By Jan Lancaster – Originally told at the Beal Memorial Celebration on September 28, 2014
My name is Jan Lancaster. I have been asked to talk about Phil as a dear friend and a person of peace. I knew Phil as a prophet. Unlike the common perception of a prophet as someone who predicts the future, actually Biblical prophets are truth tellers. They speak of wrongs that must be righted now in order to prevent disaster later.
Phil, like Jeremiah or Micah, often felt like he stood out in the wilderness calling to others who would not or could not listen. He labored over his letters and publications in order to convince the Church of our Christian call not to participate in war.
He agonized over the millions – Iraqis, Afghans, and Americans – whose lives were disrupted or destroyed by war. One of his last intentional acts on earth was to sign a check to support a refugee family of Iraqis – our “enemies” –resettling in Grand Haven.
If Phil were here with us now, he would be writing and calling and teaching about peace-filled ways we as a nation and as individuals, could be addressing the complicated issues in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan.
It deeply wounded him when the Church – all of us — ignored what he believed was the call of Christ to be peacemakers. Not just peace talkers, but peacemakers.
If Phil were here now, he might make some of you feel very uncomfortable. You would always like him, always feel his kindness and gentleness, but what he said would make you realize how we do not look at non-military alternatives in dealing with nations or groups we disagree with.
You may not realize that the life of a prophet, like Phil, is not an easy one. It involves offending others, even people one cares about, in order to take a stand about what is right and what is righteous. It includes bearing burdens others are apathetic about. It exemplifies feeling very alone.
Phil did not just care about neighborhoods in places where life was affected by war, but also neighborhoods in other lands and here in this neighborhood.
Did you know that he and his wife, Kathy, taught school for several years in Singapore and Seoul, South Korea? Did you know they gave hundreds of presentations here in Michigan and other parts of the U.S., about peace with justice, racism, sexism and poverty?
Prophets not only talk, but they do. Phil showed how he cared about this neighborhood, where we live, by doing ordinary things like teaching Sunday School and HASP classes, volunteering for Kids Hope and JFON, a legal program for immigrants, being part of Alliance for Cultural and Ethnic Harmony, and delivering Meals on Wheels.
One of Phil’s favorite prayers was by St. Patrick:
“Christ be with me,
Christ within me,
Christ behind me,
Christ before me, …
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.”
A variation of that prayer says:
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me
Christ in every eye that sees me
Christ in every ear that hears me.
That was Phil. He felt that Christ was everywhere around him and he was able to see Christ in every one of you. We who knew him saw Christ in him.
I wish every one of you could have known Phil. For those of you who would like to know more about him, his biography is posted on the bealmemorial.org website.
He was a great prophet of God, who had integrity, humor, humility and deep love for those who others would consider his “enemies.” Phil was a wonderful demonstration of “Jesus in our Neighborhood.”