters to reality and preparing them to accept their moment of grace. Their heads are so hard that almost nothing else will do the work. This idea, that reality is something to which we must be returned at considerable cost, is one which is seldom understood by the casual reader, but it is one which is implicit in the Christian view of the world.2

I was struck by this, I think, because it seems particularly apropos to our current situation in which our lives have been violently reduced, and much that was extraneous has been torn away from us.

It seems to me that O’Connor echoes C.S. Lewis in The Problem of Pain (p. 81: “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”) and in “Learning in War-Time” (The war creates no absolutely new situation: it simply aggravates the permanent human situation so that we can no longer ignore it.”).

O’Connor, as diligent “sub-creator,” looked for ways that her character might be brought to grace — our creator (and hers) is now doing the same.


1Isn’t that a perfect title? The Terrible Speed of Mercy is a great place to start a study of O’Connor. [Ed. note: It turns out that “the terrible speed of mercy” is a phrase of Flannery O’Connor’s.]

2Flannery O’Connor, Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose (ed. Sally and Robert Fitzgerald (1961) (emphasis added).

Without the numbers

esvI’ve been reading in the ESV Readers Bible, and I am somewhere in Luke — not exactly sure where (that’s the point, right?). Anyway, John the baptizer has just sent two of his disciples to try to find out whether Jesus is, in fact, the Messiah (since he has been doing all sorts of amazing things).

John’s disciples say: “John the Baptist has sent us to you, saying, Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” The text says that

In that hour he healed many people of diseases and plagues and evil spirits, and on many who were blind he bestowed sight. And he answered them,

Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.

Notice this — there are six types of people in distress: “blind,” “lame,” “lepers,” “deaf,” “dead” (“distressed” might not be the best word for dead people), and “poor.” The first five are given what we would expect a true miracle worker to give:

    • the blind receive their sight,
    • the lame walk,
    • lepers are cleansed,
    • the deaf hear,

and

    • the dead are raised up

But the sixth receives something quite unexpected — it is not “and the poor are given food,” or “the poor are given money,” or even “the needs of the poor are met.” Instead, Jesus says

the poor have good news [the word is “gospel”] preached to them.

Only one who is authoritatively the Messiah* would be so bold as to give something of eternal value where there are more “immediate” needs.

I draw two conclusions:

  1. Even in this time of crisis, we need to give “good news” to those in distress, even as we need those immediate needs.
  2. We need to remember that life is more than what we consume.**

 


*The numbers and the cross-references can have great value, of course, as they help us keep track of what we learn — if you can find Isaiah 26:19; 29:18-19; 35:5-6; and 61:1, you will see that these acts are part of the redemption that the Lord promises to bring about.

**I’m pretty sure I read that second point about a fourth of the way through Matthew, but I can’t find it now.