I was still taking pictures with the last confirmation group after worship Sunday when I received news that retired Senator Richard Lugar had died. Dick Lugar is an Indiana icon and for good reason. His work as mayor created the renowned Uni-Gov that united local township governments and services in greater Indianapolis. His entrance into politics started with a stint on the school board and led to his 36-year run as US senator. In the senate he was known for his sharp intellect (He was first in his class at both Shortridge HS and Denison College and became the first Rhodes Scholar from his alma mater). He became an expert in foreign policy and nuclear weapons. He was unequaled in his knowledge of the location of nuclear weapons as well as his work for their safe dismantling. But most of all he is remembered for his integrity and consistency of character.
I happened to be in Washington, DC for a meeting this week and used the opportunity to visit members of the family. I had lunch at the kitchen table in the Lugar home with his wife Char and two of their sons, David and John. It was like a sacred experience as I listened to them reflect on Senator Lugar's achievements and family life. They teared up remembering his lasting legacy to them: his goodness, principles and faith. His son, John, expressed it well, "Dad was clear that Jesus Christ was his Lord and Savior." The highest acclaim a person can have is for one's family to consider you a hero!
The Lugar family were founding members of St. Luke's. I was interviewed for a UM News Service story which you can access here. The funeral will be held at the church but the day and time are yet to be announced. Today, we remember someone who was a true hero of our church, state, nation, and all of humanity.
The other hero is Riley Howell. He was killed on Tuesday when a gunman started shooting on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. In the frantic moments when the shooting began Riley must have realized the potential death toll that could have happened and so he charged the shooter. He was killed in the process but credited with saving many lives.
I baptized Riley when he was a baby. His grandparents were leading members of the church I served at the time. Their son, Thomas Howell married Natalie and Riley was their oldest. His body was transferred from Charlotte to Waynesville, NC yesterday and people all along the two-hour route stood along the road in tribute to his heroic act.
As you can imagine this news was like a deep punch in the gut for me. I was not only grieved once more by the fragility of life, I was also amazed by the power of such a selfless act in which he risked his life so reflexively to save others. As the words of our funeral service say when a pall is placed over a coffin, "As in baptism Riley put on Christ, so in death Riley is clothed with glory." A child whose life was marked by God in baptism is now with God.
Please pray for his mother and father Thomas Howell and Natalie Henry-Howell, his sister Juliette, and his grandmother, Nancy Blevins.
Heaven welcomes two heroes home this week. May they rest in peace.