Ralph Beebe | Meeting for Worship for Remembrance

On June 21, 2019, I had the honor of leading the memorial service, a meeting for worship for remembrance and celebration, for my grandpa, Ralph Beebe. The service was held at Newberg Friends Church. Here are my remarks if you want to read them, and he also chose all the music, so you can listen to the podcast to hear the entire service (also embedded below). The slideshow was created by my talented cousin, Grayce, and played as people were coming in. You can also read Ralph’s obituary in The Graphic. I’ve added a few of my thoughts about the day at the end.

Slideshow

Podcast

Welcome

Good afternoon, I’m Cherice Bock, Ralph Beebe’s granddaughter. On behalf of my family, I want to welcome you today. We are so grateful you could be here today to help us grieve and celebrate.

When my grandpa asked me to lead his memorial service back in 2008, I was honored, and worried that it would be really challenging emotionally, but he left me with many suggestions for the service. Some of his instructions were labeled non-negotiable, and one of these non-negotiables is a fairly bad joke he made me promise I would tell, and I’ve been dreading it for 11 years now. So here goes: he wanted me to let you know so you can celebrate with him that he finally managed to lose over 200 pounds in one day! [Holding up box of his ashes.] Doesn’t he look great?

One of the things my grandpa perhaps is not best known for, but which explains one reason many of us found him so approachable, is his sense of humor. He didn’t take himself too seriously, “Doctor Beebe” though he was. This joke is an example. He also thought himself pretty clever to ask my sister to sing “Faith of Grandfathers” as special music, rather than “Faith of Our Fathers.” And he instructed me to tell you that he wanted to win the record for “longest memorial service ever,” so I should tell you that we’re not leaving here until everyone shares a memory. Well, we got around that one by putting an index card in your program, on which you can write down a memory of Ralph. The family will cherish reading these. Ralph chose all the songs and the scripture passage for today, and I actually had to cut about half of the songs. (You’re welcome!) He always felt embarrassed about his singing voice, but he loved singing with the community, and hearing good music.

Seriously, though, Ralph actually asked for no open mic sharing time, because he really wanted this to be a meeting for worship: a meeting for worship for remembrance, and we get to celebrate a life well lived. So I invite you into this space of worship as we remember this man who meant so much to each of us.

I want to acknowledge that worshiping together in this space is not completely comfortable for many of us. Some may not be too excited about being in a church building at all, having experienced quite a bit of trauma from the Christian community. And for many of us who were part of the former Northwest Yearly Meeting, being together in this space brings up both our grief about the community we used to be and could have been, and this man who in so many ways held a central part in it.

Some of us may be here at Newberg Friends for the first time since the split, and may be grieving the split of our church and yearly meeting community and the loss of this space to worship in together.

And honestly, I imagine some who worship here regularly may be somewhat uncomfortable with my leadership in this place.

But as he tried to do so many times in the past, Ralph has managed to bring us together one more time, to worship and commune at the feet of Jesus, and to seek reconciliation and healing through God’s infinite love.

We are invited to a time to worship together: a meeting for worship for celebration and remembrance, a time of gratitude and grieving for my grandpa and the community that was integral to his life.

Today is a day to honor my grandpa, Ralph Beebe, and as he would have wanted it, today we are all, every one of us, welcome to come in the beloved fullness of who we are and commune together with the Light of Christ in this place. Ralph loved and cherished each of us, and wanted us to love one another with the love of God. So take a deep breath, and look around the room with Christ’s love as the filter through which you’re viewing all these people and this place. Take another deep breath, and let’s settle into a time of worship and communion together.

Congregational Singing: Dear Friends, We Have Met to Worship; And Can It Be; Simple Gifts; I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say Come Unto Me and Rest (Erin Eichenberger and Mauri Macy)

Scripture Reading: Matthew 5:1–16, 38–48 (Steve Fawver)

Special Music: Faith of Grandfathers

Congregational Singing: Lord, Let Your Light Shine Down through Me; Be Thou My Vision

Message

Last photo of me with my grandpa. (His ashes are in the podium, as well as the visible photos.) Photo credit: Carole Spencer.

