Browsing From the Pastor's Desk

Skeletons in the Closet

Jan 10, 2018

This Christmas was unusual in my family. Both of my brothers came to Rochester and spent Christmas with my sister. I joked it was a reunion of the Pre-Baby Boom Brunners. I was surprised then by an email last week from my closest brother referencing a conversation my siblings had back over Christmas regarding one of our relatives, a J. Georg Brunner. The email included details about Hawai’i, which thoroughly confused me. Johann Georg was my great grandfather’s name, but this was not about him. Rather it was about my great-uncle Konrad’s son. Konrad was my grandfather’s brother. We had no idea about the existence of this J. Georg, but my sister had found a newspaper clipping in our deceased aunt’s photo album, telling all about this lost cousin’s adventures in Hawai’i.

Now I had spent many hours with my father trying to put together the tree of the family on this side of the Atlantic. Konrad was an important figure because it was he who provided a home for my grandfather after he had worked off his transatlantic passage. In none of these conversations was cousin J. Georg ever mentioned, even though my father knew his sister and he knew full well that I was assembling a comprehensive genealogy. I went online and shortly found this relative’s obituary, and he was buried in my father’s hometown. It was impossible that my father did not know, especially since his closest sister had that clipping.

There was one other time an unknown relative appeared in our family discourse, and that was when my oldest brother named his oldest son with the same name as my father’s half-brother, who was, as it was revealed to us then, a tragic ne’er-do-well.

As I replied to my brother’s email, I said where there is Brunner silence about a relative, there is a skeleton in the closet. I never heard my parents ever say anything bad about anyone, on either side of the family or about any friend or neighbor, even in making a statement of fact. If it was bad news, it simply was not said or spread. Toward the end of his life, my father, under the advice of his doctor, finally informed me and my brothers that he had prostate cancer. Neither we nor my sister ever had any idea.

Well, I don’t suppose you’re very interested in my family history. I only mention this to underscore my amazement, or rather dismay, at the news, much of which is just gossip about skeletons in closets. There was that unsavory “report” about Donald Trump’s visit to Moscow and a rendezvous with ladies of the night. And now there is this big uproar over a book “telling all” about relationships in the White House, how person X thinks person Y is stupid or inept or treasonous or whatever. I would say “who cares?” but obviously a lot of people do because they are buying the book.

When I was growing up, national gossip was about movie stars, and wasn’t it awful about Elizabeth Taylor, Lucy and Desi. I suppose they didn’t mind, because, as they say, there’s no such thing as bad publicity. But when it’s your president or your senator, that says something more about us as a nation.

I don’t think it says anything too bad about the president or the senator, mind you. I’m pretty sure there isn’t anyone that someone doesn’t think is stupid or inept. It says something that we pay attention to it, that the media thinks we want this information and that just possibly we may think these public servants have to be perfect. They come in all shapes and sizes, but just about anyone in a position of responsibility has some kind of skeleton in his or her closet. Presidents and important leaders need to be held accountable, but they can’t be required to be perfect. If that’s what we expect, we will have no one of competence to serve us.

The trend is troubling. I don’t know all the details, and I’m not a fan of Roy Moore, but I’m pretty sure even if he was a really bad boy in his late 20s and early 30s, he had gotten over it and past it, or else we would have heard about it long before now. We all make mistakes, bad decisions, maybe even have had vices, but if we try and live right and grow, we become older, wiser and more virtuous. If we can’t redeem ourselves from our mistakes and foolishness, then life is becoming a pretty miserable business.

I’m not saying there are not things that can disqualify people from positions later on in life, and I’m glad that it’s no longer tolerated to treat women as objects of gratification. And someone who has a consistent pattern of misbehavior stretching from past to present should be disqualified. But perhaps things have gotten out of hand when anything can be brought up from the distant past to be used as ammunition by political opponents or enemies.

I will confess that I was a bad boy in my 20s and early 30s. I did learn and grow up, but if you need a pastor who was perfect his whole life – or even if you need one who is perfect right now… because I’m still not (though I’ve made progress, I am still a work in progress) – then I’m not your man.

What is the real truth of a person…that which can be said good of him or her, or what can be said ill? What do we look for in a person, the good or the evil? I can’t find the source of this, but some wise person said or wrote “If you see good, praise God. If you see evil, blame yourself.”

We read in the Letter of James (4:11-12) Do not speak evil of one another, brothers. Whoever speaks evil of a brother or judges his brother speaks evil of the law and judges the law. If you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is one lawgiver and judge who is able to save or to destroy. Who then are you to judge your neighbor?

More to the point, it says in the Book of Proverbs (26:20-21) Without wood the fire dies out; without a talebearer strife subsides. Charcoal for coals, wood for fire—such are the quarrelsome, enkindling strife.

Let us not add fuel to the fire. Let us be, in the words of Saint Francis of Assisi, instruments of the Lord’s peace; let us by our actions and words sow the seeds of pardon, faith, hope, light and joy in this new year and for the rest of our lives.

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