Tuesday … a day like no other …
Do you remember a 1999 movie staring Jack Lemmon called Tuesdays with Morrie? Based on Mitch Albom’s international bestseller, this poignant story is full of “life lessons” for the young and not so young. In the story, an ambitious young sports writer leaves his harried and deadline-driven life to spend time with a former, beloved professor who is dying of Lou Gehrig’s disease. Over the course of 12 weeks and many miles, the two renew a friendship and share deeply about what it is to live, love, and die well.
I recently watched the movie — again — and it made me think about how fortunate we are to have “Tuesday with Richard: Life Lessons for the Young and Not So Young” here in our own back yard.
Richard Kuns has been host, teacher, mentor, guide, and facilitator for a group that has been meeting weekly from October to May for a very long time. Nobody seems to know the precise origins of the group — it seems to have emerged from Bible study that was taught in the 1980s by Brooke and Betty Patterson. No one can seem to recall precisely how long Richard has been teaching, nor how he or she came to be a participant in this group. Some say by an announcement in the bulletin … some a chance invitation from a friend … for a few the result of a well-thought-out plan. For others it just sort of happened and is now an integral part of their week. Tuesday is like no other day of the week. Attendance has varied over the years from a few to 20 or more. Some have traveled great distances, considering every mile worthwhile. There are those who can no longer attend but continue to value lessons and readings via email or snail mail. One special long-time member faithfully attends via conference call — on a phone system she and her husband provided — so, despite ill health, she can both contribute and listen, never wanting to miss the richness and support of this group.
Richard describes his “invitation to ministry” at St. Philip’s as a powerful experience. The power really lies in the skillful way he executes his role as group leader. Richard faithfully and cooperatively suggests books and biblical text for the group to read, study, and “inwardly digest.” Whether it is Psalms, Scripture, or sacred books by familiar — and sometimes unfamiliar — authors, Richard skillfully weaves his love of the Word and of Jesus into the lessons. Each week the group starts with a passage from the Psalms (his favorite text) from one of the many versions he has in his library. He is, by the way, responsible for many of us setting up “One click” accounts with Amazon and accumulating many new titles to our personal libraries! His reading makes the words come alive — and his ability to tie Hebrew Scriptures to New Testament, and both to our daily lives, is both remarkable and inspiring.
Richard brings to this setting a long history of teaching, reading and studying. Sue, his wife of many years, explains that Richard does this because he loves teaching, sharing opinions, and getting various viewpoints. His vast background in Scripture comes from a variety of sources and experiences: the Brethren Church, college and seminary. He was ordained in that denomination in 1961. He and Sue, childhood sweethearts and life-long partners, moved to Massachusetts, where Richard earned a Master’s degree in Middle Eastern Studies from Brandeis University. The early 1960s saw them move to northern Virginia to start a mission church, and in 1970 they moved to Hartford, Connecticut, where Richard attended graduate school and a program in Biblical archaeology at the Hartford Seminary Foundation. He spent several summers in Israel on archaeology digs, taught in a large Jewish synagogue in the city, and offered a class on the Dead Sea Scrolls in a Jewish high school. Is it any wonder he is so diverse and knowledgeable? The Kuns landed in Tucson in 1997 when Cigna transferred Richard. “We saw St. Philip’s every time we went through the intersection of River and Campbell and decided to give it a try.” The First Sunday Music in May 1998 was a jazz mass; it drew them in, and both Sue and Richard have been active members and ministers at St. Philip’s ever since.
Richard has many gifts and talents. Among the most appreciated are his warm and welcoming spirit offered to seasoned members of the group, guests, and newbies. To all he extends encouragement and opportunities to offer reflections and opinions. Some of us are quiet — offering not much more than a word or two after years of sitting at the table. Some of us find this a place to throw out our doubts, fears, and frustrations. Some can quote Scripture and verse and some can only tread slowly through pages to find a text or passage. Gathered around the table are folks from many different walks of life … it maybe a cross-section of the parish (sans the young folks)! We are singles and married couples, men and women, gay and straight, seasoned Christians and those just starting the journey. There are cradle Episcopalians and those of us who have wandered through several denominations. Richard welcomes us all and skillfully weaves us into a coherent group. Each is encouraged to share their own particular passion — be it poetry or the latest news from the NY Times with questions about “what do we do with that?”
After the opening Psalm and quiet prayer, the eclectic group comes to life. We are blessed to be able to listen and learn from a biblical scholar — and equally fortunate to be able to weave a fabric of community and friendship as we share our stories, perspectives, questions, and musings. As a relative newcomer to this group, I found at this most welcoming table something we all seem to hunger for — connection with the holy and with one another, and a way to figure out how to live life well. Richard’s knowledge of Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic are powerful tools that he uses with skill and diplomacy to help us look more deeply into the texts and into our lives. Many report that Tuesday with Richard is inspiration for conversation with others throughout the week. What teacher wouldn’t be delighted to hear that note high praise?
In the book and the movie, Morrie and Mitch call themselves “Tuesday people.” That was the day the professor had office hours and students gathered for tidbits of wisdom and levity, life lessons offered by a wise professor. It was the day, years later, that Mitch and Morrie shared deeply and openly to continue growing — even into death. Those of us who have become “Tuesday people” at St. Philip’s are grateful for the steadfast love and commitment that Richard offers to his “students.” By word and example he is teaching us how to live in the embrace of kindness and compassion.
“The most important thing in life is to learn how to give out love and let it come in” (p. 52). This we are learning at the table.
One of my favorite quotes from the movie is: “In the beginning of life, when we were infants, we need others to survive, right? And at the end of life, when you get like me, you need others to survive, right? But here’s the secret: in between, we need others as well.” (p. 157)
We need each other … To learn how to live in loving-kindness and see one another as the image of God, to learn how to forgive everybody, every day, we need each other. Come, pull up a chair, the table is open … watch for information about this group resuming in the fall. And if you have not read the book or seen the movie, check them out today.
Photos by Don Veitch
As the group went on hiatus for the summer, they presented Richard and Sue with flowers and a check to purchase many more books!