At the graveside service earlier today with the family, I read the passage from Hebrews 11 and 12 about the great cloud of witnesses, and how remembering them helps us all “run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” I’m sure that for many of us, Ralph is one of the people who is a shining light in the cloud of witnesses we would name when we think of people who have encouraged us on our spiritual journey and challenged us to deeper faithfulness. Many of you have ties to Ralph that go back decades before I was born, and some of you connected with him more recently through Newberg Emerging Friends or through chatting with him at Friendsview.

Just so we can get a bit of a sense of how we’re all connected to Ralph, wave your hand if you are connected to Ralph through family, either blood, marriage, or personal invitation. Ralph sometimes invited people into our family, and our family life was enriched by the presence of non-blood relatives who became family.

Wave your hand if you knew Ralph from growing up, going to school and church around Greenleaf Friends Academy and Greenleaf Friends Church.

Wave your hand if you went to college or graduate school with Ralph at Pacific College (George Fox), Linfield College, or University of Oregon.

How about, anyone here who played on a sports team with Ralph, or on a team he coached, or lived in a dorm that he and Wanda oversaw as head residents?

Who here attended Eugene Friends Church with Ralph?

Did anyone take a high school class from him? And how many of us took college classes from him? Who went with him on a Juniors Abroad trip, maybe to Europe or Israel and Palestine? Who worked as his work-study student, research assistant, or editor?

Were any of you guest lecturers in his classes, or did anyone come as special guests to his classes, such as Vietnam vets in his Vietnam Experience class, or delivering hard tack to students learning about the Civil War? Who served as colleagues of Ralph at George Fox, or at Churchill or Willamette High Schools?

How many of you worked with Ralph on topics related to peace and social justice? Who all participated in Quaker activities in the broader Quaker world with Ralph?

Who all served on a committee or board with Ralph?

I won’t ask us to confess whether we actually read the books, but who all has at least one of Ralph’s books on their bookshelf? (My cousins need to have both hands up—probably your feet, too!)

Who attended church with Ralph in Newberg? And who all participated in the former Northwest Yearly Meeting with him? Who lived at Friendsview at the same time as him? [There were people present who fit each of these parts of his life.]

It is good to see the faces of people he impacted and connected with in all these places and times in his life. Ralph was a special person, and he made each of us feel we are special people, too. Although Ralph wasn’t perfect, he shone the Light of Christ through his eyes and smile, making us each feel welcome. He loved to tell the story about how my grandma, Wanda, had first noticed him, because this brown-eyed boy smiled at her on her first day at Greenleaf Friends Academy, and she felt welcome and seen.

Although I don’t have as lengthy a history with my grandpa as do many of you who know him from his Greenleaf days, I do have a unique perspective, since I knew him as my grandpa as well as my professor, my colleague when we did peace education together, my co-teacher and co-researcher, and I served on the Board of Peace & Social Concerns with him. From this vantage point, I watched as he navigated family and professional life, church and academic work, creating an engaging and welcoming classroom, and working outside the classroom toward a more just and equitable world. As such, I’m going to share with you a few memories and thoughts about Ralph’s life and witness, and conclude with queries about what it might look like to honor his legacy of radical faithfulness to Jesus Christ’s inclusive and expansive love.

I’m sure you’re not surprised that Ralph chose Matthew 5 as the passage to be read at his memorial service. The scripture Steve read earlier forms the centerpiece for Ralph’s understanding of what it meant to be a Friend of Jesus, and we’ll come back to this passage later on, regarding peacemaking, loving our neighbors and our enemies, and working to enact the Kingdom of God in our own time and place.

When I was thinking about what all I wanted to share with you about Ralph, I made a bullet point list, and when I reviewed it, I realized it strongly reflected the Fruit of the Spirit, listed in Galatians 5:22 as “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” Ralph’s life and the way he interacted with others so often exhibited this fruit: a life transforming into the image of Christ.

I experienced Grandpa Ralph’s love, patience, kindness, and generosity firsthand growing up as his grandkid. He was deeply faithful to my grandma, Wanda, the love of his life, and he was also loyal to his faith tradition, being a Christian in the manner of Friends. He was always faithful to his alma mater, George Fox University, and its football team. The football team took a 50-year hiatus, but Ralph never did! His “gentleness was evident to all,” as Paul admonished in Philippians 4. Ralph managed to be firmly rooted in unshakeable faithfulness and radical truth, while also exuding love, joy, kindness, and gentleness.

