Saturday, March 08, 2008

Shirk's Poetic Tribute to Ralph Wiley

John Shirk, well-known poet from Chicago, composed this tribute to the late Pastor Ralph Wiley and has read it at open-mike poetry readings:

“Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely and in a pretty and well-preserved body. But rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming, 'Wow, what a ride!”

Throughout History
In the name of God
“Great” Men have pursued Godlike power
And rape
The greatest crimes against humanity
Have been committed
in the name of divinity
under the banner of the cross
By “Great” men
Building kingdoms
Through genocide and oppression
Constructing cathedrals
On the backs of widows and orphans

The most persuasive arguments against the existence of God
Are “great” men claiming
To speak and act for Him
Were they His only witness
No one would believe

But we are not without witnesses
People whose lives display the love of God
Not in power, but weakness
Not in fame, but obscurity
Not in wealth, but generosity

Ralph Wiley was such a man
A life marked by the presence of love
And the absence of fear
28 years a prison chaplain
And giving hope
To those locked away and forgotten
Remembering them on their release
Welcoming them into his home
Not afraid
Because Love casts out fear

Noticing people in need
Not afraid to pick up hitchhikers
Including Lisa
A young lady he and his wife gave a lift
Society labeled her a hooker
Ralph labeled her human
Created in the image of God
He loved God
So he loved people
Even when God’s image was hidden or obscured
He never saw Lisa again
But he prayed for her
The rest of his life

With a love that extended to strangers
His Christmas tree was balanced
Each dollar spent on presents under the tree
Had a companion hanging on the tree
Donated to charity and missions

A preacher of modest means
He counted himself rich enough to share
Sending money regularly
To those living in third world slums

On November 8, 2007
He was given a death sentence
Terminal Cancer, two months to live
His response, “That is the best news I have gotten in years.”
Thus began a two month celebration
Savoring his “last meal” over and over again
Eating dessert first
Preaching his own living memorial service
With an incredible sense of humor
And complete lack of fear

On January 3, 2008 his death sentence was carried out
And he joined his “Mama Girl” on the other side
He left behind a worn out body
Willed to science
Ralph didn’t need it anymore
Why let it rot in the ground
when it might help others?
And he left behind a testimony
Of love so strong
Fear, itself was afraid to face it
But he left no kingdom
He was going to meet his King
He left no mansion
His mansion was waiting with his King

The best news he had gotten in years
Got even better
His two-month celebration
Got even longer
In fact, it’s never gonna stop

John Shirk
March 2008


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