For thirty-three years, Jim Barlow has been my friend. His death in the early hours of this morning stings and I am not alone. Hundreds if not thousands of family, colleagues, friends, fellow churchgoers, and certainly those who were his students feel the same way this evening.
Jim was a social worker turned teacher. He taught at Sunset High School in the 60s before moving on to Aloha High School from where he finally retired in the mid-2000s (dragged kicking and screaming from his classroom, I would think).
Along with Bill Presley, Jim he started the Model Presidential Nominating Conventions in 1964. The first conventions, which attracted speakers like Robert F. Kennedy in 1968, were held at Sunset. But within a few presidential cycles, the Model Conventions grew and drew the participation of hundreds of schools and thousands of students. A Monday night leadership class, called Metro Congress, met weekly every year to develop leadership for the conventions and to debate the issues of the day. Speakers at Metro Congress were high level, used to dealing with adults, and sometimes left in awe (one speaker left in tears) at the grilling they received by high school students.
The Model Conventions - often called the “Mock Conventions” - moved into the Memorial Coliseum by the 70s. Whatever party was out of power was what the convention simulated as students poured over state election data and the records of presidential candidates. Jimmy Carter spoke in 1976. Ronald Reagan was there in 1980. Both Michael Dukakis and Jesse Jackson were speakers at the 1988 convention. Bill Clinton appeared in 1992. George W. Bush declined to speak in 2000 and vote-by-mail in Oregon was a major factor in the cancellation of the convention program. Presidential candidates stopped campaigning in Oregon near primary day, and it became impossible to bring in major speakers (if we could have only foreseen the 2008 race between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton…).
Jim took care of the big picture concerns of the convention – finding speakers, etc. – while Bill focused on teaching students about how to craft a political platform that represented whichever party was being modeled that year. They were a dynamic duo supplemented by younger teachers who helped run mock presidential campaigns and issues caucuses. Carole Douglas took care of the finances. In 1984, I was a student in the convention (a proud Gary Hart delegate). In 1988, I was brought on as a consultant to the convention and an advisor to Metro Congress. Jim, Bill and I developed important friendships. They have both been family to me.
For two years, between 2012-2014, I was the senior minister of Sunnyside Church where Jim had been a member since birth. It was not so much a job but another opportunity to have fun with Jim. We spent nearly every Saturday night together folding bulletins and tearing apart our theologies and putting them back together again.
Liz and Jim
Jim had a serious of strokes on Sunday. It was clear that he would not survive them. Bill came that Sunday night and Jim was not awake. But on Monday Jim awoke for a few hours and said that it was “very sweet” that Bill had visited. He could hear us but just couldn’t respond. As Bill told me the next day, and I couldn’t agree more, it was very special for the three of us to spend one last time together.
You’ll hear from just about every student Jim ever had that they adopted some of Jim’s odd mannerisms. My wife Liz, who was Jim’s student teacher when working on her Master of Arts in Teaching at Lewis and Clark, sometimes bemoans my Barlow sense of humor. That came from both Jim and Bill. So if you’re ever offended by my jokes you know whom to blame.
My decision to leave Sunnyside Church (and my other assignment at University Park Church) for Pacific University was not an easy one. There was still work to be done, but it was obvious that my call to ministry was in a different place.
Still, during those two years, I had with Jim some of the most intimate conversations we had ever had. We talked about our love for one another – our love for Bill, for Carole, for Liz, and for pets (mostly cats on Jim’s part) – and the feeling of family we had developed over thirty years. Our daughters loved it when he’d call them varmints. Jim’s death leaves a void. But his family and friends, along with the legions of students he taught, will keep building a more informed citizenry and, in Jim’s words, a more “fluffy” world.
We’re not even at the 24-hour mark since Jim died. If he had any regrets – besides passing before his wife, Susan – it would have been not to vote for Hillary Clinton in November. The Unites States with Donald Trump as president was not acceptable to Jim. He knew we could do better as a people.
PS Coffee and tea will be served in the StarLight room.
UPDATE: A memorial service for James Barlow will occur at the former Sunnyside Church (3520 SE Yamhill Street, Portland, Ore., 97214) on Sat., October 29, 2016 at 6:30pm. A reception will follow. Please contact Rev. Dr. Chuck Currie at email@example.com or 503-208-6521 with questions.
Ten years ago – on September 17, 2006 – I was ordained into the ministry by the United Church of Christ. Almost thirty years ago – while a student at Pacific University in Oregon – my calling began to become clear as I started work with the Burnside Community Council, a non-profit multi-service center and advocacy program committed to ending homelessness. Over the last thirty years, my life has been blessed with too many mentors to mention who saw in me gifts I would never have found alone.
Investing in the students of Pacific University and Chicago Theological Seminary builds Leaders for the Next. The Pacific University Center for Peace and Spirituality works to live out the university’s mission to inspire “students to think, care, create, and pursue justice in our world. At the same time, CTS works as an “international force in the development of religious leadership to transform society toward greater justice and mercy.” The purposes of these two different institutions – one in Oregon and the other in Chicago – sound similar for a reason. Both Pacific and CTS are United Church of Christ-related schools founded by Congregationalists.