He was an amazing grandpa. I have early memories of going to campus with him and hanging out in his office or visiting the college library, and sitting in his study/TV room, downstairs in their home (which is now the Heibert House on campus), typing on his computer with the black screen and green letters, and printing off my “writing” on a dot-matrix printer. When VCRs came on the market, he recorded shows from TV for us to watch when we came over. He kept detailed records of what was on each VHS tape so he could cue it up for us, or cue up other things he’d recorded for his history classes. One of the movies he recorded for us was Sound of Music, and we watched that all the time—but it wasn’t until high school that I realized it didn’t end with the wedding! He turned it off when the part about the Nazis started.

When my Tuning cousins and I were in grade school and middle school, Grandpa Ralph had us over regularly, and he often let us each invite a friend over, too. That could be 6, 8, or up to 10 kids running around, playing sardines or hide and seek, and putting on plays or musicals. Our favorite treat he made us was strawberry milkshakes, which were blended frozen strawberries and milk. He would often take us cousins to movies during the summer, loading up a van and taking us off our parents’ hands for the day. Even more amazingly, he took us on trips to eastern Oregon and Idaho each summer when we were a little older, and so we got to connect with his good friend, John Lamoreau on the way, then see our second cousins (and his siblings, nieces, and nephews) in the Meridian area, and spend some time on his family farm on the border of Oregon and Idaho. He took us to visit the graves of his parents and other friends and relatives in the Greenleaf Cemetery, and we didn’t really like that part because there were always huge mosquitos. But the rest of the trip made up for it! We loved floating down irrigation ditches on inner tubes at the farm, and trying to get through all the stoplights there and back without having to come to a full stop. He took some of the grandkids one or two at a time on more extended trips to the east coast or elsewhere. Ralph exemplified love, joy, kindness, and generosity—and incredible patience (can you imagine loading up all your grandkids and their friends for these outings?)—with these everyday and bigger occasions, supporting us and supporting our parents through love and genuine care. Even though he could’ve thought of himself as a big-shot college professor and church leader with lots of important work to do, he took time and made it possible to connect with us regularly.

Although Ralph was amazing in so many ways, he was not perfect. He was always our biggest fan, which was awesome in some ways, and in other ways could feel overwhelming or place heavy expectations on us. He loved to have us do “programs” when we gathered for holidays, which usually consisted of singing a bunch of praise songs and hymns, Grandpa Ralph sharing something he wrote or something he was thinking about, and him strongly “encouraging” each of his grandkids to perform our latest piano recital, speech, or other “talent” in front of the family. He was incredibly proud of us, and particularly liked to hear us do music, since he loved music, but it wasn’t something he was talented at himself (although, as you may know, he could recite all the verses for any number of hymns and other songs, word for word!). He definitely thought we were way more talented than we thought we were ourselves, and probably than our talents actually merited. Because he was such a loving guy, who we wanted to please because we loved him and were grateful for him, family gatherings could be anxiety-laden for those of us who weren’t as excited about performing as others.

Another area in which Ralph was not perfect was how almost embarrassingly open about his own shortcomings he was in the area of his weight. He laughed it off with jokes about his status as a “weighty Friend” and many other self-deprecating comments in a variety of settings. He saw this as an area where he lacked self-control, and where he felt like a failure. He had me type up his handwritten journals from the ’70s and ’80s awhile back (and he was not private about the journals, so I feel I can share). They’re mostly about who he spent time with, what he was reading and teaching, the minutiae of his day, and some about his spiritual journey. What he recorded almost every day was his weight. His inability to get the pounds to stay off was an area where he felt a lot of guilt, maybe even shame. Born during the Depression and continuing into the era of processed and refined foods, current science helps us understand that his body’s very efficient use of food and difficulty losing weight was due to any number of factors, only partially related to his ability to control the number of calories he consumed.

I’m really sad that he had to experience this level of guilt about his weight, particularly when this is not the way he treated others. As far as I can tell, he didn’t judge others by how much they weighed or other aspects of their bodies or identities. I am grateful for two things about his struggle with his weight: first, he was open about this struggle. Although this was sometimes awkward, because we’re not “supposed” to talk about such things in our culture, it had the effect of opening up space for conversation about things we struggle with, and we all knew he didn’t think of himself as perfect. Second, I think his struggle with his weight helped him have empathy for people with addictions or physical challenges. He understood what it was like to pour all your effort into something, and still struggle. I suspect this helped him see the inherent value and worth in each person he met, and to call out that of God in them, even when he had a harder time doing so for himself.

