from a public HS teacher (Gov't, Religion, Soc. Issues), who is eclectic (Dem-leaning) politically and Quaker (& open) on everything else. Hope you enjoy what you find here.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Eulogy for Tom Fox 

this is widely cross-posted, with permission.

On April 22, there was an open memorial service for Tom Fox, the Quaker member of the Christian Peacemaker Team who had been kidnapped and was later killed in Baghdad.  I have posted several; times about Tom, who was a member of Langley Hill Monthly Meeting, as am I.  LHMM is our local congregation, equivalent of a Parish.  It is a constituent member of Baltimore Yearly Meeting, the regional association of almost  60 Friends Meetings.  that cover Maryland, DC, Virginia, and parts of Pennsylvania.

We do not have designated clergy.  Lauri Perman is the Clerk who presides over our business affairs, elected from among the membership.  In that capacity she gave a eulogy for Tom, whom she knew for years.  I offer it, without comment, below.

Tom Fox

Eulogy, April 22, 2006

            We Quakers speak out of silence.  Tom was comfortable with silence. It may seem ironic that Tom, a musician, should have found his spiritual home among Friends who treasure silence.  But Tom isn't the only musical Friend to have found he could listen to the "music of the spheres" in the silence of a Quaker meetinghouse.

            Tom entitled his blog, "Waiting in the Light."  For Tom, the Light was Christ.  When Quakers gather in silence, we wait for the Light to be revealed to us, for Christ to be present among us. Tom was careful to describe the Light  of Christ with universal and inclusive language.  Today, out of the silence, and in the Light, I want to share with you memories of Tom Fox.

            I met Tom 16 years ago at a small retreat for adults helping to care for the children at Baltimore Yearly Meeting.  The only memory I have of the retreat is a memory of Tom, introducing his co-teacher Sue, a farmer, to the group.  Tom introduced her by saying she had beautiful hands, the hands of someone who cared for the earth.  I am grateful that my son was able to have Tom as his teacher and as a Friendly Adult Presence when my son became a Young Friend.  

            I want to begin by sharing with you parts of a letter of application that Tom wrote in 1994.  These are Tom's words: "Though the seed of this letter was planted fourteen years ago when I attended my first meeting for worship, it  did not bear fruit until this First Day morning.

            I had the honor of working with some of the young people.in a First Day School class in which we were discussing Quaker organizational structure.  I heard myself saying that the most powerful structure is not the individual Friend, rather it is the corporate body of seekers, the Monthly Meeting.  

            Jesus was very clear when he said that it was where "several"are gathered "in my name" that the Spirit would be born.. I came to realize, that if I truly believed this, then I must bear witness to this Truth and come to you seeking membership in the Religious Society of Friends at Langley Hill."

            Tom's letter contains the three themes that I will focus on today, young people, faith, and community, especially spiritual community.  

            Before returning to these themes, I want to sketch a little about Tom's life as a musician, a father, a baker, and grocer.

            Tom was born in 1951 in a small town outside Chattanooga, the only son of older parents.  His mother ensured his exposure to the arts and faith; his father read and studied widely, a hallmark of Tom's life as an adult.

            Tom began playing the clarinet in 4th or 5th grade.  He met his former wife Jan when they were teenagers playing in a regional youth orchestra.  They married in Nashville in 1972 while both were studying in the music department at Peabody College, now part of Vanderbilt University.  Before graduation, Tom auditioned for the U.S. Marine Corps Band.  As a member of the "President's Own Band" for twenty years, Tom played at the White House and also chose, conducted, and arranged music for small chamber ensembles.  He earned a Master's degree in Music from Catholic University.

            While still in the Band, Tom completed chef training.  His passion for whole, fresh ingredients led him to work as a baker, bakery team leader, and assistant store team leader for Whole Foods Market.  His colleagues there remember Tom's exceptional listening skills and his careful planning to "put first things first."

            The most important book in Tom's life, and he opened a lot of them, was the book that opened with the birth of his children.  When Tom filled out an obituary form for Langley Hill Meeting, he answered the question, "What are your major accomplishments and awards?" by responding:  "parent of two exceptional human beings:  Katherine Fox and Andrew Fox."

            Tom was a very involved father, present at both births and was so excited when his daughter Kassie was born that he called his in-laws not once, but twice. He changed diapers from the beginning.  

            One of Jan's favorite memories of Tom as a father is coming into the living room when their son Andrew was about two, discovering Tom on his hands and knees backing across the floor, with Andrew standing on Tom's back legs and Tom going, "beep, beep."  What was Tom doing?  "I'm a dump truck," he said.

            After Tom and Jan divorced, Tom remained a constant presence in his children's lives, living only a mile away, seeing them every day, keeping them overnight on weekends, and taking them on trips.  Jan reports that "no one could have loved his children more" than Tom did.

            I want to return now to the three themes of Tom's letter:  faith, young people, and community.

