It was a crazy week. I should rather say—I was a little crazy last week—in the sense that Bishop James Pike was a little crazy the night he walked down the hotel corridor in the altogether to knock on his friend William Stringfellow’s door at 4:00 in the morning.
According to the story, as told by Bill Stringfellow, the knock on his door awakened him from a sound sleep.
He opened the door to see the Bishop stark naked with a book in his hand. “Bill, you have to hear this! This is amazing!" The Bishop was oblivious to his nakedness. He plopped down in a chair and proceeded to tell his lawyer and his friend what he thought he had just discovered about Jesus in the wilderness. When he had shared the information, we wandered back down the hallway to his own room with his nose stuck in the book.
James Pike had become obsessed with Jesus in the wilderness. So absorbed in the Gospel accounts that he ate, drank, and slept them. His naked self was in those stories. Something about the wilderness temptations of Jesus consumed his total attention.
James Pike died sometime later in the Judean wilderness where the Gospels say Jesus spent 40 days and 40 nights. The date of his death is known only as the month of September in the year 1969, about the same time that I met Bill Stringfellow.
Why do I tell this story now? I was a little like the Bishop last week with the story of Barabbas. I get like that sometimes. I’ve remembered to pull my pants on to take the dogs for a walk, but in every other way, I can identify with the completeness of James Pike’s attention to the biblical story. I’m a little ”nuts” – with apologies to everyone who knows better than to use that kind of pejorative language to describe a state of mental illness.
I write this today not to arrive at your door in the altogether to tell you what I think I’ve discovered about Barabbas. I write quite simply because I miss the likes of Bishop Pike and Bill Stringfellow. I feel the need to honor the sacred memory of two very strange saints, one of them (the Bishop) tried for heresy and the other (Bill) who defended him in the church courts. I'm grateful for the courage and idiosyncrasies that left the more conventional, less curious church bureaucrats and the House of Bishops mystified. Bill Stringfellow’s own words of tribute to his friend Jim speak, in hindsight, not only of the Bishop but of the Stringfellow himself. May the both rest in peace.
"The death to self in Christ was neither doctrinal abstraction nor theological jargon for James Pike. He died in such a way before his death in Judea. He died to authority, celebrity, the opinions of others, publicity, status, dependence upon Mama, indulgences in alcohol and tobacco, family and children, marriage and marriages, promiscuity, scholarly ambition, the lawyer's profession, political opportunity, Olympian discourses, forensic agility, controversy, denigration, injustice, religion, the need to justify himself. By the time Bishop Pike reached the wilderness in Judea, he had died in Christ. What, then, happened there was not so much a death as a birth."
I wish we were all that crazy.
Gordon C. Stewart is a social commentator, writer and radio commentator on Minnesota Public Radio's "All Things Considered" (MPR). He is pastor at Shepherd of the Hill Presbyterian Church in Chaska, Minn. Visit him at http://gordoncstewart.com/.