As the University Chaplain and Director of the Center for Peace and Spirituality at Pacific University, I get to work with students in our undergraduate and graduate programs committed to social justice. We tackle issues such as racism, gun violence and how to move our world closer to a just peace through academic courses, forums, and conferences.
My job at Pacific became possible because after completing by Master of Divinity degree at Eden Theological Seminary in St. Louis, I was able to enter and complete the Doctor of Ministry program at CTS where my studies were concentrated on public theology – how it is we live out our theological beliefs in a pluralistic society for the common good. What I learned at CTS gets put into practice at Pacific.
Your donation today will support both the Pacific University Center for Peace and Spirituality and Chicago Theological Seminary in preparing the next generation of leaders to tackle some of the most difficult issues ever faced by humanity.
Ministry is a calling and a blessing. I could not have accomplished what I have without the support of a strong community. Right now your help is needed to support students during challenging economic times.
Thank you in advance for your support. To all those who supported my education and call, there are not enough ways I can say thank you for the opportunities provided to me.
I am not not afraid. These are worrisome and fearful times but I am not afraid. Recognize that I come from a place of privilege that others do not. Still, I am confident that God is our "our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. (Psalm 46 NRSV)."
We are in trouble and every day I am reminded at that by those that send their cowardly threats and taunts meant to dehumanize my existence and the humanity of those I serve as an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ with a mandate to preach and teach the gospel.
The gospel of Jesus at the core is love, and though many have tried that ideal has never been diminished. It is the central organizing principle of all the great faith traditions of the world. What is divine is not limited to one religion or another. Love, justice, humility (Micah 6:8) are a summons to action that we all share.
As a follower of the Prince of Peace, my call is to preach peace. Does the anger and vitriol directed my way - and at all those who preach justice and inclusion - worry me? It is a sign of a spiritual sickness. When I respond in kind that sickness infects me and I pray to Jesus for healing. But I am not afraid.
I am resolved to continue speaking out against the powers and principalities that allow hate and violence to fester. My heart breaks because I think about the people of Chicago, the people of Newtown, the people of Roseburg, the people of Charleston, the people of Orlando and so many other places - inside the United States and around the world - but giving into bigotry and fear is giving into evil. This is not the time for building walls. We must walk the more difficult path. I am not afraid.
So I share this prayer from Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, as inspired by Phillips Brooks of the Episcopal Church in the 1800s, as we steal ourselves for another season of struggle. My you find truth and inspiration in the words whatever faith or philosophy that might guide you.
Jesus said, "You ought always to pray and not to faint." Do not pray for easy lives; pray to be stronger women and men. Do not pray for tasks equal to your powers, but for power equal to your tasks. Then, the doing of your work will be no miracle — you will be the miracle. Each day you will wonder at yourself and the richness of life which has come to you by the grace of God. Amen.
Today I worshiped in Charleston, South Carolina where one-year ago an act of domestic terrorism took the lives of nine people attending Bible study. Just one-year later we are mourning an apparent terrorist attack at an Orlando night club where over fifty have been killed. Such mass killings are made too easy by the prevalence of assault weapons in our nation, and gun safety laws that differ from community to community. In Charleston, a white Christian, fueled by racism, murdered African-Americans. In Orlando, preliminary reports suggest an Islamic terrorist targeted gay Americans. There is nothing holy about hate. Our religious bodies must do more to promote love over conflict, and faith communities and civil bodies must join forces to dramatically reduce gun violence. We must mourn our dead while working for a more peaceful America. Americans should not have to fear violence in our schools, houses of worship, malls, nightclubs, or movie theaters.
- Rev. Dr. Chuck Currie, Director, Center for Peace and Spirituality and University Chaplain, Pacific University
| Disclaimer: Views of Pacific faculty do necessarily reflect those of the university.
Leading religious leaders from across the nation have sent a letter to President Obama welcoming the decision by the Obama Administration to expand Title IX discrimination protections on the basis of "gender identity, including discrimination based on a student's transgender status" to public schools across the country. Over three hundred people of faith have signed on as endorsers of the letter.
“We recognize that this is a confusing and even unsettling issue for many, while for others who have faced discrimination this has been a harmful experience long ignored. From our perspective, however, you have simply taken another step toward creating a nation where the basic civil rights of all are protected,” reads the letter.
Among the prominent religious leaders to sign the letter include: Rev. Dr. Chuck Currie, Rev. Dr. Traci D. Blackmon, Sister Simone Campbell, Rev. Dr. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite, and the Rev. Dr. Derrick Harkins.
“Too many LGBTQ youths are lost and abandoned. Many of these young people end up living in poverty and on the streets. None of these children should face discrimination at school or barriers in getting an education. We believe that protecting young people from discrimination is consistent with our faith. Love – not fear – should be our guiding principle. We challenge those who might respond to this decision to open their hearts and listen to the stories, particularly of transgender students, who are so often marginalized,” write the faith leaders.
