— by Rabbi Arthur Waskow
This is a letter I never imagined writing, and am deeply grief-stricken to be writing. Rev. Bob Edgar, a great public servant and my friend, died last Tuesday.
I last saw him on Jan. 15, when he spoke at a gathering at New York Avenue Presbyterian Church near the White House, sponsored by Interfaith Moral Action on Climate, to protest Presidential inaction on the climate crisis.
He recalled the moment when as a seminary student he sat young and awe-struck in the balcony of that church, and heard Dr. Martin Luther King preach the need for a movement of the Spirit to heal America.
Continued after the jump.
From that moment on, Bob dedicated his religious life to the public good. He served as Congressman from Pennsylvania for six terms, and later was general secretary of the National Council of Churches, constantly urging it to work for social justice. Most recently, he was head of Common Cause, working to end the flood of corporate and super-rich money to buy elections and office-holders.
And for me, Bob was the person who could call me on a hot day two summers ago and ask if I would join the very next day with him and other religious leaders to pray — and risk arrest — in the US Capitol Rotunda, praying for the Congress to create a Federal budget that would meet the needs of the poor and of the Earth. Because it was Bob, I broke other appointments and said Yes. And then ten of us were indeed arrested. For God’s sake, joyfully. For America’s sake, sadly — for we knew the Congress would not listen to the God we prayed to.
On that phone call, and indeed whenever we came together to plan some action for justice and for peace, Bob would smile as we decided what to do, and say, “You are my rabbi!” And I would answer, “Okay, you are my leader!”
I spoke that night with his wife Merle. She said he went jogging in the morning, came home, but then did not come upstairs as he usually did. She went down to find him lying still. She tried to revive him, and called 911. The medics tried, but all too late. He was only 69.
In our generation no one that I have known has matched the passion and compassion, the generosity and commitment, that he drew from God to work for the common good.
Over and over, in that speech in January and when The Shalom Center honored him years ago as one of the Prophetic Voices of our generation, and in every time I heard him speak, he would say, and call us all to repeat it aloud with him:
We are the leaders we have been waiting for!
We are, and he was. May his life inspire us to become what he was, and what he called us to.