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									                                             Funeral Sermon
                                            For Leroy Rouner
                                             March 26, 2006
         Leroy Rouner understood more about home and hospitality than anyone I know. Of
course his understanding was in the genre of philosophical theology, not everyone’s most
comfortable mode of thought. The short version of his theology is that we are all at home in
God. This means that wherever we are in God’s creation, in whatever place, we are at home.
Nevertheless, the human condition is so compromised that it doesn’t seem like home to most
people. Most people think themselves homeless: to be at home requires work.
         For Leroy, the first part of that work is to make a home in nature. As a youth, he was a
rower, moving in concert with others to pull through the water, pulling his muscles’ resistance to
the water, and finding the balance of inertial forces through which nature favors his goal. I’ve
seen him row on machines at the gym in the last few years and he never lost the love of exerting
effort to turn the natural world of “things” into a home environment for his life. That was the
way he loved his New Hampshire surroundings too.
         The greater part of the work of taking possession of one’s divine home, however, Leroy
knew to be the practice of hospitality to others. Hospitality is the art of making other people feel
at home. We all do this somewhat when we welcome others into our own home. Leroy knew
more than this, that real hospitality consists in making people feel at home in their own homes.
Of course, all homes are God’s home, which is why everyone has a home, acknowledged or not.
So hospitality is the art of hosting people, wherever they are, in their own niche in creation.
         I am morally certain that this is the way Leroy viewed his five years of missionary work,
teaching in India. He was not trying to convert people from what they were to his way, or even
to force Western education down their throat. He was there to help them flourish in their own
ways. And in the meantime, he was making a larger part of the world into the neighborhood of
the Rouner family. His years in India were not a missionary trip. He took the whole family and
made his place in India into Rouner territory. Then at the end of five years, they all drove home,
at least until they reached the Atlantic. The road trip across Western Asia and Eastern Europe
made those exotic lands home for them all.
         Leroy understood the Confucian point that making a home means building institutions.
Leroy built the Institute for Philosophy and Religion into a major intellectual home for important
discussions of great public and personal issues, drawing original thinkers from all over the world
to Boston University. Many people will talk later about his building the institutions of his
family. I want to mention something probably few of you know. When Leroy first came to
Boston University in the 1960s he decided to give institutional support to the School of Theology
by having $15 a month drawn from his paycheck as a donation to the School’s endowment.
Fifteen dollars might not seem a lot, even back then. But after $15 every month for about four
decades, that institutional care for his School has made Leroy the most generous single
benefactor to the School of Theology.
         Many people here, I wager, knew Leroy first as the host of the Institute for Philosophy
and Religion. Remember how we would gather in his office at 5 for wine, or sherry, or better:
Leroy even a few Cokes and, in later years, expensive waters. Our visitors, our commentators,
presiders, and interested friends would quickly learn that the intellectual debates to come were
situated in a venue of warmth and hospitality, never antagonism. At 6 we would rush to cars and
head to the Harvard Club for dinner before the lecture. Leroy would say to the other drivers,
“Just tell the parking attendant that you are with Mr. Rouner and his number is 7272.” A couple



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of times, Leroy’s schedule prevented him from his hostly duties and I had the privilege to take
his place, albeit with far less brightness. I’d drive to the parking lot and say with a big smile,
“tonight I’m Mr. Rouner, 7272,” and then in the dining room tell Tony, the maitre di, “tonight
I’m Mr. Rouner, 7272,” and say the same thing to Janet the sommelier. Tony and Janet would
smile at one another, and think, “how can someone so short and bald even think that!” I bet most
of you also aspire in vain to be a host like Leroy.
         The first time I met Leroy for an extended talk was in the late 1970s when he invited me
to give an Institute lecture. He met me at the airport and, abbreviating the pleasantries, began to
talk about the loss of his and Rita’s son, Timothy, in a mountaineering accident. Not only was
his own grief apparent, but he detailed how everyone else was suffering, especially Timothy’s
sister and brothers. To him, it was as if a bomb had landed in his home and everyone was in
trauma. To me, it was apparent how strong that home was, how his family—you here--rewove
all the customary supportive habits and tensions into a united cry of grief and one big mutual hug
that lasted for years. Leroy was enormously proud of his poet-wife and multitalented children,
but he loved you all far beyond your talents. He loved you as residents of your common home.
Most likely all of us here have shared some form of home with Leroy, in work, in friendships, in
society. Have we not all been well-loved by him in the ways appropriate to our common life?
         Our home is all the poorer for Leroy not being here. The grief of the Rouner family can
be borne only by remembering him carefully. The other communities represented here already
miss him too, especially his co-workers at the Institute and in the Philosophy and Religion
departments and at the School of Theology. Why? Because he has been so important to us
being able to be at home where we are. When I became dean of the School of Theology 18 years
ago, he wrote me a letter that explained exactly what I had gotten myself into, and which helped
me embrace the place with all its troubles and possibilities. He made me at home. Because all
homes are God’s home, Leroy’s hospitality was very powerfully a divine hospitality. He was a
priest in every garment he wore, even the laid-back Harvard preppy wardrobe. For all the
failures and regrets he might have had, he was a true witness to God.
         Now I do not know what kind of images of heaven you have. In times of immediate grief
we usually resort to our childhood images. But this crowd of Leroy’s friends is a bunch of
sophisticated travelers around the hermeneutical circle. Most of you have gone through the first
naïveté of belief, and adolescent skepticism, and second naïveté, and mature disillusionment, and
third naïveté, and learned relativism, and umpteenth naïveté and skepticism on and on.
Moreover, as Leroy’s friends your images of heaven include those Hindu symbols he so loved,
the grand palaces set in vast gardens swarming with charming samples from the great chain of
being: no mere 14 virgins there! No mere divine courtroom, or divine dinner table, or divine
dormitory, or cities made of gemstones with harpists on every corner and gaggles of priests,
rabbis, and ministers laughing at jokes about themselves. Leroy’s imagination of the bounties of
heaven had cosmic proportions and divine humor. How do you all imagine heaven? I would not
hazard a guess. But I know for sure what you will say when you get there. “I’m with Mr.
Rouner, 7272.” Amen.
Robert Cummings Neville
3/26/06




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