Almost everyone I talk to about him mentions how loving he was, and his kindness toward them. Ralph’s joy for life was infectious. He had a way of being incredibly loving, while also challenging us toward deeper and more Christ-centered faithfulness, with a focus on peace and justice. For Ralph, it was always about relationship. He had groups of students over to his home several times a week for years, and he cultivated friendships with people he’d known since childhood as well as people who were very different from him. He cared deeply about the civil rights movement, protested the war in Vietnam, and supported returning veterans as well as Vietnam refugees. He spent time in Israel and Palestine, helping tell the story of Audeh Rantisi, a Palestinian Christian in the West Bank. Ralph became an outspoken spokesperson and expert on the Middle East, particularly during the first Gulf War, receiving many opportunities to speak about the conflicts in the region and to draw people’s attention to Christ’s call to deep and reconciling peacemaking.

Closer to home, Ralph focused on strong friendships with people all over Northwest Yearly Meeting, and helped create connections between NWYM and North Pacific Yearly Meeting, as well as the broader Religious Society of Friends, particularly around the shared concern for peacemaking.

Some of my first memories of him in this place [at Newberg Friends] are of him speaking out of open worship. While I don’t remember what he said until I was older, in my experience, he consistently spoke the truth in love, holding the heart of what I believe to be the Quaker message of radical discipleship rooted in a God who IS love.

I was impressed by my grandpa’s capacity to always be learning and growing in his understanding of what loving faithfulness looks like. Even in the last decade or 15 years of his life, he grew a lot, continuing to seek out the guidance of the Inward Light of Christ regarding what it looks like to be a person of faith in this time and place. I’ll never forget that after I began to be more and more concerned about how poorly we’re acting as stewards of creation, and explained what I was noticing to him, he did some research and before I knew it he was driving a hybrid car, and asking what else he could do to care for God’s creation more fully. (I’m sure our conversation was not the only reason for this.) This is only one example, but I think it offers us a picture of how to gracefully seek the heart of God, continuing to grow in our understanding of what that means as we encounter new information and new leadings. The Fruit of the Spirit stays the same, while the context in which the fruit grow changes, with roots forever in Christ.

And this is where Matthew 5 comes in. Just like the words of Matthew 5, verses we probably all know and that sound so nice and ideal on the surface, Ralph’s messages and his understanding of Christian faithfulness can be glossed over and dismissed as idealistic, a nice-sounding idea that no one is actually expected to do anything about. Ralph stated his messages in a way that came across as kind, loving, and empathetic, and we were all drawn to them—and if we listened well, we also heard the intense, Christ-focused challenge of his message, inviting us to truly be followers of the Jesus Way. To some, maybe he talked about Jesus more than we were comfortable, while to others, he talked too much about peace and social justice, but in by emphasizing both, he called us to truly live out our faith, in the particular manner of Friends, in a way that aims at the heart of Quaker and Christian Truth.

The Beatitudes—blessed are the meek, blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are the peacemakers and the persecuted—and the rest of the Sermon on the Mount turn our understanding of legalistic religiosity on its head in every era. The law-abiding church people of Jesus’ day did not like these instructions, because they aren’t rules—they’re a way of life, a “long obedience in the same direction,” as Eugene Peterson put it. This way of life is defined by love, Spirit-filled creativity in response to violent oppression, and a staid focus on the heart of the law of love that doesn’t get distracted by culture wars or well-meant but ultimately limiting creeds. Ralph often reminded us of the early Friends and their insistence on following the Sermon on the Mount in ways that led toward a more just and equitable society: showing an equal amount of honor regardless of who had more wealth, refusing to swear oaths, and living in a way that takes away the occasion for all wars. Friends broke the inequitable laws and customs of their day in order to live out the love and truth they had found in Christ. And Ralph was focused on the same thing, though the particular issues changed throughout his lifetime, and in comparison to the early Friends.

