I talked to my grandfather a few weeks ago”¦.a fact that wouldn’t be particularly noteworthy, except that he’s been dead for more than twenty years. Grandad was a hard scrabbled old German with ears and a nose that just kept on growing long after the rest of his face stopped. He was built with that stoic Germanic DNA that combined to create a resolute draft horse of a man. No sprinting or bursts of energy, no misdirection or surprises, just steady, consistent, forward motion toward the goal”¦no matter what the goal and no matter what the obstacles.
His was a life of non-stop work, serving the government and this nation he loved. A sailor first and then a warden in a federal prison, he worked that job his entire adult life. His only other life’s work was establishing his family on a foundation as solid as granite and then quietly, avowedly, serving his church. After he retired long into his 70’s, his career became his church. He was the superintendent, janitor. The accountant, the muscle, the organizer.
Some years into his tour of duty as God’s administrator at the tiny outpost of a church it became clear that the stained glass that adorned the sanctuary needed to be replaced. The thing was, this was a working class church so the stained glass found throughout the church was not stained glass at all. It was just colored plexiglass”¦ a far inferior approximation of the real thing, actual stained glass. Now a debate began raging throughout the church, replace the cheap plexi stained glass or go with the real deal, honest to goodness stained glass? Granddad laid down the marker right away, there would only be real stained glass in this church and everyone would just have to turn into draft horses and figure out how to pay for it. The plexiglass faction objected for some time, but they eventually conceded then fell in line while the draft horses went about the impossible task of raising the money then getting the entire church dressed out in magnificent stained glass. It took forever to raise the money and get it installed, but the whole church just kept plodding along steady but surely”¦then all anxiously awaiting Dedication Day when the installation was finally completed.
On the day the stained glass was dedicated, there was an air of appropriately subdued excitement about the place. Not quite Easter and certainly not Christmas, but every parishioner that was any parishioner was there, and while they made no mention of it, they were all wearing their special clothes, the one reserved those really for special events and this Sunday was certainly one of them. It was an unusually sunny Sunday,(or at least I’m conflating up the sun in my memory to make the point) and the entire church lit up with that magic light that only stained glass can give, each different colored ray of light shining down and touching each person in a personal way. I remember how proud granddad was on this particular day. His adult children even came into town and brought members of their churches with them and we all sat there together, taking up two full rows on that day, instead of the usual row that had the but prints of three generations of Weidner’s molded right into them. As we all sat there that morning, I swear the bright sun caught a piece of glass just right such that the strongest beam of magic multicolored light shone down from above and bathed my grandfather in an ethereal and precious light, like a hand reaching down from above to form a voice that said, ” Well done thy good and faithful servant.”
His kind of World War II granite showed no emotion and his stoic humility broadcast no pride, but on that day I felt real, honest joy and pride emanating from this soul as he sat there bathed in this magnificent light, three generations of eyes staring up at him in adoration. His was a quiet, powerful and utterly profound joy. That was how, even as a young child I came to have a fascination with stained glass. And so, when I encountered a magnificent stained glass installation a few weeks ago, it proved very moving.
Now I certainly wasn’t thinking about stained glass as I approached the solid granite architecture of the Orlando Federal Courthouse, a building that blends stoicism and strength, dignity and power and makes a powerful statement a few weeks ago. I arrived hours early for a late morning hearing and parked right next to the very large homeless shelter that sits immediately across the street from the building. On this morning, like every other morning, the needy were lined up along the sidewalk that ran hundreds deep, the trail winding around the block, each wearing the grungy uniform of our nation’s failed economic and social policies. I lingered there a few moments surveying the men and lamenting the undeniable fact that we put them there in that food line (and by we I mean the ” leaders” of this nation that destroyed the industrial base that should have had these men working and all of us that just stood beside and encouraged all this madness.)
My lamentation was broken when I caught a whiff of one of nature’s most intoxicating fragrances”¦ sweet jasmine wafting across crisp morning air. I turned my eyes away from all the misery of the homeless shelter and let my eyes follow my nose to see bed after bed of sweet jasmine flowers completely surrounding the beautiful and clean federal courthouse. Talk about contrast, on one side of the pungent odor of the street, while on the other side the sweet smell of jasmine”¦.
And with the jasmine fragrance still in my nose, I stepped into a most otherworldly light. You see, right there in that very spot where you walk into the courthouse this incredible light shines through from this massive stained glass wall that’s installed a hundred yards away on the eastern wall of the building. When the early morning sun hits the eastern side of the building, the powerful multicolor refracted light hits the whole area bathing it in a sort of ethereal, otherworldly glow. The jasmine, the Old Spice, the solid as granite guards with a million years of wisdom and strength behind them. And so it was standing there that I was visited by my long-passed grandfather, the former warden in a federal prison who was cut from the same cloth and wore the same uniform as these men, right down to the Old Spice. As in life, he didn’t say much. He just nodded and touched me on the shoulder. We both knew this was not the country he fought for anymore. We knew his children’s entire generation ignored the lessons and the example he and these men set for them. They stormed beaches and fought impossible odds and sacrificed everything. They asked for nothing but the reward of knowing they left their kids and grandkids a fair and a just and an honest world. But as his generation flickered down and began to fade from this world, their children, the adults in this world, turned their backs on this strength and their wisdom. They sat silently by as all the jobs and industries his generation fought for were shipped offshore. They didn’t utter a whimper of protest as the corporations slowly but surely bled dry every dime and dollar that they kept stored up in mason jars and coffee cans. The greatest generation’s progeny, The Baby Boomers or, more appropriately, the Lost Generation, actively participated in the wholesale auctioning off of our entire system of government, one congressional and senate seat at a time, and then the Lost Generation, drunk, drug addled and intoxicated succumbed to the propaganda fed to them on the evening news.
The courtroom itself is an imposing and incredibly impressive place”¦.computer terminals and movie screens, monitors and black high tech equipment everywhere”¦.all of it encased in richly colored fine wood. It’s a most amazing room”¦it’s like the bridge of the Titanic crashed together with the bridge of the Starship Enterprise. And let me tell you”¦.you’ve never really lived as a lawyer until you’ve walked into a courtroom like that, all alone, with a whole gaggle of tall building lawyers billing out at $500 per hour”¦all suited up and ready for argument. The whole gang of them supported by teams of support staff churning out brilliant legal work”¦24 hours a day”¦.back at the tall building offices.
But this story isn’t about stained glass or homeless men or gaggles and gangs of tall building lawyers. This story is about The Law. Not The Law of man, corrupted and twisted against turned against us as it is. And it’s not about The Law of God, whatever that means anymore in a nation that has turned so overtly away from that law. This is about The Law of Nature. That simple and consistent body of law that holds that for every action there is a reaction, for every swing of the pendulum up, there’s one back down.
The Law right now abhors the common man and his struggle to survive in a nation that has gone, in a nation that has turned its laws and its courts and its law enforcement and its entire government over to the banks and Wall Street. Yesterday and today and the next weeks and months are apparently going to continue to be their days. In the courtrooms at least. And in their statehouses and boardrooms and shareholder meetings.
But the immutable Law of Nature holds that the pendulum will swing back. There will come a tipping point where our rights will be respected, where the everyday man and woman can get a fair shake, where some sanity and fairness and justice will finally live again.
There just must come a time once again when an American can be safe living in his home without fear of attack by the banks gone mad. There will come a day once again when our courts, all across this country, are bound by simple truths and complex truths and clear statements about right and wrong. There simply will come a time once again when the least and the lost and the attacked and the oppressed can look to our courts for protection and security and fairness and right”¦”¦
This has to come”¦.doesn’t it?