Text of full letter:
As people of faith with a deep and abiding concern for the welfare of all children, we want to applaud you and your administration for the recent decision to interpret and enforce Title IX — a statute, written in 1972, that prohibits sex discrimination — as also prohibiting discrimination on the basis of "gender identity, including discrimination based on a student’s transgender status.”
We recognize that this is a confusing and even unsettling issue for many, while for others who have faced discrimination this has been a harmful experience long ignored. From our perspective, however, you have simply taken another step toward creating a nation where the basic civil rights of all are protected.
Too many LGBTQ youths are lost and abandoned. Many of these young people end up living in poverty and on the streets. None of these children should face discrimination at school or barriers in getting an education. We believe that protecting young people from discrimination is consistent with our faith. Love – not fear – should be our guiding principle. We challenge those who might respond to this decision to open their hearts and listen to the stories, particularly of transgender students, who are so often marginalized.
Thank you for showing us a better path.
Rev. Dr. Chuck Currie, Director, Center for Peace and Spirituality & University Chaplain, Pacific University
Rev. Dr. Alice Hunt, President and Associate Professor of Hebrew Bible & Theological Education, Chicago Theological Seminary
Rev. Dr. Traci D. Blackmon, Executive Minister, Justice & Witness Ministries, United Church of Christ
Sister Simone Campbell, SSS, Executive Director, NETWORK, A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby
Rabbi Michael Z. Cahana, Senior Rabbi, Temple Beth Israel | Portland, Oregon
Rev. Dr. Deborah Krause, Academic Dean and Professor of New Testament, Eden Theological Seminary
Rev. Dr. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite, Professor of Theology and President Emerita, Chicago Theological Seminary
Rev. Michael Neuroth, Policy Advocate for International Issues, United Church of Christ, Justice and Witness Ministries
Rev. Dr. Derrick Harkins, Senior Vice-President for Innovations in Public Programs, Union Theological Seminary in New York City
* titles are used for identification purposes only
Getting lots of anonymous tweets today from Donald Trump supporters, like the one pictured here, rejecting pluralism and embracing Islamaphobia. So many of them have white supremacist sayings and photos in their profiles. It should be frightening that people like this have taken over the GOP. Democrats should not crow. This is not good for America.
The temptation in campaigns is to vilify those we do not support and I fall victim to that myself sometimes too.
Primary elections often times become difficult and acrimonious even when the candidates involved share many of the same principles and values. Now #ImWithHer. She's qualified. Hillary Clinton will continue the work of Barack Obama, and that is of vital importance.
For many, that isn't enough. I'm one of those that want change to come quickly but I also have nearly 30 years of experience working for social justice and recognize that change is a process. Sometimes we can move forward in unexpected ways when we are ready to seize the initiative and push justice-centered agendas forward. Just consider how quickly we advanced the cause of marriage equality in this nation. Still, a president has to create coalitions to pass legislation in the Congress and work with the courts.
I also recognize that the formal political process, the passing of legislation and such, is only one venue to advance the cause of social justice.
Bernie Sanders is a man of good moral character. As I've said before, I believe in many of the principles that he articulates. His focus on economic inequality can only make the nation a more fair and equal place.
The reality is that Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are both good and decent individuals who share a progressive agenda for making America a better nation. I don't agree with Bernie Sanders on every issue and it is fair to say so. Some of you may be critical of particular policy stances that Hillary Clinton has taken and that is fair. I don't agree with her on every issue - and I support her. When people find a candidate that they agree with 100% of the time it concerns me. A cult of personality develops. Donald Trump is the ultimate example of that in this election cycle as his followers uncritically support his every statement.
So my hope is that as the New York primary approaches that Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders and their supporters can move back to a more issue oriented campaign. We need to stop this nonsense talk about whether or not Hillary Clinton is qualified to be president. She is. And what progressive could argue that Ted Cruz or Donald Trump would make a better president than Bernie Sanders?
Debate the important issues. That is what a primary is for. But let's stand down with these personal attacks. Progressives need to remember that our ultimate goal is having a strong candidate to face either Donald Trump or Ted Cruz in November. These two don't share our basic values. They have campaigned on division. They have a campaigned on religious bigotry. Their campaigns have been truly sexist and racist. It would be disastrous to have either as president.
Progressives still have the opportunity to show the nation, and demonstrate to the world, that our democratic election can be a process where ideas are debated with our nation's highest ideals in mind.
In the end, an election is not about candidates or political parties. Elections are about the common good of a nation. We are not doing as well today as we need to be. Despite the enormous progress since the Great Recession of 2008 when the economy collapsed under the leadership of President George W. Bush, too many people are still hurting. Elections are about the common good. About how to make life better for us all. Let's focus on that, campaign for the candidates we believe in, but do so in a positive spirit the lifts the nation up and offers hope.
Views expressed here represent the perspectives of Rev. Currie, as well as reader participants, and may not represent the views of Pacific University, the United Church of Christ’s national offices in Cleveland or any local UCC congregation. External links made from this site should not construe an endorsement. Rev. Currie has no more editorial control over such content than does a public library, bookstore, or newsstand. Such external links are made for informational purposes only.