As I was writing this message, I found myself asking, “What would Ralph do?” regarding how he would approach an opportunity to worship together with all of you today, and what would be most honoring to him. I don’t say this in a blasphemous way—what Ralph would do is not quite the same as what Jesus would do, because Ralph would mention Jesus a lot more! But I think we can all agree that to honor Ralph in this time is to worship together in a way that leads us, individually and collectively, into more faithful expressions of our spiritual journeys.

While not all of you are part of the former Northwest Yearly Meeting, I’m sure you know that it was close to Ralph’s heart. He told me over and over that he couldn’t understand why we would split over love.

Although he was deeply loyal to NWYM and NFC, a Quaker to the end, he started worshiping in a different building in the last couple of years, recognizing that the church is not the building, it’s the people. All the while, he remained fiercely loyal to ALL of us. He still thought of ALL of us as his church, and he wanted us all to think of one another that way, too.

I wonder, in this rare opportunity we have to share this worshiping space with one another, in this moment where we are holding Friend Ralph close to our hearts and remembering his life of faithfulness that drew us all together, what would it look like for us to more fully walk in the same direction as his life pointed? Ralph intensely centered his life on Christ, and he also offered regular reminders that to follow Christ is not to simply affirm a collection of words, but to live love out loud, to be transformed into the collective Body of Christ, and to work to the end of our days toward a deeper understanding of what Christ’s love is and how to carry it out. Are we up for this journey?

All of us here are bound together by a love for Ralph Beebe, our family member, friend, colleague, and mentor, and the waves of Light he reflected are still very present in our hearts and spirits. Many of us are also bound together by a love of the Holy Spirit, who binds us all together in perfect unity, according to Colossians 3. Let us now look to the Inward Light of Christ to learn how to love more fully, follow more faithfully, and work toward reconciliation of this community Ralph cared so much about.

We’re going to sing one more song together, “In Christ Alone,” as we move into a time of open worship and sharing of remembrances. Ralph really wanted this to be a time of worship, so as you share memories of him, please do so out of a space of listening to the Spirit. Is this memory or thought for this time and these people, or for you, or for you to share on the card we’ve provided? If you feel led to share, please stand and a microphone will be brought to you. There will be queries on the screen, so use them to help you center during open worship if they are helpful to you.

Congregational Singing: In Christ Alone

Queries:

How does Ralph’s example of living the Fruit of the Spirit challenge and encourage me to deeper faithfulness?

In what ways is Christ calling me to live as a peacemaker in my family, church, community, nation, and in relation to all creation?

What would it look like to truly love my neighbor-enemies who currently share this room, or others around my neighborhood and world? Stated another way, what would Ralph do, in the name of Jesus?

Open Worship & Sharing of Remembrances

Closing Prayer: Steve Fawver

———

As I was preparing my grandpa’s service, I found that grieving him was so wrapped up in how I felt about the yearly meeting, particularly since the service was at Newberg Friends. In so many ways, my grandpa symbolized and embodied what I loved about NWYM. It was fitting that the service was there and that he wanted to bring us all together, but it was also really hard work for many of us who attended to be there and to get past the trigger of trauma that that place is now. I know it meant some people just couldn’t be there, and I am sorry about that. I’m not sure if it was the right choice to have it there or not, regardless of his wishes. But I do know that it created a space for at least some of us from the former yearly meeting to worship together, and to remember Ralph Beebe, who we all loved and saw the Light of Christ in. It was a time for people to interact socially who haven’t been speaking to each other for awhile. 

I personally felt trauma-triggered by the place (even though I wasn’t even there during the split), so I spent some time there earlier in the week so I could hold the space for those for whom it would be their first time there on Friday. I cried for a good long while, remembering worshiping there with all of my grandparents. I went and sat in the pew where we all used to sit. I wandered around and smelled the distinctive scent of the bell tower, and flipped through the hymnals that have been there as long as I can remember. I walked around the building and remembered what it was like when I went to grade school there, and more recently took my kid there for VBS. I remembered friends’ weddings and funerals. I thought I was done crying and then I saw the photo of the NFC congregation on the wall in the library, with many folks who have now left, and all the kids so much more grown up.

Friends are known for our peace stance, but I’m not sure how we can overcome the pain and brokenness we’ve experienced. In Christ alone, and in Christ’s timing. It’s going to be harder without Friend Ralph.

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