            Within the spiritual community of Langley Hill, Tom was intentional about nurturing his spiritual development, reading widely and deeply from the Bible, the Christian mystics, and other inspirational literature.  In his blog, he quotes George Fox, Gandhi, a French theologian, and the Qu'ran.  He practiced a Buddhist compassion meditation daily.  Several Friends described him as the calmest person they knew.  Tom worked hard to apply spiritual writings to his own life.  

            In his copy of Emmet Fox's book, "The Sermon on the Mount," Tom scribbled the Lord's Prayer in his own words.  For "Thy kingdom come.   Thy Will be done," he wrote, "Your way is here in what I do and what I think."  A Friend called yesterday morning to say the most important thing  she could say about Tom was that he lived what he believed.

            Tom cared deeply about community in all settings.  His faith was rooted and grounded in Quaker community and he strengthened our communities with his gentle and careful leadership style.  He clerked Langley Hill Friends Meeting, he clerked the Yearly Meeting Youth Programs Committee, and he worked as Yearly Meeting Youth Secretary for a year.

             Tom especially cared about the Young Friends community.  He helped the Young Friends build community and he had confidence in them.  One college student wrote, "I shared my idea with Tom and he thought it was great, but then again Tom always encouraged everyone."

            Tom had a cheerful, playful spirit.  The founder of Quakerism, George Fox, urged Friends "to walk cheerfully over the world, answering That of God in everyone."  Tom used a version of that quote as the header on his Blog site. He certainly worked to live up to it.  Almost every teenager in the room today will have a funny story to share about Tom.  

            One college student's favorite memory comes from having Tom as his fourth grade teacher at Yearly Meeting:  

            "He told us that he would let us do whatever we wanted on the final day of class and we told him that we wanted to drop water balloons on him from the third story of the building.  When we got to class the next morning, he had the  water balloons ready.  He laid down and let us drop them on him.  Even when he was no longer our teacher, he let us come back and continue the ritual."

            Tom never imposed his faith or spiritual Truths on young people; instead he encouraged them to find their own Truths.  Tom's license plate and e-mail address read "Inner Light."  He reminded himself and others of the need to remain faithful to our inner guides.

            For Tom, the themes of faith, community, and young people were inseparable. He wove them together in an intentional way to make up the fabric of his life, a life that illustrates the verse from Galatians 5:  ".the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control."

            Tom brought his inner guide, the Light of Christ, to shine in all settings. In his very first Blog entry in October 2004, he writes about the need to "stand up to evil."  Tom recognized and worked against the harm of dehumanization. For example, he brought his love and light to try to end the discrimination against gays and lesbians that exists within some Quaker communities.      

            One of the most moving passages of Tom's blog was posted on Christmas Day 2004, when Tom talked about having seen a landscape of shadow and darkness,  with candles burning in the darkness.  He wrote, "as the . candles whose light was snuffed out ceased to burn, more candles came into being, seemingly to build on their light."  

            Tom, a lifelong hiker who nourished his spirit and his Light by walking in forests and mountains, was a tall tree in our Yearly Meeting community.  His  roots were deep, his branches wide.  His absence means that we all need to grow  to fill the hole in the canopy over our young people.

            But Tom planted seeds in our community, and our young people are now growing up tall in the canopy themselves.  The seeds Tom planted will bear fruit in the young people of the Baltimore Yearly Meeting.  They will not grow up to be miniature Tom Foxes.  Rather, they will grow up to be wholly themselves, wholly  whom they discover God calls them to be, with a freedom born of having been encouraged to figure out  faith for themselves.  

            Tom will be there inside each of them, as he is inside each of us, calling us to be faithful to our paths.  The question for us is not:  "How can I be more like Tom Fox?" but "How can I be more myself?" "How can I be more faithful?" "And what does God call me to do?"

            There was so much about Tom that we didn't know.  Many of us knew Tom only in one setting and in one circle of people.   In thinking of him, I have been reminded of the description of love in I Corinthians, chapter 13, verse 4:  "Love is patient, love is kind.  It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud."

            Tom, acting out of love and humility, did not call attention to himself. By not telling his stories, by not telling us how many times he played at the White House, or that he once played for Leonard Bernstein, by not sharing deeply of his life experiences, Tom has left many people feeling that they didn't know him very well.  

            I believe this is a mistaken notion.  What was essential about Tom was that he was focused on the other person. His love and acceptance of others, his exceptional listening skills, his ability to be present in the moment - these were the essential Tom, and if you knew these, you did know Tom.

            Last June, before Tom left for Iraq, a Young Friend told him that she didn't want him to leave us.  He looked at her, smiled, gave her a hug, and said, "I'm leaving, but we have the memories, and we are here together now."

            I've shared with Friends that my most vivid memory of Tom is of him standing waist deep in the creek at Wilson College laughing and playing with the kids.  When I think back to this memory, I realize now that all the time I thought he was standing, he was really floating, floating in the sea of God's love, resting on the everlasting arms.. and he still is.

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