Joyful conspirators

Today, I’m thankful for Mike Harper, a friend since my undergraduate days and his seminary days, who died this week. We collaborated and sometimes conspired from school days well into retirement. On a study trip to Calcutta, he was part of a team that washed the destitute with the Missionaries of Charity. In a session with Mother Teresa, Mike asked why she didn’t engage in systems change efforts.

She patted Mike on the hand and said, “Maybe that’s what God is calling you to do.” Mike was always conspiring to improve the world. My favorite Mikey-ism: “There are two ways to be rich: get more or want less.” He said, “Every day is a good day to be born and every day is a good day to die.” He enjoyed telling how Carlyle Marney (1916-1978) once said to him, “Harper, you’re often wrong but never uncertain.”

I’m also thankful for Peggy Noonan, this year’s keynote speaker at New York’s Al Smith Dinner. She told about her great-aunt, Mary Jane Byrne, a devout Irish Catholic immigrant whose last years coincided with Noonan’s early life in New York City. Noonan, a Reagan Republican, honored four-term Democratic Governor Alfred E. Smith (1873-1944), a Roman Catholic and the Dems’ 1928 nominee for President.

Harper and Noonan, from very different places (geographically, theologically and politically), have worked for the healing of our nation and planet. I’m thankful for America’s freedoms of speech and religion, for our Constitution’s prohibition against a “religious test” for public office, and for those of various faiths and political views who work together to make life better for those who struggle.

From “Home Again, and Home Again, America for Me,” Peggy Noonan’s keynote address at the 2022 Al Smith Dinner, The Wall Street Journal, November 23, 2022. (Her speech, with transcript, is available via YouTube.)

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