Sunday, January 11, 2015
“The pupil dilates in darkness and in the end finds light, just as the soul dilates in misfortune and in the end finds God.” ― Victor Hugo
I didn’t read Victor Hugo’s “Les Miserables” until I was in my thirties, but when I was in high school, I read the chapter about Valjean and the Bishop as a short story not knowing it was part of a much greater work. That story had an amazing effect on me. If you don’t know it, basically a starving parolee showed up at a bishop’s home, the bishop invited him in, fed him, gave him clothes, and a warm place to sleep. During the night, the parolee (Jean Valjean) stole all of the bishop’s silver and ran away. The next day, he was returned to the bishop by the police saying they had found the man who had said the bishop had given him the silver. The bishop surprised everyone, especially Valjean, by saying that he had in fact given him the silver. He went on to say that Valjean had forgotten the best silver, two silver candlesticks still on the bishop’s table. The bishop had the police release Valjean and then handed him the candlesticks. The police were sent away, and the bishop told Valjean he had been pardoned by God. The short story ended there, but in the book, Valjean uses the silver to start a new life and well, you need to read the book, see the musical, or watch the movie—it’s fantastic. Near the end, in includes the line “To love another person is to see the face of God.” Well worth reading or seeing. The point here though is that to my young mind, that bishop represented the very best of everything that Christ taught. He became my hero, my role model, and would remain so for many, many years. When I entered the ministry, I discovered that bishops were all too human and had feet of clay. In all of my Christian life, I have only known two bishops that reminded me of the one in the Victor Hugo book. One was a bishop in the AME (African Methodist Episcopal) church that I roomed with in 1962 when I attended the national MYF convention as a teenager in Salem, Oregon. He respected me, treated me like an equal, listened to me patiently, and gave me great advice. The next bishop whom I admired was Herbert Skeet, the African-American Bishop of New England, who brought his wife to my little church (unheard of among bishops) in 1990 where I was a student, part-time pastor to hear me preach, and later invited me to a private interview because he said he saw something special in me, and I have never forgotten him. Since then, I have known many bishops, some mediocre, some good administrators, and some evil and corrupt. Several years ago, the presiding bishop of the Methodist Church in Kenya sent a letter full of easily disprovable lies to the head of immigration in Tanzania asking that I be deported and that all of our buildings at our mission be turned over to his church. The Chief Immigration officer laughed at that and tore the letter up in front of me (I still have a copy). Later, that same bishop brought four lawsuits against the Methodist Church in Tanzania to get money for the Kenyan church and not only lost all four of them, but it also caused immigration to deport any Kenyan Methodist pastors in our area. The Kenyan Methodists get money intended for Tanzania from the UMC but it never leaves Kenya, so anything they can do to hurt us and keep their money coming is how they operate. We now have a governmental judicial restraining order against any Tanzanians working for the Kenya Methodist church that will cause them to be imprisoned or to lose all their property for interfering with the Methodist Church in Tanzania. There are bishops like Archbishop Desmond Tutu and others that still remind me of Victor Hugo’s bishop, but they are few and far between. I know that I do not measure up to the “candlestick” bishop and did not want to be so named, but they made me an honorary bishop at a meeting I didn’t even attend. Being named a bishop, even an honorary one, did have an effect on me. I have tried to be a much better Christian and a much better man as a result. If there is a stone marking my remains, the word “bishop” will not be on it as I do not deserve to be remembered as the bishop in “Les Miserables” and I wouldn’t want to be remembered as the many corrupt, inept, and mediocre bishops that are far too many in number, especially here in Africa. I want just six words on my stone and I want them there only if they are true of me when I die. The words: “A good husband, father, friend, teacher.” I still try to live up to the standards of the good bishop who gave away the candlesticks as well. I pray that I might be remembered as at least partly like him.